Television is a strange industry. For every successful, acclaimed run of a Mad About You, viewers will be forever forced to live with the emotional scarring that occurs after a two-episode hiccup like The Paul Reiser Show. (and this is nothing compared to what it means for someone like Reiser himself, or his agent, for that matter). Some shows– underappreciated by the suits who dictate decisions—are gone too soon, the victim of poor time-slotting and/or marketing (see: Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks). Others hang on languidly, somehow avoiding the executioner’s axe long after the head should have been firmly in the basket.
The latter efforts—unwieldy beasts of resplendent horror—far outweigh the noble efforts that met with a premature demise. To me, they’re more interesting simply because THEY CANNOT BE KILLED. Like some child’s imagining of a super-robot-dragon, they keep coming back, no matter how many rocket-laser-grenades they’re peppered with. They are the Freddy or Jason of small-screen entertainment. Somebody somewhere likes them, by golly, and despite precipitously declining ratings, they’ve found a way to survive.
So as the memorable 2011-2012 season draws to a close (somebody scream Whitney!), and with the 2012 Fall upfronts slowly fading in the rearview (FOX’s The Mindy Project, starring writer/actress Mindy Kaling from The Office looks to be the biggest winner), I thought we’d take a look at shows that, while returning this Fall, deserve to be Old Yeller’d. So avert your gaze like you’re in a geriatric hospital for those with leprosy—these shows have gotten ugly.
The Office (NBC):
The Office has been bad for an obnoxiously long amount of time now. In fact, it’s venturing into territory unceremonious and dubious by distinction: it will soon have as many bad seasons as it did good. This season was particularly disturbing in its lack of worth. Andy (the once brilliant Ed Helms) took over as manager after the departure of Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), causing a million collective frowns, then a bunch of yawns. We were formally, fully introduced to new CEO Robert California (James Spader) a confusing, skeletal character who added nothing but took up plenty of our time in return. Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) remained boring and predictable, a state where they’ve decayed since getting married and having children (true to life, perhaps, but not interesting or funny). Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate) was back– a potential managerial replacement candidate from the end of the 7th season fuckaroo—and boy was she not worth the wait. Saucy, sassy, and hailing from Merry Olde England, she’s the female Ricky Gervais, everybody! Well… except for that whole part where Gervais—the original Michael Scott, for those who’ve done themselves the disservice of missing the original BBC series—is funny. And witty. And an exceptionally brilliant character.
Elsewhere, Dwight became convinced that Angela had HIS baby instead of her husband’s (the likely gay Senator), gay Oscar spent too much time wondering if Angela’s husband wanted to have gay sex with him, and Darryl, the salty former warehouse worker-cum-executive, pined for a new female warehouse worker named Val.
Viewers, meanwhile, looked up from the glow of their iPad, went, “hmm,” and went back to wondering why they chose to draw “Michael Keaton,” on Draw Something. (hint: heavily arched eyebrows)
It’s really hard to say when The Office went off the track. To be fair, it was a steady decline. With each passing season, the characters went from real human beings who we rooted for—Pam and Jim’s early stage-flirtations were thoroughly engrossing—to the weirdest cartoons imaginable.
Michael got herpes from a married woman.
Kathy Bates showed up with two gigantic dogs.
Gabe—whatever his position is—had a Glee viewing party.
Will Ferrell—initially hired as Michael’s replacement (whoa—remember that?)—briefly flitted through a few episodes before injuring himself in a warehouse mishap.
No relationships worth caring about were built, those that previously existed or carried on weren’t worth paying attention to, and slowly, with each passing beet joke, the show that once held so much promise died a very visible death, 22 minutes at a time.
For the sake of all that is holy, this show needs to stop. Now.
The Simpsons (FOX):
Believe me, you have NO IDEA how hard it is for me to say this. This is like telling your parents that you no longer love them, or watching your best friend murder a litter of puppies that you had planned on murdering yourself.
For better or worse, as sad as it may be, the Simpsons mean everything to me. They are my closest, dearest friends, my constant companion from the age of eight until question mark, the only thing in my life that has always been there for me. The Simpsons taught me everything I know about everything, really, shaping and determining my personality through thousands and thousands of hours of repeat viewing. Were it possible for man to make love to cartoon, I would have impregnated this program repeatedly, happily.
I began taping the series with the inaugural post Tracey Ullman Show episode (“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”) one glorious night back in 1989, and I’ve never looked back. I filled VHS tape after VHS with season after season, re-watching them until the tracking could no longer be adjusted and the hand-printed label (Simpsons Volume 9! or Simpsons ’98 and some of ’99!) was smudged into an illegible black blur.
I’ve never missed an episode, and I will CRUSH you at Simpsons trivia, I promise.
That’s why this is so hard, and so I guess I’ll come right out and say it: it’s time that we bring it on home, boys.
For several seasons now—like The Office, I won’t bother wasting time trying to pinpoint the exact moment—the Greatest Show of All Time has been in a steady downward spiral. Some point to Season 10 as the pivotal time. Episodes began relying more heavily on celebrity cameos. The show was less character driven, with laughs deriding instead from over-the-top premises and absurd, one-off gags.
