Three ways I’ve noticed TV shows kill themselves.

1) Show your working out.

Now this was encouraged in maths exams, but less so in TV shows. It’s the point at which the writing begins to point out the conceits of the show and the mechanics of earlier scripts. It’s all very fun and meta, and often the episodes that do this are really great. But once you’ve let the genie out the bottle it’s pretty hard to get it back in again.

The most famous is probably the “Homer’s Enemy” episode of The Simpsons. As I recall, before the site sadly disappeared from the internet, this was a big vote getter on Jump The Shark Dot Com’s list of when The Simpsons jumped the shark. People vehemently hated it. Personally, I find it funny, but it did mark a point where they started to point out the conceits of the show and you started see the foundations that had made it great for 8 seasons get undermined, leading to bad ideas like a sober Barney and cartoon violence with no consequences.

Community flied dangerously close, dangerously early, last season with “Paradigms of Human Memory”, their fake clip show. Admittedly, it flies close to the wind most episodes due to the Abed character, but by constructing chunks of shows that did not exist, yet making them believable as real episodes, you could see a little too much of how an episode is written. Again though, it was a great episode.

It’s a general flaw with the Dr Who revival too, with too many writers who grew up with Doctor Who using the show to explore their own fandom of the character rather than writing straight forward Dr Who episodes. At this point I think we get the conceits inherent to the Doctor/companion relationship and it probably doesn’t need to be explored that much more. They’ve made for some good episodes, but it’s getting tired.

2) Forget what made you good and focus on what made you popular

Aka “listening to the fans”.

Two examples spring to mind, the first is Psych. It started as a great little detective show, and as great as the chemistry between its leads was, more importantly it had good mysteries to solve each episode. Unlike Monk, which had drifted far from being a whodunnit show, the mysteries were the focus early on and they worked. The technique of showing the viewer Shawn’s zooming in on clues allowed you to play along as couch detective.

However, that wasn’t the element that the fans loved. They liked the 80s pop culture references and the Shawn/Juliet non-romance romance. So by season 5 it was now bogged down in 80s pop culture and the non-romance turned into a romance. All to the detriment of the mysteries as they often got sidelined by stunt guest stars and an uneffective ongoing love triangle plot.

The other example is Hetalia.

What is great about Hetalia is the ludicrously specific historical gags. What the fans love though is gay innuendo. First TV series has the right balance, the second does not and it all becomes rather tiresome. Thankfully they seemed to realise this and the third appears to readdress the balance, helped in part by increased focus on other “countries”.

3) Getting bored of the characters you are writing

Sometimes shows get too popular and are making too much money to be cancelled. Again The Simpsons falls under this category. They even mention on early season commentaries that there were characters the current writers were bored of, like Mr Burns. Of course the advantage with the Simpsons is that it has a large cast and if they want to make it larger they can just draw new characters. A bigger problem is in live action comedies.

Like Friends.

Now I don’t know for sure that writers were bored with the Friends lead characters, and I don’t even like the show that much, but I ask you to compare the characters at the start of the show and the end of the show. Have they not turned into grotesque caricatures by the end? If you need a further contrast, look at Paul Rudd’s character. He seems like he’s come from a perfectly normal, rational sitcom and accidentally walked into a world occupied by screeching idiot monsters.

Are there other reoccuring problems you see in TV shows where they appear to be inadvertantly suiciding themselves?

Do you have other examples?

One thought on “Three ways I’ve noticed TV shows kill themselves.”

  1. 11th hour melodrama in an otherwise non-dramatic show. I’m not as familiar with American TV, but it’s terribly common in anime. As the end of the season draws near, a heretofore unmentioned villain makes an appearance to jack shit up and create conflict out of nowhere, the protagonist must answer some contrived challenge, and the girl needs to be saved. When this sort of ending comes from a sitcom or romcom, it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

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