The problem with excellent TV series is that we tend to wish they would stay on the air forever. Unfortunately, we often have to be careful what we wish for. Frequently we're forced to deal with a once-terrific show becoming less-than-stellar after its writers and producers run out of good ideas, and in retrospect maybe a solid and memorable ending would've been better than a long, sad, petering out. That's no way for a great series to end! Almost any classic show (but particularly serials) deals with this dilemma, and only a lucky few ever get to self-cancel in order to go out on a creative high.
To be clear, these are GREAT shows and we're lucky to have had them at all, but still... in retrospect, they probably should've ended sooner. Now when we re-watch them, we have to endure entire seasons that seem unnecessary. So here are our picks for great TV shows that perhaps ran a season (or two or three or ten) longer than they should have. Share your own in the comments!
Number of Seasons: 9 seasons and 2 movies
When It Probably Should've Ended: There's an ongoing debate about when exactly The X-Files went from must-see to over-the-hill. Was it the post-Season 5 feature film X-Files: Fight the Future? Was it when the series moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles to film? Or was it the Season 7 departure of David Duchovny as a series regular? Me, I'm going with the moment Mulder and Scully finally answered the question of "Will they or won't they?" with "They already did" during Season 7. What an anticlimactic bummer that was.
Number of Seasons: 4
When It Probably Should've Ended: While The O.C. certainly had its moments after its abysmal second season (particularly with the introduction of Season 3's Autumn Reeser), I prefer to think of the show as a one-season wonder. Season 1 was basically perfect, all 27 episodes (!) of it.
Number of Seasons: 10
When It Probably Should've Ended: Smallville was a light 'n fun romp that brought in steady ratings for The WB and The CW, but its very premise had an expiration date. How long exactly was Superman a superhero before he learned to fly? Smallville had the audacity to suggest that almost every single character from the DC Universe somehow stopped by rural Kansas while Clark Kent was a teenager. But, putting all that aside, many fans agree the show probably shouldn't have continued after the Season 8 departure of Lex Luthor.
Number of Seasons: 6 (and counting)
When It Probably Should've Ended: It's hard to imagine Dexter encountering a more perfectly matched (or incredible) villain than Season 4's Trinity Killer (John Lithgow). Plus, the season-ending revelation that Trinity had killed Rita served as a natural conclusion to Dexter's then-futile attempt to go "normal." Instead, we've had to endure a rape-revenge themed Season 5 and an astonishingly terrible Season 6 involving... UGH, nevermind.
Number of Seasons: 23 (and counting)
When It Probably Should've Ended: This is a fish/barrel situation, as many people agree The Simpsons hasn't been truly great since the '90s. However, it's tough to agree on exactly when the series might have thrown in the towel. Was it during that ubiquitous "Who shot Mr. Burns?" promotion that spanned Seasons 6 and 7? Or was it the subtler decline in quality around Season 10? Whatever the case, ever since then the show's had a wildly uneven run, but I think it's safe to say that The Simpsons' enduring success means many of us are quite willing to accept quantity over quality.
Number of Seasons: 7
When It Probably Should've Ended: This is a tough one because the longevity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a hard-earned victory on the part of its fans and its beleaguered creator Joss Whedon. Still, though... many fans agree that the latter seasons perhaps weren't as up-to-par with earlier ones. The natural climax of the series was Buffy's graduation from high school in Season 3, but many of its truly great episodes came in Season 4 ("Hush") and Season 5 ("The Body"). That said, perhaps the final two UPN seasons (remember that?) weren't quite as essential as everything that had come before? (Don't be mad, I'm just asking!)
Number of Seasons: 15
When It Probably Should've Ended: ER was an instant classic when it debuted in 1994, not only because it offered a thrilling, unflinching look at emergency-room drama, but because its core cast of characters was immediately compelling. As many of them later graduated to movie careers, the show became a bit of a revolving door for new characters and concluded with an almost entirely different cast from when it began. While ER was never terrible, it's hard to deny that it lost its special magic once its main characters left. For that reason, either the death of Dr. Green in Season 8 or the exit of Dr. Carter in Season 11 could have offered memorable finality to the long-running series.
Number of Seasons: 6
When It Probably Should've Ended: I know, I know. This was a great show (one of my favorites!), and I even loved the controversial sixth season. My qualms relate to the boredom-inducing middle seasons, before the creators publicly announced an end game. The primary reason I haven't re-watched this series yet is the fear that much of it will feel like a waste of time, at least until things start heating back up during Season 4. If Lost has a final legacy, I truly hope it's that more shows will have definite end-dates as soon as reasonably possible.
What do you think? Agree/disagree? Are there any classic TV shows you think would've been better off with fewer seasons?