Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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TheArm
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Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

Post by TheArm »

I've never quite understood this and wondered if anyone had any insight. I always feel like a lot of time and energy in the TP fan community is spent on pinpointing all of the creative failures in Season 2 that led to its cancellation, and I've never really felt it's quite fair to the writers/producers. While I will happily admit that the show hits major creative problems midway through the second season (Evelyn, Lana, Little Nicky, Super Nadine goes back to high school, Crazy Ben reenacts the Civil War, the Pine Weasel, splitting up Cooper & Audrey, etc.), I also don't think TP's second season is so godawful that it warranted being cancelled, especially since I think they managed to course-correct by the end of the season. After all, in recent memory, other primetime serials like Lost, Heroes and Desperate Housewives have had similar creative stumbling blocks in their second and third seasons, but they've managed to hang on and have mostly (with the exception of Heroes) bounced back to some degree with both critics and viewers. Even now, Ugly Betty was moved to Friday nights this season and its ratings have taken a huge nosedive, so ABC is moving to Wednesdays in the hopes that it will recover its audience.

The difference is that those shows, even Heroes, have an incredible amount of support from their parent networks, who have stuck with the series even during their rough periods. What I don't understand is why ABC turned on TP so quickly. Its first season couldn't have been more successful and it ended with heaps of accolades, a slew of Emmy nominations (after only 8 episodes), and was an international cult phenomenon. And yet just as the first season was ending and ABC announced its renewal, they also announced at the same time that they were moving the show to Saturdays, a move that even at the time I felt was a fairly obvious plot to kill it. Given its serial nature and how very complicated it was, clearly it was a show that needed nurturing, and it felt like ABC gave up on the show at the height of its success.

Does anybody know what was behind the network's decisions and motives at the time? Has anyone from ABC (Bob Iger, etc.) ever spoken about why they gave up so quickly on the show?
Last edited by TheArm on Sun Dec 06, 2009 2:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

Post by Audrey Horne »

You have to remember first and foremost, television is in it to make money. I think there's quite a few valid reasons why a show like this would be cancelled back in its time. Back then there were only three prominent networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) with a fourth coming into the scene in the mid 80s (FOX, providing more offbeat programming like Married... with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show). ABC was lagging behind in third place and had sort of the leeway to make some radical programming choices to see if something would hit (Moonlighting, thirtysomething, the short-lived Max Hendrome etc).

The fact that Frost and Lynch were shopping a pilot around was a potential feather in the cap for ABC to pick up and take a chance... with the clout of Lynch. (A film director in the television world was a coup -the two worlds didn't mix back then compared to the crossovers we see today). So ABC had a nice bragging rights and something to air that could create a wave and cause a ripple against NBC's Thursday night juggernaught (Cheers -sandwiched in between Cosby and L.A. Law).

The show aired to great numbers, and had a great hook for the casual viewer in a whodunit, and giving a great catchphrase for public domain -Who Killed Laura Palmer. The quality of the show was not as important as the hipness for an everyman to be in on a fad. But even as good and solid as the first season is, their numbers kept falling after every episode (normal -since people initially tune in to see what all the hype is about and you can't keep everyone interested). It wasn't bringing in the numbers like Cheers did (nor was it expected to) but it did hold its own.

Peaks was picked up right before the first season finale aired when interest was at its, excuse the pun, peak. ABC realized they had a show that could be an anchor for a night and strategically win that night's network share- so pick a night of the week that is not the impossible to beat NBC Thursday (which remained the king for more than a decade later with Seinfeld, Friends and ER).

I believe ABC changed presidents over the course of Peaks first season run, and Iger wanted to create a cool lineup for Saturday night of new blood programming- Young Guns, China Beach and Twin Peaks. Whether or not he wanted to bury the show is only speculation. Once upon a time, Saturday nights were big for ABC with the Love Boat and Fantasy island so there is a semi-valid reason in the theory of resurrecting that night. Yes, of course it's a pretty easy no brainer that the likely person to watch Peaks however is not staying home on a Saturday night and they are not the Love Boat demographic.

But Twin Peaks is a difficult show. It is a serial in which you have had to see all the episodes, you had to pay attention carefully, you had to think and draw your own conclusions. And while that sounds like a very noble and good thing, it is not a practical one in the business of making money. And we also have to look at how the numbers are reached for the network -through the Nielson ratings. I highly doubt the average person who accepts this box in their house and dutifully notes their daily viewings is going to be the prototype of the person who watched Twin Peaks. The system also did not allow for recording the shows that were being taped from VCRs -which Peaks was a heavily recorded show for later review and scrutiny of clues.

