I'll preface by saying this is a One Tree Hill post...kind of. At least, that's the source of inspiration.
I've noticed a trend over the years of shows going to seed when a new, random character is introduced that doesn't quite jibe with the show's original vibe. This is perhaps observed as early as the 1970s with shows that introduced the mysterious child character - usually an obscure cousin (I'm looking at you Brady Bunch).
But this trend STILL continues to this day. And One Tree Hill is horrendously, but not unforgivably, guilty of it. I will straight up say, I'm embarrassed to say I watch this show (never mind the phrase 'still watch this show'), I have been since it first debuted. My sister and I used to turn to one another and ask "WHY are we still watching this crap?" The original answer was the character of Lucas Scott played by Chad Michael Murray, our teen dream love from Dawson's Creek and Gilmore Girls. But alas, Lucas was no Tristan or Charlie - he was a whiny, self-absorbed, squinty zero.
And yet...we watched. And the show did hit a peak in seasons 3 & 4, before beginning a slow descent in the 'fast forward' seasons. To recap, the first four seasons are set in grades 11 & 12 - rather than pull a mystery grade out of thin air a la the OC, each grade was divided into two seasons. Season 5 saw the characters (thankfully) fast-forwarded through the college years, picking up 4 years and 6 months after graduation. Lo and behold, everything was sorta kinda peachy keen in the OTH's world, plus Jamie (Naley's love child in S4) was a cute pick-me-up in a non-random-child way (at first). Season 5 was actually kind of good, offering lots of 'Where are they now?' surprises and Easter eggs for the loyal fans, and introducing some interesting characters including Brooke's mama.
The beginning of season 6 was a big fat pile of OMGWTFBBQ, but in a good dramatic tension way...but that started to unravel as well. I'll point out that the character of 'Sam', Brooke's adopted-ish teeny-bopper, was an example of the way introducing a new young un is a BAD idea, especially considering that Sam resembled an actual teen next to these adults who played teens in the previous season. At the end of Season 6, Lucas and Peyton, two of the show's core core core characters (despite them being amongst my most hated) were unceremoniously dumped. I never thought I'd say it, but the gap has NOT been filled.
Instead, we got introduced to a pairing of new key characters, meant to replace ultimate couple Leyton. One of Haley's miscellaneous sisters, Quinn, she of the perfect marriage and inexplicable photography career, arrives out of nowhere to crash at the Scott mansion. And Nathan is back on his game with a handsome devil of an agent, Clay, at his side.
Now...I love Clay, I do.
The show has done a decent job of integrating him into the cast, although it's a far cry from brotherly camaraderie that was really starting to feel real between Lucas and Nate over the last few seasons. Plus I LOVED his back story episode(s), where we were introduced to a mysteriously awesome, charming chick in his life only to find out she was his WIFE that died randomly of a heart disorder. Brutal as I'd much rather see the actress that played Sarah be alive and well than well...
Other than having a nice hair colour, I can't STAND this chick. It's partially the show's fault for forcing the point that 'QUINN IS A GOOD PERSON LOVE HER AND HER SUNNY WANDERLUST!' down our throats to the point where I wish she'd walk into the ocean she so greatly fears and get drowned by Dan Scott. Her back story about her newly-loveless marriage to David made me unsympathetic to her cause (vs. Clay), and basically nothing she's done on this show has convinced me she's nothing but a spoiled, whiny brat. Perhaps she's the new Lucas then. In slight fairness, the casting department cast the biggest oaf of a husband they could find, but I STILLLLLL found him more endearing than Quinn. Also, although the term 'career' can be used loosely for most of our cast, she takes it to a new level, bunking in her sister's manse and randomly snapping people on the beach while cozying up to Clay.
So the show has decided to put a ton of focus on these two. Which pretty much makes me want to gag - I could handle them apart in small doses and their interactions with everyone else, but as a couple and their supremely unrealistic cheesmo conversations, including Clay's declaration at the mid-season break, are pretty much the WORST things to happen to this show, ever.
I get that you can't have a show (really) around 3 core characters - but I miss my Hayley/Nathan/Brooke face time. Instead we have the three of them constantly having to prop up these new additions to the show, and then some. Julian was interesting last season but now he's an inexplicable, unreadable knob a la cheating Lucas in early years. Alex can provide intermittent bouts of funny but as a sympathetic foil I find her irritating - just let her make her $*#(@&$( movie, be redeemed, and ideally leave town with Julian in her pocket. No one is good enough for Brooke (still / yet). Millicent had a fun run as an Alex wannabe but in general she's downerville, and I'm over her and Mouth's less-than-ideal relationship. Alexander Coin = snore and not good-looking enough for Mme. Brooke.
Ugh. I can't dwell on this show any longer other to say that I'm pretty sure the creator has been developing a music label-centred show for another network, and I think it's hurt a show that straddles the line between brutal and watchable.
So I meant for this post to be more about a number of shows that have fallen prey to the new core character problem, but I'll just leave you with this example. Season 3 of the OC was no picnic. Marissa was elsewhere with a cast of losers, Summer and Seth were on their own educational wavelength, and the one likable character introduced all season - Sadie - was unceremoniously tossed. But let me tell you why this season REALLY sucked, and who singlehandedly led to the demise of what could have been the best teen soap of all time had it kept up Season 1's momentum.
Taylor Townsend (played by Autumn Reeser)
Originally serving as a foil to our blissfully happy (in episode 1) couples Marissa & Ryan and Seth & Summer, Taylor tried to take down Summer in the college department, woo Seth in the comics department, and evict Marissa and Ryan from school. Predictably or not, by mid-season she was suddenly their sad little fifth wheel.
The main reason why I blame the demise of the show on Taylor (as early as S3)? The humour that they attached to a character like Taylor was COMPLETELY different than the vibe of the show. Consider the season 1 episode where Summer is randomly dating some funny dude who in fact, Seth and Sandy identify as not funny, but 'BIG'. Taylor is the female, camp equivalent. The show suddenly became about slapstick pratfalls and cheesy mean girl showdowns - but without the bite, irony, wit, or quirkiness of the earlier seasons. The show asked us to worship this completely ridiculous character with a penchant for older men in pastels and Yakuza films - there's Seth Cohen nerdy hip, and then there's Taylor's obnoxious cutesy psychoticness. BLAH!
Beyond that, the show really soured for me after Marissa's death (well, me and the world I guess). A friend and I had a long chat the night after the finale, and he pointed out that things might not be all bad. I tried to see the light and pointed out that, having enjoyed Sadie of S3, he was right - I was super excited to see Ryan: the college years and him finding a new Marissa type. But no. Instead the show decided to be pitifully lazy, continue the random not-funny brand of funny, and make TAYLOR - mortal enemy of Ryan in the first half of season 3 and barely on his radar in the latter half - Ryan's LOVE INTEREST? I DONT THINK SO. And yet it was so.
There are many things that could have saved the OC from an early death - not having the mysterious 'gap year' where they repeated grade 11, Mischa Barton getting her drunk ass to set on a more regular basis, the horrible Kirsten-out-of-rehab plot not being so entirely random...and so on. But really, I'm pinning this one on campy Taylor. Did I mention season 4 totally failed in the bringing a random child onto the scene? Yeah, I'm looking at you Katelin.
To the TV I go!