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TODAY

Saturday, February 23

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Airbags

When I was almost 6 years old, I dreamed of being a lot of things: a dancer, an actress, older, a dinosaur (usually a Triceratops), my sister, a writer, a singer, a boy. I also thought I might become a sharkologist, although I said shark with an "ow" sound. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Fonzie was going to water ski over a shark on one of my favorite shows, Happy Days. It was fate. The episode dragged on and on, until the end was near. A crowd gathered on the dock. Ritchie was in the boat. The Fonz, garbed in his usual leather jack and white T but wearing short swim trunks and a large yellow flotation belt, slowly glided toward his nemesis. A close-up the shark underwater. And then... large letters proclaimed, "TO BE CONTINUED." Family lore says that I immediately grumbled, "I hate when things are contooned."

It's been 30 years this month — yes, really — since Arthur Fonzerelli (or a stunt waterskiier) "jumped the shark" in Happy Days' three-part Season 5 premiere. Watching the scene itselfthree decades later, I am much less impressed. The containment area seems really small. Isn't it too close to the beach? Would that net really keep a shark from escaping? What kind of best friend is Ritchie Cunningham, mildly flashing the OK sign after the "danger" had passed? However, the stunt did introduce the three-word phrase that is now universally used to describe the "defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on... it's all downhill." Of course, this is a subjective science. Shark jumping is completely personal. However, there are several accepted scenarios or situations that practically beg to be labeled as such:
• a new moppet moves in because the youngest kid is no longer "cute" (Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch)
• the "will they or won't they" couple get together (David and Maddie on Moonlighting)
• a role is recast (Becky on Roseanne)
• a popular character leaves (Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street)
• an infant is speed-aged to a precocious toddler (Andy on Family Ties)
• the setting moves to a different location (Laverne & Shirley)

In tribute, I present a list of ten television shows I watch/have watched/used to watch and when I think Carcharodon carcharias reared its ugly, tooth-filled head. Because, let's face it, I deliberately choose to view some heinous stuff. I also think that there are sort of practice runs, in which Fonzie perhaps skied past the ramp before his iconic jump. ("That's one small leap for Fonz...") I'll mention those moments as well. In no particular order:

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003)
My jump the shark moment: The Spike-Buffy bathroom scene in Season 6's "Seeing Red." Some people saw it as attempted rape; others thought it was just an extension of their twisted relationship. I thought it was a completely unrealistic and out-of-character scenario; the writers admittedly painted themselves into a corner with this pairing, but there could a been a better way to remind the audience that Spike was an evil vampire and not a woobie.
Ski bys: Dawn appears as the moppet-esque Key, Giles leaves for England, Riley uncharacteristically betrays Buffy, Willow's "addiction" to magic

2. Everwood (2002–2006)
My jump the shark moment: When Andy decided not to tell Ephram that Ephram impregnated Madison. The storyline was Season 2's "shocking" ending, and it dragged on through almost all of Season 3. This, in addition to Greg Smith's truly unforgivable hair, made me hate a show and characters that I once adored. I kept watching only because I wrote bile-filled recaps for a now-dead media site.
Ski bys: Colin's death (I loved me some ComaBoy), Ephram and Madison's relationship (anything having to do with Madison, frankly), Andy's affair with Amanda (even though that happened post–Madison pregnancy, it's terrible enough to include here)

3. The Amazing Race (2001–present)
My jump the shark moment: The Family Edition season. The contestants barely left the United States, and lots of the entertainment of this Emmy-winning series comes from seeing these people in other countries. Bad call by CBS, who pretty much forced this idea on the producers.
Ski bys: Decreasing the number of Fast Forwards, casting Big Brother contestant Allison and her boyfriend, the introduction of the Yield

4. Lost (2004–present)
My jump the shark moment: Killing Boone in Season 1. It was an easy and safe choice, and after teasing the viewers that SOMEONE IMPORTANT was going to die, they chose to off the character after finally giving him depth and an interesting backstory. (The show runners would do the same to Boone's stepsister, Shannon, the following season.)
Ski bys: Charlie not dying after hanging from a tree for several minutes

5. America's Next Top Model (2003–present)
My jump the shark moment: Miss J became a full-time panelist. He was fine in small doses and as a runway coach, but his mugging and "holla!" attention-grabbing comments and outfits don't detract from his inane pontificating.
Ski bys: Tyra forcing contestants to dance in her "Shake Ya Body" video, Janice Dickinson's departure, moving the contest to Los Angeles

6. Angel (1999–2005)
My jump the shark moment: Spike shows up. It was bad enough that Angel and his team took over the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart in an attempt by producers to bring Angel "into the light." (Hello? He's a vampire.) But when I heard that the bleached-out vamp who DIED SAVING THE WORLD on Buffy (gross) was going to arrive, I actually stopped watching Angel. If I had to choose my favorite season of any television show ever, it would almost certainly be Angel Season 2; that is how much I despise the character/actor.
Ski bys: Lindsey's departure at the end of Season 2, Darla's pregnancy, Connor's rapid age acceleration, Cordelia and Connor "doing it"

7. Smallville (2001–present)
My jump the shark moment: James Marsters as Brainiac. (Is there an echo in here?) I admit that he is my own personal Ted McGinley, the patron saint of shark jumping. If I watched Without a Trace, I'd be so mad right now. Marsters had better not show up in Dillon, Texas, or ride in a 1967 Impala anytime soon.
Ski bys: Too many to list here, but almost all of them have to do with Lana Lang

8. Hex (2004–2005)
My jump the shark moment: Cassie dies. The first season (only five episodes) was good cheesy fun, but once they killed off the lead in early Season 2 and introduced Ella as her replacement, the series was doomed. Most puzzling was the retconning of Leon from date rapist to possible world savior.
Ski bys: Too many to list.

9. Prison Break (2005–present)
My jump the shark moment: The boys break out of prison. Michael Scofield's implementation of his crazy plan required major suspended disbelief. The trademark improbable scenarios I could look past during the first year were impossible for me to accept when the cons were on the outside.
Ski bys: Too many to list

10. Farscape (1999–2003, 2004)
My jump the shark moment: Never jumped. This scifi classic is one of the few series I enjoyed from beginning to end, even if there were rough patches at the beginning of Season 2, as well as several characters that activated some TMJ.
Ski bys: Ski bys: Chianna sleeping with Jothee, Zhaan's death, the introduction of Jool, anything involving Noranti

The two shows I'm most looking forward to this fall, Friday Night Lights and Supernatural, both premiere this week and both have potential shark-jumping aspects attached to their upcoming seasons. I'm waiting to reserve judgment, however. I hope not to see Henry Winkler in light blue shorts anywhere near my television.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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