Television time-jumps can either be a saving grace or a nail on the coffin. It is the quintessential tool in any TV writer's back pocket, a way to give a show a fresh take and propel its characters and plot forward.
Usually applied to skip the less than exciting aspects of a story, such as college (Pretty Little Liars, 5 years) or babies (Parks and Recreation, 3 years), the TV time-jump can be expertly used to keep a show's fan base on their toes.
While there are sure-fire ways to screw it up (True Blood's final season had a 6 month time-jump to advance their Hepatitis-V storyline that was weak and disappointing), when it works, it works.
"The Heap" (2014)
Fargo broke all the rules when it did a one year time-jump in its first season. A tricky move to make, especially just one episode before the season finale, yet Noah Hawley pulled it off and made it look almost easy. The satisfaction of seeing Molly and Gus married and expecting a child was carefully balanced by the disgust of seeing Lester as a hotshot salesman remarried to a hot, young Asian. The character arcs of all three were perfectly summed up with the time-jump, which led seamlessly into its bloody closure.
2. Mad Men
"For Those Who Think Young" (2008)
Mad Men was a show of characters. Plot was never needed as you tuned in each Sunday to AMC because the growth of Don, Peggy, and Joan felt like such an intimate connection. Add the gleaming mid-century backdrop and Matthew Weiner's drama became the epitome of cable television. The initial 14 month time-jump in Mad Men was crucial. In reality, it takes time for humans to grow, so it only seemed appropriate to pick up after the character's evolved. Time was Mad Men's vessel of direction (in some ways its own character) as you cruised through the 1960s trying to pick up historical and pop culture clues as to what exact year we were in. The time-jump worked so well that Weiner did it again in Season 7, gifting us all with Roger's epic 1970s mustache.
"Through The Looking Glass" (2007)
This is, hands down, one of my favorites. At a time when television was still considered the poor man's film, JJ Abrams & Damon Lindeloff gifted the world with a compelling and mysterious story about strangers left to survive on an island following a plane crash. The show's first three seasons made good use of flashbacks, using them to piece together the enigmatic story. Then, right when you thought you knew what was going on, the writers pulled the rug from under you with an epic time-jump. The season three finale ended with a gasp-worthy scene between Jack and Kate where you suddenly realized that all of those flashbacks of an alcoholic and suicidal Jack were actually flash-forwards! Wait, they made it off the island? How? When? Who else made it off? No time-jump has ever made such an impact for a story's plot as this one did .
"We have to go back!"
4. Breaking Bad
"Gliding Over All" (2012)
The time-jump in "Gliding Over All" was actually Breaking Bad's second jump forward. The season two finale had a time-jump of several weeks as Walt recovered from surgery, yet the three month time jump in season five left a lasting impression with just how much Walt's character had changed over the course of the show. After defeating all of his enemies, Walt can finally relax, lay back, and cook meth peacefully. Yet, this calm and quiet moment is an eye opener for Walt as he realizes for the first time the truth behind his motive. It is the first time you sincerely hear Walt claim to "want out" of the business. This small time-jump may seem insignificant, but it is crucial in setting the tone for the end of the series and Walt's final battle.
5. Battlestar Galactica
"Lay Down Your Burdens" (2006)
Very much like the shocking time-jump on Lost, Battlestar Galactica's season two finale was one to remember as it propelled the plot forward into politically charged and electrifying territory. Within two episodes, the writers introduced a new president and a new habitable planet to settle on, which in turn supplied a new life for most of its characters. Just when things are beginning to fall into place, we see then-President Baltar put his head down on his desk. The camera pans in, then pans out as he lifts his head revealing that a whole year had passed by. Leaving everyone on edge due to a Cyclons invasion, the story's plot was reborn.