Memes die. That doesn’t mean they’re forgotten. They’re just not propagating anymore. So if I say ‘dancing baby’ or ‘wazzup,’ many people still know what I’m talking about. While I’m not here to call for the death of Call Me Maybe parodies, I can still hope for a sudden end. No, I want to dredge up ‘jumping the shark.’ Even with Shark Week just passed, the Jumped the Shark website is barely above here in web rankings. (Side note: one of the top queries to this website is ‘crash to desktop’) So while the phase is clearly self referential now, there’s one question I haven’t forgotten, what is the opposite of jumping the shark?
You may argue that such a thing doesn’t exist. It’s true that once most shows go into decline they never return to form. Often talent has left and premises may only be used so many times. More importantly, once viewership drops everything tumbles towards cancellation. There’s little time or resources for a renaissance. However, it has happened, so I’m pressing forward.
This year I rewatched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series. Even though I own the disks, I watched them on Amazon Prime for the convenience. The down side was that I didn’t get any of the bonus features. The up side is that I wasn’t slowed down by those features and actually finished watching. I was even pretty good about interleaving the crossover Buffy/Angel episodes.
Most shows that I go back and watch seem worse or much worse for time passed. Some of the stuff I watched as a kid is just awful (Hello, Knight Rider). Fortunately, Buffy and Angel don’t fall into that category. I can’t say they’ve gotten better with age, but they would still be some of the best TV on the air if they were running now. I will say there are many clever things you miss when you watch the first time. I also can’t deny that some of the jokes and pop culture references don’t work if you don’t remember the time when the series originally aired.
I might go into my favorite things about the two series at some later date. Now I’ll just try to stay on topic.
There’s some debate when (or if) Buffy jumped the shark. Buffy dies (again) and Dawn are solid choices. There are some classic episodes after that point, Once More with Feeling jumps to mind, but Buffy never consistently regains the mid series form.
Angel is a little different. Whether you choose teenage Connor or just season four, it’s clear that Angel got so dark for so long that it turned off a lot of fans. However, that all turns around at the beginning of season five as team Angel starts working at Wolfram and Hart. Ok, technically they signed up at the end of season four, but the fun didn’t really begin until season five.
I could list over half of season five as great episodes. However, I’ll just give you some of my favorites. It should be noted that bringing Spike over from Buffy added a lot to the fun.
Hell Bound — A non-corporal Spike must take on a powerful ghost while fighting the pull from Hell.
Life of the Party — Lorne takes on the task of throwing the best Halloween party ever at Wolfram and Hart, but something is wrong.
Harm’s Way — A look at Wolfram and Hart and team Angel from the outside as Angel’s secretary tries to plan a conference and clear her name at the same time.
Why We Fight — A look at Angel durning World War II that raises the question of what it really means to be a vampire with a soul.
Smile Time — The magic from an evil kids tv show turns Angel into a puppet.
Not Fade Away — the series finale leaves team Angel where they started fighting the good fight even though they can’t win simply because it’s the good fight.
And my personal favorite:
The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco — It must be watched to be appreciated, but it does have Angel asking the question, “Did you ever hear that the devil built a robot?”
I think the season was helped by the fact that there was more of thematic feel rather than a particular big bad to fight. That meant that threads could run through one off episodes. Characters could come and go as needed. Incredibly, in the end, almost all the loose ends from the series are tied up while the characters reveal their true selves under extreme duress.
Season five ended up being the best of the series even though they knew towards the end that they were being cancelled. So what’s the opposite of jumping the shark? My answer is working at Wolfram and Hart.