Challenge: Shows that Deserved More than Four Seasons

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
If you've read enough of my posts, you know this about me- I hate Bards. Truly, truly despise them.

But you probably also know that of the many lamentations I have, there is a special and dark place in my heart that I reserve for a little show called Dexter. Like everything that the network Showtime has ever done, Dexter was a show that was very good, for a period of time, and then ... just ... kept ... going ... to the point where it became so bad that it was easy to forget that it was pretty good for a while. And, of course, this happens to almost every show- there's a reason that people talk about "Jumping the Shark." With TV shows, you either get cancelled early and live on in your fans' memories as what could have been, or live so long that you overstay your welcome.

With that in mind, I started to think- as we seem to be nearing, if not the end, the beginning of the end of Peak TV, perhaps it is time to think about the length of those shows. Because the more I think about it, the more I begin to realize that there are often perverse incentives that cause us to kill the things that we love- the fans want more of the things that they love. The studios want to make more money. The actors like the steady gig (and the increasing paychecks that come with time). There are a lot of incentives to keep churning out more of something that is successful, and yet ... more often than not, it's best to have less of something. In fact, I would argue that if you look back at shows, the maximum limit of most shows is, and should be four seasons. Period.

So here's my thesis- All Shows Should End at Four Seasons. If you can't get it done in four, then there are no more. Or, to quote the great philosopher Moses Malone, Fo', Fo', Fo'.

Let's develop this a little. Now, I'm not saying that there haven't been any good shows, ever, that have lasted more than four seasons. I am also not saying that there aren't decent episodes toward the end of a show's run. Instead, I am making a more banal point- every show, for the most part, can accomplish its goal in four seasons or less. Shows will suffer from dragging it out- and most have. With the exception of the greatest shows ever- the telenovelas- there is no needs to run more than four seasons.

In order to ascertain whether this is true, I started by looking at some of my previous lists of best shows and seeing how they measure up!

Top 10 Shows.
Three of the top ten are already four seasons are less. Of the remainder, it just goes to show how hard sustained excellence truly is; even in the top 10 shows ever (and the honorable mentions) there are seasons and episodes that are, arguably, "fat."

Top 10 Comedy.
Again, a surprising amount of great (and subversive) comedy clocks in at four seasons or less. The Good Place, Review, Arrested Development (there was no fifth season!)- all four or less. And many great comedies, such as Community, often suffered from drawing out additional episodes.

I understand the desire to revisit characters, and how a great TV show is like a comfortable sweater that you enjoy wearing long after is has become ratty and torn. But over and over again, we see that additional seasons do not necessarily improve a show. Sure, there might be shows that don't get their sea legs until three seasons in (cough TNG cough), and there might be shows that have seven reasonably solid seasons (while they weren't all equal, all seven seasons of Mad Men were decent, although I could argue for cutting everything after 4).


It's a provocative thesis, and I expect it to be. For every Fleabag, there's The Americans (six seasons, almost all perfect). So what do you think-

What Television Show is your best argument for going more than Four Seasons?
 

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payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I could quibble with the perfect amount of seasons, but I agree with the premise here. I think a well planned and contained story is very important to a series overall value. Often, popularity gets in the way of that. You start to get actors directing and writing episodes for a too many cooks effect. Studios start leaning into fanservice like they did with Walking Dead. The plot is eventually lost and tarnishes the overall memory.

Lindelof has spoken about how Lost was supposed to be 2-3 seasons tops. Though, the studio wouldn't let it die. He has gone on to do some absolutely fantastic stuff like The Leftovers coming in at 3 seasons, and the limited series based on Watchmen. This guy gets it and is on my watch anything he is involved with list.

Breaking Bad
had just the right amount of seasons, Better Call Saul had probably 1-2 too many.

Ray Donovan was a hard hitting series about a Hollywood fixer, but lasted for 7 seasons plus a movie. Way too much resetting going on here and killed an otherwise great experience. 4-5 Seasons would have been perfect.

Shameless went on for like 13 seasons? Some real good talent involved here, but talk about beating a dead horse.

I could go on, but yeah there is a point of no return for series that does seem to naturally exist around 3-6 seasons.

What Television Show is your best argument for going more than Four Seasons?

I would go with an anthology. I like the format of American Horror Story, but not so much the writing and execution. I was a big fan of The Outer Limits so I'd use that as my example. This allows a variety of actors, writers, and directors to slot in easily for a freshness rate that bucks the 4 season trend.
 

In general, I agree that many shows lasted way too long (excepting the ones that were cancelled way too soon) with probably a minority of shows lasting exactly as long as they needed and going out on a high note. However, a four-year cutoff seems no better than any other, with lots of counterexamples (including the situations OP mentioned, such as the first 1-3 seasons perhaps being what one might want excluded from the whole).

