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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Every new computer comes with one guarantee: There will be a faster, shinier, newer model in short order—and you will fawn over it. It’s hard not to. Processors double in power every 18 months, and other parts turn over even more quickly. Memory gets faster. Screens pack more pixels. Hard drives grow larger. And so on. Like it or not, the product cycle is also a cycle of dependency. We don’t just want the newest thing—we actually need it in order to run the latest programs. But there is a way out, and it starts with a return to computing’s roots.
The product cycle is also a cycle of dependency. We don’t just want the newest thing—we actually need it. The first commercial computers of the 1950s were mainframe systems. In a mainframe, a central terminal—sometimes as large as a room—houses processors, memory, and storage. Individual workstations connect to that central hub to tap into shared programs and databases. Over the decades, the systems grew increasingly powerful. Mainframes at large institutions or agencies can run multiple instances of an operating system at once. The everyday user, however, has no need for anything as large and expensive as a mainframe. At home, personal computers still rule.
But in the last decade, the cloud has started to change how people use their PCs. Connectivity is now just as important as hardware, which gives users ready access to software and backup services over the Internet. There’s Gaikai for videogames, Amazon Instant Video for movies and TV, and Spotify for music—just to name a few. And in 2011, Google introduced Chromebooks, the first laptops that rely almost entirely on the cloud to deliver software to users. As a result, the machines need only a bit of memory and a low-power processor.
Software improvements can push the Chromebook idea a step further by transforming the cloud into a portable personal mainframe. Neverware, a New York start-up, has developed software that can deliver complete instances of Windows to up to 100 computers over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The system even works on machines with as little as 128 MB of RAM and 500mHz processors. More than 30 public schools have installed the central server, dubbed the Juicebox 100. And as broadband access improves, Neverware hopes to deliver the entire service through the cloud.
The mainframe model could expand beyond PCs. Intel Labs’s Clone Cloud project, for example, could do for old smartphones what Neverware does for old computers. When a phone’s performance starts to lag, users would load a clone of their system to Intel’s server and assign it tasks that the processor can no longer handle (say, graphics rendering). The service would deliver data over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. And it won’t stop there; wherever there’s a screen—be it a tablet or television—and Internet access, there could also be a functioning computer. Every videogame, every website, every piece of software will work everywhere. And hardware will never be out-of-date again.
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Popular Science.
"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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