HIMYM and the Dilemma of Jumping the Shark
I can recall the exact moment that my favorite sitcom took a great metaphorical leap over a certain deadly fish, kicking-off its slow spiral into the depths of mediocre-TV land.
Season 6, Episode 5: Ted Mobsy gets the break of a lifetime, designing a skyscraper in New York City, and who does he run into? A beautiful protester named Zoe, who would go on to terrorize How I Met Your Mother fans for the remainder of the season with her low-stakes storyline and countless boating-related jokes. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it was so clear.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were some standout moments and episodes that occurred after Zoe’s introduction (Barney’s duck tie was fun, Robin choosing Kevin over Barney was one of the most powerful scenes in the series, and the episode dealing with the death of Marshall’s father unfortunately came on a night I was cutting up a LOT of onions). But, it was clear from season 6 forward that the HIMYM crew’s magic was dwindling.
Still, despite my complaints in the paragraph above, I have stayed and will remain a devoted fan. I have seen every episode of the series and have no plans on giving that up with only 7 weeks left. But, as I watched a recent episode in which Barney continued the longest night in the history of television, I thought to myself: Would I want it any other way?
Sure, I’ve cringed more than I’ve laughed for most episodes this season, but would I trade the last 3+ seasons of added episodes for a cleaner narrative arc? And for any HIMYM fan out there: would you give up an extra 50 hours of time with characters you came to love for the opportunity to see their story lines end on the producer’s original creative timeline? And what about fans of Lost, Homeland, Californication, House, Scrubs (but only season 9! I’m an original 8 die-hard), The Office, Glee, Roseanne, Heroes, and countless other shows?
Was Lost’s last season really that bad? Was it really such a bad thing that all the actors on The Office (many of whom will have limited opportunities to have feature roles on network sitcoms) got to collect paychecks for an extra 2 seasons? And who doesn’t want to see David Duchovny treat Los Angeles like a sexual lazy river for as many episodes as possible?
At this point, my various feelings regarding this issue start to clash. Take, for example, Homeland, a show whose first season was, to me, one of the greatest single seasons of television history. Watching Brody in that bunker was a revelation to me in terms of a show’s ability to build tension within the smallest of moments. Never before had I been compelled to frantically pace around my living room on the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon, unable to look at the screen for too long because of the intense anxiety I felt, yet at the same time unable to push pause on the intense roller coaster.
Watching Season 2 (and a few episodes of season 3… Caracas lost me there) just felt like an unnecessary epilogue to an amazing story that had already been told. I wish my last image of Carrie was of her about to undergo electroshock therapy, straining to share the truth with the world but having her desire for justice go unrequited. However, the logical aspect of my knows that the show won a bunch of Emmys, Showtime needed a tentpole show to compete with HBO, and Claire Danes and Damien Lewis weren’t exactly drowning in high-quality roles prior to the Homeland’s success.
Some bemoan the lack of artistic integrity or the cash grabs made by lazy actors and producers, but who can get mad at people making money doing something they love and other people love watching them do? Last time I checked we are living in America, and the if someone can make millions of dollars coasting through 24 episodes (Hey Jason!) then who are we to be upset?
My personal opinion, as much as it bothers me, is that it is highly selfish of any fan to be bitter about the continuance of a show, no matter how painful the death spiral becomes. Even if that death spiral includes the main character of your show spending an entire episode eating bacon. (Yes, in one recent episode HIMYM spent 22 minutes with Ted Mosby & Co. with Ted’s sole plot point being that he needed to eat a tray of bacon, but hadn’t eaten bacon before. He then proceeded to eat lots of bacon.)
In my mind I can never shake the idea that, no matter the quality of the product, there are still 200 people getting paid to do lighting, sound, catering, and costumes. There are still writers, editors, and set builders that exist in a fickle profession which doesn’t need to be made worse by fans demanding a show stop lest it ruin its integrity. And besides, there have gotta be people out there that feel the last two seasons of The Office is when the show really hit its stride, and who are we to tell them any different? Not every show can have a Breaking Bad-esque run of growing popularity and critical acclaim that peaks for the final season.
There are real, normal, white-picket-fence-and-2-and-a-half-kids people affected by a show being cancelled, and their needs should be put above those of the fans being disappointed in a season 7 plot point.
Besides, if you didn’t watch Season 8 of House, did it really even air at all?