It’s easy to get attached to a television show. It can be comforting to watch something familiar and spend a half-hour to an hour with a few characters you know and love like family members, only they are easier to get along with. But even the greatest of series have their shelf-life, no matter how often they reshuffle their casts or resort to attention-getting gimmicks. It’s a testament to many shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, and pretty much every British series ever aired to know when to bow out before the familiar formula turns sour — while other shows like The Simpsons stick around long past their expiration date. These six shows are fast approaching their own sell-by dates, and it’s probably about time to say goodbye.
1. House of Cards
Like so many great television dramas, House of Cards is first and foremost a character study, in this case of a character with little to no redeeming qualities. Kevin Spacey brings his villainous charms to the role of conniving politician Frank Underwood, whose lack of morals is matched only by his ruthless competence. The Netflix original series thrilled in its first season thanks to his hammy performance, even as it squandered its potential for biting political satire in favor of rote subplots and predictable shifts. After the release of its fourth season, it’s obvious there’s nowhere for the smartest man in the room, Frank Underwood to go but up, and since the writers so cheaply disposed of a major character at the beginning of the second season, there is no one interesting for him to interact with but his mysterious, dead-eyed wife Claire (Robin Wright). Even that sometimes-loving, sometimes-combative relationship can’t sustain interest in such a predictable show for much longer.
2. The Walking Dead
What should have been a milestone in horror television and zombie lore, The Walking Dead has been plagued with problems since the beginning, including a shortened first season, irritating characters, unnecessary melodrama, and repetitive arcs. But for most of its lifespan, the apocalyptic series managed to retain some quality and keep millions of viewers riveted. Its recent sixth season, however, reached new lows of twisty plotting that regularly trumped characters and logic as a whole, including the death and subsequent reappearance of a major character, turning other characters into an inexplicable but still unlikable badass and making yet another character into a verifiable lunatic. It seems the series is low on ideas and genuine intrigue, meaning it may be time to say good night, especially with a worthy spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, already airing.
3. Modern Family
At its inception, Modern Family combined the trending mockumentary style of shows like The Office with an old sitcom setup about an extended family, but its true strength has always been in its talented ensemble cast. The show has so many worthwhile characters and relationships to explore within its core cast — but now that the series has entered its ongoing seventh season, it feels as though the writers have run out of interesting dynamics to explore or new places to take its core cast. The results have been a couple of seasons of mediocre episodes that are rarely outright bad but hardly ever manage to illicit the same laughs or fondness the first few seasons delivered in spades.
Scandal has changed plenty since its start, which is sometimes a positive given how creator Shonda Rhimes and her team have managed to keep viewers guessing season after season. Somewhere along the line of introducing twist after twist, tearful monologue after tearful monologue, scandal after scandal, however, Scandal forgot to make us care about any of the characters, even including the supposed protagonist Olivia Pope. The dense maneuvers of the plot has completely overtaken the qualities and likability of the people populating the show, making the most recent season little more than an excuse for some shoehorned election year commentary, plus a whole lot of illicit sex and violence without any meaning.
5. The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory, despite its surprisingly enduring popularity, has never been a bastion of quality TV. The series so often relies on easy targets and a ubiquitous laugh track for its humor, but nonetheless managed to capture viewers based on the affectionate, comfortably predictable dynamics of its broadly-drawn characters. The once-tolerable series has continued for nine seasons at this point, long past the point where its central conceit even makes sense. Leonard and Penny, for example, are now married, but still live in separate apartments for the express purpose of pleasing Sheldon, a breakout character that the rest of the cast inexplicably tolerates. There’s just so little left to be wrung from a series that seemed thin on fresh ideas from the beginning, but as long as the ratings are good, The Big Bang Theory will probably soldier on, whether or not it should.
Since a less-than-promising start, NCIS has transformed into one of network TV’s biggest moneymakers, spawning two spinoffs only distinguished by a change in location and thirteen seasons with at least a couple more on the way. The procedural drama about officers investigating crimes relating to the US Navy and Marine Corps seems like a relic of an earlier time, before serialized television became the norm and episodes were allowed to follow pretty much the same formula from week to week. After so many seasons and spinoffs, one episode of NCIS (which itself is a spinoff from JAG) is almost identical to the next, following thin characters through thinner terrorist plots to create a viewing experience that never seems to leave any lasting impression. Nonetheless, millions of Americans continue to watch — maybe just to have something on in the background.
Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf