Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE OPPOSITE OF "JUMPING THE SHARK"? or THE MOMENT A TV SHOW, GETS TOO GOOD?: A TV ANOMALY THAT NEEDS A COOL NAME!



It took eleven seasons of hijinks and drinking and keeping his sanity by acting crazy, when the final episode of "M*A*S*H" begins, Hawkeye's gone crazy and is trying desperately to joke his way through torturous sessions with Sidney Freedman. It took eleven seasons to build up to that reveal. No actually, there wasn't any build-up come to think of it. That's probably why it so caught us offguard.

Now, consider that, instead of this before a story line to the famous last episode of "M*A*S*H", what if, that had happened to him, in say, season 5. There'd be this level of buildup and foreshadowing that something happened to Hawkeye, maybe they'd show up, Hawkeye in the psych ward in the beginning of the season, and the whole year would be told in flashbacks, or maybe the whole show would've been up until that point, creating and driving tension, until finally, we get the moment he snaps, and it's this great catharic moment for the audience, and for Hawkeye, him finally coming to terms, and then having to go back out to the 4077 and then struggle once again, trying to become his old self again. It would still be a good show, but would it be, as good a show, afterwards, if it was built up like that. Yes, it would be a different show entirely; that goes without saying, but after all this time of true legitimate build up to the shocking moment that completely alters the mindset of the main character, it wouldn't be, as good as it was.

I've been noticing this a lot lately in TV shows actually, especially the more serialized episodic ones with continual stories going on. I don't exactly have a name for it yet, (In fact, I'm looking for one, if anyone has a recommendation) but I think it's essentially the exact opposite of the Jumping the Shark. It's the moment where a great show peaks with a moment that is so great, that we know, the show could never top it, no matter what, so even though, it might still be good, it's always/still gonna be good, in some cases great, but it won't top the moment before. I thought about this a lot when "Breaking Bad" finally won the Emmy a few months back. Not that it didn't deserve it, in fact of the nominees, I would've voted for it too. Yet, I could help but think, "Wrong year." Cause, we all know when they should've won, the year before when Walter blew up Gus Fring. That moment will rank as one of the greatest in television history for years to come, and immediately places legitimacy into any discussion about "Breaking Bad" being one of the greatest TV shows of all-time. And the next half-season that they won the Emmy for, was good. Nothing wrong with it, I didn't have a problem with it winning, but-eh, it was a bit like a great actor winning his only Oscar, for a role that's completely forgotten the next year, while the roles we still remember and talk about, he kept getting overlooked on. The fact is, that that moment was so good, that, "Breaking Bad", was just never gonna equal it. The same thing happened a couple years ago with "Dexter", when Trinity killed Dexter's wife, and Dexter didn't know about it until it was too late. They lost to "Mad Men" that year, as many shows did, and nothing against "Mad Men", or even "Homeland" that beat out "Breaking Bad", they're certainly not unworthy winners, but there's something about those amazing moments in a TV show. They're built up, sometimes for years, the show's quality has to be strong to begin with to have us interested at all, and then continually exceed out already high expectations, and then, the show remained really good, just was never gonna beat that moment. The great buildup, the perfect execution, the great twists, all we love about TV. 

You see, it's becoming a newer phenomenon, A. because of shows are better, certain shows anyway, but it's happening a lot more in the serialized dramas right now, because B. that's the inherent flaw in their structure, is that they have to keep building up and building up a show to the highest and most dramatic moments. That's why, a moment like that, works in say, a final episode of a series, that isn't a serial like it did "M*A*S*H", where the last thing we thought possible not only is happening, but is going on, and now we go "What the hell 'caused this?" 'Cause that's the moment too, it's usually when something major happens to a critical character that completely changes the dynamic. Think about "Frasier," great show, was great, for pretty much, it's entire run. There are episodes of that show, in seasons nine and ten, that are, brilliant, amazing television, but, after season five it was on the decline, 'cause at the end of season, Niles's big secret about being in love with Daphne got revealed. (Well, technically, it was when they got together, 'cause Daphne had known for about a year, but it was when she started falling for him, but anyway-) When they got together, the show wasn't as good. They evolved from that moment more successfully than others, because that was never the crux of the show, like a "Dexter" for instance, where every season, there's a new major villain he has to eventually kill, so the tension builds up that way. You could call these "Jumping the Shark" moments for a show, but that really entails, that a show, went bad. Fonzi jumping the shark on "Happy Days" wasn't just the moment "Happy Days" started to suck, that was the moment when the show became unwatchable, and essentially became complete shit. You couldn't take the show seriously, 'cause the moment was so awful. The good-to-crap moment, that's jumping the shark.

