Wednesday, November 07, 2012
LXB | When House jumped the shark
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.