Since the fifth season of Happy Days when Fonzie decided to wear a freaking biker jacket while water-skiing (have you seen what salt water does to leather?), lots of TV shows have jumped the shark, taking a weird-ass turn and never returning to former glory. Even stranger than jumping a fish, however, is when a show loses an entire season to a ‘gas leak.’ 

What’s a gas-leak season, you ask? Pull up a chair, slip on this air-purifying respirator and let me explain. 

This is a story about fan-favorite Community, a show that was perking right along for its first three seasons. Clever writing, a charismatic cast — Community had it going on! There was only one problem. Okay, two if you count Chevy Chase. But Problem No. 1 was the challenging behavior of show creator Dan Harmon, whose penchant for perfectionism, tardiness and last-second script changes made for extra-long production days that strained budgets and cast members alike. Despite Harmon’s vision and talent, NBC decided it had no choice but to can him prior to the next season. 

Oops. The Harmon-less Season Four, with several talented writers also abandoning ship, was a disaster for both critics and fans. Characters got weird, plots got hacky and the laughs got scarce. If it seemed like a different show, well, it was. Things got so bad that NBC rehired Harmon to fix the mess. But how to explain why things went so wonky for an entire school year? You guessed it: A community college gas leak.

Harmon was able to whip the show back into form for its final two seasons (and, we hear, a movie!), leaving Season Four as its shaky outlier year. But Community isn’t the only show to experience a gas leak season. Plenty of other prominent shows have experienced a season of profound weirdness, only to return to some form of greatness. Ignore the hissing pipe as we run them down.

Roseanne

Roseanne was insanely popular thanks to its realistic depiction of lower-middle-class family life, an ethos that the show decided to chuck out the window for its ninth season. It’s the year that the down-on-their-luck Conners win the lottery, essentially turning the series’ entire concept into a modern-day version of The Beverly Hillbillies

The show had previously mined humor from the hardships of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Season Nine was something else entirely, a wackadoodle collection of fantasy plots involving Moldavian princes and terrorist trains. You wouldn’t have blamed viewers for wondering if Roseanne herself was the victim of a gas leak — and in a way, she was. In the season’s (and original run’s) final episode, we get a seven-minute monologue explaining how Roseanne Conner had made up an entire year’s worth of stories. Instead of instant riches, voice-over narration informs us that Dan is dead and Jackie is a lesbian. Close curtains, end of show. 

Say what now? 

That would put Roseanne in the pantheon of Shows That Ended Badly — except that it came back years later with a 10th season to declare that the dream was a dream, or some such nonsense. The lottery win wasn’t real — but neither was Dan’s fatal heart attack. The family is still poor. Everyone is fine. Critics and fans love the show again in Season 10 (until Roseanne later implodes). Which leaves only one explanation for Season Nine: Gas leak. 

The Office

 

The Office had an easy way out. A logical way out. When Michael quit his job at Dunder Mifflin to be with love-of-his-life Holly at the end of Season Seven, most every character arc had played out beautifully. The show was over! 

Except, of course, it wasn’t. The Office was a money-making machine for NBC, and losing a star like Steve Carell was no reason to stop printing greenbacks. It also wouldn’t have been the first show to lose a major character and continue on with quality — Cheers and M*A*S*H come to mind. But unfortunately, there was a gas leak at the Scranton Business Park in Season Eight. Lovable, lovelorn Andy took over as regional manager, and carbon monoxide fumes morphed him into a spiteful, annoying replacement. Kevin went from slow-talking eccentric to an out-and-out moron. Pam’s seasons-long dream of being an artist went *poof*, apparently. And weirdos like Nellie and Robert California appeared out of nowhere, almost as if they were the products of some noxious dream. 

Seriously, does this seem like the Erin we all know and love?

Fortunately, someone over at Vance Refrigeration must have found the leak and applied a patch before Season Nine. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the show was ending, meaning writers could tie up loose ends instead of inventing new characters and conflicts, but The Office refound its footing and ended with a satisfying final season.  

Sanford and Son

Here’s a case of a gas line breaking mid-season, poisoning the show for a number of episodes, only to have fresh air pumped in to salvage things. Let’s call it a Gas Leak Half-Season — and it’s no surprise that the cause of all those toxic fumes was the volatile Redd Foxx.

The problem was money. Sanford and Son was a surprise hit, riding Foxx’s comedy talents to the top of the ratings charts. Foxx demanded more cash, and when he didn’t get it, he decided to walk — right in the middle of taping Season Three. That meant the writers had to retool the show’s premise on the fly — how can you do Sanford and Son with no Sanford? The staff took a big whiff of propane and came up with this doozy — Fred left to attend the funeral of a cousin in St. Louis (for months? years?), meaning his ol’ pal Grady would have to step in as the manager of the junkyard. 

Instead of Lamont and Fred squaring off in furious family squabbles, shows now revolved around Lamont complaining about Grady sucking his teeth while he sleeps. Luckily for comedy fans, NBC sued Foxx for breach of contract and the star returned to set the show’s universe right again.

Friends

How do we know funky vapor was leaking into the gang’s apartments during Season Nine? Because we all remember this year as The One When Rachel Inexplicably Fell For Joey.

Don’t get me wrong. Joey Tribbiani was a good-looking guy with a kind heart. It’s not crazy that a woman would fall for him, as countless did over the course of the show’s 10 seasons. It’s just completely and utterly out of character for Rachel to fall for Joey, given that she had shown virtually zero interest in the guy over the course of eight years of friendship. Did Harmon’s Community replacements decide to work their bizarro magic here as well?

In the end, the whole Rachel/Joey plotline was just one more roadblock to throw in the way of Ross and Rachel’s inevitable union. A function of a show that just went on too long? Most likely. We just felt better in Season 10 when all of the Friends had returned to their non-poisoned senses. 

Top image: Sony Pictures Television

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