Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in remembrance of that television series we all loved so much. In its earliest seasons, there was hope for a bright future. Character arcs were interesting and the story was vibrant. But this weekend, an unwanted sixth season snuffed out that light. Many shows come and go during our lifetimes, but seeing a promising series such as this fall…is truly tragic.
Losing a favorite television show to dull writing and tired plot devices can be a great loss. Realizing that a once-great show will only decline from its current state is enough to bring a tears to your eyes. Of course, there will always be those loyalists that deny the decline of their favorite show and stick with it until the bitter end, but many will jump ship long before. If your favorite series begins to exhibit any of the following signs, you’re best off leaving with your fond memories intact and starting the grieving process.
Favoring Visuals Over Story
As George Lucas once said before being one of the world’s biggest hypocrites, “Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an ends themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”
A sure sign that your favorite show is past its prime is when the story takes a back seat to the visuals. When visual effects work in tandem with good writing, you get magic made manifest. When lackluster writing joins forces with even the most state-of-the-art graphics, the story crumbles. So, if you’ve ever sat through a season of your favorite series and thought “Wow, the story isn’t great this season, but those visuals sure are!” I have bad news for you…
Repeating Season Formula
While I often hear people mourn the short runs of television series such as Firefly and Freaks and Geeks, I have never heard anyone say, “Wow. I wish Lost had just one more season.” Typically, when it comes to narrative-driven shows, the sweet spot is 3-5 seasons.
Call it the Parks and Rec Effect or The Walking Dead Syndrome, but many popular shows suffer from predictable storylines as they plod on past their prime. Pushing past the fifth season mark often results in a thin storyline with unoriginal character arcs. Of course, not all successful and well-loved shows have stuck to this formula. But 9 out of 10 times, when I hear people complain about a television series, their issue is that they feel the show should have ended several seasons earlier.
As creators milk every drop of money they can from the husk of a once lively show, viewers begin to notice patterns. As a result, they foresee upcoming events long before they happen. When a show loses its ability to surprise and wow its audience, it has ventured past the point of no return.
Abandoning Character Development
Remember when your favorite character actually did stuff? Now their very appearance on screen seems nothing more than a cruel reminder of their glory days. I’ve watched tearfully as characters who exhibited exciting development now stand by with nothing to do. This is just one of the major problems with forcing a show past its prime: once a character has achieved their initial purpose, writers seem to struggle to find further use for them and whatever new storyline is written for them is almost certainly contrived, unoriginal, lackluster or some combination of those three.
Just to clarify, I am by no means suggesting that a television show can never have an episode that focuses more on graphics or one that recycles a storyline. I am proposing that if these characteristics become trends, a series will likely continue to decline. So, for your own sake, get out while you still can. It’s easier to grieve the end of your involvement with a series than to watch until the bitter end and inevitably realize that the glory days are far behind you.