And let's just call it for the obvious -people were frustrated that the killer wasn't revealed, and then wasn't revealed in the premiere second season after being told it would. And Lynch did no favors in directed a ten minute plus scene of Cooper lying shot in his hotel room. Yes, it is a brilliantly directed scene -but in practical terms one that is not accessible and caused many of the average viewers to feel like the show was one big yanking of their chain, causing the fickle to simply click the remote. And the show was in a no-win situation anyway- people wanted an answer to the mystery to be satisfied and then naturally will have closure and a large chuck will stop watching.

The debate about whether or not the second season was weak in quality probably isn't the reason why it was cancelled, so much as it is the nature of the show itself in the time that it existed. The media was a completely different beast then. A show like Lost and Heroes or any other serial can be discussed through the internet, its episodes downloaded, etc. The serial aspect can be constantly reinforced so the person can keep up.

I think Frost's strategy was the best in keeping the Cooper/Audrey arc to the fore in a Will They or Won't They? ploy since that was the second most talked about aspect of the show in the public consciousness next to Who Killed Laura Palmer (And that is my biased side apart, just sound business decision). But even that I don't think would make the show strong enough recreate the initial lightning in a bottle that they found in the spring of 1990.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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Thanks Audrey. I actually do vaguely remember ABC promising viewers that they'd find out the killer's identity in the first season finale...but of course, they didn't. And then I also remember them doing the same sort of promotion for the second season premiere...and then the answer was still ambiguous (yes, it did reveal that it was BOB, but nobody knew exactly what that meant). I couldn't understand at the time why ABC was making these promises; well, to bump up the ratings, sure, but how did they expect people to react when they inevitably saw that the marketing just was a cheat? I remember that Primetime Live (I think) report on Twin Peaks and how upset fans were with the first season finale because the killer wasn't revealed, and cringing a bit because it was really ABC's fault that everybody had the wrong idea.

And yes, when I've shown the series to my friends over the years, their reaction to the Cooper/waiter seen at the beginning of Season 2 has typically been along the lines of "are they kidding?" I even had one friend who told me he was finished with the show after that scene. Not the most commercial way to go I suppose, but hey, what did ABC expect when they had David Lynch as their showrunner?! Jerry Bruckheimer, he ain't (thank God).
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

Post by Albert Rosenfeld »

It's a shame the show ended up being made and broadcast in the early 90's because in many ways, the show didn't have the back up that subsequent serials (The X Files, Buffy, 24 and Lost) have had. The X Files and Buffy arriving on the heels of the expansion of the internet and airing on smaller (at the time) networks, whilst 24 had the success of the subsequent first season DVD release thus becoming the first television child of the DVD era and Lost being the first to take advantage of the internet in terms of on line viewing. The thing with Twin Peaks is that for it to have survived in the way that subsequent shows have done like the ones I mentioned, it would have probably have needed the other back ups that they had, but sadly it wasn't to be. It's this that makes it truly ahead of its time in a way, and sadly it's because of its time that it probably never had the chance to survive adequately. Of course, in this day and age the show, if it were to be made today, could use the sales of DVD's, recording services like TIVO or Sky Plus, or internet downloads to ensure a longer chance of survival.

In making the show, David Lynch and Mark Frost managed to open the door that allowed subsequent writers like Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran as well as JJ Abrams to put their mark on the televisual landscape, but I can't help but feel they had time and technology on their side as well. Not that I'm knocking them for that, I would hate to imagine what pop culture would be like without those shows as I happen to love them as well, but I can't help but feel that they had time on their side whilst Peaks did not.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

Post by Jonah »

Been reading through some old threads and thought this was one that was worth restarting.

I'm always surprised it didn't make it to at least a third season. If I recall correctly, after COOP it almost did, ABC debated it a lot, I think. But yeah, so what if the second season was a slump - lots of shows have slumps in their second seasons before making a comeback in their third ("Lost", "Revenge", "Desperate Housewives"), and "Cheers" wasn't even a hit in its first season (they gave it time to build). I do think ABC wanted to kill the show, part of them wanted to keep it, but mostly I think I read somewhere it made them uncomfortable, it was too artsy for them, ratings aside. And the backlash against Peaks was extreme (but not yet as extreme as it would be the following year with the release of FWWM). But for a huge phenomenal hit in 1990, a worldwide juggernaut, and what seemed to be a promise by its creators to get it back on track for its third season, I'm really surprised ABC didn't give it one more year.

