The 2010-2011 television season is more or less over now, barring some shows that will continue into the summer (such as The Killing). So it seems like an appropriate time to take a look back at this season and try to speculate about what will happen in the next one. Over the next couple of weeks or so, I’ll be writing a series of entries about this past television season. First up: shows that should have been cancelled.

Let’s forget about ratings for a minute. Let’s forget about advertising, profits, and business. Based on quality alone, some shows just deserve to die. Maybe it’s because they’ve gone on for too long. Maybe it’s because they were never good to begin with. Or maybe it’s because they’ve changed for the worse. After the break, we’re going to take a look at 5 shows that really didn’t deserve to be renewed for another season.

1. 30 Rock. I absolutely adored the first three seasons of 30 Rock, even the much-maligned early third season episode, “The One With the Cast of Night Court.” I loved the series’ fast-paced humour and sharp wit, and I was amazed by the comic genius of Alec Baldwin as NBC executive Jack Donaghy. 30 Rock’s abbreviated second season still stands as one of my favourite seasons of comedy of all time. But the show started showing some signs of weakness towards the middle of its third season, with silly storylines about Liz’s clueless boyfriend Drew and Jack’s biological father Milton. It was around that time that 30 Rock really lost hold of its characters, content to push them into increasingly wacky situations without grounding their emotions in any simulacrum of reality. By the time season 4 rolled around, the supporting characters had been reduced to nothing more than cardboard cutouts whose sole purpose was to spew strings of amusing lines.

This would have been easier to stomach if Jack’s and Liz’s stories had been treated with any modicum of seriousness. But they too became victims of 30 Rock’s increasingly cartoonish nature. Jack’s love triangle storyline in season 4 was nothing but a collection of jokes about Boston and bimbos, while Liz’s inability to find a real boyfriend reached ridiculous new lows with her fantasies about astronaut Mike Dexter. (Remember Floyd? Those days are long gone now.)

While season 5 was an improvement over the disaster that was season 4, it still couldn’t recapture the magic of the first three seasons. Liz and Jack are way too cartoonish now for me to be able to invest in their stories. The jokes work maybe 25% of the time, and the show still has difficulty resolving story arcs. Avery becoming a North Korean prisoner has got to be one of the most bizarre ways of getting rid of a character ever. In any case, it’s possible that 30 Rock might improve next season, but I wouldn’t have missed it if it had been cancelled.

2. How I Met Your Mother. It’s no secret that the fifth season of How I Met Your Mother was an unmitigated disaster, and yes, the sixth season was a massive improvement. But that doesn’t mean that it was good enough to merit a two-season renewal. There were times when I thought that the sixth season was almost as good as the somewhat lacklustre third. And then there were times when I just wanted to throw a brick at my television. The storylines about Barney’s daddy issues and Marshall’s dead father started out promisingly, but by the end of the season, I would have been happy if neither of those storylines had ever been brought up again. They were heavy-handed, they became stupidly repetitive, and they didn’t give any insights into Barney or Marshall’s character that far superior episodes like season 2’s “Showdown” or season 1’s “Belly Full of Turkey” didn’t already give. An incredibly off-putting, hammy performance from John Lithgow as Barney’s biological father didn’t help matters.

Truthfully, How I Met Your Mother has been adrift for a while. I was never invested in Ted actually meeting the mother; I’m content to view the show as a collection of stories about 5 thirtysomethings living in New York. But some of the characters don’t really have stories anymore. Robin hasn’t had anything to do since season 2, and Lily since season 3. Ted has been going in circles since the second half of season 5, which is especially problematic since he’s supposed to be the show’s central character. His relationship with Zoey was pretty much a carbon copy of Robin’s relationship with Don from the previous season, down to Zoey initially being his rival. It seems as if How I Met Your Mother’s writers are out of ideas. If the show had ended this season, it could have at least gone out on a semi-high note. I have no clue where the show is going to go next season, but I don’t think it’ll go far.

