Concerned about shortening attention spans? Take heart! The highest-rated show on television is also one of the slowest shows in recent TV history. The first five episodes of The Walking Dead’s fifth season constituted a miniseries about a plague; the most recent two episodes are a mini-miniseries, The Ballad of the Governor. Neither of them had enough plot to fill half of your average episode of Scandal. The overall sense of stasis is heightened by the fact that – as EW’s Walking Dead recapper Maricela Gonzalez pointed out on Monday – tomorrow night’s midseason finale looks suspiciously similar to the third season finale.
Clearly, audiences are responding to The Walking Dead’s let’s-call-it-gradual pacing. So we got to wondering: What if you applied the narrative innovations of this season of Dead to other TV shows past and present?
Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod and Abbie take a drive upstate to investigate some mysterious deaths. They’re joined by boring new character, Rob Stokely, played by The Wire’s Wood Harris. The drive takes three episodes, which mostly focus on Rob’s struggles with alcoholism. (Will they ever arrive at their destination? What tension!) After that, there’s an two-episode story arc featuring a long Headless Horseman flashback. In the first episode, the Headless Horseman grows a head and moves to Nyack. In the second episode, he cuts his own head off and moves back to Sleepy Hollow.
NCIS: A nasty virus breaks out in the NCIS office, and the confusing new government healthcare system strands the officers without any medicine. That means Gibbs needs to spend three episodes applying some old-fashioned Marine home remedies. At one point, Tony accidentally coughs on Gibbs’ face. How dramatic! No one ever explains what the virus is, and nobody you care about dies. Eight episodes into the season, the NCIS team decides to finally solve a crime.
Breaking Bad: Instead of dying in the fourth season finale, Gus Fring just goes into hiding. He leaves Albuquerque, grows a beard, and decides to just walk the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu. But then he finds himself enmeshed with an entirely new cast of characters, who all look curiously similar to the people he left behind in Albuquerque. Like, he falls in love with a woman who looks exactly like Marie. Also, he finds out that his old subordinate Tyrus is now running his own meth operation. Tyrus welcomes Gus into his drug empire, on one condition: Gus can’t kill Tyrus. Gus quickly kills Tyrus.
Grey’s Anatomy: You know how April has always been the least essential character on the show? That all changes. When two patients check into the hospital with the bubonic plague, April kills them and burns their bodies in an attempt to prevent an outbreak. This sudden radical character shift makes April the most interesting character on the show. She is immediately fired and leaves the show. Also, the outbreak happens anyways.
Friends: Joey, Chandler, and Monica fall ill with the flu, leading to a four-episode story arc where Phoebe and Rachel walk to the only after-hours pharmacy in Manhattan. In an equally thrilling B-plot that lasts for the entire season, Ross debates leaving behind his past career as a paleontologist to become a farmer, but ultimately decides to quit being a farmer and become a paleontologist again.
Game of Thrones: Basically just a normal season of Game of Thrones, except everyone is wearing identical tank-tops and eerily perfectly-fitting jeans. Also, all the women look like Lauren Cohan.
Homeland: Basically just this season of Homeland, except more realistic.
Doctor Who: The Doctor and his Companion hear someone knocking on the door of the TARDIS. Who could it be? Who could be knocking? There it is again, the knocking! They spend seven episodes deciding whether they want to open the door. Then comes the exciting twist in the midseason finale, when the knocking starts again. Will they ever leave the TARDIS? Oh no, those are the end credits! See you in 2014, sucker!
Keeping Up With the Kardashians: Three words: Kris Humphries Flashback.
Bones: The season premiere introduces five new interns at the Jeffersonian, who all get murdered immediately. The cast spends the rest of the show mourning them, even though the audience had no idea who these characters were. The following episode, five new interns are introduced, murdered, and mourned. The cycle repeats. The season reaches an emotional high point when Booth has to kill his beloved pigs, which everyone agrees is definitely a metaphor for something.