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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Fourteen states in the southern U.S. are suffering through the nation’s worst drought in 60 years: a dry spell that, when all is said and done, might measure against the most severe in the country’s history. The New York Times made that news one of its top stories in Tuesday morning’s print edition, painting a vivid picture of parched and fallow farmlands from Florida to Arizona, and an agricultural industry buckling against drastically reduced output and a stagnant economy. But one element of the story notably absent from the Gray Lady’s analysis is the specter of man-made climate change.
The Times story warns that the current drought could rival those seen during the Dust Bowl days. It also mentions that the dry spell is the result of a familiar meteorological phenomenon called La Niña — which, it notes, “is an abnormal cooling of Pacific waters [that] usually follows El Niño, which is an abnormal warming of those same waters.”
But to what extent are these multiplying abnormalities attributable to anthropogenic climate change? We don’t know, because the Times skirts the issue. The Washington Post’s weather blog notes that “La Niña wasn’t the only force behind the drought,” but cautions that “the co-conspirators remain unknown.” That article then goes on to quote NOAA climate scientist Marty Hoerling, who said that the current dry spell does not appear to be a “climate change drought” (though he also warned that warming global temperatures have already exacerbated, and would continue to exacerbate, extreme weather in the future).
Given the seriousness of the Southwest dry spell, paired with myriad other examples of unusually severe weather — the devastating tornadoes and flooding that gripped much of the South and Midwest this spring being the clearest and most recent examples — it’s hard to believe that climate change isn’t somehow involved. So why haven’t we been hearing more about it in relation to the current drought (which would seem like an obvious example of warming-induced trauma)? Turns out it’s tough to peg any one atmospheric event to the phenomenon, even if the consensus is crystal clear about the threat of man-made climate change in a global and historical context.
“No climate scientist will tell you that a dry year is a result of climate change,” said Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst for the National Resource Defense Council’s water program. “What they will say is that the decade-long drought in the Southwest that we’ve seen is consistent with the patterns we’re likely to see in the future. The basic weather patterns are what climate change predicts.”
Nelson said that we should absolutely expect areas of the southern United States, from Texas westward, to experience drier climates, as we have seen this summer. This impression — consistent with both observations and scientific models of climate change — posits that a warming Pacific Ocean will cause jetstreams that carry moist ocean air to travel farther north than they historically have, thus depriving large, arid portions of the country of vital water resources. (The jury is still out on long-term climate projections for other areas currently affected by the drought, such as Florida and Georgia, according to Nelson.) Still, the Niña that instigated the current dry spell may or may not have been caused by global warming. No one can say with any significant degree of certainty.
“The global climate is a very complex system, and it comes with variability. It would be convenient if Mother Nature stamped this cloud as ‘Brought to you by climate change,’ but that’s not how the climate works,” Nelson said.
And that might be the biggest challenge in communicating the science behind global warming to the general public. While researchers have come to a number of resounding and widely agreed-upon conclusions about the phenomenon, all it takes is a blizzard or a cold winter for skeptics to thumb their noses at the scientific establishment. Experts, meanwhile, cannot similarly point to individual natural disasters that were, in all likelhood, exacerbated by a warming climate and deliver ironclad conclusions.
But, again, it’s the patterns that matter.
“We can see trends, and this is something that’s very important for people to understand,” Nelson said. “There’s plenty of agreement about what kind of change we should anticipate seeing, and more droughts and more severe weather are some of the areas of concern.”
"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.
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