Series, Serials, and Sequels, Oh My

I just heard today that there are plans to produce a second season of the "Stranger Things" TV series. In fact, I guess that was a serial, not a series. My understanding is a "series" is a sequence of related stories that are essentially complete in themselves while maintaining a relationship with characters, locations, and perhaps some overarching themes and such. A serial, on the other hand, is more like a single long story told in installments — you can't really enjoy just one of the installments out of context.

And now, back to the plans for a "Stranger Things" serial sequel, to alliterate a bit. I should start out by saying that while I watched it and found it reasonably entertaining overall, I was not nearly as big a fan of it as a several of my friends were. I had issues with a number of trite aspects to the story and characters (and some of the character relationships that got in the way of the real story), and the loose use of scientific terms to clothe a fantasy with a science fiction label.

But that's not why we're here. My issue is with the entertainment industry's obsession with series, serials, and sequels; from movies to novels to TV shows. Probably most of my favorite novels are stand-alones, from Good Omens (Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman), to Lord of Light (Roger Zelazny), to Lamb (Christopher Moore), and a bunch of stuff by Kurt Vonnegut — for none of which, after completion, did I think, "I hope there's a sequel coming."

Similarly, "Stranger Things" successfully told a story with a beginning, middle, and end that entertained and even enthralled a lot of viewers. Why do we need a sequel? Wouldn't you prefer to watch something new and different? To play Devil's Advocate with myself, if I had actually developed a strong attachment to any of the characters (or if I had any nostalgia for the '80s), perhaps I'd be interested in a sequel, too. But what I really like in any of the arts is when something new and different — but good! — comes along, not more of the same, over and over.

However, I know a number of readers who expressly look for and prefer serials and series, as they like to have a long-term relationship with the characters and the ongoing stories (I guess like the obsession some viewers can have with soap operas?). To me, however, I sometimes dread reading the first in a long serial, as I hate getting hooked at first, then watching the story get sidetracked or just fizzle out as the author runs out of interest or imagination, yet apparently is obligated to continue — whether by reader or publisher pressure, or a self-inflicted feeling that it must go on (Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" serial, anyone?).

I'm probably spitting into the wind here, as I'm sure there are both real and imagined financial reasons for The Three S's, but I'd love it if authors as well as TV and movie producers (in the broader meaning of "producers") might have the chutzpah, perhaps, to take their successes as a sign that they have the chops to try something new, rather than feeling the need to recycle one successful idea until it fades to black for the last time, "not with a bang but a whimper."

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