In the news this week is a story about the upcoming broadcast of the 500th episode of The Simpsons.
While the media will no doubt focus on the achievement of any show being on air for 23 years and making it to 500 episodes, there will be a lot of people – like me – who are just amazed that the show is still running.
To me, The Simpsons stopped being funny in the late 1990s. A quick look at an Episode Guide and I find that the last episode I truly found amusing was Episode 197 – Simpson Tide – and that one was the only beacon of light in amongst a mostly underwhelming Ninth Season. By
the fifth episode of the following season – When You Dish Upon A Star – I made the decision to give up on a show that I had fallen out of love with.
The main problems with The Simpsons were three-fold.
- Homer had gone from being the every-man who people around the world could relate to, to almost a retarded character. The opening scene of ‘The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace’ where Homer obliviously walks across a busy road nearly getting hit by a multitude of cars while lamenting that he’s more than half way through his average life expectancy was humour for children and idiots.
- The scripts became repetitive. How many times could Homer leave his job at the start of an episode to try something else out, only to end up back there at the end of the episode? How many times could Sideshow Bob show up? How many times could Krusty the Klown fall on hard times?
- Celebrity Involvement. There’s nothing wrong with a celebrity lending his or her voice to a character for an episode, but by the 9th season, the show became about The Simpsons actually meeting these celebrities. Mostly they’d stopped voicing characters and instead were making cameos as themselves in the cartoon.
There are more problems of course, such as the fact they never age or grow up, the loss of Phil Hartman and the introduction of unfunny characters like the cat lady and the guy who is always down on his luck.
And the thing is, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say the same thing. The Simpsons should have finished in the 90s when it was still funny, but the problem with it is that it made and still makes an incredible amount of money.
So the chances are we’ll be stuck with it for a while longer, and while I’ll still largely ignore anything new that they produce, I will always enjoy classic episodes from the golden era of Seasons 2-5.
Ten Other Shows That Outstayed Their Welcome
The Simpsons is the most high-profile example of a show that managed to outstay its welcome, there’s no doubt about that. But there are others.
Here’s a list of ten other shows I can think of that also fit the bill.
1. Only Fools & Horses
On the 29th of December 1996, a whopping 24.3 million people tuned in to see off Del Boy, Rodney & Uncle Albert. A creative and commercial success. the supposed ‘final trilogy’ brought the show to a terrific conclusion with them literally walking off into the sunset as millionaires. If only they could have stayed that way.
In 2001, it came back.
By this point, two key members of the cast had died and the reset switch had been pressed with Del Boy & Rodney being poor again. Also, Denzel – a formerly minor character – was given more prominence because of his role in the popular film The Full Monty.
The real final trilogy of Only Fools was dreadful. They should have left well alone. By the time the real final episode was aired, almost 10 million viewers had dropped off (even on Christmas Day).
Poor old John Sullivan couldn’t let it lie though and continued to produce unfunny spin-offs like The Green Green Grass and Cod & Chips.
Still…he’s dead now.
What happens when you lose the main character of a TV show? Sometimes it works fine. Blake’s Seven and Survivors are two examples of shows that…erm…survived fine without the original lead characters. But in a comedy
where one character is the centre of all the laughs, it becomes difficult to survive without him.
After Series 3 of Coupling, Richard Coyle – who played the brilliantly funny Welshman, Jeff – left the show, leaving behind a cast of less amusing characters trying to be funny without him. And it was difficult. Writer Stephen Moffat tried his best to replace Jeff with a new character, but he was never going to be any good, and even beyond that, the show became a bit wearing from a creative point of view. The episode where everyone is on the phone to each other was overcomplicated and lacking in humour.
When Coyle left, that should have been that.
3. The Brittas Empire
If I watched this show today I doubt I’d laugh at all. But this show was one of the top sitcoms of the early 1990s and as a kid, I thought it was good.
What made the Brittas Empire work was the Assistant Manager, Laura. While every other character – including Brittas himself – was incompetent and ridiculous, Laura was normal. She was the glue that bonded everything together and made what would have been a wholly unrealistic show at least semi believable. But she left after the 5th series and so the last two series were crap.
And the last episode also finished with the worst conclusion to a TV show I’ve ever seen – it was all a dream.
While I still enjoy Outnumbered, the fact is that what made the show funny was that it was semi-improvised because the youngest two kids were so young that they weren’t actually acting.
The fact that Karen wasn’t acting and instead just randomly asking questions fed to her by the writers, in an attempt to flummox Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner is what made it funny. Because Karen was natural, she was one of the great TV characters.
Now though the kids are growing up. They’ve moved from being cute to obnoxious and they are clearly ‘acting’. The funny parts of the show are now the parts with just Dennis and Skinner.
And that’s really not what it should be about.
5. Family Guy
Had Family Guy stayed cancelled, it would be up there with shows like Fawlty Towers and Arrested Development as shows that stopped when they were at their creative peak, leaving fans desperate for more.
But it came back, and that’s the worst thing that could have happened to it.
It started off again well enough, but soon ran out of steam.
Seth MacFarlane has spread himself too thin, trying to find humour not only in 20-odd episodes of Family Guy per year, but also full seasons of American Dad and the Cleveland Show. Even the most talent writers in the world would struggle to find humour for more than 70 episodes per year.
