For television viewers of a certain age, the 70s and excruciatingly 80s sitcom "Happy Days" spawned a metaphor far more enduring than anything Richie, Potsie or Chachi ever uttered on screen.
In an episode during the show's fifth season in 1977, cool guy Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli performed a death defying water ski jump over a shark. "Happy Days" plodded along for seven more years. But connoisseurs regard this episode as the point at which the show lost its nostalgic raison d'etre and when its terminal point came into view.
Two decades later, a bright Internet entrepreneur started the Web site jumptheshark.com to chart when television programs begin the inexorable slide into what is, even by the standards of popular culture, nihilistic entertainment. Ever after, the phrase "jumping the shark" has denoted the tipping point at which absurdity trumps reality.
Sometime in the last two weeks, the sitcom known as "The Clinton Presidency" which had an eight-year run in the 90s and attempted a comeback effort in 2008 officially jumped the shark. It didn't look that way on March 4, when Hillary Clinton scored surprising victories over Barack Obama in the Texas and Ohio primaries.
Then, it looked as though a reprise of the well-liked "Comeback Kid" episode had put her back in contention for the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary's red phone cameo tugged at sentimental heartstrings, reminding viewers of a classic 1964 production in which a president's recklessness caused a little girl picking daisy petals to be vaporized by an H-bomb.
And then the plot began to unravel.
Drama is no match for the harsh certainties of mathematics. And the mathematics of the Democratic primaries demonstrated that it was practically impossible for Clinton to win the nomination.
Go to Slate's online delegate calculator and give her an improbable 60-40 victory in all ten remaining primaries from Pennsylvania through South Dakota, and she still comes up short. Add in an imaginary revote that gives her 60 percent of Florida's delegates, and she still loses. Only if she were to add to all this a similarly fanciful win in an illusory do-over in Michigan would she finally overtake Obama in pledged delegates.
So the producers of "The Clinton Presidency" had to come up with something really imaginative. Initially they settled on a comedic theme that Obama, with virtuoso talent and an unassailable lead, would voluntarily play second fiddle in Hillary's Arkansas ensemble. Even canned laughter couldn't make that one work.
Then, in an act of desperation, it happened. The producers rewrote the undistinguished "Bosnia" episode from 1996, adding sniper fire and a daring dash to armored vehicles.
The scene rang hollow. The red phone moment that had put her up in the polls suddenly looked embarrassingly contrived. Why was she still in it? The absurdity of her continued candidacy was trumping reality. The race for the Democratic nomination had devolved into a nihilistic reality show for GOP viewers. Hillary had jumped the shark.
The campaign plods along, grasping at this theme and that. Hillary Clinton took her show on the road to Philadelphia, where fabulist Joe Wilson made a guest appearance.
Wilson was last seen with John Kerry in "Mission Impossible," holding harrowing talks with the leaders of Niger at the behest of his beautiful, secret agent wife. In the Clinton burlesque, he performs a poorly conceived act in which he endorses Hillary Clinton's vote to go to war in Iraq because, unlike him, she wasn't smart enough to know Bush was lying.
Now it's a Western, with Bill Clinton who had been banished from the set reappearing as six-shootin' "Bubba." "Saddle up," he tells the residents of Hope, spiritless after being manhandled by Obama's latte-sipping gang. "We're ridin' to Denver for a showdown."
Even if "The Clinton Presidency" runs another hundred episodes, the show is over. And the only people who don't seem to realize it are the ones in front of the camera.
Correction: In a previous column, I incorrectly stated Barack Obama calls for withdrawal from Iraq in six months. His plan has a 16-month time frame.