When Going Off the Rails Makes Excellent TV


When you think about shows that have gone off the rails, Riverdale, Dexter, Game of Thrones, How I Met Your Mother, or Glee usually come to mind.

The majority of the time, it isn’t enjoyable. The digression can make for poor television.

However, there are certain cases where it makes TV gold.

Creating Uniqueness

Keeping an audience interested and on the edge of their seats can be challenging.

We want to be enthralled, but that comes with the fact that doing this means changing plots, characters, or many other factors.

Going off the rails does not always have to be a negative thing.

Community, for example, started as a traditional sitcom, but its ever-evolving nature created a cult classic and a truly entertaining hit that never became stagnant.

Community Cast for Sony

And then there’s The Leftovers, a drama that significantly changed after its first season.

Critics thought it was too sad, and while still containing those moments, the revamp led to sublime seasons that only made an already brilliant idea even better.

We will always want something different, something new. Entertainment dies when things go stale; sometimes, the only way to do this is to change what we already know.

It works in some instances and doesn’t in others.

But if these disruptions don’t occur, then the complaint would not be about the derailment but rather about how tedious or repetitive the show has become.

Nancy with Guillermo

Weeds, for example, got a lot of hate for changing from the somewhat relatable idea of a mom making ends meet by selling weed to a mom now involved with a Mexican gang.

However, the off-the-cuff plot twists delivered something truly interesting, and the whole idea differed from anything on TV at the time.

Plus, the dark humor was stunning.

And then there’s Lost. At the time, it was a groundbreaking show that began as a story about plane crash survivors.

It then became about time travel and other metaphysical elements that fans didn’t think made sense.

Sometimes, we get too attached to plots, and a deviation makes us question why we even liked it in the first place.

The New Guardian

However, Lost’s direction really brought another level of depth of creativity to the series.

When the Actors Grow Up

There are many cases where series start with a young cast and, due to popularity, stay running longer than some people appreciate.

Unpopular opinion or not, one example of this is Modern Family.

The show got drastically funnier in the later seasons despite some fans thinking the jokes about Hailey being a clueless adult didn’t play as well as the comedy about her life as a clueless teen.

Moving Out - Modern Family

Watching the children grow up was very entertaining, and seeing how they ended up as adults and how their own humor developed made some of the best episodes.

Shameless is another great example of this.

It was tough initially, but the cast’s acting improved significantly, and the character arcs were clever and inspirational.

Some of the best Shameless content came from the later seasons.

Mickey and Ian’s relationship blossoming made for some of the best on-screen relationship humor out there.

At the Hospital - Shameless

Not to mention all the glory that came from Liam growing up, Carl becoming a cop, and all the storylines that involved top-notch guest stars.

Making for Better Humor

Parks and Rec is an excellent example of a show that goes off the rails and becomes a phenomenon.

The hit comedy’s first season is generally agreed to be the worst.

However, Season 2 saw shifts in characters and how it was written, creating killer storylines and humor.

Leslie was criticized for being too similar to Michael Scott of The Office.

Leslie and Ron Friendship - Parks and Recreation

As the show continues, she moves from that ditzy representation to a more intelligent one. 

The cast changes and moves to become its own entity, creating a cult following and a dearly loved mockumentary series.

Cast and Setting Forward Changes

One aspect of Breaking Bad that cemented its place in television history is the evolution and transformation of its characters.

Walter and Jesse on Breaking Bad

It is literally a show about change. The good guy becomes the villain, which is why the thriller is so appealing.

It went from trying to justify Walt’s wrongdoings by focusing on his point of view to having Jesse’s point of view during certain seasons, making Walt less sympathetic.

It was a risky move, but boy, did it pay off.

On a somewhat similar note, Better Call Saul is another example of changes that can make gold.

The characters are complex, and because of that, they are constantly metamorphosing.

The Stakes Are Raised - Better Call Saul

The story that plays out is unexpected, and its character-driven storytelling creates emotional depth and a strong appeal.

That brings us to The Wire, which scared fans when it changed its focus in Season 2 to the dockworkers.

However, what the writers created was something that would later become widely admired.

The series was never meant to be contained within the narrow scope of the projects.

The point was to highlight corruption across multiple institutions and levels.

The transitions created a captivating dynamic, and the connections that played out are what make it a must-watch and still talked about to this day.

Clay Davis - The Wire

When a show starts to derail, it can be frightening.

With examples like Game of Thrones or Riverdale so quickly ready to point out, who wouldn’t be nervous?

However, there are great examples of digressions that make history, and they are essential to remember.

Let us know in the comments what shows you loved that went off the rails and made excellent TV!

Eve Pierpont is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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