Another day, another rumor about a proposed second season of “Big Little Lies” or “13 Reasons Why,” or “Gilmore Girls,” or “The Night Manager.” The limited-series format has become so popular that viewers are demanding it do away with its one-and-done format, and act like any other series.
Oh, we get it. Wanting the things we love to continue is human nature, and any whiff of a beloved story getting a second life is a promise of extending the high. But even if all the stars align, the scripts gets written, and the networks are on board, that doesn’t necessarily mean a second season is a good idea.
First of all, these limited series, much like life, were always meant to be only one go-round. That means whoever put it together focused all of their storytelling prowess to create a complete experience. That level of excellence is why we as viewers reacted so strongly to it.
And no, cliffhangers or ambiguities don’t necessarily warrant a follow-up. Sure, “Gilmore Girls” may have ended on the biggest tease ever with its final four words, but there was a beauty to how it ended. Happily-ever-afters do not have to be spelled out to happen. As adults, one of the biggest things we must learn is not to get too attached because all things must die.
Well, that just got grim.
Nevertheless, there’s also the problem of how extending the life of a limited series can weaken its artistic integrity. Take, for example, two recent TV phenomena: HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.” The two share some traits that made them well suited for the limited-series format. Both were based on standalone novels, revolved around mysteries, and were told in a unique and refreshing way.
But if they get second seasons — whether or not the original author is involved in the development process — the element of surprise in how the story unfolds has been lost. Not to mention that since both dealt with highly personal stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, extending the stories smacks of exploitation. “Big Little Lies” ended on an incredibly powerful note about the strength of women to endure, especially together. Continuing the story would necessitate the introduction of a new conflict, which would not only feel manufactured, but also wrong.
Similarly, we shudder to imagine how a second season of “13 Reasons Why” would try to somehow top the horrors of its first season. It would also run into the very real danger of eliminating the integrity of its purpose. Would the impact of Hannah Baker’s suicide be lost if “13 Reasons Why” continued, and told the stories of all of her friends? Even author Jay Asher, who had initially toyed with having Hannah live in his original plans for the book’s ending, decided against her survival because that would negate the point: Suicide is sudden, confusing, and irreversible.
Requiring artists to produce on demand also weakens the need for quality, and some auteurs may not work well under pressure. The “dance, monkey, dance” attitude doesn’t care for creativity, imagination, or inspiration. In fact, it’s the kind of mania that has caused the era of derivative remakes and revivals we are now enduring.
All of that said, this argument is probably akin to an old man yelling at a cloud. No doubt shortly after this has been posted, “Big Little Lies” will be renewed for two more seasons or Netflix will greenlight a “14 Reasons Why.” But think on this: The less sequels and multi-season shows are out there, the more likely we’ll have time and opportunity to fall in love with the next big limited series.