Tuesday, May 2, 2017

IS IT FAIR TO ANALYZE TELEVISION SEASONS WHEN LOOKING AT A SERIES AS A WHOLE?

Maybe it's just me, and I never really paid much attention before, but, there's something off with the way that we analyze television, seasonally. Growing up, I never looked at a show that way, and I never really thought anybody else did either. I guess, just by the logic that, well, had the Emmys, so somebody must've been looking at it that way, for that at least, but other than that, generally I don't look at most series like that. Basically the only show that I would naturally do that for would be reality shows, and it's pretty easy to see why in that case, because each season of a show would be very distinct and in most cases would have it's own new cast of characters. The yearly anthology series like "American Horror Story" or "Fargo" or "True Detective" is a very new invention that didn't exist back fifteen years ago, but everything else....- 

I know, I will occasionally say that I like/preferred or didn't a particular season of a show moreso now, but that's partially because we are more prone to compacting and considering television shows, as a season. Hell, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, they present new series a season at a time; we basically have no other option but to consider a show like that nowadays and I don't think that's fair or adequate. In many cases, I think a lot of good shows are getting hurt because of how closely we've begun analyzing series by the quality of it's season as a whole. Now, it's 100% true that television shows, even since the beginning of television have arcs to their series and characters, and if you do go back and watch some of them, that includes seasonal character arcs, that are specific and continuing, but did people really notice them back then? I mean, sure, a week of time between episodes helped to hide certain longer-running storylines and only on reruns do things like, a random cut to Laurie Metcalf fidgeting with a piece of her clothes  as she walked into The Lunch Box for work, reveal itself as foreshadowing for when we realize Fisher was physically abusing her, which we don't learn officially until several episodes later, but....-

Quick, don't look it up, what season did Fonzi jump the shark? Yeah, this moment: 



Purportedly the iconic and notorious moment that everybody references whenever a television show supposedly has, gone from good-to-bad in such a way, in such an instant that the show is doomed to never recover from the incident, what season did it happen in? I posted that question in a few film groups, to see how many people would know the answer, and not a lot of people answered, and no joke, none of the ones who did got it right. In case you're wondering, it's the fifth season, the fifth season of "Happy Days" is when Fonzie jumped the shark. "Happy Days" lasted eleven seasons. Oh, and it was the third episode of "Happy Days", that season, when it happened. But it went downhill afterwards, and scurried along until it was finally canceled, right, like the legend says, once you jump the shark then the show loses it's cultural importance and people stop watching forever, right? Actually, no, "Happy Days" did fall in the ratings, from #1 to #2, but it only loss a single ratings point, from 31.5 to 31.4, and even the next year, it loss more, but it was still the 3rd most watched show that season, tied with "Mork & Mindy", a show, that was a spinoff of "Happy Days". A spinoff of "Happy Days", based on an episode that happened, after Fonzie jumped the shark. 20 EPISODES AFTER! Yeah, you know what other character got introduced after Fonzie jumped the shark, Leather Tuscadero. No, better yet, you know who else didn't show up 'til season five after this moment, CHACHI! Yes, CHACHI, Scott Baio, who also, got a spinoff series for a year, not to mention two other successful series afterwards, and no I'm not talking his stupid reality show. (That, actually wasn't that stupid if I'm being honest. [Sigh] It actually wasn't bad, sorry.) And btw, hell, it's not like there wasn't stupid stuff before and after Fonzie jumped the shark, or afterwards, why aren't those moments singled out more and are looked upon as the jumping the shark moment? Hell, how isn't it, "Bring In the Alien!" Seriously, an alien on fucking "Happy Days"! My god!?!?! Can you believe how lucky this show is that they found a Robin Williams for that?! Any other show, that would've been the jump the shark moment. It should be called, "Bring in the Alien"! Seriously think about that some days.

But yeah, season five. Not even the halfway point of the show's run, and the evidence actually doesn't indicate that it's the moment the audience tuned out for. And I'm not gonna claim that isn't a bad or stupid moment, although, for my money, I think the footage is actually more seamless than people would like to believe, but it begs another question, just how relevant are the seasons of a series, when analyzing a series? This feels like a prime example of why it's actually a really misleading way of analysis, obviously every show has ways of indicating just, when and where they're being made, whether that's something simple like, extra or fewer characters or actors or differing locations or certain status quos of the series that have evolved or changed over time, or hell, just, by the shear fact that characters, especially children get older during the run of the series. (Animation exception) but it still nags at me that we're so ingrained in analyzing a series, season-by-season, and many series, make particular notes about how distinctive the seasons are. I saw somebody else put a poll up on a Facebook post recently, 13 episodes of 22 episodes, which do you prefer for a series to have, and all I could think is that if the show were any good then it wouldn't and shouldn't matter. And seasons, I often look at the same way, a series not only should be just as good in the ninth as it is in the first, if not better, but in my mind, the best series; it doesn't occur to me to think, "What season is this?" or "How long into the series is this?" cause the series would still be just as good and overall, there'd actually be quite little basic change over the time period.

