A blog about general entertainment, fashion, and movies. And some random stuff too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When To Get Worried: Is my TV show on its way out?

Seriously, coolest Chuck poster ever.
I got into a discussion with my husband this morning about TV shows while we were watching Chuck. It was during an episode ("Chuck vs The C.A.T. Squad" se4) that was really upsetting me and Justin didn't fully understand why. Turns out, it was such a long explanation, that I had to pause the DVD to talk it all out. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy watching Chuck, it's one of my favorites and I think it's a great show, but watching season 4 has high-lighted why there is only going to be one more season, a shortened season at that. After launching into about a ten minute rant with Justin staring at me from the couch with wide, slightly-frightened eyes, nodding, I decided to turn it into a blog post.

Over the last few years I've watched most of the shows I have loved come to the twilight of their triumphant runs on TV and slowly fizzle out. I'd say one of the most graceful goodbyes had to be Scrubs. After a terrible 7th season (due to the writers strike and a network change), Scrubs recovered beautifully in their 8th and final season with a perfect "So long!" As long as you don't count the spin-off, "Med-School," Scrubs went off the air with its dignity intact. However, a lot of shows don't let that happen. It's really hard to watch something that you've loved start to slowly wither in front of your eyes, but that's unfortunately the way most TV shows go, and what I've identified as sure-fire signs of a series' impending doom are three-fold (minor spoilers below).


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1. When a show changes premise from what it was originally based on. 
I've felt that ever since Chuck started being taken seriously as a "real" spy half-way through season 3, things started to come apart a little bit. Most all of my favorite moments are from the first two seasons because the show I fell in love with was the show where Chuck wasn't a spy. They've ultimately tweaked my favorite character, and I've been slightly uncomfortable with that ever since.

In the beginning, Chuck started out as a regular guy who doesn't think he's special, has low self-esteem, and hasn't found his place or his purpose. Then, he's thrown into these crazy spy situations that he doesn't belong in, and magic happens! The dynamic between Casey, Sarah, and Chuck for the first two seasons is hilarious and compelling and Chuck's struggle to deal with his personal demons along the way is what made the show great. What makes Chuck really Chuck is being the out-of-place goofball who finds a way to accidentally contribute something to each operation because of the hidden talents he's only just discovering he has and/or his uber-nerd know-how. You take that away from him, change up that dynamic, and you've completely switched around what the show was originally built on and why it was so good.

Is this always a bad thing, for a show to completely change directions? No, not always. A show can grow and evolve if they do it correctly, which I think Chuck is trying to do, even if it doesn't work for me personally. But how about this example: How I Met Your Mother? The first 4 seasons were awesome and at the beginning of every new story line we had the promise that what was being told to us was going to lead somewhere important, somehow. Then in the middle of season 5, it started feeling like this story-teller is a huge liar, that hardly any of the stories that were now being presented were leading us anywhere, and slowly but surely it became increasingly more difficult to care. Who is the mother? Who cares? It's not like the writers are ever going to tell us, and everything that happens from here till the end of this show will now just be filler. HIMYM has absolutely lost it's way because the powers-that-be have been blinded by the addition of new seasons and have forgotten they once had an aim (and, I'm not just talking about who the mother is, but smaller stories within the group of friends, as well).

Which leads me to another version of premise-change that can really take the wind out of the sails of any good show: breaking that sexual tension. When a couple is presented in the first few episodes as the one to root for, then they finally get together and the time to root for them ends, something in the show usually dies. Just take a look at The Office. Or, once again, look at HIMYM. Once Ted stopped chasing Robin, they had to find someone else to chase her and BarRobin was born, the less-interesting, slightly more disturbing version of Rachel/Joey from Friends. And now that she's gone through both of them, it seems they are going to start the cycle over again here in season 7. For some reason, without that element a show cannot survive or they try to recreate it, which rarely ever works. How Friends and Scrubs were able to keep it going is beyond me, but bravo (and Friends barely survive the Joey/Rachel debacle, a premise change nearing the end of its run that made me physically ill).


2. When a show starts breaking its own rules.
This is something that bothers me much, much more than the first does. What brought this entire topic up today was, during the episode of Chuck we were watching, a chopper drops three of Sarah's old friends down into Chuck's apartment complex to pick her up for a party and then they fly off, as if no one would see that or think that was weird, or suspect Sarah of being a spy. It has begun to make me so angry that gradually throughout the last season, random spy things like that can just happen on this show without any kind of consequence.

