The TVS List: Three broadcast series that need to be canceled

Note: I’m hopefully going to have more time to write things here over the next few months, so I’ll be trying to bring back the weekly list feature. Trying. Anyway, here’s the beginning of that attempt.

It’s spring, which means it is the time of year that everyone takes to the internet to stump for their favorite low-rated series to be renewed. Over the last few years, these sort of campaigns have become wider-spread, thanks to social media and the recognition by web sites that if you create a “SAVE YOUR SHOW” poll on your page, they will come in droves. This year, there are fewer series on the proverbial bubble because of some welcome early renewals that means no sweating for Community, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock and Fringe fans. But while many people are trumpeting series that need to come back for another season, there aren’t a lot of people supporting the cancellation of others. I guess that’s where I come in.

Sometimes, series need to end. It’s the nature of the American television beast that things drag out for years past their sell-by date and unfortunately, there are a few broadcast series on right now that need to go away. Well, there are probably a lot of series that need to go away, but I’m going to stay away from obvious targets like CSI: NY or some of the weaker new products out there. And I realize that advocating for a series to be canceled is kind of an awful thing, considering there are tons of people losing jobs in the process. I obviously don’t really hope and pray these series are axed, I’m simply pointing out story-wise, it’s time. The series on my list are ones that were once very, very good and even still are well-respected and have fairly fervent fanbases that I’m probably going to enrage. Oddly, I still watch four of these series every single week and will probably buy these current seasons on DVD. But sometimes, it’s okay to let go and for these series, that time should be now. I apologize in advance. Sort of.

House (FOX): Even though I have been a fairly ardent supporter of this season’s batch of episodes and especially the last half-dozen or so, House needs to go away. In my review of last night’s episode, I half-jokingly pitched a retooling that involved on House and Thirteen, but outside of something drastic like that, this series isn’t really worth continuing. I know that series with a strong procedural base can really go on forever, but this is one that is so reliant on its lead character that much longer of a time on the air will probably lead the writers to do something stupid. Yeah, even more stupid than putting House and Cuddy together (I kid, I kid). Hugh Laurie is fantastic and I like most of the supporting cast, but at this point, I find myself wondering what the real point of all this is, even when I’m enjoying it for the most part.

This is one that actually has an out anyway, with the lack of cast members under contract and the possible licensing issues brewing between NBCU and FOX. The ratings have been down this year, which isn’t necessarily a comment on the quality as it as comment on the fact that the series is simply old and folks are probably tired of the format and all the characters not named House (and maybe Wilson and Cuddy). The cases haven’t been interesting for a few years, all the supporting characters are trapped in terrible one-note beats that keep getting driven into the ground — say hi to wife for me Taub — and the one card the series had left in the Huddy romance they already played this season. Without turning House into a big softy or reverting him back and perhaps past his season one state, there’s really nowhere else for the series to go. And the longer they stumble around in the dark trying to find an interesting hook, the longer my patience wears thin. I adore Hugh Laurie and this series, but probably of all the series on this list, House needs to go first.

Chuck (NBC): I know this one is really going to piss some people off, but it has to be said. Chuck is no longer worth saving and it is no longer really any good. This might be especially hard for some die-hard fans to admit because they put so much effort into saving it two springs ago and because the series has basically given them everything they could have ever wanted at the end of the second season. On many levels, I can’t really blame those people, Chuck still has its charms that radiate from the appealing cast and every once in a while, it kicks out a pretty good hour of television. But it’s been coasting all season and some would even argue that it has been doing so since the beginning of season three. There are no stakes, any time an interesting development is thrown into the mix, it’s quickly dispatched so that the equilibrium isn’t harmed. I love Chuck and Sarah a lot, both as individuals and as characters, but I didn’t really buy those few Subway subs in the name of the series just to see the two of them get together without even totally earning it. The series has lost it’s ability to string together a long-term story that slowly builds and actually has consequences for the characters for more than a few moments. Everyone on Chuck comes way too easy and is done in such a short-hand manner that it’s sometimes¬†frustratingly dumb.

And even though it’s younger than every other series on this list, Chuck doesn’t appear to have much left in the storytelling tank either. We’ve been through Chuck’s family background with mixed results (especially this season) and outside of searching for Sarah’s mom and the possibility of a Chuck and Sarah baby that would end up being complete fan service, I’m not really sure where the story goes. It was nice that the writers finally figured out having one identifiable villain was a smart way to structure the season, but they still didn’t execute many of the Volkov-related episodes and stories that well. I’d like to imagine Fedak and Schwartz could pull something out, but at this point, so many of the good writers have left the staff that it’s probably too hard to recover from. Chuck used to be a series that provided a fantastic mix of action, comedy, romantic tension and heart, but it doesn’t fully deliver on any of those any more. I know NBC’s in a sad state and that means we could get some more Chuck in the fall of 2011, but I actually hope not. It’s over.

