In honor of the upcoming St Paddy’s Day, today’s post comes at the suggestion of a reader from the academia of the Fighting Irish. When a form of serial fiction has been going along far enough there is always the urge to do something risky and surprising in the hopes of shifting the tone of the narrative and spark some life into the story. Well at least that’s the ideal result. While it’s an entirely subjective reception, the success of such a change is rare. Most of the time it’s mediocre and achieves very little. Then there are the events so horrible that you can mark the deterioration of the show from that point on. This is known as “Jumping the Shark” and boy does it evoke actual anguish in the viewer/reader.
First, a history lesson for the uninitiated. The first recorded instance of jumping the shark and why it has that name comes from an old episode of Happy Days. Yes, I know that all the episodes are old for our current standards but stay with me on this one. In one of the later seasons, the legendary Fonzi was convinced that he should do a death defying feat of awesomeness to prove his coolness and/or to help people. Now the Fonz was (and to some still is) an icon of manliness and charisma. So what was the mission impossible that he had to do? Get on waterskis and use a ramp to jump over some sort of weird enclosement are via buoys with an actual shark in it. The premise alone defied any and all forms of logic The absurdity continued to very odd visual choices. The first was the setting, while available locals for the program was limited to the Cunningham home and Arnold’s restaurant, this was the special where everyone was on the beach for the Summer vacation episode. The second is the abrupt editing style of cutting between people and “inside” the waterl with the shark. I and anyone with common sense would know that there is no way in Hell you would a man eating shark on set but you have to make these things believable. And of course, the fact that Fonzi does this all with his trademark leather jacket while WATER skiing it’s just well bad. That and I’m pretty sure there was at least one “to be continued” before the jumping of the shark occurred. At least he does it in a somewhat cool way and landing. Again, my attempts to relate in prose what can only be believed via sight do not live up to the moment, so check it out for yourself and prepare to face palm. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDthMGtZKa4
So, Jumping the Shark, is very much an issue or subjective reception but there are a few things were most fans agree that the change to a program ended up ruining it forever. Here are some common examples of such events: Introduce a new character and immediately make them the center of attention (Charmed was already in decline but the addition of Billy aka Penny of Big Bang Theory Fame, to the cast just about sealed the deal). The introduction of something completely crazy (remember Family Matters, it was a pretty good sitcom about family life until it focused on which crazy Urkel invention altered the cosmos that week). Oh and don’t forget aboutthe middle aged couple having a baby, there are way too many sitcoms that end up doing this. There’s also the changing of one actor or actress for another and have no one react to this. Bewitched was the first to pull it off and you can very clearly see the second Darren in action and never being as good as the original. Then there was the time in French Prince of Bel Air where Aunt Viv transformed from Venus Williams style lady in charge to a shorter lighter skinned and for some reason (at least to me) bitchier character. Guess that pregnancy had a bigger effect than was expected.