Knowing When to Say “When” with a TV Series

There are an absurd amount of options to watch on TV. HBO, Showtime, and AMC all offer a plethora of high-quality shows. The major networks have their share of options. There’s seemingly a reality show for every single profession out there, including “useless human being from New Jersey”. That being the case, it’s sometimes difficult to keep your DVR clean. After all, you need to save time, DVR space and emotional investment for the shows that really appeal to you. There’s no time to waste with dreck. That being the case, I find myself becoming much more willing to cut the proverbial cord with a series mid-stream, opting to not ride it out until the series finale.

Alan Ball is history's greatest monster.

The reason I’m writing about all of this right now is HBO’s True Blood. It’s undergone a horrible transformation from season one until the just-completed season four. During season one, I thought “Well, that’s fun and interesting”. Then came season two: “Hmm… so now they’ve added faeries and maenads? Uh… ok, I’ll go with it”. Season three: “This is seriously a bad show. But I can stomach it if I treat it like a B-movie”. This season has pushed it over the edge. My season four reaction: “This is the worst show on TV”. I knew it was time to hit the eject button when I found myself saying “I wish all of the characters except for two would die”. Thus, around episode nine, I made a deal with myself. I would ride out the current season, and then no more. Last night’s episode was the last I’ll subject myself to from True Blood.

I made a similar decision a few years back with Californication. The concept was fun enough. Who can turn down an alcoholic, sexaholic writer who’s in a constant state of meltdown? But it never really went anywhere. Season one did a fine job of establishing characters. Seasons and two and three were more of the same. The characters were lifeless and the show was rudderless. So while I really like Hank Moody, the TV show character, I couldn’t bring myself to watch any more of his antics. He was killed by bad writing.

There were warning signs all over the place for AMC’s The Killing. One episode after another introduced potential new perpetrators for Rosie Larsen’s murder. By the middle of the season, it was playing out like some sort of crappy Scooby Doo episode. And the ending of the first season was the equivalent of being given a prostate exam by series showrunner Veena Sud. It will start back up sometime in the 8 months or so. I won’t be watching.

This is how my face looked as the latest season of Dexter unfolded.

A handful of other shows are on life support for me right now and it’s going to be really tough to shut them off if I need to do so. After a really amazing fourth season, Dexter took a horrible misstep last year, re-hashing storylines that had already been re-hashed on the show before. It’s had five seasons now with, unfortunately, no real end in sight. And at some point, it becomes insulting to ask the viewer to put their brain on pause questioning the plausibility. Even with the goofy fifth season, they had an out clause at the very end of last season that would’ve made it all make sense. It was the obvious, natural solution that would have put an exit strategy in place. It would’ve been enormously satisfying. Instead, the show’s writers ignored it completely and now it seems that the show could go on forever, particularly if they insist upon bringing back the same stories from the earlier seasons. If the next season doesn’t show some signs of ending things reasonably soon, it may just be the end of the line for me watching the show.

The Walking Dead had loads of potential. Frank Darabont was the showrunner for a TV series about living in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies. It’s appointment TV for fans of horror. But the first season featured only seven episodes, and they were all extraordinarily flat. Then news came out recently that Darabont was stepping away from the show. The show is taking a lot of hits right now. I’m giving it a second season but you’d better believe that I won’t have any problems stepping away from it if it continues along lifelessly through the second season, scheduled to start soon.

What all of this amounts to is that it frees me up to watch new shows. It also frees me up to appreciate the truly good ones on a deeper level. Breaking Bad has aired immediately after True Blood all season long. I’ve watched True Blood first, followed by Breaking Bad, and it has seriously emphasized just how good Vince Gilligan’s show is and just how awful True Blood has been. It’s been like having a porterhouse steak with a ramen noodle appetizer. If you didn’t appreciate that steak beforehand, you sure as hell do after you’ve had ramen noodles immediately beforehand. Next spring when Game of Thrones comes back, I won’t have to ask myself “Which should I watch first, Game of Thrones or The Killing?”. In retrospect, it seems like a stupid question from the start. By trimming the fat off of my TV-watching existence, I’ve improved it infinitely.


Filed under TV Shows

18 responses to “Knowing When to Say “When” with a TV Series

  1. You can always just watch, “The Wire” on DVD continuously.

  2. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    While the story of Game of Thrones is great–the budget it has been given to make the show has really limited its potential. Season 1 did not have a significant battle scene, whereas the book has many. I’m going to read the books instead.

  3. Dan

    Nice post. I’m also dropping out of The Killing, as I was losing interest near the end but hung around to find the solution. I’ve gotten a lot better at cutting out of shows when I start to lose interest. I finally gave up on Heroes in Season 3, and quickly dropped The Event early on. I think the tipping point was sitting through the entire year of Flash Forward. Not a wise move.

