Last week’s True Blood served up a host of shocking moments, including a cop shooting his friend and lady-love in the head, a gruesome beheading, and a very pregnant woman violently stabbing the father of her child to death in a demonic ritual. But the episode’s climactic scene – where a band of drugged-up vampires crashed a Bourbon Street karaoke bar and devoured the wedding party enjoying a round of “You Light Up My Life” inside – is the scene that has many viewers talking. And some of those viewers are talking about calling it quits on the series.
Throughout television history, many shows have lived and died based on their ability to balance shock with reassurance: play it too safe, and the show is dull and lifeless; push too far into squirm-inducing territory, and you risk alienating your audience. It’s a tightrope walk that has claimed its fair share of casualties – especially at times when the world beyond the small screen is offering its own share of tragedy.
For many viewers, with last week’s karaoke bloodbath (which featured a vampire pedophile feeding on a young boy, among other unsavory sights) True Blood took things “too far”. Here are a few other shows which, depending on who you ask, either simply pushed the envelope … or ripped it to shreds.
Six Feet Under – “That’s My Dog”
David Fisher (Michael C. Hall) picks up a fetching young hitchhiker named Jake (Michael Weston), who proceeds to kidnap him, force him to smoke crack, shove a gun in his mouth, tie him up, douse him in gasoline and threaten to set him on fire.
Speaking of Alan Ball, this pivotal episode of an already boundary-obliterating show was enough for legions of devoted fans to throw in the gasoline-soaked towel. Midway into the gutwrenching drama’s fourth season, beloved, troubled David found himself the victim of a gun-toting, emotionally manipulative psychopath – and, even more disturbingly, found himself possibly somewhat enjoying it. The folks behind the show wanted to throw a real game-changer at the audience, and they succeeded: I know plenty of folks who could never tune in again to see how David dealt with (or didn’t) the emotional fallout. He never fully recovered, and neither did many of his fans.
Seinfeld – “The Invitations”
George (Jason Alexander) is thrilled when his fiancée, Susan (Heidi Swedberg) dies from licking poisoned envelopes for their wedding invites (which he bullies her into buying on the cheap).
Seinfeld was a famously mean sitcom: the self-obsessed protagonists ruined lives, murdered pets, and found fortune at the despair and ruin of those around them. But they upped the ante considerably when they killed off George’s (admittedly unlikable) fiancee … and spun it as a win-win for George. For many viewers, he went from comically loathsome to just loathsome, and the bad taste it left in their mouths wasn’t from toxic glue. Relive the nasty over here.
American Horror Story – “Piggy Piggy”
In an extended opening flashback, Tate (Evan Peters) enters his high school library armed with guns and stalks and kills several other students.
Oof. Granted, this was a horror show – it was right there in the title! But having a teen psycho talk in therapy about his dreams of shooting up his school and actually making us watch him do it in real time are very different things. Was a show about ghosts in gimp suits and Frankenstein babies irresponsible to stage such a graphic enactment of an all-too-real contemporary phenomenon? Maybe. But the show was at its core a horror tale about modern-day terrors, and in that regard they hit a bulls-eye.