Television’s kiss of death: the time jump

Photo by Blake Israel

To date, I have yet to witness a teen or young adult show that has successfully executed a time jump.

I am sure there are some shows that have been able to do something interesting with jumping a few years ahead.

Sometimes, based on the format of a show and how the circumstances in which characters need to be together may change, time jumps are necessary if the show is going to continue.

For most cases I have seen, after a significant event or change has occurred in the show, a time jump makes the most logical sense. For example, most teen shows that choose to continue after the characters graduate will require a time jump past college since it cannot be expected that all of the characters stay in one place.

One of my favorite shows, “One Tree Hill,” fell victim to this. “One Tree Hill” followed the lives of two half-brothers, their families and their friends in the town of Tree Hill. It was a typical teen dramedy full of love triangles, family drama and the occasional murder.

After four of some of the greatest seasons of teen drama television that I have personally ever seen, “One Tree Hill” elected to continue after a four-year jump into the future instead of ending with their characters graduating from Tree Hill High School.

Oddly enough, the show’s fourth season finale was very reminiscent of a series finale, as it showed the end of the characters’ high school careers and had very emotional goodbye scenes. I personally thought it was the perfect way to end the series. Despite this, the show continued for another five seasons after its time jump and padded its seasons with weird plot lines and
short-lived characters.

While I did watch until the end, the last few seasons put a bitter taste in my mouth and made me remember the show less fondly than I think I would have if it had ended after season four. The same can be said for another popular teen show—”Pretty Little Liars.”

Anyone who was over the age of 10 when that show premiered can probably remember how much it ruled the pop culture scene.

This seven-season show followed four best friends who began to receive anonymous texts signed with an “A” at the end of them after their other best friend, Alison, went missing.

Despite being ABC Family’s most popular show for most of the 2010s, it seemed to crash and burn after the show went through a time jump following the show’s fifth season. Again, the time jump made the most narrative sense, considering all of the main characters had graduated high school and the mystery of A’s identity was, for the time being, solved.

A different kind of time jump that ended in a much worse disaster than the other two shows I mentioned was witnessed with “The 100.”

This was a show set in the distant future following a world-ending catastrophe, forcing what was left of mankind to live in spaceships floating above the Earth. It followed teenagers who were imprisoned for criminal acts on the spaceship, who were then sent down to Earth as a test population to see if it was liveable. The show became pretty complex as the seasons went on and as the characters explored Earth further, and I felt that the first four seasons had great storytelling. However, this show experienced a situation where they somewhat wrote themselves into a corner. The fourth season (spoiler alert) does end with the characters having to return to space and wait for six years while the Earth recovers from another catastrophic event.

Unlike the other shows, this last season before the time jump ended on a cliffhanger and had a lot of room left to tell a story.

I felt that this was a situation where the writers had no choice but to use a time jump as more of a plot device rather than from necessity to accommodate the status quo like the other shows did.

If a show comes to a standstill point, writers can create a slew of conflict using a time jump.

Ripping characters apart for long periods of time after they have formed relationships can provide a lot of content, which was very heavily the case with “The 100.”

Another show that seems to be approaching their upcoming fourth season with this strategy is the beloved fantasy Netflix show, “Stranger Things.”

I love this show as much as the next person. With the fourth season starting after a time jump and their season three ending with the main cast being split apart, this time jump seems to be functioning as a device to create unfamiliar conflict.

There are many shows that choose to save time jumps for a final season, a reboot, a reunion or more often, the series finale.

I typically can forgive and tolerate these types of time jumps, as these have more often been used for skipping events that can be predicted or giving shows a satisfying ending.

I often see time jumps being used to compensate for writers’ lack of creativity, a network’s inability to let go of a juggernaut show despite its story coming to a natural conclusion or both.

For shows like “One Tree Hill” or “Pretty Little Liars,” preserving artistic integrity did not seem to be more important than continuing to milk a cash cow for their respective networks, and the time jump ultimately tainted the legacy that these shows were destined to leave behind.

More tragically, however, attempting to preserve artistic integrity through a time jump forced “The 100” into a downward spiral and immediate pop culture irrelevancy due to its poor execution and unpopularity with fans.

Either way, a time jump always seems to indicate that there will be a decrease in the show’s quality and there will always be fans who hate it.

In my book, time jumps are the ultimate television kiss of death.