Supernatural (The CW): Of all the series on this short list, this one hurts the most. Supernatural is such an important series to me, as it’s one of the first that I’ve been so connected to that’s slowly and rightfully gotten more exposure and respect. I was there on the night the pilot debuted on The WB and the places this series has gone in the subsequent six years are legitimately impressive. It’s been one hell of a ride and I understand that the CW wanted a sixth season, but it probably never should have happened. I don’t want to throw Sera Gamble under the bus because she’s officially taken over for Eric Kripke — especially since his writing of the S6 finale suggests he hasn’t been that far away — but this season has been a fairly substantial mess. At times I thought Gamble and her team were figuring it out and I know that it has to be wildly difficult to step out from underneath five years of mythology, but every time I feel like they have a handle on how things are going to go, the writers appear to get bored with an idea and move on to something else. A number of the episodes have been interesting in their own individual respects, but it doesn’t quite add up to something in the way that seasons two, four and to a lesser extent, five did. And again, in some ways it has been pretty fun to watch the series trot out a bunch of new ideas and concepts, but at a certain point, those ideas and concepts have to mean something. So much of this season has felt disjointed, rough and middling when compiled all together and that’s so unfortunate to see after one hell of a run in seasons two through five.

Of all the series on this list, this is the one that has writers I trust to right the ship and bring something better and more compelling in another possible season, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. I’d love to say that Supernatural should come back for one final year to give the characters the endings they deserve, but they’ve already had that and it’s going to be impossible to top in my opinion. Therefore, while I like individual stories like RoboSam, Purgatory and the Alphas and individual episodes like the all-time great “The French Mistake,” there’s a big question as to whether those insular beats or moments are worth all the frustrating, problematic stuff that’s come along with it. I can’t imagine Supernatural won’t be back next season and I will most certainly continue to watch and write about it, I’ll just be very sad to do so if continues down this bumpy path.

When it comes to renewal time, there will be a lot of discussion about these three series. I probably won’t care. It’s time to let go and move on.

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3 thoughts on “The TVS List: Three broadcast series that need to be canceled

  1. I don’t want to jump all over you, but I do feel a need to ask for more about your theory that it is time for “Supernatural” to go. I am not sure you (and others) are giving the new team enough of a chance. Let them get through an entire season–then we will have a real sense of whether they can create, sustain, and climax a serialized story arc. I’m not saying this season has been perfect (few seasons of any show ever are), but to consider “Supernatural” alongside “Chuck” just seems wrong.

    One concern I have is that the mythology isn’t holding up. If Dean’s experience in hell was as awful as depicted in seasons past, why in the world would he risk Sam remembering that? I know he also did not want to leave Sam’s soul in purgatory, but he’s taking quite the risk, and I think I needed more of an acknowledgment of that.

    Also, I woud buy that this season is playing like mini-arcs. First, the mystery of Sam’s return. Next, the fight to get Sam back. Then the fight to keep Sam from cracking up. Do these make for a coherent through line? Not sure yet. But I’m in the camp of “wait and see.” Let Gamble finish her season. Then maybe I’ll join you in a call to put “Supernatural” down on a high note.

    1. No reason to worry about jumping all over me. I think of all the three, Supernatural is in the best shape, but that also means it has the farthest to fall. Most people probably wouldn’t agree with me, but I’m taking the best seasons of SPN over the best seasons of House and Chuck, so when it churns something out like this mess of a season, it’s really disheartening. Therefore, I feel an extra tinge of fear about what could happen in ANOTHER season of something like this, and as someone who thought the the S5 finale was about as good as it gets, I almost can’t deal with going through more disappointment. So perhaps my fears are more personal than they should be.

      But you noted that I should give the “new team” a break, and what is most unfortunate is that it’s basically the same team, including Kripke. As I mentioned, I know it has to be really, really difficult to get out from under all that mythology, but at a certain point, I have trouble being patient when it’s mostly the same writers, same directors, same cast, etc., having trouble figuring things out. I was originally charmed by the mini-arc set-up, but when the small arcs don’t really have much of an impact or build on one another that well, it doesn’t really work. At this point, there are so many balls in the air that I’m uncertain how they’ll be caught safely. The ideas have been extremely promising, but the execution has been severely lacking and I guess I’d rather cut my losses than bring on more frustration.

      Of course, if the last 6 episodes are FANTASTIC, I will be super excited. Supernatural is more or less my favorite series, I want it to be good. I’m just not sure it can be anymore, not consistently.

  2. As far as House is concerned, I stopped watching around season 4-5. (Can’t remember, but it was at the beginning of the one that started with House in the looney bin). Hugh Laurie is amazing, but the procedural aspect of the show started hurting it. Plus, I believe after Ross and Rachel on Friends, very few shows should (or have the capacity to) pull off a ‘will they won’t they’, so Huddy was bad for me.

    Chuck started off great in its first two seasons. It was a borderline parody of spy shows with the added bonus that the action was usually legitimately good. Then, after they got their 3rd season, they got it in their heads that they WERE a legit action show and started taking themselves way too seriously. Comedy writers should never turn their comedies too serious, because then, after two seasons of Chuck balancing (and separating) his personal and professional lives, EVERYONE became a damn spy. Season 3 killed a good, maybe even great, show.

    Supernatural went the way of Scrubs. They crafted a damn-near perfect ending, and then the network shit all over it by making another season. You just know the original ending for season 5 would’ve ended the same way except no resurrections and Sam stays in hell. That would’ve been an amazing, bittersweet, and real ending to a great series. The new season has been ok. In fact, it’s been a lot better than I was expecting; but it’s still unnecessary, and tarnishes a great legacy. Hopefully the writers can wrap up the season in a way that would make a fitting series finale, but considering Gamble was mostly known for the one-off episodes that ignored mythology (at least under Kripke’s reign), I doubt she can pull it off.

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