Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
A funny thing happened on the way to the Tea Party. The more furiously the party out of power denounces President Obama, the more confident Americans appear to be that voters made a wise decision last November. That would be the Republican Party. Remember them?
Every time you turn on the television, some Republican is ranting like the kind of barstool know-it-all who gives booze a bad name. Recently it was Tom DeLay, explaining to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that Texas might leave the United States to avoid (imaginary) tax increases. And here I thought the Dallas Cowboys were “America’s Team.”
After first giving us George W. Bush, then impugning the patriotism of anybody who thought invading Iraq was a bad idea, the Texas Knothead faction loses an election, and then talks secession. DeLay was making it up as he went along, claiming the Obama administration seeks “50 percent to 60 percent tax rates on American citizens.” In reality, it seeks a 39.6 percent rate on yearly income over $250,000, tax cuts for everybody else.
It’s also nonsense that Texas can divide itself five ways, forcing the United States to accept eight new Republican senators or kiss all five mini-states goodbye. (Would that make Austin the new West Berlin? Which tiny Texas would claim Willie Nelson?) According to the 1846 treaty annexing Texas, partition requires congressional approval. So as tempting as it would be to bid the Five Star State farewell, it’s not going to happen.
Then there’s Washington Examiner columnist Byron York, who actually wrote that Obama’s “sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.” Got that? Apart from those pesky minorities, real (i.e., white) Americans dislike Obama. York’s not a Texan; he’s from Alabama.
Meanwhile, Fox News can’t decide whether the new president’s policies make him a “socialist,” a “communist” or a Nazi — words that once meant very different things, but have now come to signify “I’m a big crybaby who pitches a hissy fit whenever I don’t get my way.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough uses similar language. Mediamatters.org keeps a handy “Red Scare Index” for people keeping score at home.
Ironically, the upshot of this crazy talk may be the opposite of that intended. Not only did a remarkable 81 percent of Americans express a favorable personal opinion of the president in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, but almost two-thirds support his policies across the board. Asked to describe Obama in a single word, most said “intelligent.”
Even more surprising, a recent Rasmussen survey found Americans favoring “capitalism” over “socialism” by only 53 percent. Among the under-30 set, capitalism edges out socialism 37 to 33 percent. Have younger voters decided that since most Americans already enjoy “socialist” water, sewers, trash collection, fire and police protection, highways, public schools, universities, hospitals, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we may as well nationalize private enterprise altogether?
Of course not. The average American could no more concisely define “socialism” than explain the infield fly rule in Sanskrit. But if Rush Limbaugh calls Obama a socialist, maybe a socialist’s not such a terrible thing to be.
Regardless of how they label themselves, Americans are mainly pragmatists. Most are leery of abstract dogma. It’s their very insistence on ideological purity that makes Republican Knotheads look so foolish. When Obama calmly explains, as he did last week, that he didn’t come into office yearning to take over Wall Street and Detroit, people hear him.
“You know, I don’t want to run auto companies,” Obama said. “I don’t want to run banks. I’ve got two wars I’ve got to run already. I’ve got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we’re going to be. We are in unique circumstances. You had the potential collapse of the financial system, which would have decimated our economy, and so we had to step in …
“With respect to the auto companies, I believe that America should have a functioning, competitive auto industry. I don’t think that taxpayers should simply attach an umbilical cord between the U.S. Treasury and the auto companies, so that they are constantly getting subsidies.”
Then he put it in terms every garage tinkerer from Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison through Bill Gates would appreciate: “I’m not an auto engineer. I don’t know how to create an affordable, well-designed, plug-in hybrid, but I know that if the Japanese can … then, doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same.”
Many in Detroit would say that General Motors and Ford already have. But it’s that “doggone it” — straight out of the Kansas plains — along with the president’s almost preternatural calm and self-deprecating sense of humor, that people respond to.
Most understand that America needs not a theoretician, but a leader.
© 2009 Gene Lyons. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at email@example.com. More Gene Lyons.
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.