Don't just think, "Happy Days", but think "All in the Family", until Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers left the series, I'd be hard-pressed to figure out, when and where in the timeline of a random episode of that series is. (Hell, I'll be honest, until I looked it up, I didn't know the "Happy Days" question either off-the-top-of-my-head) Not that they've just remained static as a series and nothing happens changes, a lot actually did occur, but the core show didn't.

Trying to figure out when did seasons actually, start mattering is tricky, I guess there's some television points of reference, most notably, the season-finale cliffhangers like "Who Shot JR?" after "Dallas"'s 3rd season, but that was a serial soap opera on top of everything else. It's weirder to me, to think about a show like, hmm, what's a good example here, eh, how about "Seinfeld"? Now, I think to layman, this might be the example of a series everybody would go to when they say a television show doesn't change over time, and the changes don't matter. They do, first of all, characters go through several relationships and there's more recurring themes than you realize and blah, blah, blah, but there are notable differences that indicate that a series is in it's later years than it's first seasons, that might go over peoples' head. For instance, at a certain point, the show became more about the outlandish laughs and not so much, the continued narrative. There's reports all the time that, the show became more like "SNL" behind-the-scenes where the writers were writing more for the laughs then for the quality of the series overall. Now the show is still great and many of those episodes are still funny, and they don't seem out-of-place if you don't look closely enough, but the more you watch a show, the more obvious it would become. This is notable for being around the time when Larry David left the series as a producer and Seinfeld himself took over more duties behind-the-scenes, so you end up with people, trying to imitate more than continue.

I often hear that the loss or change of a showrunner can often be real determining factor, since often a showrunner is a creator or main voice behind a show and while I can definitely think of examples where that is the case; I can think of just as many where that's not true at all. Sure, there are some distinctive voices in television, like when Aaron Sorkin left "The West Wing" it was clear that those who had to take over were not necessarily as up to his unique status and standard, and that show has a quote-unquote "bad season", season five, but I'd still argue that a bad season for "The West Wing" is a great season for most other series and eventually, while not the show it once was, it recovered. There's other shows like "Smash" I can think of where the creator was fighting with the network the entire time, and then when she left, they put in charge somebody who was from so outside Theresa Rebeck's talents, abilities and mindset, not-to-mention just not qualified for the job of showrunner in general, much less for the kind of show he was producing, that it's no wonder that series second season was an unmitigated disaster. (Hell, I consider Rebeck's original base for the series that she created to be, essentially the reason that that 2nd season was as watchable as it was.) However, some shows switch showrunners every season it seems, like "The Big Bang Theory" for instance, has had a few and while it's starting to get tired now, I don't blame that on that show's showrunner, moreso than I blame the fact that they've basically evolved the characters so much that this new status quo they've achieved leaves less room for the series to be as appealing as it once was. That's not necessarily a negative, but...- yeah, I think that's sort of my point. Rarely do I think shows, change in quality so drastically from season-to-season that it really merits such discussions. Hell, even most of the ones that supposedly do, are usually shows that, I was in the minority on and didn't regard that highly to begin with. (I'm looking at you, "Homeland", and you "Mr. Robot", and you "True Detective," purportedly, I actually haven't seen the second season of that one yet,)

Still though, how did we get to this focus on season analysis of a series so much then? (Sigh) Well, I guess the obvious answer is, DVDs, since that was the first time that television was widely available to be taken home and naturally it was more easily able to be separated into individual seasons than ever before. I think it actually has more to do however, with the more erratic scheduling. Not just the fact that, we have a more scattered scheduling with series especially on cable, but also, similar to British series, there's often years now between seasons of shows. That's the thing, even when shows evolved and took years between series, they usually made efforts to make sure that shows from one seasons to another were as seamless as one episode to another.

What this leads to, is making a series more able to be compared season-by-season, since they're often too distinctive to not be considered in such a way. (Sigh) I can see both sides of this argument as to why that's good and bad, but I do look at television series through a long lens, even streaming ones. Eventually, one them's gonna make a enough episodes and will eventually start airing on whatever the future version of Nick at Nite is, which I guess is MeTV or AntennaTV now, and compete with each currently-running series, and so far, these series don't have much of a run on syndication and reruns. Even ones like "Sex and the City", which seem seamless enough between seasons, they don't survive too long in syndication. They survive in binge-watching sure and on streaming, but there isn't that much success in reruns. The only series like this I can think of like that that's currently pretty big in reruns is "The Walking Dead", and I think that's partially 'cause the show's still on the air, (And part of that's because too many people like zombies more than they probably should.) and I seriously doubt that's gonna continue for much longer.

It's apart of how too much of television seems specialized to me that makes me concerned honestly. It's one problem that these shows have, not just the bad ones, which there are way more of then people realize, but the good ones being so distinctive between seasons are probably also gonna get lost in the shuffle. And instead of remember, a bad moment, from a show, in the future, we're gonna remember too many more, supposed, "bad seasons" instead. And, a bad season can kill a show much moreso than just a supposed "bad episode". At least if there's just a bad episode, you can wait 'til next week for a new one that's good.




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