To me, this notion seems premature. The show carried on steadily, long after season 10 wrapped. Oh sure, there were no more “Mr. Plow” or “Whacking Day” episodes, and the show lost some of the gritty realism spun from uber-early episodes about adultery, robbery, child abuse, suicide, ARMED robbery and MORE adultery ("Homer’s Night Out," "Some Enchanted Evening," "The Crepes of Wrath," "Homer’s Odyssey," "Krusty Gets Busted" and "Life on the Fast Lane", respectively, all from Season 1), but the show was still the best thing on television for years after many lost faith.
Until recently, that is.
One need look no further than last years’ embarrassments.
The Simpsons parody Inception in an episode where the family attempts to discover the source of Homer’s bed-wetting problem.
The Simpsons parody The Italian Job in an episode where Homer and associates attempt to write a bestselling “tween” novel.
The Simpsons parody The Social Network, when Lisa starts an online social media site in an attempt to become popular.
The thing is, the Simpsons have ALWAYS based episodes off of, or heavily alluded to specific movies, but in the past, they used classically relevant films like Citizen Kane (season five’s “Rosebud”) or The Natural (season three’s “Homer at the Bat”).
A similar decline is apparent with regard to the historical importance of guest stars. The first 300 or so episodes included Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Buzz Aldrin, Stephen King AND HAWking, Larry King, Tony Blair, Tom Clancy and a million hall-of-fame athletes from various sports.
In recent seasons, however, we’ve seen an entire episode based around the cast of Glee and the two unfunny gents from Flight of the Conchords. Remember those guys? Well, you won’t in another two or three years. Throw in some Katy Perry, Fantasia Barrino, an episode that revolves heavily around Michael Buble, and closing credits played by such luminaries as the Tiger Lillies and Fall Out Boy, and it grows almost maddening. I remember when Apu kidnapped Elton John and forced him to play a song for Manjula; Fuck Blink 182.
I know a lot of this sounds like nitpicking, and I fully admit that it is. I’ve invested 23 years of my life to this glorious bastard, however, and although it’s now entirely too late for it to burn out as opposed to fading away, it can still die a dignified death before it just becomes aggressively disappointing.
PS: Tomorrow’s season finale features Lady Gaga. I rest my case.
Modern Family (ABC):
This inclusion may be a grotesquely unpopular, but lookit—I’ve watched the show from episode one and haven’t missed an installment yet. Both of the first two seasons had moments of greatness peppered with spikes of brilliance, and everything else was solidly above-average. The writing was fresh and funny, everything was tinged with an inherent energy, and almost everyone in the cast—while skewing slightly toward the neurotic—was realistic and likeable.
But then the accolades poured in. Critics swooned and viewers applauded rambunctiously and the whole mess took home a slew of well-deserved awards. Everyone everywhere turned to the person on their left and at the same time, in unison, both said, “do you watch Modern Family?” High-fives, all around.
And then something curious happened: the show seemed to lose its funny somewhere between Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) cracking a tooth while running for city council (much funnier when Will Arnett’s “Gob” did it on the previously mentioned Arrested Development, by the way) and the writers’ seemingly endless fascination with the relationship between cousins Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Luke (Nolan Gould). WE GET IT. LUKE IS GOOFUS TO MANNY’S GALLANT. MOVE ON. (Also: the constant pairing isn’t helped by the fact that—and I’m willing to be called an asshole if necessary—both of these kids are ATROCIOUS actors. It’s seriously PAINFUL to watch them.)
Elsewhere in the super galactic MF galaxy, Cam (local boy Eric Stonestreet) has been turned into a ridiculous caricature of a hillbilly, his boyfriend Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is unwatchably whiny and their adopted daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) has grown into an unbridled bitch. Additionally, the super-sexy Gloria (Sofía Vergara) still can’t speak English (AND IT’S STILL HILARIOUS AFTER 8,500 JOKES, EVERYBODY!), Claire’s husband Phil (Ty Burrell) has devolved into some kind of weird, emotional jellyfish and his two daughters are just… there (to be fair, they weren’t ever really that exciting, and it really wouldn’t make sense for them to be, anyway).
The only one in the ensemble who hasn’t been brutally re-imagined as a cartoon, or a pussy, or a bitchy cartoon pussy (or some egalitarian combination of the three) is family patriarch Jay Pritchett (the ever brilliant Ed O’Neill).
Ultimately, the decline falls squarely on the shoulders of the writers. You can assemble the greatest cast of comedic talent since Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, but if you’re feeding them refried shit from the waning years of Growing Pains—hilarity ensues at a dude ranch!!!—you’re bound to get refried shit in return.
I’m sorry to say, I think the best episodes of this meteoric comedy are behind us.
So there we are. Three shows—once brilliant and often groundbreaking—that need to be put out to pasture. Again, I find no pleasure in saying this. I once loved all three (the Simpsons to enough of a disquieting degree that it makes even my WIFE uncomfortable), but I’m a realist. A dying dog is a dying dog, no matter how many hours you once spent frolicking through meadows or smacking him in the brain with poorly thrown Frisbee. When Tippy gets dog-cancer, you’ve got to pitchfork him to death, no mercy style, or perhaps drown him lovingly in a lake at sunset.
It’s important to remember what’s best for Tippy—and the legacy of these programs.