Sunday, December 5, 2010

Has Glee Jumped The (Gay) Shark?

This post could therefore also be called "Has Glee jumped the dolphin?" But you get my point. For some reason, people love to talk about shows jumping sharks. I, for one, think it's silly. Firstly, calling it "jumping the shark" is about as dumb as Fonzie actually jumping that shark, and endlessly discussing if shows have indeed "jumped the shark" is about as pointless as Fonzie wearing a leather jacket whilst on water skis.

For those not in the know, "jumping the shark" refers to a moment in a TV show's history where something absurd or awful happens within the show's storylines (like that time Fonzie from Happy Days jumped over a shark on water skis). From then on out, the show completely loses all credibility and is never recovered from said moment. According to Jon Hein, the man who popularized the term, "It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now's all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it 'Jumping the Shark.' From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same."

Well, I'm here to pooh-pooh the theory. Perhaps I'm a far-too loyal TV viewer, but it strikes me absurd to just write off a show after a small bout of clunky creative handling. Of course, this stubborn faithfulness has led to me doggedly wincing through the second season of Lost, the third and fourth seasons of Grey's Anatomy, the seventh season of Gilmore Girls, and the sixth season - minus the musical episode! - of Scrubs. (I still shudder any time I think about Locke pushing that damn button or that time Izzie had to resuscitate a deer.)

But I think that it's largely unfair to say that none of those shows got any better after their alleged "jump the shark" moments. You can't just write off a show like that. Grey's Anatomy is currently better than it has been in years (thanks to killing off a large quantity of characters, natch) and Scrubs' musical episode is one of the best the show ever did - even after it had reportedly begun to run out of steam. And don't forget Lost's amazing revitalization at the end of Season 3, simply by constructing the show in a new way. People are too quick to box a television series in and say, "After (fill in the blank with slightly less-than-stellar storyline) happened, it was just all downhill from there." It's more often than not just a matter of opinion. Seriously, I've heard people say that Friends jumped the shark after Ross and Rachel got together. The first time. In Season 2. Really, guys? You wanna tell me that one of the most beloved shows on television was all downhill from Seasons 3 through 10? Uh, okay.

So, of course, what with its endless parade of guest stars, glaring continuity flaws, and the producers' tendency to play with the characters' story arcs like they were pretending to be Godzilla in a ballpit at McDonalds, Glee has come under fire for having jumped the shark, not even a full ten episodes into Season 2.


I know I give the show a lot of shit, but the truth is, I don't think it's jumped the shark. Even if I really believed in the concept of "jumping the shark," I still wouldn't really apply it to Glee's current situation.

The fact of the matter is that Glee has always been plagued with problems. I remember watching the final moments of "Sectionals," almost a year ago exactly, and thinking, "That was really awesome. There have been some continuity and character consistency issues so far, but I can't wait for the creators to look at the critical reaction and tidy them up a bit. The Back 9's gonna be so great!"

Boy, was I surprised. Because no one fussed over the little things in the first 13 episodes. Everyone said "OMG SINGING!!!!1!!!1!" and RBI said, "I KNOW, RIGHT?!" and then continued their proceedings in the McDonalds ballpit, completely unawares. Then they added guest stars and tribute episodes and a thick layer of heavy-handed themes and called it a day. Oh, you can imagine my horror when "Hell-O" aired after months of anticipation. I was not a happy camper. (At some point I plan on retroactively reviewing Season 1, and oh, just you wait for when I get to "Hell-O." Just you wait.)

So if you just now want to say that Glee's gone downhill, you've only just begun looking at the show realistically. Truthfully, the main problems I have with the show have been there since Day 1 and will continue to be there until Ryan Murphy fires all his regulars and hires anew. I love the First 13 as much as the next Gleek (there's something so charmingly days-gone-by about them) but I find it unfortunate that we hold them to some gold standard because we think the show has lost something. And maybe it has, tonally, or thematically, or whatever. But in terms of execution? The First 13 is not perfect.

This is not to say that I think the show has always been "this," or "that." The thing about TV shows is this: they change. And they are allowed to change. The First 13 episodes are allowed to be about one thing, and the Back 9 are about to be about this whole other thing, and Season 2 is more than welcome to be about something else entirely. Season 1 is allowed to be more about Finn and Rachel, and Season 2 is allowed to have more Kurt, Brittany, and Santana. I can't hate a TV show for changing.

I just want any and all changes to be done well. And with Glee? It's always a crapshoot. The only thing that Glee is, consistently, is inconsistent. The show is like cotton candy laced with crack. It is what it always has been, and always will be. As a fan, I think it's silly to say it's "lost that magic" or "isn't as good as it used to be." Sure, the show may take a misstep or two (or six), but I don't see Rachel Berry on water-skis jumping over a dolphin, so until then, I'm with Glee for the long haul: for better, and for maddeningly and frustratingly worse. Because somehow it always gets better again. And that's the beauty of television, and the true argument against the shark-jump. It can always get better again.


  1. A. How hard did I LOL at that graphic? I am completely on board with Alex's assessment. :B

    B. I think you are correct. As always. Maybe once I am out of grad school I will have more complex opinions but for now you are welcome to do my pop culture thinking for me. At any rate, I too tend to watch shows that other people deem past their sell-by date. I actually kind of liked LOST S2, mostly because of Mr Eko, and I think it's sort of funny that LOST's worst moment was its series finale, so that no one can really say that it did jump the shark (if that episode had happened at any other time I would have stopped watching. :(). You are also right that Glee has always had problems. I find for myself that the big reason why the first 13 seem so solid is because I watched them all in a row in one day, and then since the back 9 hadn't happened yet, I, and presumably many other viewers, had plenty of time to rewatch and love the first 13 and prime myself for the presumed awesomeness to come.

