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Eaten by the Shark: Can A Show Retroactively Destroy Its Own Goodness?

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This week’s endless arguments about The Sopranos reminded me of a question I’d been thinking about lately: Is it possible for a show to have a finale so bad–or for that matter, several seasons so bad–that they retroactively destroy your perception of the show’s overall greatness?

TV shows, unlike movies, are fluid things: your opinion might change, but unless the director recuts it or George Lucas adds more CGI aliens, a movie is not actually going to become a worse artifact over time. TV shows can. But how much does the later inferiority matter? Do the fans who swore off Sopranos DVDs after the finale really mean it? Judging from the syndication ratings, the fans who were ticked off about the Seinfeld finale got over it.

I guess I’m kind of talking about jumping the shark, but not really. Lots of shows can have episodes where they go bad, but only so many go so bad that they force you to re-evaluate the show altogether. It’s more like getting eaten by the shark.

It’s a tough, subjective call. If I were to judge NYPD Blue on the basis of its first couple seasons, for instance, I’d probably have to consider it one of the best cop dramas, if not one of the best dramas, ever. But given the years of melodrama and mediocrity that followed in its too-long life, I couldn’t rate it nearly as highly now. The Simpsons, on the other hand, could muddle along for decades (and probably will) but I doubt I could ever take it out of my pantheon.

For me, 24 is definitely on the brink of that, if it hasn’t already crossed it. What shows have evicted themselves from your TV pantheons over the years?