Read it on Salon
Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
CLEVELAND (AP) — In the stern, self-regulating world of the Amish, those who act out time and again by wearing the wrong clothing, going to movies or otherwise flaunting the church’s doctrine can find themselves utterly alone.
Fellow Amish in rare instances won’t break bread with them at the same table, won’t work with them and won’t worship with them under the religion’s centuries-old practice of shunning. In stricter settlements, shunning can break apart families, cutting off all contact between parents and their children.
Saloma Furlong was shunned, or ex-communicated, after she left her church the first time over a family issue, and she was barred from attending her cousin’s wedding when she returned home. “It was a very lonely two weeks,” said Furlong, who eventually left behind her home in northeast Ohio for good and was permanently shunned.
The Amish take the tradition so seriously that most churches won’t accept someone who has been shunned until they make it right with those who’ve disciplined them.
At the root of Amish hair-cutting attacks in Ohio and the federal hate crime trial that followed, prosecutors say, was a dispute over religious differences and a decision by Amish bishops to overrule the leader of a breakaway group who had shunned his former followers. Amish scholars say taking away a bishop’s edict was unheard of and stunned communities far and wide.
Six years ago, about 300 Amish bishops gathered in Pennsylvania to discuss the group’s leader, Sam Mullet Sr., who had ordered the shunning of families that left his settlement near the West Virginia panhandle.
Mullet had come to the attention of the bishops because, according to witnesses at his trial, there were concerns he was brain-washing community members. Prosecutors would later say he forced men to sleep in chicken coops as punishment, and one woman testified that Mullet coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him so he could turn them into better wives.
The bishops eventually vetoed Mullet’s shunning of the others, infuriating him to the point that he sought revenge last fall in a series of five hair-cutting attacks, prosecutors say.
They charged Mullet and 15 of his followers with hate crimes because they contend they acted over religious differences and targeted the hair and beards of the Amish because of its spiritual significance in the faith. All could face lengthy prison terms if convicted on the charges that also include conspiracy and obstructing justice.
Jurors began deliberating in the trial Thursday morning.
None of the defendants has denied that the hair-cuttings took place, but Mullet has insisted that he didn’t plan what happened. In an interview last fall, he defended what he thinks is his right to punish people who break church laws.
Shunning — also known as avoidance —is a rare happening in the Amish community. While outsiders might view it as punishment, the Amish consider it an act of love to help those who have strayed from their beliefs.
Each individual church decides when to shun others and what kind of punishment they face. “It’s not like there’s a rulebook,” said Steve Nolt, a history professor at Goshen College in Indiana.
Only baptized church members can be shunned. And it almost always starts with a warning to stop breaking church rules — whether it’s to quit drinking or stop talking on the telephone — and weeks or months of discussion.
“Shunning is something the individual does to themselves,” said Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor at the State University of New York in Potsdam who has written extensively about the Amish. “It’s community-wide tough love.”
There also has to be agreement within the congregation, but the bishop has the most influence in revoking someone’s church membership.
“That’s a hard thing for a bishop to do,” said Andy Hershberger, who testified in the trial that Mullet’s son was among a group that cut his father’s hair last fall. His father was one of the bishops who overruled Mullet’s shunning order.
Furlong, who left her home church for good after a dispute with a bishop, said shunning gives Amish leaders too much control. “They can use it like a hammer,” she said.
Because the Amish identify so closely with their faith, being shunned and faced with the loss of their salvation is extremely painful.
“It’s such an intense thing. Nobody can really explain it,” said Furlong, who wrote a book called “Why I Left the Amish” in 2011. “That’s a pretty tough thing to reckon with.”
Matthew Schrock, who left Holmes County’s Amish community in Ohio during the mid-1990s, wasn’t formally shunned, but no one would hire him because he was fighting with his father, who was the bishop. “There were a lot of people who wouldn’t talk to me,” he said. “No one was willing to risk the appearance of them siding with me.”
Shunning has its roots in biblical teachings and is used in some Mennonite churches as well. Jehovah’s Witnesses also practice a form of shunning. But it’s essential to Amish beliefs.
“They want the person to see their error,” Schrock said. “But under that, I think, is this desire to maintain the integrity of the group.”
"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.
Read it on Salon