Read it on Salon
Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — President Barack Obama promised to visit his father’s homeland — Kenya — before the end of his presidency, but of the 51 country visits Obama made the last four years, America’s first black president spent less than a day in sub-Saharan Africa. That could now change.
Presidential travel trends suggest Obama is likely to spend more time in Africa in his second term, a presidential historian said. Freed of domestic campaign politics, second-term presidents can travel more in a continent that has less strategic importance than Europe and Asia. A rising terror threat in Mali has also heightened the region’s profile.
And then there’s the promise: “I’m positive that before my service as president is completed I will visit Kenya again,” Obama said in a June 2010 interview with Kenya’s state broadcaster.
That statement should mean a lot, because presidents don’t make such promises lightly, said Brendon Doherty, an associate professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy who studies presidential travel patterns.
“Presidents do take special pleasure in traveling to places where they have ancestral ties,” Doherty said, noting visits by Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and even Obama to Ireland, where each had family ties. “Given the large role that Africa plays in the family history of President Obama, I’d be really surprised if he didn’t travel there in the second term.”
Both Clinton and President George W. Bush took extended trips through Africa in their second terms. Clinton visited six countries in sub-Saharan Africa; Bush visited five. Obama’s only visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president was a stopover of less than 24 hours in Ghana. While a U.S. Senator, Obama visited Ethiopia and Kenya, where he has several relatives.
“He is a Kenyan who many people want to see in person. I am proud that he is a Kenyan and that he is the president of a superpower,” said Sam Ochieng, a political leader in Nairobi’s largest slum, Kibera.
Laura Seay, assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College who runs a blog called Texas in Africa, said Africa is a low priority for most American presidents because of geopolitical interests and historical ties, “and that was the case in the Obama administration.” She added, though, that Africa is becoming more important to U.S. foreign policy interests.
Even that one trip to Ghana was better than some predecessors. Clinton did not travel to sub-Saharan Africa in his first term, and Reagan never did. President George H.W. Bush traveled to Somalia; President Jimmy Carter, the first president to go to sub-Saharan Africa while in office, traveled to Nigeria.
An Associated Press review of presidential travel shows Europe and North America got the most visits during the Carter-to-Obama period. France led with 24 visits; the U.K. had 23; Canada and Germany had 20; Mexico and Italy had 19.
J. Peter Pham, an Africa specialist at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C. think tank, noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Africa a diplomatic priority in Obama’s first term, visiting 23 of the continent’s 54 countries. Pham said Obama has yet to fully deploy “the immense personal capital” he has on reserve in Africa.
The White House and State Department declined to comment on whether Obama will spend more time in Africa. Johnnie Carson, the State Department’s top Africa official, said this month that the Obama administration has helped Somalia stabilize and South Sudan gain independence and that the U.S. has provided more aid to Africa the last four years than any other country.
Obama’s national security adviser said in November that the president’s time is the White House’s most valuable resource, and Doherty said Obama’s lack of time in Africa reflects compelling global priorities, not a lack of importance for Africa.
Though Obama’s father is Kenyan, there is a perception that the younger George W. Bush did a lot more for Africa and Africans, said Seay, especially after the creation of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, a $15 billion commitment to fight HIV/AIDS.
But even if Obama hopes to visit his father’s homeland, he may not be able to politically if Kenya’s March presidential election turns as violent as the last one. One top presidential contender faces trial at the International Criminal Court over accusations he orchestrated tribal violence that killed more than 1,000 Kenyans in 2007-08.
“It’s certainly the case that presidents of both parties spend more time in countries that have long traditions of clean democratic elections,” said Doherty, the author of “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign.” ”I would not be surprised if the aftermath of the Kenyan elections last time added to the president’s team’s hesitance to send him to Kenya.”
Seay said that if this year’s election goes smoothly, she wouldn’t be surprised if Obama visits. Many in Kenya would love to see that happen.
“He is a symbol for hope, and a role model for upcoming politicians who can change the way Kenya is run by following his footsteps,” said Ochieng, the Kenyan political leader. “Kenyan politicians can learn from Obama that politics should be issue-based, not the tribal kind of politics we practice here.”
Associated Press reporter Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.
"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