Screen Savors: On the way down

Which TV shows have jumped the shark this season? Will 'The Newsroom' return for another series? When will 'Orange is the New Black' return?

Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s a phrase known to television aficionados, “jumping the shark.” It refers to the moment when a TV show begins to go downhill and, as we viewers know, once a show jumps the shark, the decline is rarely reversible. Our favorite shows can go from a treat we anticipate each week to a sad reminder of a once well-crafted entertainment.
The phrase refers to an episode of one of the later seasons of Happy Days, in which the Fonzie character goes water skiing and jumps over a shark for no particular reason. Jumping the shark usually involves various deus ex machina, such as kidnappings, cancer diagnoses, the appearance of evil twins and romances between characters who never much liked each other.
These days, popular and critically acclaimed shows such as The Sopranos or 30 Rock simply shut themselves down before they wear out their welcome.
So which of the much-ballyhooed new shows have jumped the shark and which have become must-see TV? Such shows as Homeland, The Walking Dead and The Good Wife had ups and downs in the past year but seem poised to make triumphant returns in their third, fourth and fifth seasons, respectively, which will begin over the next few weeks. Don’t expect any of these shows to jump the shark any time soon.
But Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom, which airs on YES Oh and just completed its second season, has, sadly, strapped on its water skis. The announcement that Sorkin, known for The West Wing, was doing a show for HBO about the staff of a television news station was very welcome to those who love his verbally charged, politically aware and, above all, intelligent writing. However, the first season received very mixed reviews, in spite of the wonderful performances by Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterston, as well as a cast of very young and talented performers including Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Alison Pill (To Rome with Love) and John Gallagher Jr. (Whatever Works).
Sorkin promised changes in the recently concluded second season that would improve the show, particularly the female characters, who drew criticism over their perceived flakiness. But the big change was that the whole season revolved around a single storyline – the investigation of a tip that the newsroom staff received about the use of Sarin gas by American forces against an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan where US soldiers were kidnapped. This story turned out to be a fraud. The mistake was conveniently blamed on one overly ambitious producer from the Washington bureau who doctored interview footage, but glaring lapses of judgment by the senior staff members strained credulity. Why would any news organization use Twitter as a major source for such a potentially sensitive story? How could no one have uncovered the very obvious roots of their source’s grudge against the station? And so on. It’s hard to imagine the screenwriting meetings in which these obvious flaws would go unchallenged.
HBO hasn’t announced whether it will be back for Season 3.
While Sorkin may have stumbled, the revelation of the new television offerings was Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black.
Based on a memoir about an upper-class young woman who was imprisoned for smuggling drug money when she was much younger, all the episodes of the series were released at once by Netflix, which produced it. I enjoyed the first two episodes and recommended it, but when I continued watching the rest of the season, I found it to be far better than I originally thought, and one of the best series in years.
What started out as a standard fish-out-of-water dramedy evolved into an incredibly funny, sad, moving and inventive series, one that says a great deal about race, class, crime and sex in America. It has risen to the level of and perhaps surpassed Kohan’s first show, Weeds. The date for the release of the second season is still a mystery, although the Internet is full of rumors. In any case, reruns of the series are still showing on HOT, and it’s possible to purchase the entire season (or episodes) on such places as iTunes.
Will it hold up for a second season? With a first season as gripping as this one, it has a good chance of overcoming the sophomore jinx.