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Television offers a lot of storytelling benefits. TV gives writers an opportunity to immerse viewers visually in a world longer than any other medium. It also allows audiences to spend tens or hundreds of hours with a character, to the extent that they may get to know a fictional creation as intimately as one of their own friends.
However, long-term storytelling like this poses problems. Not all stories warrant such an investment, leading some shows to outstay their welcome. It can also be difficult to find writers or showrunners invested enough to tell such a vast saga – an issue that makes the existence of series like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire feel like miracles. Then there’s the issue of the actors, the people who make characters famous. What happens when they want to move onto greener pastures?
Following the speedy decline in acclaim that plagued discussions around one of the most watched shows of contemporary life, Headstuff writers select a few series that were great … until they weren’t.
Game of Thrones
It seems almost unforgiving when a good thing inevitably reaches its end. But if we’re being quite honest, Game of Thrones wrapped up being good three weeks before it’s finale (if not before).
The reason for the existence of this list, Game of Thrones was one of those series that spawns utter addiction in fans across the entire world. This led to it boasting astronomical accolades such as highest budgeted TV show of all time, as well as perhaps the best reviewed. Then came its eighth and final season.
The previous seven collectively had a “rewatch-ability” of nearly 100 per cent. Many fans constantly binged the HBO original series. They were glued to their screens waiting for any piece of news that came about in the astonishing two year wait before its final season. Even the season eight trailer amassed above 20 million views in just two days following its release. However, amid the pressure of continuing the series with only an outline of how George R.R Martin’s unfinished book series would eventually pan out, showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss were regrettably left without source material to work with.
The once top-rated show drove straight into the ground. The final season proved bland, devoid of any interesting plot, and even destructive of character acs that had taken seven seasons to create. On top of that, constant production errors (e.g. the Starbucks cup and water bottle left in frame) infuriated many fans, leaving one million people to vote for HBO to remake the show’s ending. Indeed the finale (which I discuss more in depth here) was anticlimactic and will surely go down in history as one of the weakest wraps for a lauded programme. That said, the following – listed in alphabetical order – give it a run for its money. Brandon Doyle
Community’s downward spiral was almost a perfect storm of things going wrong, both onscreen and off. Throughout the first three series under the helm of Dan Harmon there’s a genuine sense of care for each member of the study group, highlighted in Chevy Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne, who grows from homophobic sexist curmudgeon to someone who is… somewhat less so. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Community’s onscreen decline begins with the decline of Pierce which, most likely, wasn’t helped by the off-screen difficulties of working with Chase and the replacement of Harmon as showrunner.
In season four, the show didn’t seem to know what to do with Pierce and the continuing dependence on his off-colour jokes highlighted some of the show’s wider failings. While the fourth season managed to hold it together due to some well-written episodes and strong collaborative work from the rest of the cast, cracks were beginning to show. By season five, the show had lost all momentum: new characters were brought in, but with the loss of Pierce the study group had lost its shape, and Donald Glover’s exit only exacerbated the problem. Did season six miraculously reverse these problems? I can’t say I was ever tempted to find out. Sarah Cullen
The first two seasons of Homeland were white-knuckle television, focusing on the unusual, always mutating relationship between a CIA operations officer with bipolar disorder (Claire Danes) and the US Marine Sergeant (Damian Lewis) she believes was turned by the enemy during his time as an al-Qaeda POW. It was enthralling, and heart-poundingly intense watching these two characters circle each other like vultures. That is until it wasn’t.
While Homeland could have wrapped up the story of Lewis’ conflicted veteran, Brody, in the second season finale, the show overegged the pudding – keeping him around for a third series. In stretching the show’s premise beyond what it could sustain, more time was spent on dull and dour scenes focusing on what Brody’s awful daughter was up to (seriously no one likes Dana). This was then juxtaposed with increasingly ludicrous plot developments, designed to keep Brody and Danes’ Carrie connected. Nothing made much sense. It’s worth noting Homeland found some later success, ditching Brody and rebooting to a globetrotting anthology series centring upon Carrie post-season four. As its final eighth series looms though, it never again reached its early highs. Stephen Porzio
Before Deadpool, Kick-Ass and Super, E4 series and 2010 BAFTA winner Misfits showed it was possible to tell an R-rated, hyper-violent and sweary superhero story, and still make it funny and oddly endearing. Created by Howard Overman, it centred on a group of young offenders sentenced to community service who obtained supernatural powers. Together this unlikely group of (anti-)heroes faced down – while hurling filthily funny insults at each other – strange villains. These included someone claiming to be the second coming of Jesus, another who could control milk (surprisingly very disturbing) and an ultra-conservative cult capable of literal brainwashing.
After two great seasons focusing on what it would be like if irresponsible teens ran wild with power, Misfits began to struggle. The runaway star of the show Robert Sheehan exited post series two. The rest of the original cast followed by season three’s finale and mid-way through season four, leading Overman to ‘scrabble’ weeks away from filming – as he states – to keep the show afloat.