  2. A. Heeeeee. Thankee! I rather enjoyed making it.

    B. Yay! To me the only reason the First 13 seem so solid is that the Back 9 were disappointing in relation to the First 13. The Back 9's not terrible by any means, but the First 13, even with problems, finished with such promise. And the popularity kicked up and we had to wait so long for them to make the new episodes, so there was an awful lot of hype for the Back 9 to live up to. In some ways, it did, and in others, it didn't. C'est la vie.

    Lost's worst moment really was its Series Finale. :'(

  3. The phrase does get used too much and while I'm not opposed to the idea in general, it is ridiculous when people crowd around like vultures at the end of a single episode, let alone after the show has ended and we can better dissect its trajectory in retrospect.

    That said;

    "You wanna tell me that one of the most beloved shows on television was all downhill from Seasons 3 through 10? Uh, okay."

    That's not that really outrageous, in theory. It's an argument as old as the term itself really. When asked about "Happy Days" jumping the shark, Gary Marshall replied that the show lasted quite a few years after the famous incident. So even those who don't bandy the term liberally feel a show's overall success is irrespective of when it started sucking.

    Or, to put it this way; "Two and a Half Men" has lasted some eight seasons. It has gotten a lot of Emmy attention. But ask any fan of "New TV" what they think of the show, and you'll get audible disapproval. Or a better example might be its sister show, "Big Bang Theory", which many more people will tell you was legitimately funny early on, took a major hit when "will they or won't they?" went to "they did". Maybe it'll win back the people whose estimation it lost, but it certainly isn't going to end any time soon.

    In general, while I have little patience for viewers who religiously park themselves in front of a series and chicken little each and every time...I also don't think it's wrong to give up on a show, or even declare it lousy, even if a good episode crops up here and there.

    To put it this way, if your boyfriend cheats on you, you're in your rights to dump him. Maybe if you gave him a second chance, you would have good times, and he would be the model boyfriend, but there's an equal chance things will keep sucking, and maybe get worse. (See "Heroes") Maybe society is too impatient as a whole these days, much as I hate to play the "Oh, poor millionaires" card, it costs a lot of money to make these shows. If they can continuously get paid to "find their footing", good for them, but I don't think it unjust when they get cut off.

  4. Hi, Anonymous! I totally agree that it's definitely better to look at a show as a whole, after it's all said and done. I think the validity of a "jump the shark" statement is a bit greater in that instance - it's a lot easier to knock the phenomenon when it's applied to a still-running show.

    Analyzing the success of certain TV shows over the course of their runs is always fascinating to me. You mentioned the "will-they-or-won't-they?" concept and oh my goodness, that's a whole other fascinating thing. Do you watch Bones? They're really milking that for all it's worth, and I think people are losing interest.

    I mean, whether or not someone wants to stop watching a show is up to them and their tastes. I'm just one of those masochistic viewers who stubbornly (and sometimes stupidly) stand by something until the very end. I usually don't declare that I'll stop watching something, but rather just trickle off out of disinterest or conflicting shows. I just think it's silly to work in absolutes, and the concept of "jumping the shark" is such an absolute. There are so many factors with so many different shows, I think you have to look at the whole picture. And sometimes, yeah, the whole picture points to just a straight-up cancellation.

    On a semi-related note, I'm curious to see how The Office is going to do without Steve Carrell next year. It'll be one of those things where it'll either revitalize the show or just kill it completely. I'll be watching to find out...

    Thanks for reading, and the comment! :)

  5. LOL that graphic is priceless XD

    But really, I agree with you on every one of your points. Glee has always been inconsistent with its' writing and I think it's silly to criticize Glee just now for "jumping the shark", when they've had the same problems with their writing since the beginning.

    I've always traced Glee's writing issues to 3 major concerns:

    1) a HUGE cast (that the writers are unwisely expanding -__-) which means not enough screen time for everyone

    2)their precarious balance of comedy and (melo)drama AND music (not always an issue but definitely has had an impact on Glee's overall tone)

    3)the writers' inability to really define the show's original concept, as well as its' moral center.

    -Yes, it's a show about a Glee Club and they sing, but other than that, what's the main focus of Glee's plot? Win competitions? Gain acceptance within the larger high school? "Be themselves"? XD

    -And the show centers around the Glee club, but who are the characters that comprise the Glee club's heart and soul (and therefore, the main heroes/heroines of Glee's story)? Is it Will, the creator and adviser for this reincarnated club? Is it Finn, who constantly struggles between choosing popularity and being "himself"? Is it Rachel, Glee Club's star who has extraordinary talent and an extraordinarily sensitive ego? Or does Glee have no true protagonist and need to figure out how to utilize its' ensemble better?

    Ah those are just my ramblings haha. What are your thoughts? What are the major sources of Glee's writing problems, and how (if possible) can they be fixed?

  6. Shelby - I definitely think you're right about the main issues Glee has with good writing. And, naturally, you've got me thinking about it now and so let me just say that I've got a post brewing in my head now, haha. Stay tuned. ;)

  7. Used your graphic and gave you credit! Great post!


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