Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Good Shows Go Bad

My friend James is a Pink Floyd completist which is why he bought the Roger
Waters album Music From The Body (possibly the worst album in the history of rock & roll, although Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music comes close) and which is why I watched the season 7 1/2 finale of Mad Men. Mad Men was once a great show but which has outstayed its welcome recycling ideas and plots endlessly until all the originality and spark has gone. For a show that makes a ton of money for its network you have to wonder too how the back projection is so utterly incompetent: the scenes in the light aircraft and in the moving cars are so poor you wonder if they are meant to be meta-textually bad, a deliberate breaking of the 4th wall via dodgy back projection, which Quentin Tarantino did so well in Pulp Fiction. But this I think would be to give Mad Men too much credit. The show has gotten boring and cheap. 
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Americans make the best television in the world but almost every good American show you can think of hangs around too long. Battlestar Galactica's 4th season was an utter disaster, Arrested Development's long awaited 4th season was a huge disappointment, the Sopranos got boring at the end, even Breaking Bad got long in the tooth. Few show runners can resist the lure of money, the idea that if they make enough programmes they'll get a syndication deal...but they should resist. There is another way of doing business. The British way. 2 seasons of 6 episodes and you're done. You'll always leave the fans wanting more and quality will never suffer. Who did this? The Office, Fawlty Towers, Flight of the Conchords (which was on HBO but had very much a BBC sensibility) etc. etc. I can think of fewer examples of drama series doing this alas, but in general the longer a show goes on the more bereft of ideas it becomes. Even my beloved Louie is beginning to get a bit stale. And don't even talk about The Simpsons...
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(Incidentally, as probably all of you already know, the concept of 'jumping the shark' was invented for the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumped over a shark in water skis - still a better idea than killing Kara Thrace and resurrecting her as an angel.)
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If you can't go the British route the 2nd best thing to do is to get your show cancelled in the 2nd or 3rd season while its a cult but not a ratings success. I sometimes imagine what Breaking Bad would have been like if it had ended with Walter White killing The Chicken Man or if Battlestar Galactica had been cancelled right after they had discovered the fake Earth or Mad Men hadn't made it out of the first season or if Arrested Development had stayed dead...The showrunners and creators wouldn't be as rich but they would have the sympathy and love of their fans and peers alike and as Orson Welles famously said "in Hollywood everyone thinks it's all about the money but the real currency is respect."