12/15/2011 11:31 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2012

I Wish I Could Quit You

For me, TV is a lot like dating. There are some relationships that are over before they even start: he's just not very funny, or has a destructive flair for the dramatic, or maybe he's a serial killer... of serial killers. You know, the typical red flags. It's clearly not going to work out, so, thank you very much, let's move on.

Sometimes, though, it's a match made in heaven, love at first sight. Time passes, though, and one day you realize that this person in front of you barely resembles who you fell for in the first place. What then? You've invested all this time and energy, quite literally years of your life. Can you do it? Can you just stop watching that show?

Lately, I find myself sitting through television programming that's been plodding along like a zombie that should be put out of its misery (Walking Dead, don't even). None of these shows started out bad, but somewhere along the way there was a shift and each lost that special something that made it appointment television, yet I cling to them despite my better judgement.

I don't expect any show to be perfect (even Friday Night Lights had that hackneyed second season rapist/murder plot line) but in some cases the decline in quality becomes so egregious that a return to its former greatness is virtually impossible. Still I find it difficult to cut the cord. Television can be an intensely personal experience for a fan: each week, in a sense, we invite these characters into our living rooms to watch their lives play out, and we become invested. We cry when Denny dies. We gasp when Jack discovers who was in that coffin. We feel a rush of endorphins when Pam and Jim say "I do." And how, after all that, can we just kick them to the curb?

Not easily. I've been through years ofThe Office, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Weeds (there are others, but I'm even more embarrassed to admit I still watch them) and somewhere each of these shows reached their own point of diminishing returns -- but I keep coming back and hoping that they'll change. I know that they're bad for me. I find myself making up excuses to keep watching. But, just like any abused housewife in a Lifetime made-for-TV-movie, it's up to me to take a stand. The first step is recognizing just what went wrong.

Often, a show will pique your interest with a great premise only to burn through the storyline quickly and then have issues reinventing itself. A large part of the draw of Desperate Housewives was figuring out why Mary Alice killed herself. After that was wrapped up nicely at the end of the season -- as well as it should have or we could've wound up with a campier version of The Killing -- the show struggled to find a new mystery. So what do you do if your show climaxes too quickly but doesn't show signs of slowing down? Kick it out of bed and move on.

Others will pique your interest with a great premise but then keep you on the hook with the promise of answers. Six and a half years into How I Met Your Mother and I'm not any closer to meeting the mother. That said, there was a time when the ride was entertaining enough that I didn't care. Lately, though, real life seems to have caught up with what used to be a zany rom-com romp and I tend not to take my network sitcoms with a serving of parental death/broken uteri/existential crisis. You're saying you've been dating a while and he keeps promising to marry you but won't pop the question? Because his job is stressful? Cue Single Ladies.

The worst offenders will lull you into a sense of complacency and then suddenly switch gears on you. You spend five years with Lost (the worst!) thinking you've been watching a show about a motley crew of castaways who seem to be mysteriously connected to one another? Guess again! It's actually about two dudes you've never met fighting over an island cork! In cases like this, the game can change so quickly that it might take a while to discover you've been sold a bill of goods. You know, like that girl who keeps all her crazy bottled up until she knows she's got you on the hook and then goes full Georgina Sparks on your ass. You need to find somebody new.

Breaking up isn't ever easy, especially after you've done everything in your power to keep the relationship alive -- forcing your friends to watch; poring over message boards; blogging, even -- but sometimes it's a necessary evil. The time that you're spending on these formerly reliable entries in your weekly TV calendar was fun while it lasted, but there are plenty of fish in the sea. By which, of course, I mean great television you might not already be watching. Don't for a second think that I would suggest you get up off the couch and do something else.