A sendoff to obscurity: I Married Dora and the anti-cliffhanger season finale
by Eleanor Seitz — University of Wisconsin - Madison
May 20, 2011 – 00:00
Besides this clip, you cannot watch I Married Dora (IMD). The episodes are not on Hulu, Netflix or even Youtube . There are no bootlegged VHSs on Ebay, and forget about DVD or Blu-ray. Thus, this series primarily exists in cultural memory of its small viewership, a liminal borderland between obscurity and oblivion. This marginality overlooks IMD’s pioneering finale.
Season finales are televisually unique, occupying a mythic resolution function for viewers’ while piquing interest for next season, although, as Mittell notes, true conclusions rarely occur. Here, I want to consider how anti-cliffhangers trouble the audience’s viewing experience and resist/negotiate television’s commercial demands.
I almost curated SNL’s parody of Dallas’s infamous cliffhanger, "A House Divided," to show how its cultural significance extendeds across decades, genres, and digital convergence. Its canonized status is a testament to this finale’s success in generating anxiety and commercial profit. As Steve Herro reminded us, lest we forget, finales primarily function as advertisements. Dallas was so successful, this famous episode is usually referred by the "Who shot J.R." catchphrase CBS’ marketing devised to promote the show in its summer absence.
I Married Dora premiered in 1987, when TV increasingly engaged with Latinidad. IMD follows a family whose single father, Peter, marries his El Salvadorian housekeeper Dora to prevent her deportation. Ostensibly, housework was more intimidating than INS. The series also boasted a young Juliette Lewis as the Gen X daughter, a reason in and of its self to campaign ABC for a DVD release. IMD’s ratings were actually similar to Full House, yet ABC axed the show anyway after 13 episodes and it faded into cultural obscurity. The finale closes as Peter jumps on a plane to Bahrain, only to emerge back in the airport lobby moments later. He announces, "It’s been cancelled." Dora responds, "The flight?" and he says, "No, our series." Everyone then turns and looks into the camera, waving "Adios" as the show pulls back to reveal the set and rolling cameras. Literally breaking the fourth wall and shocking viewers with a (pre-Arrested Development) meta-reference to its own cancellation, IMD’s series finale reveals the oft-hidden means of TV production. Thus, this anti-cliffhanger critiques the commercial expectations of the series finale. In a way, this finale is the antithesis of "I Shot J.R.", and has been dully forgetton, while Dallas has secured a spot in the annals of popular culture.