You may or may not have noticed that we have stopped recapping Nashville, and it’s not because we’re lazy and/or behind (although that’s often the case). It’s because–and we’re sad to say this–Nashville has jumped the shark, an especially impressive feat for a show that was already about feuding country singers. So instead of recapping a show that has become too ridiculous even for our teen-soap-loving sensibilities, we’re going down the list of the best (or, more accurately, worst) jumping-the-shark moments that we’ve seen on television.
There are only three (loose) rules for something to qualify as jumping-the-shark: 1) It has to be f*cking ridiculous, in direct proportion to how ridiculous the show was to begin with; 2) it should preferably be a ratings ploy; and 3) it has to mark the point-of-no-return that begins a downward spiral, an evolution into a significantly stupider and/or offensive show that we never would have watched if we weren’t already attached to the characters. Enjoy.
A lot of embarrassing things happened in season 5, including the most classic jumping-the-shark trope, a long-lost daughter emerging from the woodwork (a young Hayden Panettiere, who even at ten was too talented for so clichèd a role). But in my opinion, the show became unwatchable when it introduced Dame Edna as Claire Otoms, a secretary at the law firm who is afflicted with absolutely NAUSEATING acid reflux. Ally McBeal, despite its general offensiveness, actually did a lot of good work to increase the acceptance of trans and other marginalized people for its time (see the first season’s heartbreaking and lovely episode about a young homeless trans woman, “Boy to the World”) but creating the grotesque Claire Otoms was a service to NOBODY.
It almost seems unfair to put David E. Kelley shows in a listicle like this. I mean literally every plotline the man has ever come up with sounds like it could be the jumping-the-shark moment for any regular show. Student makes animated sex GIF of teachers? Teacher gets knocked unconscious by flying breast implant? All the female students go to school without bras? All of it was par for the course in the actually-pretty-good-or-at-least-pretty-fun first season of Boston Public, Kelley’s show about an out-of-control urban high school. But when a student kidnaps his abusive mother in the basement and she CUTS OFF HER HAND to escape and she then shows up as a teacher’s assistant the next season with a hook? That, my friends, is what they call jumping the shark.
This will be an unpopular one, I know, but I’ve never understood the mystique of Breaking Bad. [You can still be popular with me! I hated it from the end of the very first episode! –Nerdy Spice] Of course it’s a “good” show, with great cinematography and phenomenal acting (I don’t think the show would be half what it is without Bryan Cranston). But I’ve never thought the writing was anything to write home about. If anything, critics and fans alike tend to overlook contrivances and ridiculous plot twists that would kill the “prestige cred” of a show with a female or POC lead, simply because we as a society tend to find the inner struggles of tortured white men inherently fascinating.
Case in point: that stupid plane crash in season three. The season opens with an in-media-res shot of the destruction surrounding Walter’s house, which is meant to manipulate the audience into thinking that some sort of disaster ensues as a result of Walter’s criminal habits, possibly involving his family. This already seemed more like the beginning of an Alias episode than a prestige drama, but I kept an open mind. Then, in the season finale, they finally reveal that… it was a random plane crash. No one that we care about died, or was even injured. The writers were probably trying to subvert an action trope, but instead it just seemed like an unbelievable contrivance. A terminally ill, timid science teacher becoming a drug kingpin is already a pretty far-fetched premise, and then a completely unrelated plane crash just so happens to occur right above his home? That’s something I would expect from a mildly entertaining genre show, not a drama that’s often cited as the best series of all time. Were they trying to symbolize something really banal and pretentious, like the absurd randomness of life, or the inevitability of death, or, as Vince Gilligan put it, “the judgment of God”? Forget it, I’m already checked out and re-watching Gilmore Girls for the twentieth time.
How I Met Your Mother
This very special show gets TWO entries. My personal pick is “The Final Page,” where the lobotomization of Robin is shown to be entirely complete. This woman, who was afraid to settle down, who wanted to explore the world, who wasn’t even sure she wanted children, not only got engaged to her own therapist for no good reason but then agreed to marry Barney after years apart, because if someone plays a big trick on you, that means he rilly rilly loves you.
I loved Barney and Robin way more than Ted and Robin (that ending is a whole nother rant, but I’m not sure you can jump the shark in your very last episode) but this episode was where I quit for good. I no longer felt I was watching Robin onscreen. It felt like the writers of this episode didn’t even know who she was. She was basically just a Cobie Smulders-shaped compendium of all the things the writers thought the wimmenfolks would probably enjoy: you know, being treated badly by men, elaborate proposals, and getting married. All of the things that the real Robin hates.
Can an entire season constitute a jumping-the-shark moment? The decision to make the entire ninth season take place over the course of a single wedding weekend was mind-numbingly stupid (especially for a wedding that gets dissolved within five minutes of the god-awful finale that we’re not supposed to talk about). But in a truly terrible, unbelievably boring season, the nadir had to be “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra”–or, as it’s known to many fans, “How I Met Your Racism.” Not only was the episode-taking-place-over-a-single-slap gimmick somehow even stupider than the wedding weekend conceit, but the writers decided that it would be hilarious and appropriate to put their all-white cast in yellowface. HIMYM was never the most progressive show, but the unfunny plot that saw Marshall learning the ancient, mystical secrets of martial arts from his white friends and Asian extras was so shockingly tone-deaf, it almost made me wish that the once-amazing Slap Bet had never happened in the first place.
