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I recently took to to social media to whine about how disappointed I am with Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final season.
This led to a quick back and forth. Two friends agreed but characterized the failure as jumping the shark. I don’t think they’re wrong, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are very few new ideas under the sun. Moreover, as I reminded you on Monday, there are only seven stories one can tell. While there can be other factors, putting this together, jumping the shark occurs when the stories a show can tell run their course among their particular set of characters and settings. In other words, the combination of characters, settings, and stories grow stale even if, as with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Office, and Parks & Recreation, the show has talented writers. It often manifests itself with desperate attempts to try something new that stray too far from the show’s premise. When Happy Days did this, it gave the phenomenon its name.
Now that comedy is being killed by a small minority of the perpetually and intentionally outraged, writers are afraid to take any risks, giving rise to a new way in which jumping the shark manifests. They don’t just take stupid chances to keep the show interesting. They also choose to exclude a wide variety of available stories for fear of losing their positions in the industry due to the controversy they cause. That means that shark-jumping occurs far earlier in the life of a series (c.f., Community), and it manifests as recycling the same tired themes with only meaningless differences from episode to episode.
In my humble opinion, with only a few exceptions, Brooklyn Nine-Nine started to lose its originality somewhere around season three, which isn’t even halfway through its life. (I keep watching because I can’t help but finish things I start.) Sure, we remained attached to some clever, well-delivered one-liners (Bingpot!), and the Halloween competition as a recurring theme, but overall the episodes, and even the characters’ personalities, grew tiresome and/or annoying long before the final season started. (I’ve wanted to punch Charles Boyle in the neck for months now.) The writers on that show both recycled themes and also, by the last season, strayed too far from the premise. I fear the stagnation of shows will only accelerate as we continue to fear those that are offended by everything. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the current crop of writers are among those demanding these changes. In that case, they’re wasting their own talent.
Much like another phenomenon that involves premature action, the cause is often psychological.