Wednesday, November 07, 2012

LXB | When House jumped the shark

Having taken a deep breath after Halloween, I can now get back to League of Extraordinary Bloggers topics; something I'm excited to do. This week's assignment:

At what point did a pop culture series “jump the shark” and lose your interest?

I'll talk about House in a minute, but first I want to clarify something about shark-jumping. I had an epiphany about this a year ago when DC rolled out the New 52. I wrote an article about it for Robot 6 called "DC Comics and the Shattered Illusion." The premise was that "serialized fiction – whether in comics, TV, or even the movies – presents an illusion that it knows what it’s doing. That there’s a master plan being followed and if you’ll just stick with the story, all will be revealed and eventually concluded in an emotionally satisfying way that makes complete sense. This is of course crap." It's crap for superhero comics, it's crap for Star Wars, and it's crap for every J.J. Abrams show ever. 98% of the time, the creators have no idea how the series will end when they start it. They just introduce a great premise and hope for the best.

That realization helped me define what I mean when I use the term Jump the Shark. Instead of a vague realization that I've simply lost interest in a series, the Jump the Shark moment has become the point at which the illusion is shattered and I realize the creators have no idea where the story is going. According to Wikipedia, that was more or less the original usage of the term: "The point in a television program's history when the program had outlived its freshness and viewers had begun to feel that the show's writers were out of new ideas." One of the reasons I think Jump the Shark moments are hard to define though is because I don't believe that they're always followed by a complete lack of quality. House is an example of that.

For me, the show's Jump the Shark moment came about halfway through Season Seven with the episode "Bombshells." Three major things happen in it, but they're all connected. First, Cuddy finds blood in her urine and learns that she might have cancer. Second, at the end of the episode she breaks up with House because his reaction to her potential illness causes her to realize that he's not capable of having a real relationship. I was never a Huddy 'shipper, so I was cool with that, but I had a hard time with House's reaction to the breakup: He goes back on Vicodin.

After getting used to - and even liking - the idea that Gregory House was an unchangeable character for the first five years, the Season Five finale floored me by not only having him regret his drug addiction for the first time, but also check himself into a psychiatric hospital. To my complete shock, the show was moving forward and House was developing as a character.

He stayed on that course for all of Season Six and the first half of Season Seven. He was still an ass, but he was trying to be a better person. The show went from being a fun, mystery-of-the-week with a loveably loathable character to becoming an Actual Story. With "Bombshells" though, the writers seemed to have taken that development as far as they were comfortable. If House improved any more, he was in danger of losing his defining edge. So they pulled him back.

It's not that the show sucked after that. There were still some great, compelling episodes in the last season-and-a-half, but I was never able to take it as seriously again. Any further growth in House's character felt fake and cheap, because it was now just about getting him back to where he was in early Season Seven. I'd lost so much interest in the main character that I stuck with the show out of habit and curiosity, not because it was amazing TV anymore. Ultimately, I like where House ended up at the end of the series and I'm glad I stuck with it, but I had to fight some serious apathy there for a while.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

This is a though question for someone like myself who doesn't follow primetime programming on a weekly basis, often catching up on it through the internet or DVDs after the show has become popular so it can be easier to avoid contested episodes.

For me its a bit more subtle. For example, I enjoyed the "The Big Bang Theory" at first, but by season three I couldn't stand it anymore. It wasn't because of any big event or change in writing, its just that after a while it becomes hard to accept that characters like Sheldon or Howard could be as self centered as they are and not be called out on it or suffer greater consequences.

This kind of gradual "jerkification" can be particularly egregious in comedy cartoons were character are defined by such broad strokes that can be easily distorted over time. Example: "Spongebob Squarepants", the once kindly and helpful sea creature, who was enduringly unique with his "square peg in a round world" attitude is now a loud, eccentric weirdo who yells and cries when he doesn't get his way and seems ignorant of basic social etiquette.

As for a specific incident that just killed a show for me completely I remember there was an episode of "CSI" were the evidence used was a vase. Apparently the killer confessed the murder to his friend during a pottery class, and the sound was embedded in the grooves of the pot. The CSIs hook the vase up to a digital record player and are able to recall the conversation perfectly. Come on! Even if such a thing could be done, theres no way it would be admissible in court!

Michael May said...

Wow! That CSI example is hilarious!

You make an interesting point about how the way we watch show affects our tolerance. I agree. Watching back-to-back episodes in a marathon also reveals how formulaic some of them are. I like Castle a lot, but I can't watch too many episodes in a row before getting bored.

Kelly Sedinger said...

I agree about how watching a show in marathon-style influences how we feel about it. I plowed through a few seasons of The West Wing a year or so ago, and I found the show a lot more annoying than I had when I'd been watching it at the rate that NBC doled it out. Part of that was my gradual falling-away from Aaron Sorkin, whose work has left me increasingly wanting ever since he left TWW, but part of it was also that the flaws just stood out more and more. I was struck at some fairly sexist memes that seem to propagate through all of his work, for instance. Plus, I started realizing that Sorkin is a serial recycler of entire pages of dialogue as well as entire dramatic situations.

As for House specifically, I too hated that particular development in the House-and-Cuddy relationship. I hate it when teevee producers do something like that but can't figure out how to make it work, so they throw in a contrived way to reset the relationship back to what it had been before. Grey's Anatomy did this constantly, to the point that I lost my emotional investment and stopped watching a couple of seasons back. This is something that worries me about Castle: I think they're doing a great job with Castle-and-Beckett as couple right now, but I'm afraid they'll get to a point where they can't figure out how to keep it going and somehow have them break up but still be wisecracking partners. We'll see!

Kal said...

Don't get me started on that Gregory House. I watched every damn episode of that show and I half expected all his later 'growth' to be some kind of 'in the shower' dream sequence. But I watched.

I have many moments that lost me. 'Lost' and 'Hell on Wheels' waiting until the very end (thought I still hope HOW is pulling an 'Occurance at Oak Creek' twist on me if they get a season three).

For me it hurt to let NCIS go but the sight of the whole cast, ending up in a shut down gas station, on Christmas Eve, with a pregnant MARINE put the stake in that vampire but good. Never again though I loves me some Aby and Ducky and Ziva. But Tony and Gibbs have to die. They will never change that show because they are fearful people but CSI, the original had lost me when William Peterson left but brought me back in a big way with Elizabeth Shue and Ted Danson.

Only ONE show should ever get to use the term, JUMP THE SHARK and that was HAPPY DAYS who had Fonzie, gloriously, actually jump a shark.

Michael May said...

Kelly, I hear you about Grey's Anatomy. The actors' performances keep me glued to that show, but the relationships have gone way beyond ridiculous.

I was glad to read on your blog that you're still liking Castle. I'm far behind on this season, partially because I was afraid to keep watching after being so pleased with last season's finale. And frankly, the Let's Date But Keep It A Secret development was worrisome to me. I need to catch up though as see where they've gone.


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