It’s a sad day when your favourite TV show loses its mojo. Sometimes the plot becomes ridiculous, or a major character leaves.
You all know what it feels like when that go-to series you used to plan your week around suddenly changes for the worse.
Two popular series have jumped the shark this year:
- Billions, starring Paul Giamatti, as the scheming Alpha prosecutor Chuck Rhodes; and
- The ensemble zombie-apocalypse epicThe Walking Dead.
Both are recent examples of a once-loved TV show losing touch with why folks liked it in the first place. It often happens fast, a pivot point where you suddenly know the show has reached its peak and begun a downhill slide to oblivion.
The phrase “jumped the shark” was coined in 1985 because of the popular sitcom Happy Days. The show had lovable tough guy Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler) prove his bravery by jumping over a caged shark on waterskis while wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket.
On Billions, the shark moment happened at the end of Season Five. Giamatti’s nemesis—fellow Alpha billionaire Bobby Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis—runs away to Switzerland to avoid going to jail.
But you don’t really see the end coming until the first episode of Season Six, when uber-elitist Rhodes gets a make-over as a man-of-the-people fighting another slimy Billionaire over a Revolution War cannon.
The Season Six plot whiplashes through the ten ridiculous episodes. It begins with a new smoother but no less cutthroat billionaire, Mike Prince, taking over Axelrod’s empire and transforming it from a vulture hedge fund into a socially responsible ESG fund.
Next, Prince manoeuvres to get, then lose, an Olympic bid for New York City. Prince then uses an obscure technicality to force Chuck out as Attorney General. Each plotline should have filled a season but was quickly resolved in 15 minutes.
The Walking Dead took longer to get totally bizarre.
People disagree on exactly when the downslide started. Some argue it happened when King Ezekiel and his pet tiger Shiva were introduced in Season Seven. However, even on a show that asks viewers to believe in zombies with a massive case of the munchies, Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva are utterly unrealistic.
Others point to another plotline in Season Seven—the appearance of the garbage people. So we were expected to believe a bunch of people choose to live in a smelly landfill, even though the location doesn’t actually protect them from zombies.
On top of that, they speak in their own made-up language, which suggests that they’ve been surviving for so long that their speech evolved into this weird alternative. But the zombie apocalypse hasn’t been going on for that long. Come on, writers, the garbage people made no sense at all.
Here are some examples of when n other popular shows jumped the shark:
- Riverdale: in Season Two, when it turned from a simple murder mystery into a show about organ-harvesting cults, bear attacks, and serial killer parents.
- Gotham: in Season Two when Bruce Wayne’s clone was added.
- Designated Survivor: in Season Three when they pivoted to the storyline about a virus that sterilizes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) populations.
- Once Upon a Time: in Season Two, when they rehashed the memory wipe plotline, and in Season Three, when they introduced characters from Frozen.
- The Handmaid’s Tale: in the first season, any character could be taken away and killed at any moment, which created tension when June was doing something she could get killed for. But in later seasons, June broke all kinds of rules but was spared, erasing any suspense about whether or not she’d survive.
In TV, the familiar is comfortable. It’s part of why we tune in. So it’s sad when you realize the writing staff has run out of ideas. When their jokes get sad. When, while watching the show, you’re wondering whether you have clipped your toenails recently.
That’s when it’s time to face the cold, hard truth. You need to give your favourite show the boot and find a new cast of characters to love.