I think there's a little trend that might be changing for the better when it comes to shows and podcasts right now. One of the running clichés about television is that the longer a show is going, the worse it progressively gets. There are very few shows going back decades that people think either got better and better as they went or ended out on a really high note. Look at all the (deserved) hate the final season of "Game of Thrones" received. No one thinks the final seasons of "Lost," "Dexter," "The Wire," "Buffy," "How I Met Your Mother" or even "Seinfeld" are among the series' best.
But now with the runaway popularity of streaming, a lot of shows that are currently going seem more focused on their legacy. So many shows that were long forgotten have popped back up on services like Peacock and Paramount+, leading to critical re-evaluations of whether they stuck the landing or not. I'm not sure if one thing is related to another, but so many currently running shows that are either in their final or penultimate seasons seem to be absolutely at the height of their storytelling powers. Even some long running podcasts have stopped running on fumes and seem to be digging in and recapturing some of their magic. Here are a few fairly long running shows and podcasts that are absolutely crushing it right now.
In Pod We Trust:
I've been listening to "Welcome to Night Vale" since around 2012 and have been obsessed with it ever since. Creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have such a unique sensibility and storytelling rhythm that the show feels almost like it was designed just for me. It follows Cecil Palmer, the host of a radio show in the fictional town of Night Vale, where paranormal and downright insane events happen so often, they have become mundane. With over 200 episodes in the can across a decade, it can be hard to keep the momentum of the massively layered and strange story they're telling from feeling a little stagnant. Starting around September of last year with the episode, "The Nearly Infinite Lives of Frank Chen," it seems like "Night Vale" has gotten its groove back with an almost flawless run of stories. While I would still recommend starting from the very beginning, "Welcome to Night Vale" is the perfect podcast for people who miss "The X-Files," "Gravity Falls" and "Twin Peaks."
There's just not enough room to talk about all the fairly long-running shows having stellar seasons while existing in the twilight of their tenure. Season four (out of an announced five) of "Stranger Things" is easily the best since the first one, with episode four possibly being the best of the entire series. I don't know about you, but I will never hear "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush the same way again.
The first half of the final season of "Better Caul Saul" is also expertly ratcheting up the tension as we build to the final six episodes, due on July 11. Rhea Seehorn is giving such an astounding performance as Kim Wexler that I hope we get an endless amount of her across our screens in the future.
Meanwhile, "The Walking Dead" comes back with its final eight episodes sometime later this year after a stellar 11th season. "Peaky Blinders" has been getting more and more intense and "Atlanta's" penultimate third season was an absolute banger.
Look at how many people used to talk about "Game of Thrones" and then look at how the cultural conversation completely disappeared after the final episode. With the insanely massive amount of televisual content to choose from, a show needs to actually care about its ending, so when the complete series is all together on a streaming service and ready to be binged, it satisfies a public that hasn't been very impressed with a series finale in a while. Hopefully, that's the way things keep trending because no one wants another "Dexter" on their hands.