Yes, there are occasionally still funny episodes – I watched a good one about Christmas being cancelled while flying home from the USA last year – but mostly those episodes are few and far between. Like the Simpsons, there was a water-shed moment for me where I found an episode so bad that I just stopped watching. In this case it was an episode where Meg is sent to prison and comes out a violent lesbian. That was just crude and unfunny.
But crude and unfunny is what Family Guy has generally become. When the show isn’t being vulgar (for example, there’s an episode Stewie – who has changed from being a matricidal super-genius into a rather perverted and repressed homosexual – makes Brian eat the contents of his nappy) it seems to exist to allow Seth MacFarlane to stroke his own ego and sing a variety of songs.
Let Family Guy Go. Leave the memories alone.
6. Prison Break
Season 1 of Prison Break is about a group of people planning and escaping from Prison. It was superb.
Season 2 of Prison Break is about them being on the run from the law. It was a natural follow-up to Season 1 and it too is superb.
Season 3 of Prison Break is about the same group of people planning and escaping from another Prison. Wait…what?
That’s right. In an attempt to keep Prison Break going, most of the original cast end up back in prison and have to escape again. It just didn’t work. It was ridiculous. If that was the best they could come up with they should have just left it with what would have been its natural conclusion at the end of the second Season.
What’s different about this show to the others I’ve nominated though is that against all the odds, they managed to turn it around in the fourth season by changing the format. It was silly but it was exciting.
But wait…they couldn’t leave it there either. They had to release one final TV Movie called ‘The Final Break’, which was also rotten.
So, if you want to watch Prison Break, by all means do it, but skip Season 3 – they just end up hitting the reset switch in the first episode of Season 4 anyway.
The problem with 24 was the insistence on sticking to the 24 hour formula.
It worked once, twice, maybe three or four times.
But eventually the show was becoming ridiculous, with Nuclear bombs going off at 3pm and being forgotten about by about 6pm the same day, because the plot had moved on.
If they had changed the format of the show and just turned it into the adventures of Jack Bauer and CTU it would have been fine, but it just became implausible and repetitive, and that’s what eventually did for it.
Sometimes shows end badly through no fault of their own.
Any reader of this article might be expecting me to induct Aliasinto it. Alias was five seasons in length and had one central storyline throughout seasons 1-4 that was nicely wrapped up with the intention of moving the show in a
different direction from the next season onwards.
But the problem was that the new direction didn’t work so well and thus – given notice of its upcoming cancellation – the show-runners reignited the previous story arc to give the show that one last hurrah.
I forgive Alias for that. The ending was unsatisfying and with hindsight the show should have ended the previous year, but they didn’t know it was going to be cancelled.
Chuck is a different story. The writers of Chuck finished the penultimate season knowing there would only be 13 episodes left the next year.
And yet they did the same thing as Alias. They completed a show long story arc at the end of Season 4 and then knowingly hit the reset switch anyway.
The final season of Chuck – which I watched after I wrote the article about Under-Appreciated TV Shows – was hugely disappointing and ended with a whimper.
They could and should have finished it last year.
9. My Family
When the cast refuse to perform a script because it’s so bad, you know you’ve gone on too long.
If the Simpsons is the Grandfather of all shows that exceeded their natural lifespan, then its immediate heir is Lost.
Lost started off so well, it really did, but I can’t even begin to explain what happened towards the end.
What started off as a show about plane crash survivors stranded on a desert island eventually became a show about a 1970s technological initiative, two figures representing the lightness and dark of the universe and the fact that they were all dead anyway…I think. Really, I’m not even sure what happens towards the end because by the time Jim Robinson and his crack squad of commandos turned up, a group of people who hadn’t even been in the plane crash go back in time to stop a bomb going off or something, and a magic cupboard that could make all your dreams come true was written into the plot, I had just given up.
Towards the end, I was in the room while Lost was on, but I just wasn’t taking it in. Like almost everyone else I felt as though I had to see it through, otherwise many hours of my life would count for nothing. There had to be a satisfactory ending…and there wasn’t.
Lost become lost up its own arse, pardon the pun. It had continuity errors running through it like a vicious form of cancer. They kept sacking members of staff because they kept getting pissed while on their little paid vacation in Hawaii. They kept adding more and more cast members to replace the ones they’d sacked. And they also kept bringing back people who they’d already killed off because they realised they shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
It didn’t make sense. It couldn’t make sense. There was no pay-off to it.
If I recall correctly, the big problem came down to them announcing that the show would go on for a specific amount of time and then not really having enough plot or creativity to see it through.
The sad thing about it is that some people will defend Lost and try to claim that everything about it was written for a reason and that it all makes some sense. Well among the many issues, I need someone to explain what the pay-off was to Libby being in the same mental institution as Hurley. And that’s just one issue of about 1001 others.
You know a show has managed to cock things up when the disappointing ending is mentioned in other TV shows, as Lost was in the Big Bang Theory recently.
Even the writers know they messed up, as they debuted a ‘deleted scene’ at Comic-Con which was both apologetic and self-deprecating, basically admitting they made the show difficult to follow.
When should Lost have finished? Probably after Season 2, but like so many of these shows the problem is that the networks want to keep them on the air and the writers are too content making their money
One TV Show That Shouldn’t Have Even Started – The Royal Bodyguard
Please David Jason, just bloody well retire. You’re embarrassing yourself.