We love Gilmore Girls more than we love most people, but even we have to admit that it hardcore jumped the shark by the end [Personally I wouldn’t say “hardcore”! After resisting at first, I have decided that season 7 was actually kind of great in many ways, although season 6 did suck. –Nerdy Spice]. And not even in the seventh season, which is an easy target without the power of ASP, but with a super-dumb revelation during the sixth season, while the original producers still had the reins. You guessed it: Luke has a love child. Unexpected love children are only acceptable on soap operas, and even then, they’re overused to the point of being boring. I still remember seeing the promo for that episode on the WB, with that deep-voiced promo narrator saying, “Luke keeps a huge secret from Lorelai” over a clip of Luke looking perturbed in the diner. I remember thinking confidently, “This is just weird marketing. There’s no way Luke has a love child. Amy is so much better than that.” But sadly, I was wrong, and April entered our lives. Even her hilariously earnest worship of Noam Chomsky in the revival [and the amazing scene where the thought of becoming like Rory gave her a panic attack —Nerdy Spice] couldn’t make those dark times worthwhile.
It might seem futile to point out ridiculous moments on a show like Gossip Girl, which is built on being ridiculous and caricatural. But aside from guilty-pleasure entertainment, there’s only one thing I really expected from that show: a good ‘ship, which most fans would say was Chuck and Blair. Even if you manage to forget the fact that Chuck tried to rape Jenny in the pilot and appreciate the actors’ considerable chemistry, Chuck continues to be gross and misogynistic all the way through. The tipping point, of course, is in season three, when Chuck actually sells Blair’s body to his uncle in exchange for ownership of a hotel. He quite literally pimps her out, and we’re still supposed to root for them and hope they end up together. [Dare to Dair!!!!!!111!!11 –Nerdy Spice] That requires a level of repression that I don’t even think the WASPs on the Upper East Side could pull off.
A lot of dumb stuff happened on this show, and as far as the sloppy-ass mythology went I probably would’ve been there for all of it. I mean, I watched all of Fringe, you guys. I don’t give up that easy. But the breaking point was learning that the flash-forward was definitely a flash-forward, and realizing that Jack and Kate were clearly going to spend the rest of their lives passive-aggressively flirting with each other. No one has time for that! If I want to watch a chemistry-free couple refuse to get over each other for six years, I’ll just go re-watch Dawson’s Creek.
First, she has a stalker. Then she has a dweeby intern who steals her jewelry box but turns out not to be the stalker. Then the stalker shows up at her office late one night and almost stabs her. But she escapes! But then she gets hit by a car just as she’s on her way home to tell Deacon the whole story! But then she like wakes up in the hospital and is fine–I mean, sure, she’s talking to her dead mom and telling people she loves them left and right that she loves them, but generally, it all seems like one giant red herring. But THEN she crashes for no apparent reason and then the magic power of her hair, I guess, heals Juliette’s legs or something? And then she hangs on just long enough for Maddie and Daphne to sing “A Life That’s Good” by her bedside.
We don’t mind sentimentality. We don’t even mind characters getting killed off by random twists of fate (hey, The Good Wife pulled it off). But to make us watch an insanely boring stalker storyline (as Vulture quipped, “Is there anything more thrilling than an offscreen restraining order?”) and then not even use that to cause the longest, sappiest death in the history of TV deaths? Come ON. And don’t even get us started on Juliette magically being able to walk. This doesn’t belong on TV. It should be repackaged as one of those weird inspirational books they sell at my local CVS.
[To play devil’s advocate, the show is still going, and Rayna’s stupid death might serve as a reset rather than a jumping-the-shark moment. The few subsequent episodes that have aired were oddly restrained and affecting, as strange as that sounds.–Janes]
The show survived Jim and Pam, unresolved sexual tension couple extraordinaire, getting together; it survived that whole thing where Michael started his own paper company in the basement of the same building; it could probably even have survived Michael Scott leaving, albeit in a sad, less-fun form.
But it could not survive Will Ferrell’s Deangelo, who was a giant black hole of chemistry and fun and whose tragic decline due to a brain injury managed to be simultaneously unbearably depressing and yet completely uninteresting.
Picking just one jumping-the-shark moment for Scandal is very much a Sophie’s Choice. The first few seasons were amazing in their own soapy way, but once B613 became integral to the plot, Shonda could never quite decide if she were writing a political thriller, a trite Fifty Shades of Grey-esque romance, or an even more over-the-top version of Alias. But the point-of-no-return would probably be in season four, when Olivia is kidnapped by the evil vice president, and then convinces her kidnappers to sell her to the highest bidder on the terrorist black market, only to be saved by her old co-worker who randomly works for the Russians.