Some arguments against:

M*A*S*H would be a key example. Seasons 5+ had definitive characters and moments, from the introduction of Charles to the development of post-drag Klinger and Margaret-not-with-Frank (also significant development for Potter, BJ, and Father Mulcahy happened in seasons 5+).

The Wire is one of those shows that most people who like it consider it one of those where all seasons were strong and it went out on top. It had five seasons.

The The Sopranos went on for six, and there's a little more argument on whether it dragged near the end (or just the last episode), but again 4-seasons isn't an established cut off for the high quality.

While Seinfeld was adamantly 'no growing' with the characters, many off the seminal episodes of the series ("The Puffy Shirt", "The Non-Fat Yogurt", "The Bottle Deposit", "The Frogger", etc.) happened in seasons 5 or later.

Seasons five+ of Cheers saw moving Frasier and then Lillith from a recurring characters to main cast and the introduction of Rebecca. While I generally prefer the early seasons, I think the body of sitcom work benefitted from some of seasons 5-11 existing (exactly where the cut is, I don't know).

I can't think of an important character who didn't show up until seasons 5+ on Barney Miller, but many of the best storylines (including some intensely ahead-of-their-time positive depictions of gay individuals) certainly did.

The quintessential show gracing 'gone on too long' lists must be The Simpsons. Seasons 3 & 4 are generally seen as peek quality (with episodes like "Marge vs. the Monorail" and "Homer at the Bat") seasons 5-8 had well-loved episodes like "Cape Feare," "Homie the Clown," "Mother Simpson," and "Homer's Enemy").
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Slings and Arrows should have gotten a fourth season. I understand that the original intent was to only do three seasons, and each season would focus on one of Shakespeare's tragedies (Hamlet in Season 1, Macbeth in Season 2, and King Leer in Season 3), but they ended the series so abruptly that it felt unfinished.
  • Plenty of Shakespeare's plays have 4 Acts; stopping at just 3 seasons felt odd.
  • No love for Titus? You're gonna do Leer over Othello? Come on, Canada.
  • And remember in Season 2, when they used Romeo and Juliet as a foil to Mackers? Well, they missed a perfect opportunity to revisit Midsummer Night's Dream as a foil to King Leer, to bring closure to the characters and the story arcs that were introduced in Season 1.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Some arguments against:
I got to quibble with a few of these.
The Wire is one of those shows that most people who like it consider it one of those where all seasons were strong and it went out on top. It had five seasons.
Five is one more than 4, but hardly an argument against the premise. That fifth season was bad, I'm sorry it was some cartoony bollocks. They did stick the landing, but man was that last season awful.
The The Sopranos went on for six, and there's a little more argument on whether it dragged near the end (or just the last episode), but again 4-seasons isn't an established cut off for the high quality.
The 6.5 seasons was a little too long I think. They started doing funny stuff like Tony's coma dreams. I dont think the last few seasons were bad, but I don't think anything after season 3 really extended the whole to a consistent level either. Lots of drifting, resetting, experimenting. I can forgive it because Sopranos was awesome, but I do think the later seasons were weaker, and thus unnecessary. Loved the ending myself though.
While Seinfeld was adamantly 'no growing' with the characters, many off the seminal episodes of the series ("The Puffy Shirt", "The Non-Fat Yogurt", "The Bottle Deposit", "The Frogger", etc.) happened in seasons 5 or later.
Seinfeld and after Curb Your Enthusiasm both suffered the same fate. An excellent start that slid into fan service caricature territory. The latter half of their runs might have a few gem episodes, but overall they don't do anything for the series as a whole.
Seasons five+ of Cheers saw moving Frasier and then Lillith from a recurring characters to main cast and the introduction of Rebecca. While I generally prefer the early seasons, I think the body of sitcom work benefitted from some of seasons 5-11 existing (exactly where the cut is, I don't know).
For Cheers, see comment above, and comment below.
The quintessential show gracing 'gone on too long' lists must be The Simpsons. Seasons 3 & 4 are generally seen as peek quality (with episodes like "Marge vs. the Monorail" and "Homer at the Bat") seasons 5-8 had well-loved episodes like "Cape Feare," "Homie the Clown," "Mother Simpson," and "Homer's Enemy").
Like South Park, The Simpsons are just riding on legacy fumes. Maybe 1-2 episodes worth watching a season at this point, but hardly worth keeping up with.
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
While I do believe there are shows that deserved 4 seasons but didn't get them, I'm not really onboard with the concept that shows should end at 4 seasons. I'm ultimately OK with shows overstaying their welcome (with me - important to not that's welcome with me), because I can stop watching them and leave them for people who are still getting their time's worth out of them.
 



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