With the recent announcement from HBO that its long-running vampire soap opera True Blood would be receiving the True Death after its seventh season, and with the serial-killing madness of Dexter coming to an end, we here at Screen Rant have come to the conclusion that TV shows can be a lot like houseguests: They’re great in the beginning, but after a while, they’re just there, all the time.
So why do we continue to watch these shows? Is it a sense of obligation or simply the need to see things through to the end? Or could it be that, despite their failings, we just can’t bring ourselves to admit that a series we once thought was great has turned into something we only watch with the curtains drawn while tweeting about another more popular show?
To be fair, some series mentioned here have already ended and some have redeemed themselves to a certain degree – ostensibly justifying our continued allegiance – but others are but a shadow of what they once were. Either way, try as we might, there always seemed to be room in our schedule – or at least on the DVR – for these shows.
Yes, even though Smallville has been off the air since 2011, it’s still amazing to think that a series about a teenaged Clark Kent on the road to becoming Superman managed to last 10 seasons. That reason alone is enough to make this list. But what’s more is that, through all of the cast and creative personnel changes, the shift in focus from teen-angsty romance mixed with the unrelenting burden of destiny, to some more adult (if not necessarily mature) takes on the same themes, somehow, Tom Welling & Co. made us want to stick with it.
But what kept us tuning in? After about season 4, the reasons for sticking with the show seemed to be less about the present and more about the promise of what may be just around the corner – i.e., special guest stars from the DC Universe roster, including geek-worthy appearances by Smallville versions of The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and even Doomsday, as well as the hope that one day we’d see Clark don the big red ‘S’ and soar over Metropolis (and maybe Smallville for continuity’s sake).
There was a time not long ago – before Game of Thrones looked down on all other HBO programming from its perch atop the Iron Throne built from spectacular ratings and meme-inducing deaths – when True Blood was the reason for having a subscription to the pay-cable network. However, after the first season, that feeling of genuinely wanting to follow the hot, blood-drenched (and undoubtedly tacky) romantic misadventures of vampires and humans commingling in and around Bon Temps quickly began to wane.
That’s when things started getting overly complicated; the series’ writers began tossing in every supernatural character and spooky contrivance they could think of (werewolves, mediums and werepanthers?) and the already tenuous connection between character and storyline became increasingly halfhearted as characters became paired with one another seemingly at random. If there ever was an official moment when the show had really gone off the rails, it was the coven-of-witches-in-a-bookstore storyline and the revelation that Sookie’s mysterious telepathic abilities stemmed from her being half-fairy – a subplot that led to the discovery of another dimension so remarkably gauche, it looked like a place even Baz Lurhmann would turn his nose up at.
Still, like a vamp’s instinctive need to feed, we keep coming back to the campy goings-on with the hope that Eric, Alcide and even the shape-shifting Sam Merlotte might sniff out a plotline that could right the ship. And with the announcement that season 7 will be the show’s last, we don’t have any excuse to quit now.
This is probably the most obvious show on the list, given that you’d have an easier time finding a hair on Evan Handler’s gloriously bald head than a group of people who would readily admit they still watch the show. And yet, there’s still something about the booze-soaked, lamely misanthropic ramblings of David Duchovny’s sporadically inspired writer Hank Moody that compels us to (passively) tune in year after year. Perhaps it’s because the show airs during the cold, wintry period between New Year’s and Game of Thrones that allows Californication to maintain a place on our DVR scheduled recordings list.
To be honest, though, it’s probably the likability of its lead and (even more likely) Duchovny’s past glories (X-Files forever!) that keep us hoping the misadventures of Mr. Moody will find that balance of raunch, humor and sentimentality that it sometimes captured in its first two seasons. Since then, the storylines have gotten increasingly repetitive and progressively more cartoonish. Still, we’re holding out hope the show may one day manage to justify its continued existence and become the comedy that revels in its naughtiness while still having something worthwhile to say about its characters.
If anything, How I Met Your Mother suffers more from having too deliberate a premise than any sort of flaw or decline in quality over the years (though it’s had its off seasons). It’s become something of an ongoing joke that Ted’s poor kids have been listening to their dad regale them with an incredibly lengthy account of the years he spent scouring the Manhattan dating scene for the woman destined to become his wife and their mother. (Because what kid doesn’t want to spend who-knows-how-long hearing about all the failed relationships their father had before settling on their mom?)
But, to its credit, How I Met Your Mother delivered on said premise in such a way that even the most casual of viewers will likely be interested in knowing just how Ted met his kids’ mother. So, even though the longer the show went on the more preposterous the idea that two kids were still listening to Bob Saget’s narration became, there was always the notion that one day it would all pay off. While the series experienced the inevitable dearth of fresh ideas and truly witty comedy, the penultimate season ended with our first glimpse of Ted’s future bride, making us forget about all those year’s of wheel spinning.
Despite the fact that series creator Eric Kripke developed it to be a five-year storyline, Supernatural fittingly lived on, and, for a season or two, seemed to be daring viewers to salt and burn its bones, lest it continue to come back and haunt The CW’s airwaves with terrible storylines like the Leviathans and Sam sharing the same headspace as his old underworld cellmate Lucifer.
Thankfully, this past season seemed to show the brothers Winchester getting some of their previous mojo back – no small feat when you’ve been going for eight seasons – with a refocused storyline that also added a new dimension to the narrative (i.e., The Men of Letters and the search for the demon and angel tablets). Meanwhile, the season ended on a cliffhanger that may bring the series’ key characters together again. So, with the possibility of Dean, Sam, Castiel and even Bobby hunting together while dealing with a heavenly apocalypse, odds are Supernatural may have finally gotten its second wind. Is it any wonder we never stopped watching?
