Thursday, January 14, 2010

Did we just jump the shark?

I guess most TV fans recognize the phrase "jump the shark." It's usually used to signal when a popular TV series has made a major plot or character change and generally means it's all downhill from here. In the show Happy Days, the Fonz (that's him pictured at left for those who dozed off from 1974 to 1984) donned swim trunks, and his ever present leather jacket, and physically jumped over a shark-like water obstacle. Happy Days had been on a downward spiral since Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) left the show. Other typical "shark" examples include a new kid added to the show Married with Children, daughter Becky being replaced by a completely different actress on Roseanne, or when Niles finally married Daphne on Frasier.

Unfortunately jumping the shark is not restricted to television series. Series fiction and mysteries also have a tendency to go off the deep end, especially once the author has written several books in a series. One of my favorite writing teams is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Together they write the Agent Pendergast series of thrillers. Readers were introduced to Pendergast in Relic, the first book in the series, back in 1995. He was unique, intelligent, from New Orleans, and most of all, mysterious. The authors didn't tell us much about him in that first book, not even his first name, but I liked him. After Cemetery Dance (# 9 in the series) I feel like I know too much about Aloysius Pendergast and now I'm worried about Fever Dream the next entry in the series that is due out on May 11th this year. Rumor has it readers will learn more about his wife and her strange death. (Pendergast was married?!) I'm afraid there will be too much more about the character and not enough action. I read their books for the action!

I thought the alphabet series by Sue Grafton was excellent when it started with A is for Alibi. (It must be tough for an author to figure out what to do with a character over a period of 26 years.) Fortunately U is for Undertow, the most recent entry, is very good, although other books in the series definitely "jumped the shark" for me by providing a surprise addition of relatives for Kinsey Millhone, when I liked the fact that she was initially a loner, without family complications.

At first glance entry #26 in the Hamish MacBeth series, Death of a Valentine, looks like it has jumped the shark because it opens with Hamish at the altar getting married. (Fans of M. C. Beaton know that Hamish with a wife would completely change the mood of the series.) I'll let those who love the series find out for themselves where the series goes from here.

So what books have you read that have "jumped the shark" and what caused it to take that leap? Did a major character die? Did a favorite love interest disappear or get murdered? Did the main character, who is definitely not the mothering type, suddenly get pregnant? (hint - she's a police chief in a town called Maggody)

Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject. Inquiring minds (mine) want to know.

Linda Knorr - Readers' Services


Joel said...

I am in absolute agreement with you regarding Agent Pendergast, though I will probably mindlessly read the next installment just like I zombied through the last few (the intro of Constance in general and the Wheel of Darkness novel in particular were the shark jump for me). Plus, Preston and Child could use a different development arc for their minor characters, which are almost always pompous and headstrong, but nowhere to be found (or dead) when the disaster that they unwittingly caused comes to fruition. But alas, because I keep hoping they will make Pendergast cool again, I'm a slave to their pen (or keyboard, more likely).

Roberta said...

A friend told me she thought the Prey series was "over" when Lucas Davenport investigated a dastardly crime involving antique quilts (Invisible Prey). Not exactly bone-chilling, she felt.

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