Whenever I watch a new show I give it three episodes to hook me. A show’s pilot is designed to be engaging so I give it two more chances to see if the momentum can keep up. That’s why critics are usually given a handful of early episodes to give a semi-complete review. Yet while critics are good for telling you when to jump in, they’re not so good at saying when the water is no longer fine.
At first I enjoyed the Shakespearean melodrama of “Empire.” It was ridiculously soapy, but also grounded. The family feud of Cookie versus Lucius felt like it had legs to sustain it. Lots of good “prestige” television is melodramatic. However when Rhonda’s fall was brushed off for another convoluted thread last fall in season three, I decided it was time to let go.
The “Lord of the Flies”-esque premiere of “The 100” was the plot hook that kept me watching the post-apocalyptic drama filled with teenage angst. Unfortunately the plot zigged and zagged past that hook into new, mostly worse, territory. I bailed a few episodes before this spring’s season finale because I felt like it lost all stakes and drive.
I was hesitant to watch “Gotham” because prequels are always iffy, but the allure of Batman sucked me in. Yet the show kept bending the comic’s canon in nonsensical ways. I felt like I was actively losing brain cells watching it. I sighed with relief when I stopped recording it somewhere in the front half of the second season when the introduction of The Order of Dumas and the teasing of Jerome as the Joker became too much to swallow.
I thought “Tyrant” was going to be one of FX’s flagship appointment television shows. My excitement fizzled after the main antagonist was killed at the end of the first season and I didn’t shed a tear when it was cancelled after three seasons.
The star power of Netflix’s “Bloodline” was the carrot on the stick that allowed me to reach the end of the first season, but I knew I wouldn’t continue. It too ended with a panned third season. On the other hand, nostalgia couldn’t carry me through even a quarter of a season of “Fuller House.”
Remember the good ol’ days when every Netflix produced program was worth watching?
The first book that I can recall putting aside before reading the last word was “Moby Dick.” I knew I was in for a challenge from the beginning but I thought I could muster on. However, already knowing the ending made it hard to justify slogging through verbose textbook-like chapters on different types of rope and aquatic life. I still feel a smidge guilty that the white whale will be my white whale, but I think I can live with it.
A few years ago I fell down the rabbit hole of consuming all things cyberpunk, a science fiction genre that’s both high and low tech with a sprinkle of noir. Think the movie “Blade Runner.” That involved reading the foundational works like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” and Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash.” I enjoyed Stephenson’s style so I picked up “Cryptonomicon,” a novel that involves World War II code breakers such as Alan Turing. This later work turned out to feature a drastic change in style, such as a mathematical formula on about every other page, that I felt like it was more work than pleasure. The almost 1,000 page behemoth will remain unfinished on my Nook for quite some time.
Quitting is not an easy decision; especially if it involves something you’ve already invested hours and hours into. But if “three strikes and you’re out” is a good enough rule for judging the start it’s also good enough to judge the end. If I watch three episodes in a row, or read three chapters, and I no longer care about the characters or plot, then it’s time to pull the plug.
Another good criteria is cellphone activity. A phenomenal show can make me forget Twitter, Facebook and texting exist. A boring show has me looking at the screen in my hand more often than the screen across the room. Watching a show just to delete that week’s episode off the DVR isn’t a healthy practice when there are better things to watch or do.
Arcs naturally have their peaks and valley when it comes to quality. There’s a very real possibility that a show will get good after you’ve given up on it. In that case, rejoice! Don’t feel guilty for abandoning it. Simply start at the good part that everyone’s talking about, even if it’s been a few seasons.
You won’t be lost. That’s why we have Wikipedia.