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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
The holiday season is a good time to catch up with old friends. If you’re an Xbox fan, you’re probably getting reacquainted with galactic warrior Master Chief in his new adventure, “Halo 4.” If you’re a Nintendophile, you’re probably frolicking with Mario on your new Wii U.
Sony, meanwhile, has expanded its holiday guest list to invite nearly two decades worth of characters to mix it up in “PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale” (for the PlayStation 3, $59.99; Vita, $39.99). Fans of the original PlayStation can welcome back old pals like Sir Daniel Fortesque of “MediEvil” and the title character of “Parappa the Rapper.” Younger gamers who have only known the PS3 will be happy to see Nathan Drake from “Uncharted” and Cole MacGrath from “Infamous.” Turn them loose in an assortment of game-inspired arenas and you’ve got chaos.
It’s not an original idea: Nintendo has been pitting its lovable characters against each other since 1999′s “Super Smash Bros.” As you’d expect, “All-Stars” lets up to four players choose their favorite personalities and pound on each other until one is left standing.
The technique is a change from most fighting games. Most of the time, kicking or punching your opponent doesn’t do much damage. Instead, each blow adds to an attack meter; build up enough energy and you can unleash three levels of truly deadly moves. There’s a little more strategy, but most players won’t find it too complicated.
The solo campaign is awfully skimpy, but “All-Stars” makes for a lively party when you have a few friends over. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
— Sony’s burlap-clad goofball Sackboy is part of the “All-Stars” lineup, but he takes center stage in “LittleBigPlanet Karting” ($59.99).
Yes, it’s a go-kart racer — a genre that has already made room for Mario, Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog — but Sony freshens it up by giving you the ability to build your own racetracks and share them online. By exploring the game’s built-in courses, you can find hundreds of elements to add to your own, and they all share the homespun “arts-and-crafts” aesthetic of the original “LittleBigPlanet.”
Unfortunately, “LBP Karting” also revives the weird, floaty physics of its parent. That worked fine in the two-dimensional fantasy world of “LBP,” but it’s annoying when you’re behind the wheel. The tracks are filled with the power-ups, obstacles and gravity-defying leaps you’d expect in a kart racer, but the vehicles themselves feel sluggish and unresponsive. Two stars.
—Insomniac Games’ popular “lombax”-robot buddies are celebrating their 10th anniversary, both in “All-Stars” and their own “Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault” ($19.99). The latter game, however, is a big disappointment, stripping away most of what made the team so endearing.
It’s a “base defense” game, meaning you’re plopped down on a planet and then have to protect your turf from waves of invading enemies. That eliminates the exploration and discovery that made most of the “R&C” games so absorbing, replacing it with a tiresome cycle of building fortifications, having them destroyed, then rebuilding them. Instead of the comedy that was once this series’ trademark, you get drudgery. One star.
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"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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