Even the most popular TV shows of 2022 aren’t immune from the potential to suffer from story collapse. Indeed, looking back at the annals of television, the longer a TV show remains on the air the more likely it is to lose its focus, alter its storylines, and begin to dramatically suffer from the law of diminishing returns. Some of the most highly-acclaimed programs like Lost and Game Of Thrones are just a few examples of once-stellar TV dramas that eventually took a turn for the worse before reaching their final episodes.
Whether introducing new characters and subplots or alienating fan bases with drastically ludicrous scenarios, some of the best all-time TV shows have fallen apart diegetically.
One of the most beloved network dramas of the past two decades, Lost captivated the hearts and minds of viewers thanks to its knotty premise, story twists, and the central mystery regarding a group of plane crash survivors forced to cohabitate on a tropical island. However, most fans of the series know that the season 3 episode “Stranger in a Strange Land” marks the moment the show completely imploded on itself, failing to advance the plot in a silly self-indulgent storyline. Even co-creator Carlton Cuse has alluded to it being the worst episode in show history.
Saddled by infuriating flashbacks that explore the history of Jack’s tattoos, fans of the show were gobsmacked by the lackluster storyline that veered so far away from what made the show so compelling in the first place. As such, it’s tied for the lowest-rated episode of Lost on IMDb. And frankly, that doesn’t even account for the other times the show went off the rails, including the time the island time-traveled, Claire’s amnesia, Locke’s revival, and the nonsensical meeting between The Others and the survivors.
Game Of Thrones (2011-2019)
Despite ranking #13 on IMDb’s Top 250 TV Shows of All Time, most fans feel that Game Of Thrones really fell apart in the 8th and final season. The first instance of the story collapsing involved Daenerys’ disappointing arc that lacked satisfying closure, leaving fans to wonder if she’d follow in the craven footsteps of the Mad King or find her own way. When she torched King’s Landing to the ground by episode 5 without much motivational exposition, fans were left scratching their heads. By episode 8, her true fate completely spits in the face of most ardent fans before truly getting to understand Daenerys.
Other instances of story collapse leading to the stunningly underwhelming series finale include the tangentially uninspired subplot in Dorne during season 5, Euron’s cartoonish caricature as it relates to the books, and perhaps most glaring, the lack of explanation regarding Tyrion’s sudden cold-heartedness toward Daenerys in the final season. All of these aspects culminated with one of the worst-received TV finales in recent history.
Happy Days (1974-1984)
The show that literally coined the phrase “jumping the shark” in reference to losing its way, the all-time beloved ’70s sitcom Happy Days made history for dissolving in front of fans’ eyes in the fall of 1977. The instance took place in Season 5 when The Cunninghams departed from Milwaukee and headed to sunny Los Angeles for a family getaway.
Completely out of place, the three-part “Hollywood” arc culminates with Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli pairing his signature leather jacket with water skis as he literally jumps over a shark in a lame stunt. The beachy California setting is not only antithetical to the midwestern values the show hewed to, but Fonzie’s personal storyline as the coolest greaser in Wisconsin is completely shattered by literally going Hollywood.
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
When the first two seasons of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica hit the masses, it was on pace to become one of the most badass and innovative sci-fi TV shows around. And while it still ranks #91 on IMDb’s Top 250, most fans are very aware of the ridiculous season 3 finale debacle regarding the identity of the Final Five Cylons. Tea OSG storyline couldn’t have collapsed harder on itself if it were a black hole.
When it came time to reveal the true nature of the Cylons, the writers resolved the heinous storyline by gathering all of the mysterious beings together in a room, where they inexplicably hallucinate a version of “All Along The Watchtower” in unison while Kara returns from the dead as an angry angel. The flummoxing story sapped the mystifying nature of the show and led to a wildly dissatisfying season finale, turning a once eerie and thought-stirring outing into an odd arrangement of bad, new age Bob Dylan cover songs.
The first few seasons of Showtime’s delicious horror hit dexter felt fresh, original, and quite daring in the way its protagonist moonlighted as a serial murderer. Despite the repetitive formula at times, the show really took a hit story-wise when showrunners opted to kill off Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow in one of his best villainous roles), AKA The Trinity Killer, whose 12-episode reign of terror in season 4 marked the high point of the show. In fact, Lithgow was so good that he won an Emmy Award for his work.
After somewhat rebounding by the midway point of season 5, most dexter fans would agree that the story began to fall apart once again by the end of season 6 when Dexter’s sister uncovered his sinister secret, reminding the dexter faithful of much better days.
Downton Abbey (2010-2015)
After taking the world by storm during its first season, the infamous Christmas special during the season 2 finale of Downton Abbey marks the moment the story completely caved and left fans reeling for an explanation. Indeed, those who’ve witnessed the laughable melodrama of Matthew Crawley taking a moment to randomly star gaze while driving a vehicle before fatally crashing into a milk truck moments after meeting his newborn baby are likely still upset over the silliness that transpired.
Moreover, the story arc involving Rosamund Painswick was oddly accelerated to make the character much more prominent when she’d previously been relegated as a weak, underdeveloped character the entire season up to that point. By the end of season 2, Downton Abbey felt staid, dull, and untrue to its nature.
In a laughable subplot ripped right out of a listless rank sequel, the mega-popular and award-winning drama Homeland took a turn for the irredeemable when a storyline saw terrorists hack into the Vice President William Walden’s pacemaker and remotely shut it down in a season 2 episode sappily entitled “Broken Hearts.”
For a TV show that won an Emmy for Best Drama in its first season, the strained credulity of the episode harmed the show interminably. More telling yet, Homeland won 5 Emmys following its first season and just two over the next 7 seasons combined, indicating a clear decline in storytelling quality. In one glaring misstep it never really rebounded from, the ludicrous lethal pacemaker hack job alone undermined the plausibility of a show that previously built its reputation on being rivetingly realistic.
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