I can’t believe that a soap opera is actually capable of jumping the shark.
Are you familiar with this phrase? “Jumping the shark” describes the point at which a successful TV series, movie, musical group or individual finally goes too far.
The term derives from an episode of the TV series Happy Days that aired in September, 1977, when the show’s main characters visited Los Angeles. That’s when “The Fonz,” sporting his trademark leather jacket, went waterskiing and jumped over what was obviously an enormous prop shark. Years later, the public originator of the phrase, one Jonathan Hein, said “jumping the shark” captures the moment when it becomes apparent that a show is headed downhill.
You’d be amazed by how often you can use the term “jumped the shark” if you’re paying any attention to pop culture. I’d suggest that at the 2010 Olympic Closing Ceremonies, William Shatner mumbling about making love in a canoe – in his case, a particularly grisly image -- was jumping the shark. But then he became the spokesmodel for saving B.C.’s wild salmon. That was an even more radical stretch; after all, this is the actor best known for gazing pensively out a giant windshield, wearing golden pajamas.
Wikipedia suggests that there are numerous ways to jump the shark, including abruptly replacing one actor with another, or allowing characters who’ve had an extended flirtation to consummate their relationship. Occasionally, a sparring, sparkling couple has a baby and becomes as boringly single-minded as new parents are in real life – see Mad About You. I think David Letterman jumped the shark when he fathered a kid at 54 and started blathering endlessly with his guests about the cute things children say and do. Subsequent revelations of his womanizing simply accentuated his decline.
Most of us now expect celebrity mis-steps, but I’d assumed that daytime drama was immune because it’s perpetually over the top. Yet in the past few months, the Young and the Restless -- my personal addiction -- overburdened both itself and my patience by having not one, but two sets of doppelgangers.
I couldn’t believe it. The identical yet unrelated twin conceit is, admittedly, a daytime TV staple. Over the course of many decades, just about every major character on Y & R has had a corrupt replica who easily fools everybody. On this occasion, however, two characters with dueling story lines had evil lookalikes concurrently. Whoa! Mindfreak!
After that got resolved, the soap began featuring guest stints by characters from 30 years ago, represented by the same folks who played them in the 1970s. Worse still, one of those actors was David Hasselhoff.
Hasselhoff is that large, well-coiffed fellow who first came to public attention as the driver in the TV drama Knight Rider. He then cavorted for years on the beach with Pamela Anderson in Baywatch, eventually acting as executive producer of the series. He was also strangely popular for a time as a singer in German-speaking Europe. Apparently “the Hoff” has left a job as a judge on America’s Got Talent to star in a reality show with his two daughters, one of whom also appeared on Y & R last week. His soap opera escapade can’t be a money making venture – Wikipedia claims the Hoff is worth $100 million -- so he’s evidently trying to drum up interest in himself.
According to the tabloids, he’s a notorious alcoholic, as well, and he appeared to have belted back more than a few brewskis before donning his medical gear to play Dr. “Snapper” Foster. Now, there’s a name that would inspire confidence in any potential patient. Not surprisingly, Hasselhoff is absolutely ludicrous in the role, pink with foundation, baby-bum-smooth with Botox, mascara highlighting his peepers, his wavy auburn hair an ode to Grecian Formula. You’re just waiting for him to toss an opera scarf over his blue scrubs and intone to the closest looker, “Hey, babe, I’m Snapper, and – weird! -- you’ve got an axe lodged in your brain. Champagne?”
Yes, this casting “coup” is frankly unbelievable, and I say that as somebody who has seen countless individuals come back from the dead; women fake pregnancy and childbirth; and infatuated wingnuts keep their love interests captive in cages in their apartments. This past spring, a male character donated bone marrow to a stranger, then killed him so his DNA appeared to be that of the marrow donor and the latter was presumed deceased. More recently, to my surprise, Y & R mainstay Ashley Abbott suddenly started prattling in Japanese – mercifully, she was supposed to be in Japan at the time.
And that’s not all. Why, just last week, a 69-year-old man was informed by the pilot of the small plane flying him high above Ottawa in the middle of the night that if he wanted to land, he’d have to put on a parachute and leap. Needless to say, there was no hesitation, and off hopped Victor Newman, billionaire senior bent on revenge.
You should’ve seen how the “Ottawans” treated him, too, once he toppled onto the Parliament Buildings or wherever it was he hit terra firma. At this point in the shark-jumping process, it wouldn’t have surprised me if NDP leader Jack Layton had been trotted out to play the surly criminal who tried to drown Newman (clearly a Republican) in Ottawa’s “harbour.” Unfortunately, instead they stunt-cast Sean Young (Blade Runner) as a salt-of-the-earth barmaid with a heart the size of the Rideau Canal.
Still, Hasselhoff is the last straw.
I wonder, though. After all, the phrase “jump the shark” is at least 10 years old, and the references to it that I found on the Internet are deeply dated. In a pop culture universe ruled by such extreme performers as Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson; where the comedians on TV’s Little Britain can sport shockingly realistic nude costumes; where a genuine English duchess is caught selling access to her royal ex-husband; and there’s a joke e-mail making the rounds that depicts Gary Coleman’s casket as a Coleman cooler, how is it even possible to be seen as overstepping bounds?
Would you like to do a little research in that regard? Next wedding you attend, have too many cocktails, try calling yourself “Snapper,” tell everybody you’re a doctor, and let me know how well you hit it off with the opposite sex. Jump the shark your own self -- I dare ya!