The art of telling a story in a television series format poses many unique and challenging problems to creators, cast, and crew, no matter the genre. From staying in the psyche of the characters for years on end to shooting hours of footage on extremely tight schedules, making any television series is an arduous task, let alone when fans are demanding the story continuously raises the stakes while staying true to the soul of the show which made us love it in the first place.
While all the effort is appreciated, it remains a hollow feeling when a TV show we love begins to fall apart before our eyes. Whether because of a change of writers, poor progression, or simply outstaying its welcome, it hurt to see these series soar so high only to fall so flat.
Prison Break (2005 – 2017)
Dramas set behind bars have proven to be massive hits on television throughout the 21st century, with oz and Orange is the New Black both significant successes. The setting has a natural tension, skewed moral codes, fascinating interpersonal politics, and an ever-present threat of violence which places the lead characters in constant danger.
Prison Breakhad great urgency right off the bat, with Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) orchestrating an elaborate plan to break his falsely accused brother out of prison. While existing right on the cusp of believability, the first season could never be accused of lacking entertainment value, but the concept struggled to support an extended series, with subsequent seasons lacking the pulpy punch of season one.
‘True Blood’ (2008 – 2014)
Based on Charlaine Harris‘book series The Southern Vampire Mysteries, True Blood burst onto the scene at the perfect time, capturing the zeitgeist of the vampire-loving public of the late 2000s and early 2010s. A sinfully fun series, it was a soapy horror romp armed to the teeth with blood, sex, and violence.
It was at its peak during the second and third seasons, which balanced its graphic appeal with a satirical lens, but it began to lose its bite not long after. While the visuals remained just as eye-popping throughout the second half of the show’s run, the punch behind them diminished as the story departed from Harris’ novels and got bogged down in its routine.
‘West World’ (2016 – )
The reimagining of the 1973 sci-fi film was a big hit in its first season, prying far deeper than the movie ever did into what the wild premise can say as a social commentary. However, there was more to the series than just biting satire, with an immersive world of wonder and a cohort of fascinating characters terrifically portrayed by an amazing cast.
The series has stuck to its twists and moral contemplation throughout its four-season run but has become increasingly confusing while dramatically expanding. The two-year waits between seasons may have turned some fans away too, but those who have persisted could be ultimately rewarded if the planned fifth and final season can restore west worldto its former glory.
Riverdale (2017 – 2022)
Re-imagining the Archie comics to target a modern audience was in no way a safe bet for Netflix, but their gamble paid off big time with the first season of riverdale, an addictive smash hit. It was fun, off-beat, and always prepared to take a chance and amassed a cult following as a result.
The second season delivered more of the same, but the show soon went off the deep end, substituting its untamable teenage chaos for borderline nonsensical ridiculousness. From an at-large cult to an entire episode presented as a musical, a show that started as pleasant escapism soon spiraled into total insanity.
‘Glee’ (2009 – 2015)
The musical comedy Glee focused on social issues faced by modern American youth. It had a mesmeric start with its vibrant, poppy first two seasons filled to the brim with innocent charm and toe-tapping musical numbers. The third season represented a fall from grace, though, and while the series did re-discover some of its magic in the final season, it was still a long way off its early heights.
The drop in quality was only compounded when the series lost some of its central characters and lapsed into melodrama and an overly self-serious tone. But the catchy music pieces stayed reliably electrifying throughout, which was more than enough for the show’s diehard fans.
Giving us what is possibly television’s greatest anti-hero — and certainly its most disturbed — Dexter was at its best when it meshed its delightfully dark and twisted entertainment value with hard-hitting drama. While the first two seasons offered an exhilarating and original television experience, season four was where Dexter reached its peak.
With palpable tension and the introduction of the Trinity Killer, the fourth season of Dexter could stand as one of the great television seasons of all time. The later seasons were unable to reach such a standard, though, and, despite season seven’s best efforts, the back end of the series ultimately fell flat and left fans looking back on the show’s past glories.
‘Game of Thrones’ (2011 – 2019)
Public opinion on the final season of Game of Thrones is well known. However, the series had a definite peak much earlier, from midway through the third season to the season four finale. Stacked with the Lannisters’ political plotting, the burning revenge quests of the surviving Starks, and its laundry list of shocking deaths, it was the epitome of must-watch blockbuster television.
Season five was almost obliged to cool off on the unrelenting intensity for the fans’ sake, and while season six ended with two fantastic episodes, the season as a whole didn’t stack up to its predecessors. Then there were the last two seasons, which haven’t the best reputation, to say the least. Here’s hoping House of the Dragon can take the franchise back to its best.
‘Heroes’ (2006 – 2010)
Truly a series before its time, heroes delivered a refreshing take on the superhero genre. The first season was nothing short of ground-breaking, becoming a massive hit for NBC with stunning visuals, great characters, and an epic 23-episode arc that hooked audiences in and left them begging for more.
Unfortunately, the series fell flat immediately after, with season 2 — partially due to the 2007 Writer’s Strike — unable to re-capture season one’s excitement. Seasons three and four were similarly lackluster, leading NBC to decide to cancel the series in 2010. Given the rise of superheroes in pop culture, media has been invested since then; one still ponders what could have been.
‘The Walking Dead’ (2010 – 2022)
The leader of the zombie obsession pop culture went through in the early-to-mid 2010s; The Walking Dead delivered on all the genre’s blood and gore while still telling a compelling story. Season 1 may be where the show was at its absolute best, but it stayed relatively strong throughout the first five seasons.
After that, though, things began to fall apart. Whether it was the slow secondary character-focused episodes that did little to further the plot or the general ridiculousness of the series eliminating the real-world stakes which made the show so good early on, it lost the ability to hold tension and lost fans as a result.
‘Supernatural’ (2005 – 2020)
Season 1 saw monster-hunting brothers Sam (Jared Padaleckic) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) re-united when Dean sought help to search for their missing father. From hunting down a demon for revenge to trying to prevent the apocalypse, it felt like the series gradually upped the ante to the max during a riveting fifth season.
Finally ending after 15 seasons and a staggering 327 episodes, the series could never climb to the heights of its first five seasons, which felt like the natural arc of the story. This isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty more fun and thrills in the remaining ten seasons, but the dramatic tension had dissipated. With a new spin-off series in the works, it’ll be interesting to see how a fresh story re-invigorates things for everyone’s favorite monster-hunting family.
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