3. The Office. I’m not a regular viewer of The Office, so maybe that makes me unqualified to comment on it. But the reason I don’t watch it regularly is because I just don’t find it funny. It has never been a good show. I’ve seen a lot of episodes from the much-lauded second season in syndication, and I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. With Steve Carell leaving the show this season, it would have been the perfect time for this overrated show to go off the air, but it has been renewed for another season. I don’t blame NBC; The Office is one of the network’s few bona fide hits. But will viewers tune out now that Michael Scott has left? We’ll see next season.

4. Bones. There’s so much that’s wrong with this show right now, it’s not even funny. The cases are lame. The humour almost never works. Emily Deschanel phones it in in every second episode. It’s sad that this is what the show that was once the best procedural on television has become. This show really should have ended after season 4. It’s possible that Booth and Brennan being in a romantic relationship and Brennan’s pregnancy will inject some new life into the show, but I doubt it.

5. Community. This is probably the most controversial choice on the list, but it’s a necessary inclusion. True, the show has a lot of critical support and a passionate fan base, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with the critics or the fans. To say that season 2 is worse than the excellent first season doesn’t even begin to describe the magnitude of the drop in quality that Community has experienced between seasons.

In truth, the problems really started with last season’s awful finale, “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” which squashed any iota of seriousness in Jeff and Britta’s relationship. Since then, the show has become increasingly wacky, gimmicky, and reliant on meta-humour. The gimmicky episodes from season 1, “Contemporary American Poultry” and “Modern Warfare,” were interesting and unique, but by the middle of the second season, such episodes became a chore to watch. The show would step out of its self-constructed reality in every other episode, and it became difficult to take the show seriously. The show became experimental for the sake of being experimental, and bolstered by the endless shower of critical love, the writers continued to tell stories that didn’t even feel remotely real. Community vacillated between parody and satire, often celebrating and mocking the same thing in the span of one episode. The writers never could reconcile the conflicting aims of parody and satire, and as a result, episodes like “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” and “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” turned into muddled messes. Moreover, Community sometimes annoyingly satirized the very tropes that it employed, like when it made fun of love triangles in “Anthropology 101.”

All of that is merely context, though. The foundation of any TV show is the storylines, and this past season’s two main ones, Shirley’s pregnancy and Pierce’s alienation, were poorly executed. Shirley’s pregnancy was rarely addressed, only given importance when it was convenient for the show. The storyline about Pierce was a non-starter; it made Pierce unlikable because of his behaviour, and it made the rest of the study group unlikable because they alienated Pierce.

Even with a shaky foundation, a TV show can still survive with appealing, interesting characters, but neither descriptor applies to Community’s characters. In season 2, they were usually two-dimensional, only showing depth when it served the plot. Worse still, those moments of depth tended to hint at character development, but such development was inevitably undone by the next episode! “Mixology Certification,” an episode that was ostensibly about Troy growing up, turned out to have no real significance; Troy was more immature than ever in the second half of the season. I also lost track of how many times Jeff realized that the study group is like a family to him. In fact, he, Britta, and Abed hit the same character beats over and over throughout the season, and none of their stories gave any significant insights into their characters.

Pretty much the only redeeming feature Community has left is its talented cast, who managed to make this appalling mess of a season watchable. They’re one of the few reasons that I might tune in next season, but I don’t expect the show to be any better. Community will probably continue to experiment, and because that’s what it constantly does, it’ll inevitably strike gold every once in a while. But those brilliant episodes, such as “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” my favourite episode of the series, are few and far between. Community’s writing staff just isn’t good at experimenting, which makes it tough for me to applaud their audacity. If Community had been cancelled, it probably would have been replaced by a more typical sitcom, but that wouldn’t be such a tragedy. Such a sitcom would have a better chance of at least being consistent.

Obviously, I don’t truly hope that any show gets cancelled. That would put a lot talented people out of jobs. But I think that creatively, these shows have all worn out their welcome. It’s time to let them go.

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