A few years later, Iger would also cancel the 90's sitcom "Ellen" (which was quite successful) after she came out. She got one more season but critics and the media bemoaned it being "too gay", which is something I can't see anyone daring to say now. It also got bomb threads and a lot of backlash from advertisers and the public, so to be fair to ABC they got a lot of stuff thrown at them, but they still could have handled it better. They even slapped parental advisory labels on the show that at most had one peck on the lips, no nudity, no violence, no swearing. It's hard to believe it was only twenty years ago. That show did make some fumbles - it got rid of its bookshop setting, focused too much on Ellen's first relationship (rather than maybe having her dating more). And while it did focus on her exploring gay groups/social life and stuff like that, I think that was a normal trajectory for the character after coming out, not "too gay". Plus there were episodes that had nothing to do with her sexuality. Diane Sawyer and Primetime Live even ran a cringey episode where they broke down the episodes that had gay content vs. the ones that didn't (and ran an interview with Ellen and Iger) - they were trying to help Ellen, I think, but the whole thing was just yikes, like the Oprah interview where Ellen had to address audience members who had an issue with the character being gay. So much yikes! But giving up the bookshop (and her apartment in favour of a house) and having her be a radio show host like sub "Frasier", it was all too much. Considering the major coming out and a character (in 1998) exploring her sexuality, I think they should have kept some of the other staples - like the settings - intact, to anchor it. Then again, when people make one big lifestyle change, they often make a lot of other changes as well, so while it may have been realistic, I still think it was too much. But again, Iger was the one to drop the axe on that too. The show was popular but it was never a huge hit like "Friends" or "Frasier", but I think it had good potential to run another couple of seasons at least.

I'm surprised ABC didn't cancel LOST when they lost half their ratings and backlash began to swell - they actually did the opposite, they wanted it to run 10 seasons, but the creators negotiated it down to 6. As has been pointed out here, the internet probably helped keep that show alive - but still.

I haven't rewatched "China Beach" yet but a quick look at the episode lists for that show indicate a lot of different timeframes, flashbacks. I imagine it was a more traditional show and less "confusing"/"strange" than something like TP, but it still looks like it wasn't completely linear and took place in different timelines, and had expensive period settings. Yet it ran on ABC for 4 seasons (3.5 if you count the first one being short).

"Northern Exposure" was very qurky and it ran 6 seasons at the same time in history, even mostly losing one of its main characters in the last season or two. It was lighter in tone and its first bulk of episodes didn't hinge on one mystery (like TP's did), but it was still a fairly oddball show.

I'm not saying TP should have run indefinitely or as long as something like "The X-Files", but I think it could have run at least 5 seasons, maybe 7, but at the very least I think it deserved 3.

Another thing I was surprised by was Bravo not renewing the show in 1993. They bought the broadcast rights and Lynch even shot new Log Lady introductions for them (which I assume was Lynch's idea?). At that point, the show could have comfortably been brought back imo - it was after the movie, only a couple of years since the cliffhanger, everyone looked the same. It could have been a smooth transition and an early prototype for a one season limited series show, especially as they also had the rights to the first two seasons (and why did ABC relinquish these rights so early on?). Maybe Bravo couldn't afford to produce a new season and it might have been too hard to get some of the actors back - some committed to other projects by then, and still some bad blood between Kyle and David, etc.

Don't get me wrong - I think it's great we got The Return a staggering 25 years later, but I'll always bemoan what could have been with a 90's third season.

Does anyone know if Lynch and Frost ever had an opportunity to resurrect the show sooner? Like 10 years later, sometime in the early to mid or even late 2000's, when LOST was a hit? I wonder did they ever think about it or if ABC or another network ever approached them with the possibility.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

Post by eyeboogers »

In terms of your comparison to "Lost", there is a difference between viewership trending downwards vs. hemorrhaging viewers at an explosive rate, as was the case with "Twin Peaks". It is easier to be patient with episodic shows like "Ellen" or "Cheers" in the hopes that they might eventually build a fanbase. For "Twin Peaks" which was heavily serialised and where it was clear that an alarming amount of viewers had become alienated by the direction the show took, it is hard to consider winning those eyes back.
Another factor was the gigantic ensemble cast - many of whom had negotiated for higher salaries after season 1, it was an expensive show to make, and honestly I think ABC would have lost money on a third season. They would have had to have faith that the show would make it to 100 episodes and syndication in order to justify prolonging it further than s2 - and clearly they didn't have such faith.

