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Breaking Up With Bad Television

April 20, 2012

The FonzNot too long ago, I wrote a breakup letter to Glee. What I had once adored about the show had turned to shit, and I could no longer bear to watch. The same thing is slowly happening to several other once-beloved shows, and I feel the breakup is inevitable.

When a television show starts out great, or even good, you get attached. You expect its clever writing, its good casting decisions and its compelling storylines to last forever. But alas, they never do. At some point a good show goes bad, and viewers often find themselves cutting the cord long before the show creators see the writing on the wall. Below are four shows I once held so dearly, that now I can barely sit through without an eyeroll.

Castle (ABC) – I’ve been a fan of Nathan Fillion since his turn as Joey Buchanan on One Life to Live. I’ve followed him through Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, Firefly, Saving Private Ryan, Slither, Waitress and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. When I first heard about Castle, I was glad to see him in a primetime show. The first two seasons of Castle were really funny and really well written. But with season 3, the show started slipping. Of course there’s a will-they-or-won’t-they love story between Fillion’s character and the female lead, played by Stana Katic. Everyone knows they will eventually end up together, and when that happens the show will likely end, but the writers are dragging the love story out far too long. There comes a point when it stops being realistic and the audience stops caring; I think we’ve reached that point with Castle. While I’m glad Nathan Fillion has steady work, I really think they need to wrap up the series this season.

2 Broke Girls (CBS)2 Broke Girls did not start out as a good show. I watched it for two reasons: (1) it was written by Whitney Cummings, and (2) it starred Kat Dennings. Unfortunately, the writing is beyond horrible and Kat Dennings isn’t given a whole lot to work with. While Cummings other show, Whitney, has grown into itself and become much better over the course of its first season, 2 Broke Girls has only gotten worse. The storylines are not compelling, the jokes are not funny, the writing is still pretty racist, and the introduction of Jennifer Coolidge as their upstairs neighbor has done nothing to help it along. Each episode is 22 minutes of mild torture, and each week I seriously struggle with whether to keep watching. I’m the type who has to finish something once I start it, so I’ve committed to finishing out the season, but can’t see myself going back for the next one. I really, really wanted this show to do well; it’s not often we get primetime shows written by smart, funny women. But Cummings seems to have thrown all her best work into Whitney, while 2 Broke Girls gets her sloppy seconds.

How I Met Your Mother (CBS) – I loved, loved, LOVED this show when it started back in 2005, but now we’re seven seasons in and it just needs to stop. HIMYM was a smart, funny show about 20-somethings living in New York. It was the Friends of the 2000s. But like Friends, at some point they start in with the marriage and babies, and it’s just not the same. Their schtick has become tiresome; each episode opens with Ted telling his future children the story of how he met their mother. After seven years, he still hasn’t met her! We were given a hint as to when this will happen in the Star Wars trilogy episode, in which they flashed forward to the year 2015 and Ted had a baby girl. I’m assuming sometime in the next three years Ted will finally meet his wife and we’ll get this show on the road. But the zaniness of the slap bets and challenges accepted have long since died. What we’re left with is a story about 20-somethings turning into 30-somethings, and 30-somethings are actually pretty boring. Watching people who have careers and marriages and babies is not terribly interesting. With any luck, season 8 will be its last.

Bones (Fox) – Like HIMYM, Bones started strong in 2005. It was an interesting take on the typical police procedural; a behind-the-scenes, how-do-they-do-it look at the scientists in the lab helping to solve crimes. Like any show involving a set cast of characters, relationships are developed and explored. And like any show involving a male and female lead, there is sexual tension and a sense of inevitable hooking-up. Such was the case in season 6 of Bones, when Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth finally got together. She got pregnant, now they’re a couple, and the crime-solving continues. What bothers me about Bones (besides the marriage-and-babies, marriage-and-babies), is how 2-dimensional the show has become. Characters used to struggle with family issues, deep-seated fears, hopes for the future. Now no one seems to look beyond the case at hand, and any struggle or strife is neatly resolved by the end of the episode. There’s no subtlety or nuance to the relationships between characters as there was in the earlier seasons. It’s become less police procedural and more wacky sitcom, with each episode wrapping up with a happy ending. There is also an amazing increase in the blatant product placement. In seasons 1 or 2, Brennan drove a Prius. It was product placement, sure, but it was subtle. In this week’s episode, Dr. Sweets and Booth were riding to a crime scene in Sweets’ new Camry, and I swear it was a five minute commercial for the Entune system. It’s like they’re not even trying to hide it. All the heart has gone out of the show and what we’re left with is a formulaic show that cares more about product placement than about making characters the audience can relate to. I pray that this season will be its last.

All of these shows started out as weekly favorites, but now I watch them out of obligation, secretly hoping each episode will be the last. The best shows know when the end, while the characters are still compelling and before the storylines become tired. These shows have gone well beyond that point. I understand that networks don’t want to give up money-making franchises, but if they allow the shows to go on for too long, at some point an audience backlash is inevitable. The trick is to figure out that point before you get there.

  1. April 20, 2012 2:49 pm

    Like you, I’m constantly hoping HIMYM will pull out of its minor tailspin — but I’m not sure I agree that thirty-somethings who are married with babies can’t be funny. And I like to think that the HIMYM folks are attempting to simply age with their audience, which makes sense. Nothing sadder than watching 38 year-old single people slapping each other in bars and dressing up in absurd costumes to get laid. As a guy who’s married and has a small child myself, it might be nice for the early HIMYM and Friends audiences to see a show with gusts of absurdity like HIMYM find a footing in a “responsible adult” world. Unfortunately, and probably to your point, no one’s really been able to do that effectively yet, and all “marriage and/or family” sitcoms end up being riddled with cliche.

    I was hoping “Up All Night” might be that show, but it’s looking increasingly like it won’t be. Probably owing to the fact that — in order to get around the whole “parenting isn’t hilarious” angle — these day’s episodes don’t even feature the baby at all. They ran out of angles, so they’ve just reverted to a “quirky, yuppy L.A. couple going on adventures” premise. Speaking as a parent, those two must spend a FORTUNE on babysitters to keep their child out of every hilarious storyline. Yep, that’s what we parents think about.

  2. April 21, 2012 6:01 am

    I still watch Castle and I will continue to until the day it ends, but I do agree that the relationship between the two leads needs to happen sooner rather than later. Dragging it out for too long never ends well. I mean, look at House.

    However, I agree entirely about Bones. Seven years in, it is no longer the show it once was. Besides the two leads, the rest of the characters have the tendency to be irritating for me to watch. The cases have taken a downturn recently (shopping coupons last week. Seriously) and I’m struggling to find more reasons to watch every week. I will, however, continue to watch because I’m a fan of Emily Deschanel.


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