Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Oh Michele Bachmann, leaving Congress the way she spent every day of it – awkwardly, and with a wide, toothy, slightly inappropriate smile.
“I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth Congressional term,” she declared in a friendly eight-minute video on her campaign Web site. “This decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff.” Bachmann also insisted her departure had nothing to do with polls showing that Jim Graves, the Democrat she barely defeated last year, currently holds a two-point lead.
That’s so Bachmann: All smiles and chirpy optimism, she’s going to tell you up front that the swirling scandal and her dropping poll numbers aren’t the reason behind her departure – when they are precisely the reason.
Bachmann came to national public attention when she told Hardball’s Chris Matthews in 2008 that she thought the media ought to investigate the anti-American views of the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama. That wasn’t all: “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?” Our 21st century Joe McCarthy had arrived, in a perfectly highlighted helmet of hair and bright lipstick.
She became a self-anointed leader of the fledgling Tea Party that next year, and ably represented its toxic blend of fear and misunderstanding: anti-Obama, anti-government spending, anti-science. She accused Obama of running a “gangster government,” suggested a cluster of 2011 earthquakes and hurricanes were God’s punishment for the “morbid obesity diet” of federal spending, and maybe most famously, insisted the HPV vaccine caused “mental retardation.” Who can forget when she was chosen (or chose herself?) to deliver the official Tea Party response to the 2011 State of the Union address – and spent the entire time staring a little alarmingly at the wrong camera?. In some ways, that was the beginning of the end for Bachmann as national leader – but she ran for president anyway.
In that great primary season of 2012, in which all of the subpar GOP candidates got to take their turn at the top, (kind of like a children’s T-ball game where everyone’s a winner!), Bachmann, unbelievably, went first: She won the Ames Straw Poll, which made her the front-runner for a minute. What a campaign! She confused John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy in a stop at Waterloo, Iowa, and wished Elvis Presley a happy birthday on the anniversary of his death. Maybe most memorably, in a peroration on the greatness of the Founders, she insisted they had “worked tirelessly to end slavery,” when they had not done any such thing, and particularly praised Founder John Quincy Adams, who was in fact not a Founder but the son of one.
Actually, “most memorable campaign moment” has to go to her attempts to eat a corn dog on camera, which were only topped by her husband Marcus’s efforts to do the same thing. Marcus, the psychologist who worked to get gay men to give up their gayness, who told reporters he was the “high maintenance” Bachmann, and greeted campaign reporters with balloons.
Wednesday morning, Joe Scarborough was just one of several Republicans to note the impact Bachmann made on the 2012 race, even as she lost Iowa and quickly dropped out. Still, her strong Ames showing knocked Tim Pawlenty out of the race, which apparently secures her place in history. You know the GOP has big problems when folks are still looking back at 2012 and missing Tim Pawlenty,
They won’t miss Bachmann. She combined a crackpot appeal to the far-right with an apparent tolerance, if not encouragement, of ethical lapses and campaign finance dodges that threatened to damage not only her but her party. The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating claims by former Bachmann campaign aides that she illegally used money from her House campaign to pay for her unsuccessful Iowa caucus bid. A government watchdog told Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald that the ethics questions “could be a career ender for Michele Bachmann.”
She ended her congressional career herself – but unless she faces ongoing legal troubles, Bachmann will no doubt remain in public life, joining Sarah Palin on the ex-politician/grifter gravy train. There’s a lot of money to be made out there. As Bachmann exits one door and opens another, we only have one request: Can she please take the Ames Straw Poll with her? Oh, and leave us Marcus.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
"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.