We’ve lamented before over the loss of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western epic which was tragically cut down in its first and only season. Even though we eventually got to see the ending as a movie, fans continue to wish for more adventures with Captain Mal and the crew of the ship Serenity.
However, if fans did receive their wish and Firefly had lasted for multiple seasons, would we still consider it one of the finest sci-fi shows on television? Would the romance between Simon and Kaylee have been drawn out for a ridiculously long time, only to fizzle out when they did get together? Would actors leave the show halfway, making us hate their replacements? Would Firefly have eventually jumped the shark?
In a perfect world a television show would play only as long for as long as it was still engaging and the last episode would air right before the show became tired and boring. Once-quality shows like The Simpsons and The Office would be put out to pasture while at the top of their game, instead of suffering for years. Is it even worth having so many episodes of The Simpsons that the show could support its own cable network when fans only care about the earlier seasons?
Maybe we should take a cue from across the pond and set up our shows the way they do in England. That would mean only a few seasons of a show, and only a handful of episodes per season.Spaced might have had a small run by American standards, but it’s a work of pure genius that similar shows like The Big Bang Theory couldn’t hope to reproduce.
Smaller shows mean smaller budgets, allowing networks to take greater risks on weird shows like The Mighty Boosh. Given the same limitations over here, there’s no doubt that we’d see a golden renaissance of American television and terms like “jump the shark” would be obsolete.
On the other hand, consider how different shows like Parks and Recreation or Community would be if they were cut off after only six episodes. Many television shows don’t hit their stride until the second or third season as the actors further develop the characters and writers weave a complex world. We’ve all found ourselves telling a friend “Once you get past the first couple of episodes, this show is really great.”
Maybe the creators of Arrested Development were the only ones who got it right. Although the show only aired for three seasons, it was enough time for the cast to develop an amazing chemistry and for the writers to build up a number of inside jokes and catch phrases. The show was taken off the air just before it began to show any flaws and is now scheduled to return to TV once again.
In the battle between quantity versus quality, the winner may in fact be both. The ideal TV show would be one with unlimited episodes that are always consistent in quality.