While some of the replacement actors were engaging – particularly Joseph Gilgun as a person with split personalities – many just didn’t have the charisma of those that had already departed. It didn’t help too their characters’ slap-dash introductions made it harder to empathise with them. Soon, the seams of the chaotic production started showing. The overarching plot threads of past were gone and vulgarity began to overtake genuine humour. It’s a shame because Misfits’ first two seasons were so strong, the show deserved a better end than limping out after five series with a lacklustre finale. Stephen Porzio
How can a series remain successful after its main character departs for pastures greener? In the case of Northern Exposure, it appears that it can’t. For five seasons the surrealist comedy followed the fortunes of Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), a born-and-bred New Yorker who wound up as the local doctor for Cicely, a remote town in Alaska. The series explored the often hilarious disconnect between his city-slicker ways and the practicalities of rural living. In particular, the show focused on the will-they-won’t-they between Joel and Maggie O’Connell (Janine Turner), Cicely’s no-nonsense bush pilot with whom he frequently disagreed.
While Joel’s narrative arc took him in one direction as he learned to appreciate life in Cicely, Rob Morrow’s decision to leave the show mid-way through the sixth season required the writers to veer in another one. As a result, Joel and Maggie broke up and Joel gained a sudden urge to explore the Alaskan wilderness. A replacement doctor was introduced, and Maggie’s affection was directed instead towards one of the show’s other major characters, free-spirited local disk jockey Chris Stevens (John Corbett). Unfortunately none of this worked: with Joel gone there was no satisfying conclusion to years of character development. On top of this, Maggie and Chris felt frustratingly forced – particularly because there was seasons worth of evidence that they would not work as a couple. Northern Exposure limped along to a conclusion that it never deserved. Sarah Cullen
Introducing a new character into a show is always difficult. Will the audience be receptive? Will they hate them? Now imagine introducing an entirely new cast into a show that’s been running for eight seasons. Unthinkable right. Yeah but Scrubs still did it. Scrubs, being the parody of E.R. that it was, ended perfectly. As J.D. walked down a hall, lined on both sides by current and returning cast members, footage of what the future held for the characters played set to Peter Gabriel’s The Book of Love. J.D and Elliot get married and have a son. That son ends up marrying Izzy, the daughter of Turk and Carla.
For all the emotional sucker punches Scrubs landed in its run it almost ended on a happy note, as any good sitcom should. This is what makes that ninth season so unthinkable and irritating. The new characters didn’t sit well with fans and neither did the change of setting from Sacred Heart Hospital to med-school. It was a ballsy move that other shows, like The X-Files, had attempted before and that had landed them in equally hot water. Of course you don’t have to watch the ninth season. The finale of season eight was one for the sitcom history books and that’s the one I’d rather remember. Andrew Carroll
It’s bizarre how all The Simpsons memes we see on social media seem to come directly from season 12 or beforehand. There must be some reason for that. It’s almost as if the show was bad after that point. That’s not strictly true though. America’s best loved family have been on a slow, painful decline since their twelfth season, yes, but there is no moment where the quality just instantly dropped off. It was and continues to be a slow death. An unstoppable cancer at the heart of the one of the greatest cultural and satirical juggernauts of our time.
The problem is not the long-time producers or the streamlined animation or even declining writing talent. The Simpsons has plenty more to say on politics, sport and culture but it has so very little left to say about its characters. New jokes may still be funny but the situation of Homer messing up his and Marge’s anniversary date or the latest Bart vs Sideshow Bob escapade is a dry well. The Simpsons legacy was once carved in stone. Now that stone lies shattered and thousands of people reminisce of the glory days by carving up the show’s greatest moments and splicing them onto each other in a never-ending rewrite. Andrew Carroll
True Blood broke away from the normal run-of-the-mill adult production. It had it all: vampires, violence, gratuitous sex and of course good-looking people. A 90210 meets The Lost Boys, set in the southern American state of Louisiana. Unfortunately, this dark fantasy series went south after only five seasons into its seven season run. The remaining two seasons tried to breathe life into an otherwise rotting corpse.
There are many reasons as to why a show created, written and directed by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), which won Emmy, Golden Globe and People’s Choice Awards ended shamefully with the worst death of all: cancellation. In the sixth season, the show changed dramatically with the replacing of Ball with Brian Buckner (Friends). It was noticeable straight away, as the writing lacked the dark humor and sharp wit which had skillfully counteracted the show’s violence. More worrying was the story lines, which became painfully over-complicated with more and more characters brought into the fray. These additions steered True Blood away from the vampire premise that had worked. Audiences had to now contend with fairies, fire demons, vengeful ghosts, witches, werewolves and shapeshifters.
Every new entity in True Blood was a stake through the heart of its success. Instead of sticking with the original idea that had worked so well, the life of the series was sucked right out of it. The True Blood universe was, after all, set in a sleepy southern town, which now became expanded beyond its breaking point. Sadly, after series six the death-bell was rung and the world knew the seventh season was the last. By then though, nobody cared. Kevin Burke