Watching the series finale of True Blood on Sunday night, I found myself haunted by two persistent questions: One, how is it possible that this episode could be so much worse than my already dismal expectations? And two, why the hell am I still watching True Blood? Each season has been progressively worse than the last, and that’s saying something for a show that was never that good to begin with. Season 7 was a particularly arduous slog toward a conclusion I’d long stopped caring about. And yet, I continued to tune in every goddamn week. Sometimes, I confess, I even looked forward to it.
It occurred to me that True Blood isn’t the only series that I’ve stood by long after it went off the deep end. There are plenty of shows I once legitimately enjoyed that saw a serious drop in quality — but canceling my season pass was somehow harder than enduring crappy television on a weekly basis. I know I’m not alone here: Several people I’ve spoken to continued to watch True Blood and other former favorites years after they should have quit. So what gives? Why do we stick with certain series long past their expiration date?
The problem with giving up on a show you once loved is just that — you once loved it. That feeling is hard to shake, even after you realize that the current season is a mere shell of its former self. We grow attached to these series and, perhaps more importantly, to the characters. As much as you might hate the direction the show has taken those characters in, you feel guilty about leaving them behind entirely.
It’s important to remember that you can’t hurt a show’s feelings by changing the channel. Nor will the fictional characters mind if you decide to move on from their weekly adventures. It’s a testament to the emotional investment we have in the television series we love that these thoughts even cross our minds. Let’s be clear, though — being kind to yourself is way more important than being kind to a now-shitty show.
The show was once great, you tell yourself. Surely it can be great again! And yes, stranger things have happened, but it’s important to be realistic. We call it “jumping the shark” for a reason. Once a TV series reaches a certain nadir of awfulness, it’s almost certainly never going to recover. Abandon ship while you have the chance instead of crossing your fingers before tuning in every week.
It’s one thing to not want to quit a show preemptively: Even the best series have off episodes or arcs. But there has to be a limit somewhere. For a good show to become irredeemably bad, everything has to be off — the writing, the acting, the directing. These are not quick fixes. When something has gone that wrong in the direction of a series, it’s nearly impossible to right the course. Don’t keep hope alive.
But what if you don’t realize the show you’re watching has devolved into trash? It happens! Sometimes a series craps on you so relentlessly that you actually come to enjoy it. (Hey, I don’t know what you’re into.) You defend the show to friends who ditched it, insisting, “No, it’s seriously good again. Give it another chance.” Warning: If they give it another chance, they will confirm that it’s still really bad.
If you’ve actually managed to convince yourself that whatever terrible series you’re invested in is still producing quality episodes, by all means continue watching it. For whatever misguided reasons, you’re still enjoying it. But don’t be surprised when people ask what you could possibly see in a show that should have ended five seasons ago. And good luck coming up with a legitimate defense of its quality.
They’re all having fun without me! you worry as soon as you cancel a season pass. Rest assured, the poor souls still watching a bad TV show are not enjoying it any more than you would be. But FOMO — that is, the fear of missing out — is a powerful force that can convince you to do lots of things you’re not otherwise enthused about just because it beats the feeling of being left out.
FOMO for TV shows occurs, in large part, because of social media: Twitter and Facebook will remind you that there is a cultural conversation happening all around you, and if you’re not tuning in, you can’t be part of it. This only really applies to fallen series that people still talk about incessantly, like Homeland, and less so to largely forgotten once-favorites, like Glee.
Especially for shows in their final seasons, there’s a sense that if you’ve watched this far, you might as well see it through to the end. We can blame the rise of DVRs and complete series on DVD for this: There’s now an understanding that to watch a show means to watch all of it. (Remember a time when if you missed an episode you missed an episode? That happened!)
And so, you may keep watching a show just so that when it’s over you can say that you made it all the way through. (Congratulations? You just wasted so many hours of your life.) It’s particularly difficult to give up on series with an end date in sight, simply because it feels like abandoning the marathon right before the finish line. Note: Watching TV should not be as painful as running a marathon, ever.
Ah, hatewatching, an artform that elevated Smash from forgettable mistake to cult hit (in my heart, at least). Sometimes you keep watching a show that’s jumped the shark just because it’s too bad to be believed. The series has become a train wreck, and while the noble thing to do would be averting your eyes, you keep watching, fascinated by the spectacle, because it’s human nature.
Hatewatching is somehow even more fun when it’s a show you once loved. Frankly, in order to watch anything on a weekly basis, you have to have had some true affection for it at one point. Hatewatching happens when you not only accept that the series has become crappy — but also embrace it. Realistically, you were never going to stop watching, anyway. Might as well find some joy in the disaster.