How long should you give a drama series before you give up on it altogether? It's a tricky question, as shown this week by two very different but often equally compelling series.
The third season of Love/Hate bowed out on Sunday in a blaze of gory glory and a swirl of critical acclaim. I'm glad I didn't give up on Stuart Carolan's gangland saga after the initial four-part series back in 2010. I wasn't overly impressed with that, but series two and three added up to 12 hours of rivetting television.
The second series of Homeland wound up on Tuesday in rather different circumstances. The sheer brilliance of the first series, which went out earlier this year, took many people by surprise by actually living up to the hurricane of hype it generated.
And then came series two, which was the TV equivalent of difficult second album syndrome. It ranged from far-fetched to downright ludicrous as a succession of increasingly ridiculous plot twists stretched credibility to snapping point.
The writers -- who finally seemed to realise they'd pushed the silly button one time too many -- redeemed things somewhat with a terrific finale that reminded us why we'd loved Homeland in the first place.
Some dramas -- The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are the ones that immediately spring to mind -- have stayed good to the last drop. Breaking Bad, which I haven't seen nearly enough of, reportedly just gets better every year.
Usually, though, the rot sets into a long-running series long before anyone has the courage to shout "Stop". Shameless, initially brilliant, should have been put to sleep years ago. 24, though always entertaining in an over-the-top way, had detached itself from any sense of reality long before it finished.
As Lost wound its way toward its lame climax, which couldn't come soon enough for some of us, the general impression was its creators had no more idea than the viewers where it was headed.
There are a few examples, however, of programmes that managed to pull themselves out of a creative slump.
ER enjoyed a resurgence in its final couple of seasons. Heroes started intriguingly, nearly choked on its own pretentious mythology in series two, but bounced back with a stronger third season, although this didn't prevent its cancellation. The BBC's Murphy's Law, starring James Nesbitt as an undercover cop, was dismal when it began. A switch to longer storylines and a grittier tone transformed it. So some programmes CAN get their mojo back.
But the people behind Homeland are going to have to pull something truly special out of the hat to keep series three on track -- and keep loyal fans on board.
I'LL NEVER FORGET THINGY X Factor winner James Whatsisface might be the one sitting atop the singles charts right now but all the attention -- at least from people with pitifully short attention spans -- is currently focused on shrieking reject Rylan Clark, a creature that appears to be made almost entirely of moisturiser and hair gel.
Clark was no sooner booted off X Factor than ITV's Daybreak signed him up for a week's stint as its entertainment editor. His next stop will be Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5. All of this would have passed by me unnoticed were it not for the fact that The Guardian this week ran a lengthy interview with Clark. Fair enough; we all have pages to fill.
It wasn't anything Clark said that caught the attention but rather this paragraph: "The 24-year-old inhabits a contemporary subculture for whom reality TV has evolved into a professional network, a lifestyle choice and a philosophical identity, not unlike the armed forces, say, or the church."
Hmm. I'll just let that hang in the air while I ponder whether civilisation really did collapse yesterday, only in a more subtle way than Mayan culture expert Ashton Kutcher said it would.
westlife: not just for christmas Sad news from the Westlife post-dissolution front: none of the karaoke quartet is as rich as you might think. Shane Filan, as we know, declared bankruptcy in a UK court.
Now Nicky Byrne, a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, has bravely spoken out about the full horror of their financial hardship. They may have sold over 50 million albums, said Nicky, but none of them is "absolutely minted".
"In the early days we earned great money, and in the latter days it was all gone," he said. You'd want to be made of granite not to be moved by those words -- in fact I can feel my bowels moving this very second.
I suggest we forego all that sending animals to impoverished Third World families malarkey and instead dig deep for the boys. Sure a Westlifer is for life, not just for Christmas.
who loves ya? Will Hollywood ever tire of robbing the graves of old television shows?
Next up for the big-screen remake treatment is classic seventies cop show Kojak, which was already the subject of a short-lived TV revival featuring Ving Rhames.
Horrifyingly, the new version is to star the immobile lump of teak known as Vin Diesel.
If all you need to fill the shoes of a TV legend is a bald head, they might as well have hired Ross Kemp.