For far too long, major cliffhangers have been relegated to the daytime soaps (and even many of them seem to have lost touch with the art they perfected many moons ago) and primetime’s season finales. But I’m happy to report that the cliffhanger is alive and well… and being used to great effect by some of television’s most intriguing dramas.
Although last night’s season premiere of TRUE BLOOD seemed headed toward a “Sookie dumps Bill… again” ending, the show wisely avoided breaking the pair up in favor of a shocking cliffhanger in which Eric’s animal side came out as Lafayette cowered in fear, leaving us to wonder what the heck is going on in that weird torture chamber (which seems to be located beneath a salon based on the villainous vamp’s interrupted-in-progress dye job!).
And no currently-airing show does better cliffhangers then the woefully-underappreciated HARPER’S ISLAND, which quickly realized that the weekly murders were an interesting hook but not nearly as effective at bringing viewers back as the shocking final-moment clues as to the killer’s identity. “It’s all about you!” uttered one character to our heroine, Abby, before biting the bullet. And the creepiest kid on television — Madison, as perfectly played by Cassandra Sawtell — ended the latest outing with a stunning bit of info that seemed to indicate Abby’s dad might be the killer.
Another spookfest, SUPERNATURAL, proved this season that it could excel silmutaneously at two seemingly mutually exclusive formats: stand-alone episodes and those with mythology-related cliffhangers, many of which also worked on the emotional level tied to the major bumps our favorite ghostbusters hit in their brotherly relationship.
Interestingly, the art of the cliffhanger has, for some time now, seemed lost to those in charge of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, the show which should have been able to single-handedly revive the concept in primetime. Instead, it has relied for far too long on endings that were either trite, predictable or, worse, had no “tune-in-tomorrow” factor whatsoever. Someone needs to inform Marc Cherry that once we know a bad guy is bad — and yes, Dave, we’re talkin’ about you — there’s no suspense to having a voiceover tell us (gasp!) he’s plotting to do something bad.
Here’s hoping that network execs realize that if you don’t give people a reason to come back, they just might take you up on the non-invitation!