I was trying to watch the seventh season of Supernatural the other day when it hit me: this show needs to be put out of its misery. I’d been re-watching the series, and the first two or three seasons were good enough that I kept on watching. A combination of inertia and stupid optimism led me to the delusion that maybe at some point it would magically get better. Netflix provides the perfect medium for serial viewing—you don’t even have to get up to switch the DVD—you can just keep rolling from one ep to the next. Before I knew it I was in the middle of a season seven wasteland. While I was (bored) watching I found a blog called Supernatural Snark, created by someone in a similar situation: someone who used to love the show, still loved the characters, but kind of wanted to bang their head against a wall while watching. I realized when the episode ended that I’d been more entertained reading the snark than I had been watching the show. I think there’s kind of something wrong with that.
Not that it’s not occasionally fun to watch something for the express purpose of making fun of it, but that’s much more fun in a group. Solo, you end up just talking to the television, and something definitely feels wrong about that.
So here’s what I’m wondering: shouldn’t somebody pull the plug on these shows for creative reasons? Clearly, when shows are renewed, fans are still tuning in (if in diminished numbers) and the ad time is still selling. But the problem is, once-awesome shows—and books—are retroactively tainted when the creator or author stays too long at the party. Although with long-running TV series, it’s often the series creator’s departure which signals the beginning of the end. I think this is kind of a chicken-egg situation: does the show start to suck because the showrunner’s left the building, or do those folks leave because they’re done telling the story? (which I would have to say I’d really respect). Supernatural definitely became a different show after creator Eric Kripke was replaced by Sera Gamble.
Either way, though, retroactive ruin is a real problem for fans. Or at least it is for me.
Here, the top five stories that I kind of wish had ended before the awesome beginnings were tainted by the stuff that came later:
5) Why am I back?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Even though there are a handful of episodes I love in the first part of season 6, I think Buffy should have ended after season 5. Buffy learns that “death is her gift,” she sacrifices herself for her sister, and the story comes to a definitive end. Buffy doesn’t understand why she’s back from the dead in season 6 (she even states that she was done and finished—and in heaven). For a lot of season 6 it feels like she’s back to sell ad time on the new (now-defunct) UPN. For fans of Buffy and Spike, the season is particularly painful to watch. Marti Noxon, who replaced show creator Joss Whedon, shows us a relationship I wish I could un-see. And though I love the final (second) conclusion of the series, the seventh and final season was such a departure in tone from the rest of the show, I really sort of wish it had ended with the death of that WB frog.
4) Icky Imprinting and Nobody Dies: Twilight
The fourth book of the Twilight series ratchets up the suspense and tension for over seven hundred pages. The Volturi are coming! I mean, really, they are actually coming. They are completely on their way. Here any minute. Ready, set…wait. Oh, look—I think I see some evil specks in the horizon!
And when they finally do arrive in Seattle? Nobody dies. That’s right, nobody. No important characters. Sure, that stupid spin-off book girl nobody cares about gets dusted. But all forty-six Cullens make it through just fine. All the important wolves survive. Jacob’s cool.
Oh, wait. Jacob’s not cool.
He’s in love with an infant.
3) Don’t tell me the name of your planet: Roswell
Antar. That’s it—one word that essentially ruined Roswell for me. I held on through Tess, the skins, and Katherine Heigl suddenly having short hair and being like thirty years old. But the thing that really killed Roswell in season 3 was naming the alien teens’ home planet. Before, their background was like the shark in Jaws: scarier and more mysterious because we couldn’t see it. But by season three, you couldn’t throw a rock in Roswell without hitting an Antarian. And the writers started to really play fast and loose with the space powers. There was no longer much consistency in the mythology. If the writers don’t invest enough time to respect the world they’ve built, why should we tune in to see it?
2) Oh for the love of plaid, leave those poor people alone: Outlander
I’m cheating a little here—I didn’t (or haven’t yet) hung on to the bitter end. There are seven or eight
doorstops books in this series, and another one on the way. In my
defense, I made it to book five…twice. I got stalled TWICE on The Fiery Cross. Gabaldon is an incredible writer, and I love Outlander more than life. But...
a) no human being, time traveler or not, should have to go through this much crap. I mean, at one point, Jamie’s back goes out in the wilderness and then I’m pretty sure he almost gets eaten by a bear. All at the same time. And like the next day the militia shows up and makes him muster an army for the side he knows isn’t even going to win the Revolutionary War.
b) at a certain point, I just don’t want to hear about eighteenth century nursing anymore L
1) Yep, you guessed it, Supernatural
I don’t even know where to begin here. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s on Netflix. Seasons one and two are amazing. Season three is pretty good. Then, things start to fall apart.
It may be that a high concept only has so much life in it. By this point, Dean and Sam have both been literally to hell and back. Sam didn’t have his soul for half a season, and recently he had to have an angel with amnesia suck out his memories of hell/Lucifer delusions. (Yeah. That happened). Their father died to bring Dean back from the dead. Their best friend’s dead and he’s a ghost. All their other friends are dead, but not ghosts. The brothers are even unlucky in love. Sam’s girlfriend got killed by a demon in the same way their mother got killed by the same demon. Sam then fell for a werewolf he had to shoot, and then a demon girl betrayed him and tricked him into opening the door to hell. Dean fell for an angel who later traveled back in time to try to kill his parents.
At this point so much has happened that I’m pretty sure the writers have just given up and the whole thing has descended into self-parody. They have a long-running storyline about a series of books called Supernatural which is about a pair of brothers who travel the country fighting demons. The characters have run into people live-action role-playing themselves. It’s all very meta and basically just makes your head hurt.
In some alternate universe, this show ended at season 4, with an amazing finale, and these amazingly cute actors went on to do something else. Jensen Ackles is adorable and he can cry on command, two qualities that are going to be wasted on season 8 of Supernatural, which is about coming back from purgatory or something I can't begin to bring myself to care about.
The counterargument here is that I (usually) keep watching and reading this stuff--it's my choice.
My only defense is that once I really fall for characters, I have trouble not following them when I know the story’s still going on. Even if that story involves alien idiocy or evil angels, or even werewolves in love with infants.