Not only was the entire plotline completely out-of-place in a political soap, it caused a domino effect that took the show to new levels of ridiculousness. Fitz literally starts a war for the sole purpose of saving his mistress? Check. The so-called “white-hat” protagonist beats a disabled man to death with a chair (in a shockingly gruesome scene that put The Walking Dead to shame)? Check. Olivia becomes an empty husk of a person that we suddenly realize has absolutely no central motivation or emotional core? Double check. I don’t often deem a show “unwatchable” (I’ve finished most of the shows on this list, for example), but the thought of catching up on Scandal has started to give me physical discomfort.
The Walking Dead
For the first three seasons, I was a huge defender of The Walking Dead. It always expertly straddled the line between zombie pulp and character-driven, morally complex drama. I was even a huge fan of the widely-derided second season (I mean, I really wanted to know where Sophia was, okay??). But somewhere along the way, it became everything that naysayers thought it was: a dumb, manipulative, sensationalistic exercise in shock value that exists solely to kill off one-dimensional characters in ways sufficiently gruesome enough to trend on Twitter.
That trend probably started in the fourth season, when the writers built up the Hunters (yeah, remember them?) for an entire season, only to kill all of them off within three episodes. But if I had to pinpoint the first egregious example of the writers manipulating the audience for no other purpose than a blatant ratings-grab, it would be Beth’s untimely demise. With the exception of that one amazing standalone episode with Daryl, Beth was always pretty much a non-entity on the show, until the writers started working overtime getting the audience invested in her in the first few episodes of the fifth season. On a silly, mainstream genre show, this would be a clear sign that Beth will die in the mid-season finale, but The Walking Dead is better than that, right? Wrong. They killed her off just as her character was getting interesting (and tried their hardest to make us think it would be Carol), because they had finally decided that “surprise” (read: completely predictable and gratuitous) deaths are much more in their wheelhouse than well-written, long-term character development. While this was certainly not the worst example of a transparent ratings-grab on TWD, it laid the foundation for Dumpster-gate and, of course, that godawful cliffhanger that I won’t even talk about.
I will! TWD is so interesting as a study of shark-jumping because we its fandom decided over and over that the latest betrayal of narrative integrity for over-dramatized bullshit was somehow an aberration—that this time the showrunners were going to bring back the riveting and rewarding show we remembered, that this time was the last time a whole half-season arc would be nothing but time-marking for a fore-ordained season finale. Not since House have I felt so much like I was in an abusive relationship with a TV show. The Memorial Hospital arc and Beth’s death were certainly when we should have realized that this wasn’t a healthy show, and judging by ratings, the cliffhanger-murder was the moment when we actually did.
The entire sixth season was spent teasing and building up to the confrontation with Negan, the famous Issue #100 of the comics. Carl found a gun with a barbed-wire bat carved into its handle and Glenn was sickened by discovering Polaroids of smashed-in skulls in the Saviors outpost they raided, hinting at the violence to come. We spent entire 90-minute episodes on one-off, single-character episodes like “Here’s Not Here,” Morgan’s backstory that no one super-cared about (and which oh-by-the-way followed immediately after Dumpstergate: Glenn’s obvious death which was miraculously avoided by teleporting under a nearby dumpster, but which wouldn’t actually be addressed for another 4 episodes), so that the actual encounter could be put off until the finale.
There was a real chance that the show could have justified all that buildup—Glenn was an even more vital character in the TV show than he had been in the comics, and killing him off to introduce the series’ greatest antagonist would have been a landmark moment in TV history to match the landmark status of Issue #100. The season finale did an excellent job of leading into that moment, with a riveting performance by Andrew Lincoln tracing an arc from self-assurance to utter defeat over 60 minutes of screen time… and then suddenly it was all wasted. The awful first-person execution left the identity of Negan’s victim unknown (but obviously and inevitably to-be-spoiled) for seven months, and completely wasted that entire season of emotional buildup. The next season’s premiere itself managed to draw out the revelation for another half-episode, as a final “fuck off” to anyone who stayed to watch.
I watched those first twenty minutes of 7×01, to watch the show beat two of its best characters–and my remaining attachment to it–to death, and have never had the slightest interest in watching another second.
ER – and the Helicopter That Maimed And Then Later Killed Romano
The O.C. – It was hard to care about Marissa while she was alive, but it was even harder to care about the show when she was dead.
The Vampire Diaries – Same thing. Elena had her annoying tendencies, but who wants to watch a Kevin Williamson love triangle without the It Girl? That would be like if Dawson’s Creek had actually been about Dawson.
Dexter – Pulling a Fight Club in the sixth season finale. Even Edward James Olmos can’t salvage that cliche.
Desperate Housewives – If I had to pick just one… maybe the third arson fire (out of five)?
House – When House drove his car through Cuddy’s house while she and her toddler were in the living room. If your protagonist in a medical procedural is committing attempted vehicular homicide, stop and look at your choices.
Heroes – Everything about the second season, except for Kristen Bell.
Grey’s Anatomy – Code Black: come on, a fucking bomb and a ghost? Not even the ghost of future Coach Taylor could save this garbage.