When it makes business sense to do TPTR it is because people had 30 years to catch up on season 2, and the daring risks that killed the show then, are the same qualities that made a younger crowd fans as well.

Also, I don't think Lynch and Frost would have been substantially more involved with a third season at the time, it seems their collaboration was deteriorating. And hey, we wouldn't have FWWM or TPTR had things worked out then.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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I see your point but I think the show would have slowly gotten its ratings back up. It had 7.4 at its lowest (which would be very respectable today, as it's usually half that now for ABC shows like this), but it was low back then. It had crept up to 10 for the finale - in mid-summer too, no mean feat - and I think it could have crawled back up to 12-15.

I do think Lynch and Frost would have gotten things back on track for early Season 3. Lynch might have stepped away again, but Frost might have stayed put, at least of a season. They came together to promise they would do that if ABC renewed them during an interview for COOP. It was like an appeal to the network - I think they would have stuck with it. Maybe Lynch might have even stuck it longer than I think, but I imagine he would have worked in flashbacks to Laura's story and other elements, like he did with FWWM.

I don't think they would've gotten to 100 episodes, so one more season might have been all they got, or maybe 2-3 more if ratings had improved. "China Beach" got to 61.

Was 100 the milestone for hour-long shows as it was for sitcoms back then or was it a shorter number for longer shows? Is the fact that they didn't have enough to syndicate it why they sold it to Bravo - or was that a syndication deal? Not sure how that worked.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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There was a tremendous backlash at the time against not only Peaks but Lynch’s entire brand. After he was riding high during the period of Blue Velvet and TP season 1, the viewing and critical public turned against him in a huge way. FWWM (which was almost certainly way better than the season 3 “Cooper owns a pharmacy” would have been) was almost universally hated for absolutely no reason. Same for Lost Highway at the time. It took ten years for him to regain the respect of the industry. I sincerely doubt a season 3 in 1991 would have recovered in the ratings even if it was great (which, frankly, it probably wouldn’t have been).
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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Did the backlash (fully) happen in 1991 though? I know it was building then (people were annoyed the killer wasn't revealed end of Season 1, then Season 2 premiere, then the dip in quality, but I think there was still enough goodwill to maybe turn it around what with COOP and 10 million viewers tuning in in June for Episodes 28/29, that they could have reversed things in Season 3). I thought the backlash really only exploded in 1992 after FWWM? And even then I think that was down to the first 30 minutes of the movie and the fact that the rest was a prequel. I think audiences would have been more on board with the story continuing. That - along with a lighter tone - is seemingly what they wanted: for the story to continue. I actually think it would have been good and a return to form - I'm not so sure they would have gone with the pharmacist angle for sure, that was just one of many ideas being tossed around, and I think back when they thought they might be getting renewed. By the time COOP rolled around, Lynch and Frost seemed really aware of how dire the situation was and were appealing to be renewed, which makes me think Frost at least would have tried to turn things around bigtime (though what Lynch would have done is anyone's guess).

I still wonder if there were opportunities to renew it in 1993 for Bravo or in the late 90's/early 2000's, or after LOST was a success for ABC in 2004 (even though they had cancelled MD a few years before, they would have seen how successful the movie became, then how successful LOST was - although they didn't want that to be supernatural or heavily serialized and the writers had to trick their way into it, but by 2005-2006 I think they saw how well it was doing and think they relaxed about that). I've never really heard if there was interest or offers from ABC or even other networks for the show to be revived before Showtime and the 25 Years Later thing (which seemingly Frost suggested to Lynch before they approached a network). I wonder had they considered doing it before then or had anyone asked them to.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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I think the backlash was picking up steam as early as Wild at Heart. I remember reading that a lot of people were pissed that that film won the Palm d’Or and were already accusing Lynch of being “weird for weird’s sake.”

It is worth noting that ABC never gave Peaks a viable slot. They put it on opposite Cheers (I saw even people on alt.tv.twin-peaks saying they watched Cheers live and recorded TP for later), then moved it to the Saturday graveyard. So it is really a miracle that the show did as well as it did.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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Yeah, I think they announced the Saturday slot on Donahoe along with the renewal news. And they kept pre-empting it due to the Gulf War. It's weird how it never dipped lower than 7.4 million viewers considering all that and the bad episodes after the reveal. I personally believe there was still enough interest to build on if 7.4 million people were tuning in to watch a show they couldn't even find and that was taking weeks and weeks break and that had already revealed its main mystery, then 10 million tuned in in the middle of summer to see the last episode. That tells me there was still enough interest to possibly build on that for another season and get those numbers back up. It would never have gotten as high as Season 1 again, but there are examples since of shows that had sophomore slumps that improved things in their third seasons. Even a lot of the people who went to see FWWM went because they thought it would continue the story on from the cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 so there was still interest in the brand despite the backlash. I think FWWM being a prequel further dampened that down at the time. I'd be curious how the Bravo ratings were.

