Caprica and Cancellation
I’m not sold yet, but Caprica is growing on me. Part of my skittishness is that I’m having a hard time reading the signs on how long Caprica will actually be around – its ratings have been seriously troublesome, but SyFy has expressed some commitment to giving it time to develop. On the other hand, SyFy’s vague reassurances have not been accompanied by heavily increased marketing pushes or an actual renewal order, so the prospect is not encouraging.
It’s hard to fully commit to a show that has no guarantee of completion. When I was a younger, less well-informed TV viewer, shows would get cancelled or take long hiatuses, and it was invariably a total surprise. There were upsides and downsides to this. The downsides are obvious – it’s an upsetting shock to learn that characters you love are gone, plotlines you were invested in have disappeared without resolution, and you’re left hanging in the air with a discomforting sense of incompletion. It’s like listening to a little melody that tinkles on toward the end, steps cheerfully into a IV-V-I cadence, and then just leaves you hanging out on the dominant, hoping someone will let you find tonic again. (Anyone remember that Andy Bernard clip from The Office, where Pam cuts him off right at the end of his song and he describes not being allowed to return to tonic as like “holding in a sneeze”? I would love to put up a clip, but hulu only has the six most recent episodes.)
But the upsides were pretty great. There was never any specific fear that a new show was hanging onto survival for dear life, so when you liked something, you liked it wholeheartedly and without any nagging sense that it would be snatched out from under you. If you’re so out of the loop that you don’t even realize a show is about to air the final episode of its current season, you can get the full-force loveliness of sprinting over a cliffhanger plotline and then the pleasant frustration of having to live with the not knowing for several months. Of course you can still feel that way when you know in advance that an episode will be the last one in a season, but it’s not quite the same as experiencing the cliffhanger episode and then realizing you won’t get resolution for a long, long time.
For me, this is one advantage television can have over text. Unless you’ve got an ever-present progress bar or a giant ticking clock hanging nearby, it’s much easier to lose your place in video. You start an episode, and if it’s really great or really fast-moving, it finishes before you have any idea an hour has passed. (Or you start a season of television in September, and it’s so good that you’re abruptly surprised when twenty-three episodes are over in May). When you hold a book, you get physical measurement of your progress through a text every time you turn a page, so even though you may not know what comes next, you’ve always got a guaranteed measure of how much is left. Television makes it a little easier to feel deeper immersion by denying you those midway-through, nearly-finished landmarks.
It only works, though, if you do have one piece of solid information about the televised immersion you’re enjoying, something that’s almost* never a problem in a book – you have to be assured that it ends, and ends in a way that its creators intended. If that’s not possible, at least you could go into it knowing the circumstances of a show’s conclusion, so that the unfinished ending isn’t as terrible a disappointment as it could be (see, informed DVD viewings of Firefly, Deadwood, etc). Without that knowledge, the same map-less immersion experience that a finished television show can give you translates into more of a Here There Be Dragons situation, or something like a first date: it’s hard to let yourself fall in love, because if you do and they don’t love you back, you’re crushed.
All of which is a long way of saying, I like Caprica. But the signs don’t look good, and I’m hesitant of liking it too much. So instead of closing my critical eye and just enjoying the show, I’m constantly looking for flaws, for reasons it might disappear. Too many teenagers, not enough fun teenage shenanigans. Plot’s good, but it’s not moving fast enough. Maybe more people would watch it if it had more explicit BSG connections?
I doubt. I question. I’m holding off.
*The only example of this that I can think of is an author dying before the conclusion. Elizabeth Gaskell died before writing the final pages of Wives and Daughters, and it’s terribly disconcerting.