In the beginning, Sarah and Casey had a cover, they couldn't let anyone compromise it and went to great lengths to keep that from happening. Now, not only do Awesome and Morgan know they're spies and Morgan actually GOES on missions (which, can I just point out, completely undermines how hard it is to be a spy), but unnecessary displays of spy-dom occur far too often as if being a spy is no longer a big deal. Nothing like that would have been tolerated in the first few seasons, but now it's just the norm.

This subtle lack of continuity in a show is a big indication that the writers are running out of avenues to venture down. Also, it feels like tiny examples of the show jumping the shark over and over again. Glee, a show that is the epitome of the term 'hot mess,' has actually changed facts to fit where they want their plot to go. When the character, Blaine, was introduced he was a senior but this season he's all of a sudden a junior so that he can stay on as a regular when Chris Colfer leaves at the end of this year. Also, recently a second "Glee club" has been established at McKinley with no regard to the previous rule that a minimum number of students have to have joined in order for them to compete at sectionals. Why worry about a rivalry if they don't even have enough students to compete unless we are just supposed to forget that rule ever existed in the first place. Outrageous. Another great example of this is Heroes, which completely left its rules behind in season 2. When the viewers stop being able to trust the show's own logic, what can be trusted?


3. When characters stop being true to who they are.
Of all three signs, this is the one that is the most upsetting to me. However, if a show does the other two things but still strongly roots its characters in what truly makes them who they are, I believe it can overcome and survive. Nothing is more important than a show's characters, in my opinion, which is why, overall, Chuck still works for me. Even through all the goofy circumstances and odd adjustments to the story, the characters never falter. Chuck may be a spy now, but at his core he is still the same Chuck I've always loved, and that's the real reason I enjoy the show. It never compromised the heart of the show.

On the other hand, when a show does mess with the characters, I don't think there is really any way to recover. Dexter kind of scared me at the beginning of this new season (6) when it seemed that the writers had made Dexter uncharacteristically reckless in order to introduce more humor into the show. Thankfully the show has since recovered its footing where it should be anchored, but other shows' characters aren't so lucky. HIMYM, once again, has started to turn their main characters into hollow shells of what they used to be, making them more like stereotypes or caricatures of what they were originally. Gossip Girl is irresponsible in handling their characters' love-lives in its later seasons when characters switch feelings for one another like they all have bipolar disorder. This sign of doom can also be seen in Glee, of course, where the characters don't even have traits to stay "true to" since they are changed so often to fit what whim the writers choose next.

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In the end, each fan is going to have to decide for themselves what they can deal with in a show they love. How much is too much to stay on board? But no matter if you bail or if you stick it out, these things are what I've found to be nice road signs which eventually lead us to the end. The best thing to hope for is that the writers of your favorite show know when to cut and run and let it die with as much grace as possible (like Seinfeld, and a fair few more, were able to do) without trying to stretch it farther than it can go. 

7 comments:

  1. As usual, I agree resoundingly. I'm SO worried about Glee. That said, I'm hugely glad they "changed facts" in the case of Blaine. MORE DARREN CRISS ON MY TV.

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  2. True. I don't think I will ever complain about Darren sticking around.

    Aaaaand it's people like us, Chelsea, that allow bad shows like Glee to continue to exist! HAH!

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  3. Great post! This is so true. I respect shows that know when to say goodbye before everything great about it is completely demolished. The X-Files was an offender of all three...sigh...still breaks my heart.

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  4. I could not agree more!! But, no matter how bad things get, I have never abandoned a show I love. I have come dangerously close a few times (Grey's Anatomy, I'm looking at you) but I still seem to find myself forgiving the show and sticking it out. I think it's because, as you said, I love the characters. Plus it's sort of like a train wreck, you know you should look away, but you just can't...

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  5. I like Chuck TV Show. This is so wonderfully written and brilliantly executed series. Characters are also good. Nice show.

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  6. Great post! X Files really screwed up as the other poster said. They needed to develop other characters besides Mulder & Scully earlier on. Supernatural hadn't been as good since season 5 (now on 7) and they had a meta meta episode last yr w the actors playing themselves as actors, it was too much.

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