As a society, we are steeped in instant, or nearly instant, gratification. You want a pizza? You can press buttons on your phone, and without leaving your house, pizza appears. What fascinates me, then, is that we still watch serial shows. In Dickens’ time, serial was the great way to go, since many people could not afford to buy books. But for many modern families, cable or an online subscription to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or HBO is considered one step up from a necessity. Movies are much more in line with what our society is conditioned to want — an ending in the same sitting as something began. And yet we are still drawn to serial television. Dickens got us hooked. Is it something in the guesswork of “what will happen next” that keeps us riveted? Regardless, we are indeed riveted.
I recently started watching a show on AmazonPrime called The Hour. Set at a BBC new show during the Cold War, the characters are well-developed and quirky, there’s a strong female lead, and the plot is, at least to me, enthralling. What are these reckless characters going to do next? I kept asking myself. And I never had to wait to find out, because I could just click the button to watch the next episode. I got through two seasons, only to find out that a third was never made. It was intended, however, and that is the problem! The story is not wrapped up! A season ends with the biggest cliffhanger of the series! I will never know what happens to my favorite character, on whom the last shot of the show focuses as he is in grave peril! I did my research, and the show was cancelled because view count was not high enough. While Dickens had a valid reason for not finishing Edwin Drood (he was a little preoccupied with being dead), “The Hour” was cancelled because not enough people cared. The problem with this, and the problem I had with Edwin Drood, is that now I care. The trajectory of the characters’ lives has been cut short in both cases, after I became invested, and now I will never know.