Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Jumping the Shark

I've been thinking about writing this post for months now, ever since the spring TV season wrapped up, disappointing me in several ways that could all be attributed to one term: jumping the shark.

The term derives from Happy Days when the Fonz literally jumped over a shark on water skis. Now it's used to describe the moment when a TV show loses its relevancy and embarks on one too many gimmicks to try and retain the audience's interest. With the exception of House M.D., jumping the shark is almost always fatal to the show.

When the character House went into a mental institution, fans were certain the show had jumped the shark, ditto for when the core of secondary characters (House's team of doctors) was fired and replaced. But the show survived both instances. Perhaps because of the same sort of wit and pluck that allowed the show to craft an opening scene one episode showcasing House making an elaborate matchbox car track in an exam room, the whole purpose of which was to launch the matchbox car over a tiny toy shark -- an allusion to the show's shark-jumping tendencies.

This spring allowed for two disappointments of my long-term show lovin': when In Plain Sight ended before it could jump the shark and when Grey's Anatomy strapped on some water skis in an attempt to outdo the Fonz.

Seriously, don't try to outdo the Fonz. He's the Fonz.

In Plain Sight was a four or five season show featuring Mary McCormick as a US Marshal for the Witness Protection Program filmed in Albuquerque. The main character (also named Mary), was a hilarious, sarcastic, no-nonsense, kickass woman with abandonment issues. Mary's father had left the family when Mary was still young, leaving Mary to take care of her baby sister and alcoholic mother. Over the course of the show, Mary repairs her relationship with her mother and sister, has a baby -- which is a huge shock, since Mary and kids was always an oil and water relationship -- and finds her father again.  With the father issue resolved, the show ended.

Oh, I wish it could have kept going. Mary was such a funny character and she played off her partner in the Marshalls Office beautifully. But I know that to have the show continue beyond the resolved father-issues, no matter how funny it might be, or how rushed and realistically uncertain her life/situation was in the final moments of the final episode, to keep going would be to lose the compelling storytelling elements and jump the shark. So In Plain Sight gracefully ended its run. (Watch this show if you haven't already!)

As for Grey's Anatomy... Oh, Grey's Anatomy. I shake my head at you.

After eight seasons of doctors making out in the extremely slow elevator of Seattle Grace Hospital, the main characters are finally finished with their surgical residencies. This was the moment that had been alluded to in the opening fifteen minutes of the very first episode of season one. All the doctors are accepting fellowships at different hospitals across the country. It was the logical place to end the show: the chicks fly the nest.

Perhaps they fly away to spin-off shows. Sometimes this is its own death sentence, but the show's already spawned one fairly successful if totally fluffy spin-off, Private Practice. Or perhaps they do the morph-into-a-new-show-that's-really-the-old-show thing that The Closer recently did when it dropped Kyra Segdwick (who played the titular character), kept the rest of the cast, and became the new-old Major Crimes.

Instead, as the baby birds tried to fly the nest, the show's writers crashed their plane.


The second to last episode of the season ends with jumbled shots of scattered plane wreckage. And I'm sorry, but as I watched, I burst out into laughter. This has nothing to do with an inability to feel appropriate emotion on my part -- this show usually moves me to crying at some point during each 60 minute episode -- this has to do with the fact that the writers just totally lost me. I could no longer suspend disbelief.

The main characters over eight seasons have drowned, returned from the dead, been shot (on multiple occasions), had brain cancer, been hit by a bus, blown up, been in car wrecks ... a couple characters have died from these events, but most of them miraculously make it through their extremely high rate of tragedy. Oh and no one, and I mean no one, on this show ever has a normal pregnancy; babies are either miscarried with medical complications or born in the midst of tragedy.

In the season finale, Christina even wails, "Why does this keep happening to us?"

I blinked and flatly told my TV screen, "Because you've jumped the shark, honey."

Honestly, shooters on a rampage, car crashes, train crashes, ferry boat crashes, giant sinkholes opening in busy intersections, lions on the loose, bombs in the hospital (inside of patients) ... it's just ... too much. Now they've stuck six or so doctors in a plane crash and are letting most but all of them survive into the next season? And I'm certain they'll be healthy enough to do surgery in no time.

This used to be a good show. Too bad it couldn't end gracefully like In Plain Sight did, because I'm fairly certain it won't be rallying like House M.D.

Highly Recommended