It is the eternal curse of any long running show, that moment when The Powers That Be must decide exactly how far to push the the boundaries in order to prevent a successful product from becoming stale by not only maintaining its engagement with the current audience, but by tempting a new wave of viewers into the fold.
This pivotal moment in a show’s history can be very divisive to both fans and critics alike, since it often challenges – and in some cases, completely changes – the core concept of a show and what it originally stood for. It is the point of no return. A term universally known as the ‘jumping the shark’ moment.
In this editorial, I will be discussing the merits for classifying series 4 as the very moment when this happened for THE TRIBE.
Having been a serial lurker back in the day on the old version of the forums, I can tell you first hand that there was an incredible excitement and buzz around when the final episode of series 3 hit the air here in the UK. How could there not be? After 3 series of believing that the adults had all died at the hands of the virus, a mysterious plane emerges and adults begin parachuting down into the City!
The sudden return of the adults heralded a dramatic and unparalleled moment that would have defined the show forever. So many questions. So many possibilities. Would the kids accept adults back into their lives? Or would they fight to protect the new order and doing as they saw fit? Adults had their chance, could the two really live together again? Would there be a new war on the horizon, one which would see kids versus adults? Would the Mall Rats be forced to pick a side?!
It was a pivotal moment full of possibilities … but such a vision for the show never actually occurred. Any thoughts of this were dashed when the first series 4 trailer emerged.
In the blink of an eye the game-changing concept that had been dangled in front of us had been taken away, and in its place, reared the ugly head of something that still leaves a lot of fans quite speechless. Gone was the impressive shadow of some surviving adult organisation, and instead, we were given kids flying military aircrafts: armed with computers, vehicles, grenades, advanced laser weaponry, scanners, a production plant for their own nutritional food supplements, and virtual reality equipment that surpassed even the timeframe that the show was set in!
It really was technology overload.
None of it was ever actually explained. Only now, in the official series 6 and 7 continuation novels A NEW WORLD and A NEW DAWN, do we get a little understanding of where some of the technology and equipment came from, and even then, we are still waiting for more concrete answers.
Though you could argue that the inclusion of any adults within THE TRIBE would have raged against the very concept of the show, it would have done so in a way that would have turned the very concept on its head, providing a new landscape from which to answer the question of kids surviving in a world without any adults. But the sudden thrust into technology took the concept so far away from its point of origin that it was no longer recognisable. It no longer felt the same. It no longer felt about kids and survival. Unfortunately, for a lot of fans, it just became a different beast entirely.
But is the inclusion of technology enough in itself to warrant the label of ‘jumping the shark’?
Additional problems quickly set in which could further define a ‘jumping the shark’ moment.
From the onset, we lost a lot of the beloved original characters from the show – including firm fan favourites Bray, Alice and Tai San. Though the show pushed on without them, even giving us some really interesting new characters, the show never quite felt the same. This was also down to the actual tone of the series, which underwent a dramatic shift to what had come before.
Once, THE TRIBE had been lauded for being ahead of its time, for bravely tackling multiple issues which could affect young adults, and for striving to never talk down to its audience. It is something that no other kids-to-teens show has ever really accomplished so well.
In the blink of an eye, alcoholism was replaced with computer ‘addiction’, serious illnesses like bulimia and fevers were replaced with simple toothaches, and death had seemingly been eradicated from the vocal dictionary of the show. Instead, we were given quaint euphemisms like ‘deleted’. This was quite the fall from grace from a show that had tackled so many serious issues in the past.
Just what was going on?
Well, we know that there was some behind the scenes interference in order to make the show more child friendly than what it had been becoming, and it seems that this was yet one more factor that made series 4 such a dramatic shift in THE TRIBE’s history. Certainly, the people involved definitely weren’t ignorant to fan sentiments of series 4, as they even managed to slip in an incredible piece of self-referencing material into series 5 as, for one brief moment, Amber suddenly became an audience surrogate and expressed the feelings which they had been expressing throughout the series:
Though series 5 went a long way to covering over the cracks that had been made, providing us with some great new characters to love, reducing the technological aspects that had been previously at the forefront of the show, and attempting to make a concentrated shift back into survival. However, it was still held back by the new elements, as fans were then treated to virtual reality representations of Zoot (not to mention an AI Zoot), VR brainwashing, and a new virus handily brewed up in the Techno labs.
For a lot of fans, it just didn’t move away enough.
Any fans who hated the inclusion of technology were given an amazing promise when, in the final episodes of series 5, we were re-introduced to three amazing characters: Alice, KC and the Guardian (and the mere mention of Bray being alive and well set a lot of fans into a frenzy!). With the final moments of series 5 heralding an escape from the City, fans were eager to see the show return to its roots, because this pivotal moment meant that the show could honestly start again. A new location where the Mall Rats could learn to survive without the elements of the past – and no technology.
Unfortunately, that vision of a series 6 never came to be, and some fans were even glad that there wasn’t a series 6, especially because of what the proposed scripts for its pre-production heralded. So much for a fresh restart because the scripts teased at – yes, you guessed it – even more machines and technology! At that point, the segment of fans who hated the technological inclusions within the show had to firmly accept that it was something that was here to stay within THE TRIBE, as has been the case within the official continuation novels.
Looking at the dramatic shift that the series underwent, the twist to its core concept, the inclusion of technology, the talking down to the audience, the loss of key characters, the overall reaction from a large section of fans, and how the show never completely recovered from the introduction of all the new elements … it is hard to deny that series 4 can be seen as the moment where THE TRIBE truly did ‘jump the shark’.
Who would have thought that the Guardian’s immortal final words could have been so prophetic?