Jump the Shark Week: Great Shows That Bit It

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Midway through the sixth season of True Blood, lovable idiot Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) wonders if his puppy-like affection for his domineering vampire girlfriend might be “Stockholder Syndrome” and not real love. This adorable malapropism is classic Jason, but it’s also an eerily appropriate description for the unsettling relationship in which many fans (myself included) now find themselves with the show itself: we have all been kidnapped by True Blood, and many of us are having a hard time admitting to ourselves just how badly it is treating us.

“Stackhouse Syndrome,” anyone?

Of course, we shouldn’t be too hard on True Blood, as it is far from the first show to start out brilliantly but end in the television equivalent of a flaming dumpster careening toward a crowded playground. Below, we highlight a handful of once-great shows that went under, including our call for the fateful “shark-jump” moment when things went irrevocably wrong. (Cue the John Williams score!)

 

Dexter

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Dexter might actually have the honor of boasting the most universally loathed ending of any long-running series ever. But even before “lumberjack” happened, the once brilliantly-plotted, wickedly executed serial killer thriller had devolved into a tangled mess of sideplots, poorly motivated character moves, and increasingly grating voiceovers. Only true masochists made it all the way to the end.

The Shark: Ironically, while the death of Rita (Julie Benz) at the end of Season 4 was one of the show’s most brilliantly unexpected developments, it may also have been the show’s downfall. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) never recovered from his loss, and neither did the show: while the Lumen plotline dealt with Dexter’s inner turmoil, neither it nor the subsequent seasons (Doomsday, anyone?) managed to capture the show’s early balance of dark humor and blood-soaked thrills. Verdict: Dexter jumped the tub.

 

Glee

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Oh shit, Glee. Where to start? When the series began, it was a gift from the jazz-hand gods, boasting boundary-pushing plots and dialog, inspired musical numbers, and a death-defying balance of optimism and taste-eschewing anarchy. But after too many hiatuses, too many tribute episodes (even a die-hard Fleetwood Mac fan like me realizes that trying to shoehorn all of Rumors into a soap about a contemporary midwestern high school is a pretty tall order), and the show’s continued insistence on focusing its attention on one of its least likeable characters (Rachel), the show lost its edge, its relevance, and its audience. (Granted, the show is still on, so there’s still a slight chance that it will throw a Hail Berry and pull this off.)

The Shark: The second time they went to Regionals. Or maybe the third? Or maybe it was Nationals. I honestly lost track amongst the Gaga and Madonna mashups. But graduation and the subsequent Lima/NYC location split – and the accompanying swarm of Scrappy Doo newcomer glee clubbers – was the end of the line for many viewers. Verdict: Glee jumped the Big Apple.

 

Heroes

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When Heroes started, it was a superhero nerd’s serialized dream come true: mysterious powers, diverse and interesting characters, and a cracklingly good supervillain (Zachary Quinto’s brain-harvesting Sylar) to unite them all. Unfortunately, once the “Save the Cheerleader” arc was resolved at the end of Season 1, pretty much everything went wrong, starting with a lackluster season finale that promised to be a massive, city-leveling battle between good and evil but ended up being 90 seconds of people hitting one another with parking meters, after which one of the characters zapped all the good guys away and the villain slithered away into the sewers. Even the most diehard of fans didn’t make it through the mess that was Season 2.

The Shark: I loved him to bloody, grey-matter-spattered pieces, but letting Sylar survive the finale was a misstep that indicated that the show wasn’t up for taking any major risks. Verdict: Heroes jumped the eyebrows.

 

Being Human UK

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Being Human was a cheeky, fun mashup of a classic mismatched-roommate comedy and a supernatural thriller involving ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. For a few seasons, at least – and as long as the central cast (Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow) was in place. But when Mitchell and George hit the road and a new central trio of supes was introduced, the magic was lost. It’s always hard to recoup from the loss of a main character (or more), and in this case the change was just too drastic – the show just wasn’t the same without George’s high-pitched hissy fits (or, for that matter, feisty lady-love Nina’s wonderfully disapproving glares).

The Shark: Mitchell, George, and Nina’s departure, leaving Annie in the dust with a handful of newbies. Verdict: Being Human jumped the ghost.

 

Twin Peaks

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If you were of impressionable age back in 1989 and had a television, chances are you are still dealing with your deep-seated resentment for the Twin Peaks debacle. How could something so right go so wrong? Well, according to the show’s creators, much of it had to do with the network’s insistence that Laura Palmer’s murder be solved (which was never intended), which led to both creative forces jumping ship for most of the meandering, increasingly incomprehensible Season 2. By the time the show ended, it was a total mess – but thankfully the uncompromisingly dark and unexpectedly moving prequel feature, Fire Walk With Me, managed to circle fans back to the core of the story: the loss of innocence in a small American town.

The Shark: While in and of itself the reveal of Laura’s murderer was pretty devastating, the repercussions it had were irreversibly awful – including the parallel murder that accompanied the reveal, which was beyond mean. Verdict: Twin Peaks jumped the golf bag.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Before you sharpen Mr. Pointy, let me add that this is the only show on this list that managed to jump the shark and then somehow jump back over it again. For me (and many others), the Season 4 “Initiative” arc was absolutely unacceptable, as was much of the assorted college shenanigans that accompanied it. Sadly, this meant that gems like Willow’s early sparks with Tara fell by the wayside for many viewers who simply could not bear all the Adam bullshit any longer. Thankfully, Buffy did not go down without a fight – the show survived getting booted to another network and managed to pull itself back on track by Season 7, delivering a perfect finale for the beloved show.

The Shark: College. Hell, academics never were her strong suit! And the fact that it coincided with the show’s worst Big Bad was nearly a death blow. But even without The Initiative, Season 4’s bro-happy “Beer Bad” may have been the series’ worst episode ever. Verdict: Buffy jumped the frat.

True Blood

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That brings us to the matter at hand, the death-rattle of beloved supernatural sex romp True Blood which ended its seven season run on HBO this past Sunday. Those of us who still get chills remembering the first time we watched the deliciously dangerous pilot unspool (when absolutely anything could – and did – happen) and the years when the show actually managed to be scary (the only legitimate scares for the last several seasons have come courtesy of Bill’s flashback wigs) were crushed by how things ended. Sappy ruled the day and everything ended with a whimper, and not even Sookie’s finally showing a glimmer of self-respect by not sacrificing her true nature for Bill was enough to pull the show out of its swan-dive.

The Shark: While the series-low Billith storyline from Season 6 may have been the final nail in the coffin for many (I’m letting you off easy, Warlow), things really took a turn for the worse when Season 3 ended with Sookie zapping off to Faerieland via a fountain in the graveyard. Verdict: True Blood jumped the Sook.

These are just a few examples of shows that went from brilliant to blah. Any others that you would toss to the sharks?

 

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched CampBlood.org, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.