When Sci-Fi Shows Jumped the Shark

Over the last few years, I’ve been working my way through a few sci-fi shows that I missed during their original runs. Some of them have been great, and some not so much. The most disappointing for me, however, is when a show starts out great, then sputters and dies. Below is my list of when certain shows really jumped the shark. Be aware that there may be some spoilers.

Sliders – Season 3, Episode 18 “Sole Survivors”

slidersI started watching this one a couple of years ago and I still haven’t finished the 3rd season. The show started out with a decent premise and it had some fun episodes. It was never a great sci-fi show, but it was good. This is one of the few shows that had a specific episode where it jumped the shark. In the middle of the 3rd season, John Rhys-Davies left the show and it never recovered. The storylines leading up to Davies departure felt cramped as the writers tried to figure out a good way to write Davies character, Arturo, out of the series. They wound up retconning the character a bit, and almost immediately replaced Arturo with a new character that didn’t work nearly as well.

Heroes – Season 3 Volume 3 “Villains”

HeroesI loved the 1st season of Heroes. It was incredibly well written, and the interweaving of all the different storylines was fantastic. Season 2 started out pretty well, but faded as it went on. That was in 2007, when the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike and a bunch of TV series had their seasons cut short (this isn’t the last time I’ll reference this strike). Heroes was one of the casualties. The end of the second season was obviously rushed. The first nine or so episodes of the season were building to something extraordinary, but the story suddenly had to be wrapped up in a single episode. It killed the momentum the show had been building.

However, that’s not when the show jumped the shark. That happened when the show returned for season 3. At the beginning of season 3 it seemed like the writers ignored the intricate planning that went into the first season and a half, and just started playing around with the characters. They brought back Sylar as a villain, gave Mohinder powers, turned Peter into a villain, etc. That’s all in the season premiere. The longer the season went on, the more convoluted things became. They started changing the rules that had been set in the first two seasons, and adding more and more twists and wrinkles to the story, and with every one the show got worse.

Battlestar Gallactica – Starbuck’s death/resurrection

StarbuckI didn’t start watching Battlestar Gallactica until the series had wrapped, so by the time I started it, it was old news to most people. I had heard nothing but good things about the show. Even people who didn’t like sci-fi seemed to enjoy watching Adama and crew. Given all the good word-of-mouth, my expectations were pretty high, and for the most part, the series delivered. The show was incredibly well written, with deep and complex characters that you could love in one episode and loathe in the next. There was a great amount of tension, both from the Cylon threat, as well as from the interpersonal relationships that developed. There’s a very good reason that Battlestar Gallactica has been called one of the best sci-fi series of the last 30 years.

Then Starbuck died. Her death itself was fine. It needed to happen, and she wasn’t the first character to die in the series. The problem was that they brought her back… kind of. Starbuck’s resurrection was another plotline that happened right around the time of the writer’s strike, and it seemed to throw things off. When she came back she had a different personality, and as she changed and started a downward spiral as a character, she dragged other characters down as well. By the series finale, there were so many things that didn’t make sense, or were really forced, that all the subtlety and nuances that the show had been built on had mostly disappeared.

Supernatural – Season 6 Premiere “Exile on Main Street”

supernatural.jpgI’ll start this by saying that Supernatural has redeemed itself. This show is now on its 11th season, making it the longest running sci-fi/ fantasy show in the United States. That’s impressive. It also doesn’t change the fact that the show was supposed to end after season 5. The 5th season built up to a final showdown between the Winchesters and Lucifer himself, and when the dust settled, they had a beautiful finale to the series.

Then the network realized that the show was more popular than they expected and requested another season. The actors and writers were willing, so the show kept going, but that meant some serious continuity twisting to undo parts of season 5. Protagonists were dead, bad guys were dead, the writers didn’t have a lot to build from. Seasons 6 and 7 were really rough while things got back on track. Fortunately for the fans, the show managed to un-jump the shark in season 8.

Babylon 5 – Season 5

babylon5Babylon 5 is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi shows, and I’m not quite sure this series really jumped the shark, since all 5 seasons are very good.  One of the reasons why it was so successful is because of how well planned the series was. The creator of the show, J. Michael Straczynski, wrote 92 of the 110 total episodes (not to mention the movies). That gave the show fantastic continuity. There were some conflicts or questions that occurred in the 1st season that weren’t fully resolved until the 4th season, and it was beautifully done with very few loose ends.

The problem was that the few loose ends that remained weren’t enough to carry a full season, so the 5th season felt like a tangent to the rest of the series. The main storylines seemed to be based on minor events in the first 4 seasons. There were some significant changes in the characters as well, most notably the departure of Ivanova. The season improved as it went on (since the writing was still excellent), but it almost felt like a spin-off series rather than a continuation of the story.

Lost – Take your pick

LostPosterMy wife and I started watching Lost when the final season was airing. For the most part we were able to avoid spoilers, and the show sucked us in pretty quickly. It had some great characters and there was a lot of mystery, which is why the show was so successful.

The mysteries, however, also became a problem. It didn’t take too long before there were too many questions and not enough answers. By season 3 it seemed like every episode went out of its way to avoid giving answers. Some major plot points were just dropped with no explanation (like Walt). Some questions were answered in ways that made no sense (like the sickness). Other questions were either never answered at all, or the answers were so vague that they just resulted in more questions (like the mysterious ‘rules’ that characters keep referring to). Ultimately, where the show jumped the shark depends on when you realized that the show wasn’t going to resolve everything. For some people that was as early as season two, for others it was the series finale.

Chuck – Season 4, Episode 24 “Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger”

One thing that made Chuck such a fun show was that it never tried to be something that it wasn’t. The basic premise of the show is silly, a random tech guy at a big box store somehow manages to download super spy skills into his brain. It’s absurd, and isn’t something that can be taken seriously, so Chuck never tried to take it seriously. Despite that, the characters of the show had solid depth, and grew substantially over the course of the series. Those are a couple of reasons why the show had such a fanatical fanbase. The fans were so devoted to the show, in fact, that they saved it from being cancelled after it’s second season by taking advantage of social media, and even more impressively, petitioning one of the main sponsors of the show, Subway.

MorganIntersectGlassesI thought that the Subway product placement would be the death of the show, but the worst offenders actually happened in the early seasons. The actual moment the show jumped the shark was at the very end of season 4. The series really could have ended with this episode. It was a nice conclusion to everyone’s story, but instead the writers decided to basically restart the series by giving Morgan the intersect, essentially turning him into a new version of the first season’s Chuck. That made season 5 pretty difficult to watch. That single move changed the show so that the spotlight wasn’t on Chuck, but on the peripheral characters. Morgan, Jeff, and Lester, who were all very entertaining in small doses, became centerpieces of multiple episodes. Captain Awesome and Ellie also get more involved. All that took time away from Chuck, Sarah, and Casey. By the end, the story felt incomplete because there simply hadn’t been enough time devoted to the main characters.

 

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