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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The new TV season has begun and we are learning what happened to some of our favorite characters over the summer. One of the greatest cliches in TV now is the summer cliffhanger. Everyone seems to do it now from comedies to lawyer shows. Some are lackluster while others will stay with you. I thought it would be great to look at some of the past summer cliffhangers that stuck with me over time. I should note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, nor the “best of the best” list. These are just the ones that I look back on fondly.
Star Trek: Voyager – “Equinox, Part I” (Season 5, 1999)
Voyager is attacked by aliens that can kill you by touch, and one goes directly after Janeway.
This one stuck with me for one reason only – the resolution was completely anticlimactic. The set-up was fantastic. We have these incredibly deadly aliens flying around the ship, and one attacks Janeway. The final shot was from the alien’s point of view and it closed in on the captain. Knowing there was some contract dispute behind the scenes at the time, there was some potential that this was Kate Mulgrew’s last appearance on the show. I figured they had something good planned for the opener and was anxious to see what. Turned out she just stood back up like nothing happened. Ugh.
Earth: Final Conflict – “Crossfire” (Season 2, 1998)
The US government (through Taelon manipulation) has declared marshal law, and life for every character has completely gone to hell.
“Wait. What?” you must be thinking. I’ll admit, this is an odd one given that EFC is a show generally forgotten (for very good reasons). However, the finale of the second season of this sci-fi series not only ended a season arc with a genuinely surprising way, but it placed every single character in some sort of legitimate jeopardy (as opposed to the “Everyone is dead! OMG!” cliffhangers that you know are never true). Perhaps it was my young mind at the time, but I had absolutely no idea how they were going to get out of their jams, and it made it a very long summer for me.
South Park – “You’re Getting Old” (Season 15, 2011)
Stan’s parents split up in addition to the group of Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman somewhat disbanding.
I realize this one is very recent, and the newness of it might be clouding my judgment of it, but this episode really stuck with me. I don’t think Matt Stone and Trey Parker get enough credit for their writing abilities. As I write this, I haven’t seen the new episodes yet, so I’m not sure how this is resolved (if at all), but Stone and Parker are able to take these characters which audiences have been watching for a long time and spin a story with them that not only takes them in completely new directions, but does so in a believable way that, as a viewer, you can honestly believe that this will be the new status quo for South Park.
The Office – “Casino Night” (Season 2, 2006)
After confessing his feelings for her, Jim kisses Pam and she seemingly reciprocates.Back when The Office was still on top of its game, this was a big move for the series. I never considered myself a Jim/Pam shipper, but I was surprised at how game changing that move was for the characters and the show in general. It was the first step of breaking away from formula it developed over the previous two years, and was a catalyst for everything else that happens to Jim and Pam.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Best of Both Worlds, Part I” (Season 3, 1990)
The Borg invade, turn Picard into one of them, and Riker says “Fire”.
While Dallas might have broke new ground (with “Why Shot J.R.?”), TNG brought summer cliffhangers into the mainstream. The show was still somewhat new and, in a pre-internet age, it was entirely possible that Shakespearean actor, Patrick Stewart, was leaving the series. So, why not have him captured by the bad guys only to be killed by his first officer? This was big, and the cliffhanger still holds up. From here on out, it seemed like very show started to do more and more season-ending cliffhangers to the point that the novelty has worn off, and it is surprising if a show doesn’t do it.