Posted on October 24, 2015
Every TV series seems to go through a similar arc. They get off to a wobbly start while the writers are trying to define the characters in terms of the actors. Hopefully, this happens in the first season and by the second season the actors have taken full ownership of their characters. Then, by the third or fourth season, when all the cylinders are firing in time, the series hits its peak.
Then it continues on for another four seasons or so until it has used up all its previous good will and everyone just wishes it would go away.
Buffy went on for four seasons after its untoppable third. There were highlights and great moments to be had (in increasingly sparse amounts) but the Mayor was the best villain, the Scoobies were at their best, the comedy was funny and the drama was hard.
But think about what it means to a writers room that you’ve truly hit your stride in the third season: In America on Network TV, that means you’ve already told over sixty stories about your characters.
These aren’t sitcoms. The characters aren’t just mouthpieces for jokes. They have lives that the audience has to empathize with. Very few of even the most adventurous people in history have done sixty exciting things in their lives.
It must get a little crazy in the writers rooms of shows once they pass that peak at season three. They’ve got be constantly asking themselves, “What could possibly happen to our main characters this week that hasn’t already happened to them?”
Castle is entering its 8th season while Person of Interest is about to begin its 5th. The writers rooms of these two shows have taken different approaches to dealing with story fatigue, though neither are handling it particularly well.
On Castle, everyone has now been kidnapped (some more than once), everyone has also been trapped in a burning building, strapped to a bomb and left for dead hanging off the side of a ledge. A show that started out as clever and intriguing has become increasingly ridiculous.
Person of Interest, on the other hand, started out as slightly ridiculous, became temporarily relevant and then slipped into speechifying at the expense of storytelling. It has become a show in which one of the main characters (usually Root) shows up and explains in one long sentence how she compromised a secure network, what the stakes are, and what needs to be done. This is followed by lots of knees bent running around and shooting with less accuracy than a Storm Trooper.
This is one of the reasons why I like the idea behind shows like American Horror Story and Fargo. They tell a whole new story every season, sometimes using most of the same actors in different roles and other times replacing the cast entirely.
Also, the quality TV coming from the upper cable channels on shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have wised up to the British way of things and are limiting their seasons to ten or so episodes.
I have to admit that, while I like that just doing ten shows allows them to provide the kind of quality normally found in Swiss watches, waiting ten months to get more of Saul Goodman is a tough stretch.
Especially when you have to fill it with 22 episodes of blather like Castle and POI.