You remember how in the first few seasons of Friends where Monica Gellar is a really likeable and levelheaded (if slightly OCD-happy) young woman?
Remember from around season six she was a hysterical bloody annoyance, as if a completely different character with heightened character traits?
There’s a term for that, as it’s an unfortunately common issue that afflicts many of our favourite TV shows.
The term means the erosion of a character until they’re a parody of themselves.
Friends is a classic example, as in the later seasons the characters barely resemble anything except an assortment of personality traits established in season one.
The problem is when TV shows are popular they sometimes drag on for too long. The Simpsons is a perfect example. Ned Flanders is where the term hails from.
Flanderisation is the, “act of progressively exaggerating traits of a character until it overtakes all other characterisation.”
It’s typically bad writing that leads to this process, often as a show begins to run out of steam.
So writers look for ways to keep things funny or interesting. One of the best options is to exaggerate previous personality traits a character is famous for, such as Monica’s OCD in Friends.
You can see a mishmash of this across various seasons below, but to be clear she really is a manic bloody annoyance in the later episodes – losing the endearing charm that came with her self-deprecating OCD in season one to about five.
The decision ruined her character, to the point she complained about it and asked the writers to make the character likeable again.
In The Simpsons, Ned Flanders changes from a good-natured, highly religious, and slightly annoying neighbour into a character that is an overly religious lunatic. He arrives on screen and within seconds he’s blurting out his character tropes.
Even the mighty Frasier had a bit of this going on. Running out of steam towards its final series, Frasier Crane’s pomposity became more greatly exaggerated. If you watch the first three series, he’s actually a more laid back and affable character.
It’s not always a bad thing. With Joey in Friends, we think his heightened stupidity in the later seasons helped provide some of the best comedy in a failing series.
But most people do view it negatively, like it’s the start of the decline of the show. We’ve seen it in action across:
- Friends: Definitely from about season six onward. Anything from 1998 is properly into it.
- Frasier: The lead character becomes increasingly pompous from around season four, losing much of his personality from the first two seasons.
- The Simpsons: Everything after season eight.
- Futurama: From around season five onward, especially with Bender.
- The Inbetweeners: Throughout season three and into the two films.
And we don’t view it favourably at all, as episode quality drops due to lazy writing.
Take the lovably stupid Patrick Star from SpongeBob. In season two he was dropping gems such as the below – my word, we wish we’d come up with this one.
Fans have since complained in more recent series his total stupidity is disturbingly malicious.
So, again, we have that issue of a series starting off strongly, running out of steam, and then trundling to a bit of a cash cow halt.
We don’t there’s any real answer to this. “Hire better writers!” isn’t going to do much in the long-term as every product has a natural shelf life.
A show can only be fun and engaging for a certain amount of time. Breaking Bad and Fawlty Towers timed it to perfection. With the latter there are only 12 episodes.
Thusly, we suggest studios try to bow out gracefully. Don’t draf things on unnaturally.
Take Professional Moron as a fine, upstanding example – in a decade, we’re still going to be writing inventions such as the walrus gun.
Whether it’s still fresh content or not we don’t know. We’ll be too stupid to realise either way.