Kroll Show, Comedy Central's purposefully grating and blindingly clever satire of reality television, turns comedian Nick Kroll's ensemble of outsized characters into the cast of various intermingled shows-within-a-show. Season three is coming in January, but today broke sad news that those episodes will wrap the series up for good.
There’s a heartening, if surprising, element to that news, though: It's happening on Kroll's terms.
"As we started to get towards the end of the season, it just became clear that we wrapped up a lot of the stories and characters that we had created, and felt like we had brought a number of them to their natural conclusion," Kroll told Vulture. "So, as opposed to stringing out more seasons, we wanted to feel like we were going out with the best work that we’ve done. As I’m sure you’ve watched a lot of shows you’ve loved continue to make shows because they could and the quality began to dwindle."
Kroll certainly has a point—the list of shows that have run out their time to diminished returns is too long to enumerate here, for a lot of reasons why. If a show's a serious hit, it's almost impossible for a network to take it off the air without some serious arm-twisting. The X-Files ran for two more terrible seasons after its star David Duchovny left; NBC couldn't let The Office go even after Steve Carell quit; ER ran for 15 increasingly interminable seasons. Most recently, How I Met Your Mother practically incited online rioting for its finale, the story for which was conceived early on in the show's run but felt emotionally callous to those who had hung on for nine ever-more-exhausting years.
Then there are shows with cult appeal that manage to cling on year after year, not because of gangbuster ratings but because they can promise a consistent stream of devoted viewers. For networks, the choice often comes down to sticking with the devil they know, but that means we get sad spectacles like the final season of Parks and Recreation, which will air back-to-back episodes on Tuesdays starting in January so that the network can quickly burn it off, a reminder that NBC's once-mighty comedy brand has withered. Or there's Parks' old Must See TV comrade Community, which just refuses to die even as it has lost half of its cast. NBC decided not to pick it up after its fifth season, but Yahoo swooped in to resuscitate it. Why keep it alive? Because, fading or not, it's a brand, and it'll draw some core viewers to Yahoo's online viewing platform.
Whenever a hit show ends things on its creators' terms, it's usually because that creator wields enough star power to demand it. Breaking Bad ended at the top of its game because Vince Gilligan knew he wanted to tell a complete story, and AMC knew the show couldn't really exist without him. Mad Men will wrap in 2015 because Matthew Weiner made the same decision. Rarer still is the example we saw from Dave Chappelle, who quit the third season of his Chappelle's Show even though Comedy Central had offered him piles of money to entice him to make more episodes. Comedy Central did its best to wring money out of the limited content he had produced, but that essentially ended his relationship with the network forever. AMC made the wiser choice of letting Gilligan wrap Breaking Bad on his terms, which probably helped entice him to work on the resulting spin-off Better Call Saul, which premieres on the network in February.
One of the most fascinating battles over this issue came with ABC's Lost, which started to lose the plot in its second season as it became clear to showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse that they wouldn't be able to build to an ending, since ABC had no interest in planning one for a hit show. As Lindelof recently remarked to Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff in this interview, he and Cuse were ready to walk after the third season before ABC came around and greenlit a finale date. Few would argue the resulting final seasons were perfect, but their very finality still marked a huge departure from the norm.
That departure is being more readily embraced in the Netflix era, where people might not check in to a TV show until it's a complete story they can binge-watch. House of Cards was greenlit as a three-season drama with a pre-planned arc; True Detective and other limited series are enjoying an resurgence; the Emmys have even resurrected the "Miniseries" category after binding it with TV Movies for a few years because of limited options. The American TV landscape is starting to look more like the United Kingdom's—with an emphasis on nailing the ending rather than just stockpiling as many episodes as possible for syndication.
That's not to say we'll soon be rid of shows like CBS's innumerable crime procedurals, or animated behemoths like The Simpsons that will run as long as their networks consider making new episodes to be a profitable endeavor. But although Kroll Show's third season could be a letdown, it's hard not to feel excited about Kroll's tone in that Vulture interview.
"It’s just maintaining the purity of what we’re doing," Kroll said. "We laid a foundation in Season One, and in Season Two, we really began to go more in-depth with a lot of the characters and start to tell these more long-form stories. In Season Three, we continued to dive deeper into those characters and begin to cross worlds even more, as we had done at the end of Season Two. It really is very intertwined and enmeshed, so it felt like that was a good time to be like, 'We’re done.'"
Yes, if Kroll Show was a huge hit, I doubt Comedy Central would have let him end things so easily. But the stars have aligned to let him conclude the show the way he wants to. I'm willing to trust that the show's central creative mind is making the right call.