Credit: Zach Vessels via Unsplash

Running on empty: TV shows that lose their steam

By Bea Crawford

Writer Bea Crawford explores the consequences of TV shows continuing well past their sell by date and the transatlantic divide in who overstays their welcome.

In the same week that beloved Irish comedy Derry Girls announced that its highly-anticipated third season would be its last, the 18th season of US medical drama Grey’s Anatomy began airing across the pond. It seems Grey’s is following a long-running American tradition of not knowing how to leave with grace. But what are the consequences of a series prioritising profit over plot? 

I’m sure we can all still remember the disappointment of watching later seasons of How I Met Your Mother, The Office US, Supernatural; all of which had strong starts before losing the magic after a while… and still pressing on. Did you know The Simpsons is on their 33rd season? How many “Doh’s” can Homer say over three decades before they realise that everybody stopped watching in 2007? It’s inevitable that seeing the same characters going over the same plot points for seasons on end will grow stale; so why aren’t American shows able to come to terms with this? Is the taste of success (i.e. money) truly so intoxicating that they can’t even tell when they’ve fallen out of favour with the audience at large?

Even the lead actors of long-running series have shown their contempt for their work’s unwanted longevity. Many stars jump ship once they’ve made a name for themselves; think Jim Parsons leaving The Big Bang Theory (leading to the end of the show altogether), or Steve Carrell leaving The Office in season seven. There’s also the CW’s infamous mystery drama Riverdale, which began as a gripping revamp of the typical teen series and has, in five seasons, descended into a masterclass of “laughing at, not with”. It seems that not a month goes by without one of the castmates making fun of their own series on Twitter and the entire internet agreeing with them, too.

Thankfully, alternatives to the overdrawn sitcom do exist. British shows do tend to leave on a high note, such as The Office’s short, but impactful, two seasons (in comparison to its American counterpart’s nine). The rise of streaming platforms has also ushered in a new wave of short-form entertainment, with many limited series picking up awards. As the market moves away from traditional broadcasting, demand now lies in having a wide variety of shows, rather than airing three big series a year — this is easier to achieve when series are shorter and more bingeable. This format has also fuelled the success of international series such as Netflix’s Squid Game; the South Korean TV industry is built on producing well-made 16-hour, one-off shows, and is now seemingly reaping the benefits of this system on an international stage.A TV show should serve one purpose: to entertain the viewer. So what becomes of a TV show that is no longer entertaining to the audience; that is simply chasing money rather than creating good content? Production companies (especially those hailing from the US) must learn the all-too-hard lesson of letting go when the time is right. And, please, Fox — just let The Simpsons go already. It’s been long enough.


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