The show that helped establish the FOX television brand is now something of a footnote for the network – though, 24 seasons later (season 25 will premiere September 29), it still helps anchor a Sunday night block of animation – and despite rumors to the contrary, will seemingly never be shuffled off to the great animated beyond. The Simpsons may not be as culturally relevant or as flat-out funny as it once was, but Matt Groening’s creation has blossomed from a short animated segment on The Tracy Ullman Show to a media empire, and now into a comforting reminder of the kind of scathing commentary and hilarious comedy that can be accomplished within a television medium once thought appropriate only for children.
But even if Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa don’t quite pack the satirical punch they once did, there’re still times when The Simpsons manages to knock one out of the park – especially if there is a social issue worth tackling. Besides, even if you don’t watch the series regularly anymore, there is still the annual lure of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror – which, incidentally, this season will be XXIV, making this Halloween tradition older than most college freshman.
The longest running show on this list, Saturday Night Live was built to evolve and change with the times – otherwise, we’d still be watching Dan Akroyd’s crooked toy salesman Mr. Mainway try and promote Bag O’ Microsoft SmartGlass, while Eddie Murphy treated us to Arcade Fire songs as performed by Buckwheat – but every iteration (like the massively overhauled cast of the upcoming 2013-2014 season) is a lot like playing the lottery: it stands the chance of being incredibly rewarding, but the odds of it approaching the quality of its early years (or even the Hartman, Carvey, Myers and Sandler years) seem very small.
But, just like The Simpsons, the comedy on SNL is largely a reflection of the goings-on in the world at the time (so, if the cast has an off night – or season – then it’s largely the world’s fault, right?). Honestly, though, the constantly changing cast brings with it the hope of something new, and that’s what keeps us tuning in to this long-standing weekend tradition. Unlike other shows that would fall like a house of cards should one element be removed, Saturday Night Live thrives on the unpredictable popularity of characters like Matt Foley, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, Stefon and many, many others. Sure, they get overused to the point we don’t even understand their appeal any more, but it’s worth it just to see an unexpected character become the next thing we’re tired of watching.
What was once thought of as the second coming of NBC’s “Must See TV” line-up started slowing down before Steve Carrel left the show, and practically ran completely out of gas following the departure of Michael Scott. Sure, Jim and Pam’s romance drove plenty of the narrative and largely carried final seasons, but it was the sweet, charismatic loneliness and deep desire to be liked of Carrel’s character that was the driving force of the entire show.
Still, as an ensemble, The Office was pretty hard to beat. Although it tested our patience with some unnecessary guest stars being shuffled through the Dunder Mifflin Scranton office, there was still plenty of enjoyment to be wrung out of surprisingly funny characters like Robert California. At a certain point post-Michael Scott, watching became a question of waiting to see if the show could recover (which is kind of morbid), but when it became clear that it had perhaps overstayed its welcome, the series managed an incredibly sentimental finale that rewarded those who stuck with it through thick and thin, and gave everyone else a reason to get caught up.
In TV, the realization of a romance between the two leads is one of the ultimate forms of fan service, but it can also be the end to the key source of dramatic tension that served as one of the main reasons why audiences continued to tune in. The will-they-or-won’t-they question of romance – which, in the case of Bones happened to be Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz, or Brennan and Booth, respectively – drove so much of the show’s narrative (after season 2 or so) that the gruesome crimes investigated by the staff at the Jeffersonian came in a close second.
But like Moonlighting, Lois & Clark and so many other shows that have come before (and will likely come again), Bones is suffering from the inopportune loss of drive caused by giving fans exactly what they wanted. It’s the television version of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, as Bones couldn’t have gone much longer without directly addressing the Booth/Brennan dynamic. But now that they’re almost a married couple (provided a serial killer doesn’t screw things up again), the show isn’t quite sure where to harvest that weird palpable energy that came from the flirtatiousness of its two leads.
Thankfully, the show is smart (all ridiculous product placement aside) and perhaps those smarts will translate into finding the same kind of humor and liveliness once supplied by the question of romance in the banality of inevitable domesticity. We can only watch and find out.
Aside from its rabid fanbase, the reason Showtime stuck with Dexter for so long is that the network had built its brand off the psychotic do-gooder’s exploits. Still, network brand or not, the last few seasons exhibited a noticeable decline in story quality brought on by the kind of plotless meandering typically seen in a show that no longer knows what it’s about and is really just waiting to bring the curtain down. Thankfully, the network is now primarily known as the home of Emmy Award-winning Homeland, but, deep down, just as AMC will forever be tethered to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Showtime will always be the network where everyone’s favorite serial killer became an unlikely superhero.
But, as with all antiheroes, Dexter‘s unique appeal (and the reason why we kept tuning in) was always tied to his end – or, in this case, the show’s end. As much as fans root for characters like him season after season, there’s always the expectation that men who break such bad will have to pay the proverbial TV piper when it comes time to call “cut” for the very last time. While that doesn’t seem to be the case for Dexter Morgan, as his finale seems poised to give him a second chance through, of all things, love.
It may have gone from bad to worse in its last three seasons, but that’s only made us more curious as to how it’ll all shake out. Unlike all of Dexter Morgan’s victims, perhaps Dexter the series will find a way to redeem itself in its final moments.
This is just a small sampling of the shows that’ve have lost some of their luster after being on TV for what seems like ages and yet continue to hold a place in the collective hearts of their audience. Let us know what shows keep you tuning in to year after year, even though you watch them alone, hoping no one finds out, so you won’t be forced to conjure up some defense of the program and your viewing habits.