Remember when beloved TV shows didn’t know when to call it quits?
“Frasier” went on at least two seasons too long. So did “30 Rock,” Tina Fey’s signature showcase. And by the time “Two and a Half Men” ended, the “half” was ready for college.
Other programs morph into far lesser vehicles, hoping to extend the original chemistry. Archie Bunker went from pop culture institution in “All in the Family” to the cranky guy doling out life lessons on “Archie Bunker’s Place.” The less said about “AfterMASH,” the better.
That was then. Now, some of the best shows bow out gracefully rather than overstay their welcome. “Breaking Bad” captured our imaginations, but show creator Vince Gilligan wrapped it up before we grew tired of Walter White’s battle for his soul. David Chase had us hooked on New Jersey mobsters, but he ended “The Sopranos” all the same.
FX must-sees like “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy” similarly checked out before their theatrics got stale.
Are you listening, “The Walking Dead”?
AMC’s must-see zombie fest remains a ratings juggernaut. And social media roils whenever Sunday night rolls around. Who died? Who survived? What will next week’s episode bring?
And yet the show’s quality remains wobbly at best. Fans love to both watch “TWD” and hate it all at once. Entire episodes feel like place holders, excuses to catch our breath before the next major character gets bitten.
In today’s golden age of television, squandering an hour of our time just isn’t acceptable.
The notion that any character, at any time, could be zombie fodder was once exciting. Now, it’s become part of the show’s predictable fabric. We search for online clues about an actor’s future gigs and click on stories based on nothing more than conjecture.
Sometimes, we even get tricked by the show itself.
Remember when Steven Yeun’s Glenn got gobbled up by a horde of zombies in season 6? Only he didn’t. The show’s writers pulled a fast one on us. Glenn managed to escape to live another day. For now.
How many times can they play this scenario out?
This isn’t to say that the next season of “TWD” couldn’t be invigorating. Casting Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, the comic book’s monstrous villain, is an inspired touch. Even fresh blood may not be enough.
It won’t be easy letting “TWD” go. For starters, what happens to “The Talking Dead,” the clever after-show that dissects each episode? And Comic-Cons and similar zombie events routinely invite cast members past and present to haunt their hallways.
It’s still critical to start considering the show’s final episodes. Every story needs a beginning, middle and end. If “TWD” acts as if there’s no end in sight, fueled by ratings more than an artist’s creative touch, then that middle will get flabbier and less exciting. And soon we won’t care who lives, dies or does both.
Christian Toto is a freelance writer and editor of HollywoodInToto.com.