    • I tried a handful of episodes of Heroes- it seemed cool enough, and I figured I’d try it on DVD. Then it got away from me and the next thing I knew, everyone hated where it went (wherever that was), so I abandoned the idea.

  4. Oh, Dexter. I gave up on Dexter– though I can’t say I’ll never pick it back up– back in season 3 when I kind of realized the show hinged too much on Dexter’s Big Secret. It’s not a bad show by any means– it’s just too much of the same stress for me (whereas a show like Mad Men or Game of Thrones can deftly balance a dozen arcs). A gal can only watch so much TV. So Dexter got the axe.

    I was a George R. R. Martin fan long before rumors of GoT emerged, so of course I’m practically salivating over the impending second season.

  5. We don’t have as wide a variety of shows down here, but we have most of the ones you’ve mentioned. TV has always been generally disappointing to me so I’ve just stopped watching it in general. If there’s a really good show, I’ll rent the DVD, cos I’m lazy like that.

    • I’d definitely recommend Boardwalk Empire if you haven’t checked it out already. It was produced by Scorsese and the first season plays out like a gigantic 13 hour-ish movie. No clue if this will mean anything to you, but it’s very steeped in the American mobster mythos. So if names like Lucky Luciano or Al Capone or Arnold Rothstein mean anything to you, you can’t go wrong at least giving it a try.

      • I watched some of it when it was on TV here at the end of last year, but never finished it, which is odd considering I loved every second of what I saw. I will DEFINITELY be hiring the DVD.

  6. nimorphi

    I watched almost all of heroes. i stopped watching 3 episodes from the end. the best way to describe it was watching someone drive a really awesome car and then crash it and watch it burn while people are in it for another two years and then end up at a circus that moves through time and space or something like that. Watching that it has given me a pretty good sense of where a tv show is going or how far gone it is down the crapper. So saying that, Dexter had a dip in the show but it can come back. I think since the previous season was so good it had tough standards to live up to and faulted a bit. The killing made me not care by the end. It is one thing to drag out a mystery to be suspenseful but you need to know when to reveal stuff and not just random stuff that has nothing to do with the actual case. by the time they revealed it I just didn’t care and then with the twist crap at the end. I won’t loose any sleep if i don’t ever find out who killed rosie larson.
    I would like to suggest the ‘jumping the shark’ be renamed ‘Parkman taking orders from a turtle for the three episodes it required him to see the future’.

  7. I have so many shows that I have dipped my toe in with but have given up. Breaking Bad is not one of them. Awesome show that just keeps on cranking up the pressure.

    Justified has lost a bit of its charm from the first season (half way through season 2) Lost my way with dexter, fringe is just annoying.

    Supernatural is bonkers but I keep coming back…love those Brothers!!

    Good post matey

  8. I find myself running into this dilemma quite a bit, too. Part of it’s that TV is so much more accessible to people than going to the movies might be; the result is that I get inundated with a lot of recommendations that I can’t possibly catch all of.

    That said I do tend to have an idea of what’s most appealing to me and I frequently go for the shows that speak to me the loudest. Game of Thrones was a no-brainer for me; same with Walking Dead. And Community.

    Thank goodness for DVD because that’s one of the best ways to catch up on the shows that everyone told you to watch but you couldn’t/didn’t.

    • Absolutely. I’ve probably watched 2/3 of the seasons of HBO’s various shows- Carnivale, Rome, Six Feet Under, the first part of The Sopranos- on DVD. Even Entourage and The Wire were DVD shows for me. I tend to use that as my testing ground. Then if I like it, I’ll get caught up and watch it in real time.

  9. I totally identify. I loved the show House. It was smart, fast dialogue and who doesn’t love Hugh Laurie. But after he went to rehab they should have ended it right there. The moment Dr. house was ripping through the hospital parking lot in an Hummer with the staff in the back yelling out diagnosis’s I was done. it just got ridiculous.

    The thing that really burns my ass is since when is 8 episodes a season? Many of the HBO and Showtime series are only 8 episode seasons. I think it’s lazy and has to be losing them money when you can just watch on DVD. Who wants to pay $50 a month all year for 8 weeks of your show?

    • I always bum out about Curb because it’s a short season (I think they do 10, but they could do 40 weeks in a row and I’d never miss). One of those years, the writer’s strike cut a lot of things short. I believe that’s why Breaking Bad’s first season was only 7 episodes. As for something like The Walking Dead, I have no clue why that was a short season.

  10. MJ

    You better watch it… I LOVE ramen noodles. Clearly you’ve never had good ramen.

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