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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
BEIJING (AP) — China’s new leader Xi Jinping is commanding wayward Communist Party cadres to purify themselves of corruption, and he’s summed it up in a pithy slogan as Mao Zedong might have done: Look in the mirror, take a bath.
China’s leadership wants to show a cynical public that it’s modernizing and serious about graft, but it appears to be favoring a top-down ideological campaign — with study sessions, self-criticism and propaganda — over imposing real checks on power. That worries many observers, not only because they doubt it will work, but because the tactic appears to be ripped out of the playbook of Mao, the founder of Communist China.
“Winning or losing public support is an issue that concerns the Communist Party’s survival or extinction,” Xi said in a message via teleconference Tuesday to top party cadres gathered in groups in their provinces and cities nationwide.
The officials, who were nearly uniformly dressed in summer-casual, open-collar white shirts, sat in rows and dutifully studied sheets of paper in their hands as Xi spoke to them from a large, rectangular screen above.
State broadcaster CCTV repeatedly aired footage of the meetings starting late Tuesday. Party newspapers and websites on Wednesday proclaimed that Xi will fight “formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance.”
Xi said his “rectification” campaign will focus on self-purification, encapsulated in the phrase “look in the mirror, straighten your attire, take a bath and seek remedies,” the official Xinhua News Agency said. In practical terms, party organs and officials at or above the county level are to “reflect on their own practices and correct their misconduct.”
Xi’s decision to roll out the campaign in such a high-profile way hews him closely to Mao. Observers say that is not an encouraging sign for those who hoped the new leadership would consider substantive political reforms and bolster China’s rule of law.
Mao led a bloody two-decade revolution that ended with the establishment of Communist China in 1949, then held power until his death in 1976. His policies plunged the nation into years of famine and led to the deaths of tens of millions. Xi’s father was a Communist revolutionary alongside Mao until he fell out of favor with the increasingly paranoid leader in 1962.
“Coming from the leader of such a huge country, it is a bit worrisome and shocking that he apparently is really a true believer of some of Mao’s approaches,” said Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert and professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Many Chinese still recall the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the 1966-76 ideological campaign Mao launched to purge the bureaucracy of pragmatic “capitalist roaders” and restore ideological purity to the revolution.
Youths were “sent down” to the countryside to learn from peasants — including Xi, who spent seven years as a farmer in a northern province. Millions were persecuted in the upheaval in which people were denounced by one another — including parents by their children — and labeled and victimized.
The “self-purification” plan announced this week might produce a purge of its own. Such ideological campaigns are widely perceived as a means for new party leaders to weed out their political opponents, who might be accused of foot-dragging in failing to meet the campaign’s goals.
Lam said Xi “is resorting to these metaphysical political campaigns of a bygone era which have proven already that attempts to brainwash people and change their worldview will not work.”
“I’m afraid the reaction of most party members would be quite cynical,” he added. “They’ll put up a show, but whether this purge will improve the moral quality of party members and cadres is another question.”
Pressure on the party to fix corruption and malfeasance is high. As Xi rolled out the new campaign, he was competing for the attention of a public riveted by the trial of a former city official at the center of a sex tapes scandal in which officials allegedly were extorted by real estate developers after being secretly filmed in liaisons with hired women.
“This campaign is necessary because the (Communist Party) as a ruling party has been struggling to deal with popular distrust — popular cynical, critical, even confrontational reaction to everything the party says or does,” said Ding Xueliang, a Chinese politics expert at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
He added, however, that the campaign is likely to achieve little in the long term as long as it remains a top-down effort in which the party is expected to police itself. “If they are re-using Mao Zedong-era slogans to deal with today’s problems, no matter how much resources are put into the campaign, the outcome will be very tiny,” he said.
The party’s resistance to political reforms leaves Xi with few options, said Hu Xingdou, a political economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
“The best solution to improving the relationship between people and officials is democracy. Let people supervise the government, so they can’t abuse their power,” Hu said. “But since political reform can’t be pushed forward because of strong opposition from vested interest groups, they have to use Mao’s tactics instead.”
Associated Press researcher Flora Ji contributed to this report.
Follow Gillian Wong on Twitter at twitter.com/gillianwong
"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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