How Our Favorite TV Shows Went Off the Rails

They started off with so much promise, but even modern classic like Homeland, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and True Detective have stumbled. Here's how future TV shows could learn from their mistakes.

It's a sad but seemingly inescapable milestone in the lifespan of nearly every popular TV series, no matter how critically acclaimed or commercially successful—that moment when the show suddenly, irrevocably makes some unexpected error in narrative judgment that leaves loyal fans feeling betrayed, disappointed, and doubtful about their loyalty to their favorite program.

Yes, we're talking about what happens when TV shows jump the shark: Ever since Fonzie's infamous waterskiing stunt (and even long before), the forces behind once bulletproof series have been making the same creative missteps, apparently blind to similar offenses committed by Ghosts of TV Shows Past. From Twin Peaks to Lost to The Office and so many more, if fallen series could talk, surely they'd warn the following shows against taking these well-worn roads to certain doom. Some of the series mentioned below are already pretty far down the path, others might still be saved…but none are immune to viewer backlash.


True Blood

How it went off the rails: Abandoning its original dark, edgy humor in favor of a heavy-handed sociopolitical "message"

Now in its seventh and final season, True Blood has gone off so many separate tracks at so many different crossroads it's hard to say where, exactly, the show lost its way (maenads and werepanthers and witches, oh my!). Still, its biggest blunder has undoubtedly been sacrificing its strengths (sarcasm, sex, and sarcastic sex) in order to focus on forced social-commentary storylines like the whole "Billith" fiasco and the current Hep-V mess.

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How it went off the rails:Betraying fans with a massively disorienting plot twist

Showtime's former critical darling Homeland began rapidly falling out of favor with viewers somewhere during Season 2, when a series of increasingly unbelievable moments (wait, where were the vice president's security guards again?) more or less destroyed the show's credibility. But the most serious insult to our intelligence was the "Hey, everything that happened for the past couple of episodes was a hoax!" reveal in "Game On" (Season 3, Episode 4). How can we ever trust you again, Homeland?

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Game of Thrones

How it went off the rails: Wasting valuable viewer time with a frustrating "one-off" episode

Sure, we all understand that the epic battle between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings needed to happen, and that we needed to see every moment in gloriously gruesome detail. But did we need an entire episode ("The Watchers on the Wall," Season 4, Episode 9) devoted to the siege of Castle Black? More to the point, could GoT afford an entire episode without the unfailingly compelling presence of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)? We'll let it slide this once, since "The Watchers on the Wall" was, at least, impressively action-packed.

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The Walking Dead

How it went off the rails: Giving too many supporting characters the star treatment

One could argue that The Walking Dead's biggest problem to date has been its move-at-the-speed-of-zombies pacing. The reason for this corpse-like sluggishness? A tendency to devote far too much screen time to lesser characters like Bob "What, he's not dead yet?" Stookey, Tara and Lilly Chambler, and Sasha—who nobody actively wants to die, but wouldn't be missed if she did. (She doesn't even seem to have a last name!) And speaking of one-off episodes, did anyone really want those standalone Governor installments in Season 4?)

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True Detective

How it went off the rails: Resorting to tired storytelling clichés to wrap up loose ends

What started out as a layered, nuanced take on the standard crime drama, featuring some of the most thoughtful dialogue in recent TV history, all came crashing to a hackneyed halt in the Season 1 finale, when the killer turned out to be [SPOILER ALERT!] just an everyday incestuous backwoods maintenance man with a sweaty beer gut and paint-splattered clothes. What were we expecting in his place? Perhaps the individual human embodiment of all that's wrong with this world was too much to ask, but a slightly more profound villain would have been nice. At least we get to start from scratch in Season 2.

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