|Seriously, coolest Chuck poster ever.|
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).
1. When a show changes premise from what it was originally based on.
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.
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.
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.