Pop Culture

A Smattering of TV Shows That Went Spectacularly Downhill

For the last several years, I’ve been recapping HBO’s True Blood here on Persephone Magazine. A longtime fan of both The Southern Vampire Mystery series, on which the show is based, and of vampire-based pop culture, I was excited to see HBO pick up the series. I loved the shows initial blend of camp and gore and its willingness to deviate from the source material in unexpected ways.

Seven seasons on, not only is the bloom off the rose for True Blood, my interest in continuing to watch the series is a perverse stubbornness.  “Dammit,” I sometimes say to myself, “I’ve spent 6 years with this damn thing, and I’m just gonna tough out the last season!” (Watching it with my kid, who comes into the last year having never seen an episode and attempting to explain what’s going on, has been an unexpected delight.)

After unleashing a string of curses at the TV after yet another you-have-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me  development in the laborious Sookie-n-Bill-4vr relationship, I got to thinking about the television shows that have betrayed me over the years, by squandering their fun/exciting/novel/ or just plain entertaining premises to devolve into boring, confusing, messes begging for cancellation. The shows picked are ones that offended me, personally, in their crappiness — please share your own heartbreaks in the comments.  In no particular order, I present a brief list of series that went spectacularly downhill:



Has there ever been another show that squandered so much potential so fast?

Months ahead of the season’s premier, Fox released the entire first episode of Glee on Hulu, free for anyone who wanted to check it out. The move did exactly what it was supposed to do — generate a lot of excitement for a quirky little show about high school losers who loved showtunes and could belt out a good cover song. The pilot and the remainder of the first season was charming, lovable, and endearing.

The second season faltered. And then faltered some more. What had been sweet became cloying, and the good natured humor of the show seemed to have morphed into something unpleasant, like the formerly unpopular kid who suddenly finds themselves inexplicably at the center attention, wielding their social cache like a sledgehammer. I barely made it through the second season and haven’t watched a lick of it since. I heard it’s lurching towards cancellation.

At least the music was good.

The Walking Dead

Walking Dead Season 3 Poster

The Walking Dead is an interesting case on this list. The first season of the AMC hit was a success on multiple levels, giving us just the right mixture of plot, scares, and tension. The writers and showrunners appeared to have a clear plan for the show and understood the source material without being overly constrained by it. The casting was superb. The pacing was excellent. The 6 episode run was just enough to leave the fans wanting more.

And then the second season happened. And then the third season happened. Show runners were sacked at an impressive pace. Most of season 2 was stuck running in place, literally trapped in one location with only a rare zombie appearance to spice things up due to budget constraints. Season 3 got us off the farm and gave us promising new characters, but inconsistent plotting, bizarre character choices, and a foreshadowed confrontation that never really occurred continued to dull the shine on this penny.

However, unlike other shows on this list, The Walking Dead actually seems to have learned from its mistakes. Season 4, while not perfect, was notably better than the previous two years, streamlining the plotting, and giving us some of the most brilliantly written and directed episodes of its run. I’m actually eagerly anticipating what next year will bring.

True Blood


This one breaks my wee black heart. There were so many squandered moments, so many fantastic opportunities for True Blood to just go all camp and leave behind the pretense of saying important things about bigotry and tolerance, but the show could never quite get there, and seemed unable to commit to being what it really was – a supernatural soap opera with some really hot dudes in it. Is there another show with such a bloated cast of regulars and extras on the air right now? Is there another show that would off a series regular off screen and give the world a “no big deal” shrug about it so it could focus on the emotional effect of the death on the character’s mother, who we last saw two seasons ago for less than ten minutes of screen time? Name me another show that has spent so long convincing us that the romantic lead (Bill) is such a scumbag that it has to contortion itself in ways that would make a gymnast blush in order to ram rod the leads back together again?

At least in its last hurrah, True Blood seems willing to make fun of its own ridiculousness, inserting meta commentary into the mouths of the ‘regular folk’ of Bon Tempts. In the past three episodes, various characters have pointed out the bizarreness of living in a town crawling with vampires, that the mayor campaigned on a platform of honesty while hiding the fact he was a shapeshifter, and that the sheriff’s comely teenage daughter was just an infant three weeks ago. Unfortunately, they can’t seem to work around to criticizing Sookie’s incredible sense of self importance and narcissism. But there’s still time folks! Seven more episodes to go until the bitter, blood soaked end.

