There might be just one movie in the history of American pop culture that was based on a TV show, featured the original cast, got a theatrical release, and was any good.
That movie is Serenity, based on Joss Whedon’s 14-episode sci-fi series Firefly, and it essentially crammed into two hours what the other eight episodes in the rest of the season should have done: finished telling Mal and his crew’s stories.
Otherwise, that TV-to-Movie sub-genre is a creative wasteland, full of good intentions and greater profit motives: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, The Simpsons Movie, the Sex and the City sequels, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. With the difficulty of introducing the characters to new viewers while not boring fans; the challenge of stretching out a 22- or 44-minute storyline to feature length; the disruption in routine for cast and crew alike; and the greater imperative to make a film visually interesting (that old chestnut about film being a director’s medium and TV a writer’s one applies here), it’s not difficult to see why big screen adaptations of TV shows fail. It’s a different case for reboots of older shows with new casts. They may be no better — looking your way, Bewitched! — but they come with different expectations and priorities.
So when an oral history of The Shield made news yesterday for suggesting the possibility of a post-series movie, I was disappointed that one of my all-time favorite shows might one day be linked to such a disreputable sub-genre. To be fair, creator Shawn Ryan‘s pitch for the film sounds pretty promising: “The idea was about a young cop who enters the drug gang culture of L.A. and becomes frustrated by his inability to take it down. He becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing some justice to the situation. He then starts hearing whispers of somebody who used to be a cop and might be of service to him. And that’s Vic Mackey.”
As much as I believe in Ryan’s storytelling abilities, an epilogue about Mackey and his lackey wouldn’t offer me what I admire or miss about The Shield. A movie certainly (SPOILERS) wouldn’t bring Shane or Lem or Connie back to life or get Ronnie out of prison. (Or out of that white power gang Ryan guesses Ronnie joined.) The series finale of The Shield was so powerful because it was so final: Vic had ruined his life and those of everyone around him and he now had to live with it.
Certainly few TV shows have endings as awesome and as devastating as that of The Shield. But most dramas that end on their own terms have finales that took the creators and showrunners of those shows months to craft and perfect, and it’s a little insulting when fans demand that they go back to the drawing board and come up with another one.
But the bigger issue is that fans need to remove their thumbs from their mouths and learn how to let go. These days, nearly every show from Friends to Friday Night Lights has fans clamoring for a post-TV movie. But why risk corrupting your memories of enjoying a show the first time around with an attempt at recapturing lightning in a bottle? Isn’t it better to have loved and lost than to have loved and found again ten years later when you discover that the one you’ve been building up in your head all this time has now gained thirty pounds and a receding hairline?
If the recent example of The X-Files: I Want to Believe – or hell, the hugely disappointing fourth season of Arrested Development – have taught us anything, it’s that TV shows are a consequence of their particular circumstances. Great shows happen to a cast and crew as much as they are created. It’s time fans fully appreciate the work that went into ending a show — and stop wishing that they things they love will turn into bloated, stilted, nostalgia-killing versions of themselves.