There’s a moment in the Season Three premiere of Ted Lasso that made me question the future of television. The coach is playing with LEGOs over Zoom with his son, sullen over the distance his job has placed between them. It’s one of those depressing, cue-a-Marcus-Mumford-song moments that makes the AppleTV+ series more than just a comedy, even though it’s (arguably) the only thing that it needs to be. Season Three of Ted Lasso will mark the end of the series, and it felt like the show was spinning its wheels—leading to the inevitable moment when Ted gives his footballing life to be with his son.
In any other conversation, mentioning Ted Lasso, Succession, Barry, The Crown, and The Handmaid’s Tale in the same sentence would mean that it was awards season, or time for year-end “Best Of” lists. Nope. They’re all among an alarmingly massive number of shows entering their final season. (Or, you know, just canceled entirely.) That list also includes Billions, Westworld, Outlander, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Jack Ryan, Riverdale, The Flash, The Umbrella Academy, Cobra Kai, Star Trek: Picard, Snowpiercer, The Blacklist, Fear the Walking Dead, Snowfall, Los Espookys, and Yellowstone (probably). Hell, as I was putting this doomsday list together, Deadline reported that Season 12 of Curb Your Enthusiasm will likely be its last as well. (That one hurt me the most.) If this all feels insane to you, you’re not alone. The small-screen apocalypse is upon us all. So, why have so many Peak TV shows chosen 2023 as the year to say goodbye?
Well, let’s start with the most common refrain from actors and creators: that this was always the intended, natural end. “This is the end of this story that we wanted to tell,” Jason Sudeikis told Deadline about why Ted Lasso is ending. His former Saturday Night Live! buddy, Bill Hader, echoed his thoughts when he announced that Barry “has come to its natural conclusion.” Now, I won’t outright say that this the end of the story we wanted to tell doesn’t also sound like we’re out of ideas to keep this train chugging along without any hard evidence. But… I also wouldn’t fault Sudeikis for not wanting to play Ted Lasso for nine years.
“It’s also a responsibility in the end,” Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong told The Hollywood Reporter of choosing to go out strong earlier rather than later. “It feels quite perverse to stop doing it.” He’s right. There’s power in going out on your own terms. In today’s streaming landscape, shows are getting axed left and right. Before any showrunner can even plan a second season, their show may have already made an awkward move from HBO to Tubi—if it wasn’t canceled altogether. Some shows are lucky that they even had the viewership to take them to four seasons. “If [Armstrong] said, ‘I have two more seasons in me,’ I would have said yes,” HBO head Casey Bloys admitted to THR. “Jesse thought it was the right ending… He is choosing to end his story when and how he wants.” That’s a statement you never really heard from big brass before, when a handful of shows—during the era of appointment viewing, which Bloys has maintained a semblance of on Sunday nights—were racking in eyeballs. Choosing when and how your show ends is a new industry luxury.
Of course, there’s the obvious: the streaming era has come of age in a different world. You can’t blame creators for ending things early, fearing that fans will eviscerate them for a mediocre season—or a finale that misses the mark entirely. The Office ran for nine seasons (two without Michael Scott!), Mad Men for seven, and The Simpsons is still dragging itself through Season 34. Game of Thrones may have gone on for eight seasons—but those final two took some (to put it lightly!) heavy punches. Ending Ted Lasso or Succession doesn’t have to be as culture-shattering as Thrones or Lost. As Sudeikis has essentially said in interviews over the past couple months: we had a good time, isn’t that enough?
No matter how you feel, you can probably understand the pressure that the Sudeikises of the world are under, as streamers are still racing to double and triple their libraries. Sudeikis is going through a divorce both in real life and as Ted Lasso—a decision that can’t be coincidental, no matter how insane that sounds. Season Four of Succession feels like our characters are trapped in a never-ending time loop—and the burnout is seeping its way into their lives both on and off the job. In recent interviews, Succession’s Jeremy Strong and Yellowstone’s Wes Bentley both revealed that they are taking their roles home with them, which threatens their mental stability. Bentley said in a The New York Times that his character, Jamie Dutton, “permeates my life.” His wife even remarks to him that sometimes it feels as if, “‘Jamie’s coming home and we don’t want him here.’” Yikes.
So, what’s taking the baton from the likes of Ted Lasso, Succession, and Barry?”Bummer TV.” New hits like HBO’s The Last of Us are incredibly depressing, even when they’re doing cool shit like blasting mushroom zombies with a shotgun. Netflix keeps pumping out serial killer stories, HBO’s The White Lotus depicts rich people having a bad time on vacation, Showtime’s Yellowjackets will likely reveal that a bunch of teenage girls ate each other to survive a plane crash, and Hulu’s The Bear—a show about a kitchen in constant panic—was somehow branded for awards season as a “Comedy.” We are not doing OK!
Maybe that’s why I’m feeling strange about the exit of this batch of shows. Fans buying sweaters to look like Logan Roy (a horrible guy!) and obsessing over how Roman Roy sits in chairs is not normal behavior. When The Office finally ended, I remember shedding a tear at its appropriately sentimental conclusion—and moving on. But in 2023, it feels the ending of Succession—a show about very awful people—is going to break us? “Hopefully everyone’s okay at the end of this,” Succession’s Nicholas Braun wished in a video with TVLine. Give your TV buddy a hug this week. We’ll be here to brave the TV apocalypse together. Just don’t eat me like those Yellowjackets girls.
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