Law and Order: SVU

Law and Order SVU cast photo
Law and Order SVU cast photo courtesy of NBC/Universal.

Look. I’m just going to say it.

SVU isn’t very good.

I mean, I love my main girl Olivia Benson, but the show’s been on the air since 1999 and age hasn’t been incredibly kind to it. This last season, in which Olivia is kidnapped again, by the serial rapist she nearly beat to death last year, is forced to publicly admit to, on camera, that beating and her subsequent efforts to conceal this from her superiors, the lies she told under oath, the complicity of her staff in covering it up, and still gets a promotion to sergeant, might actually be the fabled shark jump. But the show keeps chugging onward, the little engine that ever could, so that we can finally get the season where Olivia adopts a damn baby already.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

27 replies on “A Smattering of TV Shows That Went Spectacularly Downhill”

Olivia Benson is the only reason I’ve watched the last few seasons of SVU. Well, and Fin, but he’s relegated to background character status with Anger Issues Amaro and Messed-Up Gambler Rollins. Neither of them are especially likeable characters, honestly, and both have SERIOUS issues that make it hard to believe that they’ve kept their jobs as cops for so long. And, well, even if they’re good at part of the job (keeping kids safe, being approachable to assault victims), that doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — make up for their tendency to fuck shit up on a regular basis.
I hope the next season is the last, and that Liv gets to FINALLY adopt a baby, Fin gets to the point where his colleagues actually respect him, and the Dysfunction Duo are advised to resign from the police force.

Also, Glee’s first season was snarky and entertaining. Now it’s a teen drama schlockfest. I couldn’t even hatewatch after the Cory Monteith memorial episode. I’m just done.

Finally! I’ve been doing the Walking-Dead-on-Netflix approach, and it’s a lot easier to get through the slow as hell second season. I also tend to knit while I marathon, so maybe that’s why I don’t notice so much.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the writing and/or direction abruptly changed in SVU a few years ago. Plots that were interesting or at least familiar turned into some hokey shadow of former seasons. Also the novelty of seeing sex crimes taken seriously on primetime television has faded for me during the show’s run. Now it just feels weird that a show focused solely on rape and molestation treats those things like entertainment.

Also, less than 2% of reported rapes turn out to be false, whereas something like 1 in 10 episodes features a victim that lies to the cops. (I don’t know the exact ratio for the latter, but it seems to happen A LOT more in the SVU world.)

I can’t believe I forgot Heroes!

Or maybe the fact that I forgot Heroes is just the prime example of what I was talking about. It came on the air a year that my husband was abroad and I kept telling him about this great show he had to watch. By the time he came back, I had already moved on.

Oh, SVU, you’ve seen me through many a dark time, but I agree, it’s gone to shit. It’s been on its way to shit for several years, I think the really convoluted plot twists started about five seasons ago. This season was especially egregious, because on top of stupid plots (which I can, honestly, live with) they had to keep torturing our girl Olivia. I couldn’t even watch the Pornstache eps.

The plots just were exceptionally stupid this year. I can forgive them a lot, but I can not forgive them pretending that Stabler wouldn’t have been sitting in that damn court room when Olivia was testifying at trial. Shit, we all know he would have been out combing the streets for her as soon as he heard she was kidnapped.

I have do disagree on Glee. The music was NOT good. It could have been good, but someone got a little too happy with the Autotuner. I actually found an online petition asking Fox to knock it off with the autotune.

As a musician, I find it incredibly obnoxious that Miss Can’t Be Bothered To Look Up On The Internet To Find Out That Juilliard Doesn’t Have A Musical Theater Department/Apparently Does Squat Outside The Glee Club (because any voice/dance teacher helping her prep for her audition would have told her about Juilliard) managed to get into an incredibly exclusive program. Plus the piano player and student musicians that know every song by heart and can pick up the key immediately.

Is this how doctors feel when they watch Grey’s Anatomy?

I really just came down to the comments to say that, more than any other fictional TV character, I really want Olivia Benson to have happy ending.

I think Olivia’s happy ending is around the corner, since they rather blatantly broadcast that she’s going to adopt that abandoned baby from this season. Because if there’s one thing that they keep hammering away at us over the years, it’s that Olivia doesn’t have kids, but really wants them, if only she could make it work with her job.

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