Anyway, it's just a shame the way things worked out for the show back then. I'm delighted we got The Return, but back then all the cast members were still alive, working, it would have been great to see what they could have done with that.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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Jonah wrote: Wed Apr 28, 2021 3:51 am lots of shows have slumps in their second seasons before making a comeback in their third ("Lost", "Revenge", "Desperate Housewives"), and "Cheers" wasn't even a hit in its first season (they gave it time to build).

I'm surprised ABC didn't cancel LOST when they lost half their ratings and backlash began to swell - they actually did the opposite, they wanted it to run 10 seasons, but the creators negotiated it down to 6. As has been pointed out here, the internet probably helped keep that show alive - but still.
BTW, just because I’m a Lost junky (as I know you are), I have to point out that the show had its strongest ratings for most of season 2 (really astronomical numbers for that era), although it admittedly did fall off a BIT toward the end of the season. It really wasn’t until the third season that the ratings were halved (although still respectable). Lost was consistently ABC’s third highest-rated scripted show for its first four seasons, although it consistently lost viewers from late season two onward (aside from a VERY short-lived early season 4 bump due to the end-date, and obviously a small bump for the series finale). So, business-wise, ABC’s decision to honor the creators’ request didn’t work out too well for them.

Season 2 just also happens to be my favorite, so I feel obliged to defend it. ;)
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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Oh, I just meant in terms of quality, many people tend to say Lost had a slump in its second season - though I don't necessarily think that, but it did come back with Season 3 that had weak early episodes, then some of the strongest episodes they'd ever had. I quite like Season 2 too - I loved the Hatch and Libby and the Tailies. It was only the third season where I (briefly) wandered away/almost gave up on the show.

A better example might be something like Revenge, which had a bad second season and an improved third one (though I didn't stick with it, just basing that on general consensus). I just believe there's a track record of shows having sophomore slumps and improved third seasons. I actually prefer Season 2 of Twin Peaks myself though!
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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Oh yeah, the season 3 “mini-season” is easily the weakest stretch (besides maybe chunks of season 6), although my love of Ben Linus kept me tuning in (he had some great moments in those episodes). It’s incredible what a shot in the arm the end-date gave the show’s writing. Back half of season 3 is maybe the strongest run after season 1. It’s a shame that the ratings started to really drop right around that time.

But season 2 will always be my personal favorite. I love that they built an entire season of network television around Pascal’s wager and got so much dramatic tension out of whether or not the characters should push a button. And Mr. Eko was the best.
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Re: Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly?

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I wish they hadn't gotten rid of Libby and had brought her back more effectively. I know they tried a few times, but it still feels like a missed opportunity for a really intriguing backstory - everything from her stalking Hurley to working for Widmore, etc. Her story as it is is just acceptable enough, and new viewers might not even notice a big discrepancy, but back then, it was hyped up to be a lot more than it was. Same with Annie.

The first six episodes of Season 3 I'm less upset by than many fans. I recognise the spinning wheels but I kinda like the cages and the set-up, maybe they should just have reduced it to 2 or 3 episodes, though. Season 6 I'm more mixed on. For a long time, it was the only season I hadn't rewatched as much as the others, but I've since rewatched the whole show a few times. It's got some Stephen King influences that don't quite work, the flashsideways are too dominant considering what they turn out to be, I think some of the answers were downright shoddy (Whispers), and there's a kind of strange feeling to it that I can't quite put my finger on. It doesn't quite jive with the other seasons for me for some reason. Having said that, I've warmed to it, there are some great episodes, I'm (mostly) fine with the overall ending, and kind of intrigued about the flashsideways world, but wish it had been implemented better. I don't like some of the obvious attempts to try to trick us into thinking it's an alternative universe, like the Season 4 episode where they pull a big twist involving Jin being in a flashback instead of a flashforward (Ji Yeon). I felt those story points were too cheap for the show and not well woven into the actual story - it seemed too obviously trying to trick the viewers and I don't think those elements have held up well. I'm all for tricking viewers, cliffhangers, twists, etc., but not when they're that signposted.
I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.
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