Why Are People Obsessed With TV Finales ‘Sticking the Landing’?

Larry David is just fine with how “Seinfeld” ended. OK, I can’t read his mind — but “Larry David,” the version of himself he plays on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” is cool with that much-maligned finale. He insisted on it, vehemently, during a season of “Curb” that was almost entirely about a fictional do-over of the landmark sitcom he created with Jerry Seinfeld.

“We didn’t screw up a finale!” he insisted. “That was a good finale!”

The actual Larry David may be sanguine about repeating the experience of “Seinfeld.” The 12th and final season of “Curb” has even been steering toward a similar scenario, with TV Larry facing a trial, much as his earlier series ended.

But the rest of the viewership is more likely to look at the final episode the way we have become conditioned to view a series finale: as a high-stakes, legacy-defining challenge. Will we laugh with it or at it? Will it cement the series’s place in history or tarnish it? Will it — say it with me now — stick the landing?

Ugh. There are plenty of clichés in TV criticism, and I am not immune to using them. But “stick the landing” is one that awakens my cantankerous inner Larry David — not just because it is an overused phrase, but because of what it says about art and endings and what matters in both.

The term, of course, comes from gymnastics, part of a creeping sportsification of pop-culture criticism that has also given us assorted TV power rankings and myriad March Madness-style brackets. (Didn’t arts nerds spend enough time getting stuffed into lockers by jocks without having to live inside their language, too?)

Applied to TV, sticking the landing suggests that a finale is the equivalent of a vaulter’s dismount. The concentrated force of narrative momentum is channeled into a moment of impact, and the series either hits the mat firmly or shatters a leg. It’s the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

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