Right. I’ve had enough of writing worthy stuff that nobody is interested in. As 2018 comes to a close, I think it’s about time I did something which is just all-out populist. I am more than happy to throw my dignity under a bus for the sake of shareable content.
Here’s when all your favourite TV shows really jumped the shark.
Red Dwarf: Kryten
For one glorious series, Red Dwarf was the best sitcom on TV. Not because of the characters, or the jokes, or even the stories, mind you. Only one thing was interesting about Red Dwarf: the sheer sense of loneliness and isolation the series engendered. The whole point of the show was that these weirdos were the last beings alive in a vacant universe.
It’s such a shame then, that the second series of the show opens with Kryten – and in doing so, jettisons everything which made the show great. For the first time, we meet someone else in the universe: not a video, a hallucination, a duplicate of themselves, or a dispensing machine, but the real deal. True, there was the Cat Priest in Waiting for God, and that came dangerously close to breaking the show’s concept, but it just about got away with it: he was already Red Dwarf itself, rather than somebody our crew met along the way.
Here, they just… come across a crashed spaceship. Three million years into the future, in a world where no aliens exist, and the only life in the universe is humanity. In one fell swoop, not only did Rob and Doug destroy the whole point of the show, but they introduced a huge logical flaw. It is ridiculously unlikely that after three million years of constant travel, our crew would run into a ship which originated from Earth.
The fact that this episode was deliberately moved up from fourth in recording order to broadcast first in the series is utterly incomprehensible. You can forget your Polymorphs, Pleasure GELFs, and Inquisitors: it’s Kryten who destroyed the show, and it was never the same again.
Men Behaving Badly: Gary and Tony
As with Red Dwarf, Men Behaving Badly jumped the shark very early on. Unlike most programmes on this list, however, it’s perhaps worth admitting that it wasn’t really the show’s fault. With Harry Enfield deciding to leave after the first series, there was simply no way the show could replace one of the finest comedians the UK has ever produced. Any show would struggle with that particular gap.
Still, perhaps the series could have shifted into a lower, but still effective gear. Sadly, the casting of Neil Morrissey put paid to that. Bringing in the star of I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle was not exactly the smartest choice to replace one of the leading lights of the UK comedy scene. The result was predictable: Morrissey pratfalling around the set in order to get cheap laughs, in lieu of the more thoughtful comedy of the first series. Just witness the pathetic falling glass cabinet gag in this episode. You’d never think the series was inspired by a book; we’ve gone into full broad sitcom mode.
The show limped on for five more years, and an idiot audience who didn’t know any better lapped it up. But the real spirit of the series was long dead.
Fawlty Towers: Gourmet Night
12 perfect episodes my pimply arse. Here’s the thing about Fawlty Towers: it actually falters just five episodes into its first series.
Sitcom relies on a claustrophobic situation, in which our main characters are trapped in one place. It’s the whole point of any comedy. Fawlty Towers, for all its supposed genius, nearly fails at the first hurdle: the pilot includes a film sequence where Polly goes to the shops and learns about Lord Melbury. Still, they just about get away with it, as the sequence is so short. Here, not only is there an extended sequence with driving over to André’s restaurant and the car getting stuck, but it involves Basil – the lynchpin of the show. Five episodes in, and the programme has run out of ideas with its main situation: surely a sign the show should never have been commissioned in the first place.
Even worse, the sequence with Basil hitting his car with the branch falls entirely flat; not only is it badly directed (with a clear edit where it’s rained between shots), but as it’s shot on location it feels distant, and kills dead any comedic energy the episode has built up to that point.
Perhaps with a standout final episode, the show could have regained some momentum and avoided its fate. Sadly, The Germans is terrible. For a start, it repeats exactly the same flaw as Gourmet Night in terms of location – indeed, this time we don’t even start in the hotel, breaking the running joke of the opening titles just when we’re expecting a big payoff. Even when we move back to the hotel, any subtlety the series ever had is long gone, culminating in John Cleese goosestepping across the lobby, and a pathetic slapstick sequence involving an unconvincing moose’s head. The Office really couldn’t come soon enough.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Whither Canada?
Unfortunately, Monty Python – which could have been a truly great series – ends up jumping the shark precisely 1:36 into its very first episode.
For something with such laudable aims as smart comedy which refuses to dumb itself down, the presence of a studio audience absolutely destroys the show. And from the moment that familiar cackle pops up, as a chalk pig gets crossed out on a blackboard, the series ceases to have any meaning. Only lowest common denominator comedy needs a studio audience telling the viewer when to laugh; here, the tone of the series is fatally compromised. Pathetic.
Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child
Ah, Doctor Who. For every single era of the show beloved by many, you can find someone who feels that’s the point where the show jumped the shark.
Still: in fact, you’re all wrong. The show actually failed at the first hurdle, with the broadcast of its first episode An Unearthly Child. Because the truth is, the show was supposed to be so much stranger than that. Supposed to be so much darker. Supposed to be so much madder. Supposed to be so much better.
To find out what the show could have been, we only need to look at the original pilot recording, as presented in The Beginning DVD boxset. And from the moment of that ominous thunderclap in the opening music onwards – removed entirely for the series proper – we have a show that is far darker and more imaginative than how the series ended up.
And nowhere else is this better seen than in the pilot’s treatment of Susan. Instead of reading a book, the pilot sees her doodling with bizarre ink splodges. Her costume is different; her demeanour far more alien. In the broadcast version, she’s entirely toned down and softened. She goes from something truly interesting, to… just a schoolgirl.
This was the moment when the show failed. By deweirdifying Susan in the first transmitted episode, the show forever pulled its punches, and went for the mundane over the truly magical. Doctor Who could have been one of the best things British television has ever produced. Instead, it went for the obvious.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Unbroadcast pilot
Debates have ranged long and hard about when BTVS jumped the shark. Was it with Season 4, when Buffy leaves high school? Season 5, with the ridiculous arrival of Dawn? Season 6, where Willow’s magic addiction is awkwardly crowbarred into the show? Or Season 7, where nothing really happens until the finale?
Actually, no. Buffy jumps the shark even earlier than Doctor Who. Specifically, it jumps the shark 2:06 into the the unbroadcast pilot pitch reel, where the first vampire shows up. Vampires don’t exist, you see. The whole thing is just stupid.
Do I win yet?