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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Internet fame is both fleeting and forever. Our viral stars remain somehow fixed in the moment we found them, endlessly dancing up the wedding aisle, falling off buckets of grapes, warning viewers to hide your wife, hide your kids. And so, for most of us, the dead-eyed girl behind the “worst music video ever” will be eternally stuck on Friday, Friday, getting down on Friday. But Rebecca Black, who turns 16 later this month, has grown up considerably in the two years since she unleashed her hauntingly tuneless homage to a certain day of the week. In short, she doesn’t quite suck now.
Let’s just be clear — Rebecca Black has not become Adele. She would surely still never make it to Hollywood Week on “Idol” — though she has dared to belt out Kelly Clarkson on “The X Factor.” Nor is she as exhaustingly, intentionally funny as PSY. But when I first heard my daughters urinonically listening to a song of hers recently, I assumed it was by some pretty new Disney/Nick star and not, in fact, the most notorious artist to ever come out of the reliably horrendous vanity label Ark Music Factory. She will never be Pink, but seriously, tell me she’s any worse now than Bridget Mendler. At her current rate of improvement, she’s roughly a notch below Ariana Grande.
Black, who began homeschooling two years ago in part because of the bullying she received in the wake of her peculiar celebrity, is an unusual young performer. Unlike, say, Star Wars Kid, she didn’t become famous inadvertently. She wanted to be known for her singing. She wanted people to see her video. That’s why her family shelled out a few grand to make the thing for her in the first place. What she couldn’t have predicted or controlled was the mockery and wrath she’d inspire – the wild deluge not of mere, “Wow, this is pretty terrible” but those pure, undistilled “Go kill yourself” messages that YouTube commenters are so famed for. Directed at a then 13-year old girl.
She has had, ever since, a choice. Skulk back into mortified obscurity, or leverage her singularly strange fame into something of a serious music career? Keep going, even after setting the bar for awfulness? Rebecca Black chose the latter. Rebecca Black will not go quietly into footnote status, like some mere Charlie Bit My Finger.
It’s helped her considerably that she’s been championed by some friends in high places. Katy Perry showcased her in her own video for “Last Friday Night (TGIF)” and covered “Friday” on her tour. “Glee” did its own inevitable party version. Meanwhile, Black’s subsequent songs and videos have shown her faltering yet steady progress. Sure, her “Suck it, haters” follow-up to “Friday,” called “My Moment,” lacked a certain Kanye intensity. And the droning, nonsensical “Person of Interest” may actually be even worse than “Friday.” But 2012′s “Sing It” shows a hint of promising effort, and “In Your Words” has flashes of maturity. And with each video, she’s grown more confident and loose in front of the camera, all while retaining a puppyish, unguarded quality that’s endearing in a world of flawlessly dull Victoria Justices. In April, she released a video duet of Rihanna’s “Stay” that lacked the original’s lush ache, but was certifiably competent. Even YouTube commenters have been enthusing that she’s “pretty good” now.
Had Black not been so spectacularly and publicly bad, right out of the gate, she might have spent her teen years finding her (non auto-tuned) voice, developing a following. Instead she got fame and infamy in equal store. And somewhere along the way, in the hearts of a devoted audience of middle schoolers, her “Friday” became a bona fide thing — a reminder of a particular springtime, a day at the mall, that time at Pinkberry, whatevs. Girls started to genuinely enjoy Black, the way that generations before have found themselves inexorably tied to a singer, a song, that provided the soundtrack to a moment in their lives. Over 50 million YouTube hits will do that for a singer. As my younger daughter says, “At first I liked her because she was hilarious. Now I just like her.” And for one generation, she may yet prove a reminder that however awkward and awful you are at 13, life eventually gets better.
"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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