I don't quite know what we should call these moments of a TV show. The earliest that, I think of, when I think the moment of a show like this, is "Kristen Did It", the reveal of "Who Shot JR", notice it's an episodic as well. Three years of building up JR Ewing, as the most evil motherfucker alive, and then somebody shoots him, and we don't know who, and everybody had a reason to do it. Brilliant television. Now, we all know when, or relatively when "Dallas" jumped the shark, it was of course, the whole eighth season being a dream, and Bobby's in the shower and alive, and yada, yada, yada, but that five, six seasons later, the never-top-that-moment, (Hmm, that could be the name), was revealing the reveal of Who shot JR.  

Despite how great many of them are, I've often complained about episodic series, especially these dramas, partly because they take up so much of our time, and if you miss one episode you're fucked until they're on DVD, but because they're episodic, they're building to these moments. "Breaking Bad" is about, Gus getting killed. (Well, every character getting killed actually) Is he gonna get killed now, who's gonna kill him, how are they gonna kill, is Gus gonna kill them first, etc. etc. That's practically two years of the series. That was what it was about, nothing more. If Ross never had a romantic feeling for Rachel and vice-versa, the show would've still survived, because it wasn't about them getting together, it was about the six friends. Stuff kept happening to them, that's what the show was about. A lot of it was relationships; ironically it wasn't essential. Look at "M*A*S*H" again, not the last episode, the best episode, that would've been a moment of this nature, if it was done today, the "Abyssina, Henry" episode. Col. Henry Blake, gets told that he's discharge, they have a huge celebration for him and everyone's happy and sad that he's going, and they all wish him well, as the helicopter takes him away. Then, everyone's in surgery, and Radar walks in, tells us all that his plane got shot down, and he's dead. I still cry at the episode, but ironically, the show, got better afterwards! Because it wasn't about the character getting killed; it wasn't about his struggles to see home, it was surviving the war with your life, and if possible, you're sanity. Great episode, great character, great moment, but it wasn't built up, it came out of nowhere, and everybody went back to doing what they were doing. That's why, I look at these kinds of shows more highly, they don't have to build to these moments, they can have them, and range every kind of emotion possible. They can be a good show without them in fact. And when such shocking moments do come, they're more powerful  typically because they're characters-based moments, and not-so-much plot-based.

Anyway, this is a high-level discussion, we're talking about shows that are supremely excellent to even be in this discussion. (Although, I'm sure if I pass this off to somebody they'll mention an episode of "Lost" or some crap like that and pass it off an good, we'll ignore those claims.) But really, the real reason I wanna focus on these moments is because we need a name for them. Assuming "Jumping the Shark" is the standard, we need an equivalent name to recognize and discuss these moments, but what other great TV moments should qualify, and which one should we name them after, so that we can get a name for them. I've been working on it for awhile, and I can't think of a good name that's equal to "Jumping the Shark", so, lets remember some shows and these great moments from these great shows, and let's make a good list, and see if we can have a good callback. So far, I've got, "Down the Elevator Shaft", as a reference to "L.A. Law", "Kristen Did It", like I mentioned, although that's a terrible name. That's the thing, it has to be well-known enough that everyone can reference it, and it also has to be the climax of the show, and that we knew, it couldn't get any better than it was at that moment, but was still gonna be really good;. I'm a TV expert, but this phenomenon's fairly new, at least in this amount of prevalence, but, I'm hoping all you readers can help me on this.

So what do we call, the opposite of "Jumping the Shark"? 




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