Night Cheese: Jumping the shark

Much like I did in 3rd grade travel soccer, today I often find myself playing defense.

You think “SNL” is no longer worth watching? My shinguards are on. Lady Gaga is a talentless schizo? Shot blocked. “Bossypants” was overrated? I just slide-tackled you.

But let’s go back to Gaga for a minute. You say the “Born This Way” album was lackluster. The title track was a misguided Madonna rip-off. “Yoü and I” is decent enoügh, yoü say, but it’s a power ballad awkwardly masqüerading as a dance track. The woman is just playing dress-up and running out of outfits. She’s jumping the sha—

ENOUGH! I scream. I see your unoriginal critique of “Born This Way” as unoriginal, and I raise you “P-P-P-Poker Face.” I know you used to sing “Bad Romance” in the shower. I saw you dancing to “Telephone.”

You used to like Gaga more. You like her less now. You are not her biggest fan, and you will not follow her until she loves you because that is actually just stalking.

As I use this clause to gracefully transition back to television because that’s what my column is supposed to be about, I’ll make the comparison between a musician’s several singles per album and a television show’s many episodes per season — unlike film (with the exception of sequels), mainstream music and television are inherently serial media. Song after song, episode after episode, we watch as the stories develop.

The beauty of serial media is that its structure allows for the growth, change and unpredictability that make blockbuster movies look static by comparison.

But hindsight is 20-20: If we, the masses, happen to like a particular story’s trajectory, the show has “evolved.” If we don’t, it has “jumped the shark.” (This catch-all kiss-of-death idiom refers to an episode of “Happy Days” in which Fonzie water-skied off a ramp and over a shark while wearing a leather jacket, and apparently the show suffered permanent damage thereafter.)

So I ask you: Is watching staples of our pop culture — the people and stories we have come to love — repeatedly “jump the shark” the price we ultimately have to pay for the initial thrill of unpredictability, tension and real growth in our entertainment?

The short answer, I think, is yes.

I’m tired of people saying they’re tired of Gaga, of “SNL,” of “30 Rock,” of fill-in-the-blank. Mostly because I really like these things and am personally offended when people insult them. So I wear metaphorical shinguards to protect my heart. I call them heartguards.

Seriously though, you don’t have to keep paying attention to a performer or a story if you’re no longer interested. Haters gon’ hate. And no one liked the series finale of “Seinfeld,” “Will & Grace” or “The Sopranos.”

But writing off a show as a whole, denying the spark of creative talent that you know was there, retroactively deciding you never liked it: that’s another matter entirely.

I’m going on the offensive. How about this: I’m tired of performers who make no gestures towards growth.

When’s the last time Justin Bieber reinvented himself? That haircut he got a couple months ago doesn’t count.

(I guess he IS only 16.)

I’ve always been better at defense, so I’ll stick to that: Tina Fey knows you think she jumped the shark. In a webcast, she joked that “30 Rock” “rides on the back” of the shark. She also said that “life begins on the other side of the shark.” She pretty much jumped the shark in talking about jumping the shark.

The words “jump” and “shark” have now lost all meaning.

Still, a little loyalty to talented performers and shows — a bit of good will in the bank for them — is not only fair and totally deserved, but will probably put less pressure on them to jump so high and so far over that shark in the hope that they’ll magically hit some sort of cultural jackpot. We’re shooting for originality and cultural innovation here. Not a climate that drives our creatives to desperation.

Wait — did I jump the shark with “heartguards”?

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