I’m not entirely sure how this has happened… Should I chalk it up to the recent flu that has, apparently, boggled my mind in ways that I hadn’t realized (I blame the coughing that made my head hurt from its violence)? Is it the result of years of use and misuse changing my mind? I have no idea, but somehow, I think I’ve come to the realization that “jumping the shark” isn’t actually a bad thing.
I should explain, I think. My problem isn’t with the idea of complaining that a show, movie or whatever has gone too far or lost sight of its original objective, because… well, that’s just quality control and wanting the best for whatever you’ve invested time and potentially money into. That makes sense to me still, and I’ve got no problem with it. No, my problem is with calling that “jumping the shark.”
Maybe I should credit Happy Days producer Garry Marshall on making me reconsider the phrase when, talking about accidentally being responsible for its creation, he told the Hollywood Reporter,
To be honest, it wasn’t our best show. But the man had jumped over garbage cans on his motorcycle. He had to jump something else. What a crazy idea, but everybody said all right.
It’s a real-life version of James Urbaniak’s sketch, but with less invective:
Clearly, I’ve gone soft: I don’t know why this one stupid, not-even-good idea has me defending it – I’ve not even seen the damn episode! – but as soon as I read “What a crazy idea, but everybody said all right,” I got to a place of “Why did this one idea get tagged as the bad idea? What is it so egregiously horrible that it deserves to live on as a voodoo meme, a scary-don’t-let-this-be-you thing to ward off going too big or too crazy? What is so bad about Fonzie jumping over a shark, really?
See, even asking the question like that seems like a stupid question, because the phrase is so loaded. But, seriously: It’s a silly idea that happened on a comedy show that was played as ridiculous and over the top. More importantly, it happened on a comedy show that had already played with the reality of its world on more than one occasion: Even if you want to write Mork’s first appearance on television off as a dream sequence, there’s also Fonzie’s superpower to have all women fall in love with him and all machines to work with one punch when necessary. When you look at it objectively, the true crime of jumping the shark might just be that the idea wasn’t as funny as it should’ve been. Which, even so… it was one dumb idea in a fifth season episode of a comedy show that then went on for another six years. Is it really worth holding one idea that you didn’t like against something that clearly had a lot of life left in it…?
Fred Fox Jr., who wrote the episode in question, complained about the fact that the Happy Days Jump The Shark episode didn’t really fit the criteria for the “beginning of the end” definition of the phrase in the LA Times a few years back:
I started thinking about the thousands of television shows that had been on the air since the medium began. And out of all of those, the “Happy Days” episode in which Fonzie jumps over a shark is the one to be singled out? This made no sense.
It really doesn’t, on any level beyond selfish “And then it sold out and did something I didn’t like so now I hate it” hipsterdom. There are worse comedy failures to choose, more deserving ways a show betrayed itself for viewers. Maybe the problem is that none of those have as snappy a three word phrase to describe their turn for the worse – “Jump the shark,” as a phrase, just sounds good, after all – but still: It’s time to stop the lazy Happy Days hate, people. Come up with something new, instead.
(And no, not “nuking the fridge.”)
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