We all know the pain that comes with the cancellation of a favorite T.V. show. The bemoaning of such cult hits as Firefly and Twin Peaks is almost more ferocious than the fandom of shows that last decades. But, for every unresolved plot line, every unfinished rivalry, and every unrealized love, there are the shows that become limp-alongs. Series that keep chugging after they’ve had the chance to end with some dignity. Some were brought back from the dead, most have redeeming qualities in their bad times, but they all worse off for continuing. Here are four shows that decided to carry on after their expiration date.
(Disclaimer- Yes, The Simpsons should have ended sooner. I have not included it on this list for two reasons.
1) The prolific nature of the show makes it next to impossible to say when it should have stopped.
2) The show holds a great deal of significance to me. Talking about ending it, no matter how justified, is difficult for me to think about.)
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When should it have ended- The ultimate example of a show being brought back from the dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer sewed up everything at the end of Season 5 with the epitaph She Saved the World A Lot. When the show switched channels in 2001, a heavy handed metaphor of Buffy being pulled out heaven by those with good intentions was the first sign that maybe bringing it back was a bad idea.
The Scoobies had already faced every trope in the book by this point in the series. The Big Bad of Season 6 being a trio of power tripping nerds wore thin quickly and only acted to point out how the show could only go downhill after Buffy beat down an evil interdimensional goddess in Season 5. The introduction of Dark Willow and The First helped the series to get back on track, but little more than padding and character degradation was added to the Buffyverse with the 6th and 7th seasons.
What would we have missed out on- It can’t be denied that while the show may have lost its original luster after its move to U.P.N, it was not without totally without merit. The famous musical episode One More Time with Feeling appears in Season 6, followed directly by the hilarious Tabula Rasa. Other classics such as Conversations with Dead People and Normal Again appear in the last two seasons, making at least some of the latter two seasons worth watching.
What would we have been spared- Had Buffy Summers stayed in her grave, the fandom could have been spared some truly cringe worthy canon. The tortured drug use metaphor of Willow’s magic in Season 6 comes to mind, along with the trio of nerds becoming the new main threat. Spike’s attempt to rape Buffy in late Season 6 came off as an attempt to shoehorn in edgier scenes for no other reason than to say they did, while his subsequent redemption came off like the show didn’t want to talk about the scene anymore. These along with a laundry list of inconsistent character actions, forced storylines, and overt use of sex and violence made the return of Buffy do more harm than good.
2. Dr. Who (Matt Smith era)
When should it have ended?- Dr. Who has the rare advantage of having both time travel and regeneration for retcon purposes. This allows the show to continue on with no real obligation to keep anything from its past while holding the option to pick from 50 years of villains, companions, and story lines at the writer’s discretion. Still, the Doctors themselves do have a shelf life, and Matt Smith reached his after the first half of the Season 7.
The downfall of the season’s second half can be traced back to the departure of the Ponds as companions. Amy and Rory being central characters in Smith’s run as the Doctor since the beginning, their sudden death left a strange gap between Clara’s introduction as a main companion and Smith’s departure. Too short a time to make Clara anything more than an easy MacGuffin and too long a time to do anything quick and clever, the odd and clunky second half of Season 7 tarnished an otherwise solid run for the 11th Doctor
What we would have missed out on- Matt Smith, whatever the storyline, is still entertaining to watch. His relationship with Madame Vastra, Strax, and Jenny made The Snowmen, The Crimson Horror, and The Name of the Doctor fun episodes to get into. Also, despite her diminished status as a plot point rather than a character, Clara Oswald has still been able to establish herself as a charming and worthy companion who can hopefully come more into her own in the upcoming seasons.
What we would have been spared- Having run as long as it has, Dr. Who is a show with countless throwaway episode. Still, the entire second half of Season 7 seemed to be a holding pattern until Smith could star in the 50th anniversary and get his departure in the very next episode. Leaving a one episode gap between him losing the Ponds and then becoming infatuated with Clara comes off as a cheap attempt to make the audience do the same, further diminishing the two-and-a-half season run that has established Smith as one of the most liked Doctors of the show’s history.
When should it have ended?– Another case of back-from-the-dead syndrome, Futurama enjoyed a five season run before sharing the fate of most Fox shows and being abruptly ended. After a strange set direct to DVD movies, Futurama returned to television some seven years after its initial cancellation. The time away unfortunately showed.
Becoming little more than self-referential humor and bizarrely obscure golden age sci-fi jokes, the last two seasons of Futurama flaunted a sort of ironic apathy to its canon and characters. It could be said that Futurama’s last stand seemed to be mocking its own return, and if it didn’t want to come back, it didn’t have to.
What we would have missed out on– Being that Futurama is a comedy show, the main question on whether or not it is still worth watching is whether or not it’s funny. In this way, Futurama’s later seasons had value. The cast was still entertaining, the gags still funny, and the odd specialty episodes such as Naturama and Reincarnation gave the show some variety and life.
What we would have been spared– Later Futurama’s problem seems to be one of consistency and character. Fry and Leela’s relationship took some hits as the will-they-won’t-they motif became so in flux that it ceased to mean anything. Then there is the strange and disturbing change of Zapp Brannigan from pathetic Captain Kirk parody to date rapist in In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela. These and the ever growing reliance of academic, referential humor showed a show past its prime and better off dead.
When should it have ended?– Community was a fragile show to begin with. You had an attempt to balance an ensemble cast, Meta humor, both relevant and irrelevant references, as well as a flirtation with defining Generation Y. For its efforts, Community developed a cult following rarely seen in sitcoms. Still, its fragility began to show in Season 3 as the show’s self-aware nature and reliance on zanier situations began to wear thin. At the end of Season 3, there seemed to be a wrap up of all major plot points with enough ambiguity to allow fan theories to be debated over once the show was gone. But, ambiguity is not something that sits well in modern day fandom. Community was renewed for a fourth season after an aggressive Twitter campaign, and the results were less than exceptional.
Outside of the shows unfortunate broadcast order and need to awkwardly edit around Chevy Chase’s departure, the in-joke nature degraded further until any connection to the characters outside of nostalgia was depleted. Now, with Season 5 taking off from the even more definitive ending of Season 4, as well as the departure of both Chevy Chase and Donald Glover, we see what happens when fans demand quantity over quality.
What we would have missed out on-Had Community stayed canceled after the Season 3, it would not have been without its losses. Herstory of Dance and Basic Human Anatomy stand as a mid-season returns to form for the show. The cast also remained funny and able to handle the material they were given however poor it was.
What we would have been spared- If pity is to be taken on Season 4, it could be said it was a victim of circumstance. With show runner Dan Harmon leaving, the order of episodes being oddly placed by N.B.C., and having to continue after the finality of the Season 3, the show could be forgiven for its lackluster season. Still, the Season 4 stands only to wear out the overall quality of Community, while the upcoming Season 5 seems to be attempting to continue something that has been wrapped up completely. The memic “6 seasons and a movie” seems to be more of a curse than a hope for the show.