It is that time again folks! The end of the year is upon us and that means it is time to look back on the highs, lows and WTFs in television from the past 12 months. There is a lot to reflect on in regard to television 2011. Charlie Sheen went crazy. Well, crazier. Comedy supposedly made a big comeback. We found out what The Event was, I think. Steve Carell and Michael Scott said goodbye and we were sad. The guys from Entourage also said goodbye, and we were less sad. AMC tried to break a Guinness Book World Record for number of stupid PR disasters by a cable network.
This year brought us a number of great new series such as Homeland, Happy Endings and Game of Thronesand a slew of horribly awful ones such as The Paul Reiser Show, How to Be a Gentleman and Charlie’s Angels.True Blood and Glee kept getting worse while Community and Justified kept getting better. 2011 was the year of Louis C.K., the year of sexposition and the year of The Killing. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting all sorts of lists, podcasts and pieces reflecting back on the year that was. So join me in saying farewell to what was a very compelling year in television. There will be so many lists.
Sometimes, certain television series just let you down. These series are not necessarily “awful,” (though many of the below series had their moments that basically reached those nadirs) but they fail to live up to the expectations you and most everyone else had in their mind. Maybe one series loses a quality actor/character and quite figure out what to do to replace them. Maybe another series does not really know how to tell its final story, stumbling towards the finish line. And maybe another is just older, broader and not as refreshing or interesting as it was five years ago. These things happen. These, ladies and gentlemen, are our veteran disappointments. Series that have been on the air for a few years or more, series that I still mostly love in my heart, but ones that I could not help but sigh towards throughout much of 2011. The disappointments vary and some are larger than others, but there was still something missing this year from the below series.
Dexter (Showtime): Like any year, there were a lot of bad television series on the air in 2011. But I am fairly confident in saying that this season of Dexter tops them all. This string of 12 episodes was so bad, I started reconsidering any affection or respect I had for the series in the first place. I started wondering if Dexter had ever been good, like at all. That’s how tepid this was. The showrunner turnover has been an issue in recent years, but never as much as it was this go-around. Dexter “tackling” (if you want to call it that, though I’d probably settle for “uncomfortably and stupidly smashing into”) religion sounded like an awful idea and was still somehow worse in execution. The season’s villain, one of the only things the writers tend to find a way to get right, had no point and relied on a twist that the audience figured out in episode two. Combined, the “theme” and the villain turned the series’ lead character into an idiotic shell of his former self. Dexter did one dumb thing after another this season and there was absolutely no reason for any of it. And this doesn’t even account for all the truly, amazingly terrible storylines all the supporting characters had in season six. I hate Dexter.
True Blood (HBO): Can you call something a disappointment if it just continues down an already-established path of stupidity and diminished quality? True Blood has never been consistently good, in fact, it’s probably been more consistently mediocre than anything else. Outside of that strong string of episodes in the second season, Alan Ball has more or less been comfortable shooting for lowest common dominator, trashy, soapy fun and usually, I’m just fine with that (see: most of season three). But season four of True Blood was so boring, so bloated and so miserable to watch. This year, the series lost most of its sense of tongue-in-cheek fun and wrongly embraced self-seriousness in all the wrong ways. Season four brought us a terrible witch storyline that never made an impact on anyone, an extremely offensive, misguided racist plotline that I think meant to erase years of racism and lots of new stupid characters to pile onto the heap of old stupid characters we already had.
Entourage (HBO): Much like True Blood, I never really expected a whole lot of Entourage, even in a final season. The series plodded along for much of the last three or four seasons and there was no reason to get my hopes up now. This of course made the final season even more frustrating when things started off surprisingly solid and then completely nose-dived into a place of suckitude that I don’t think the series had ever reached before. Entourage was never going to have a compelling or important ending. Life was just going to go on for the boys. But for whatever reason, Doug Ellin and his team strongly thought that the audience cared about Vince and E falling in love. E’s relationship with Sloan turned into one of the worst things on television (no hyperbole), and just for kicks, the final season stretched it out even further, making both characters even more hateful and dumb. You know, only to have them get back together at the end anyway. And Vince randomly falling in love and getting married to a woman who hated him 24 hours earlier (and of course, not showing us any of those 24 hours where he changed her mind)? High comedy. Oh, that part was supposed to be serious? I can’t believe I’m saying this in 2011, but thank goodness for Jeremy Piven.
Glee (FOX): I would guess that many a critic would have no problem putting Glee on a “worst of” list and frankly, I cannot really blame anyone who would do such a thing. I care more about Glee being better than just about any other mediocre program on the air right now and yet, this year the series struggled so mightily again that my attachment is definitely waning. As everyone who watches the series knows, Glee’s biggest problem is its inconsistency and in 2011, that inconsistency became completely entrenched as the norm. The early part of the year brought us the empirically “better” part of the series’ miserable second season, but many of those episodes were still dreadful, tonally dissonant and disrespectful to the audience just the same. This fall’s run started off about as promising as the series has been since way back in the fall of 2009, but season three ran off the rails so quickly that I can barely remember what or why I liked about those first few episodes to begin with. Glee is no longer worth caring about because the people making it don’t seem to care about treating the characters, the story or the audience with any respect. This is so unfortunate.
The Office (NBC): I find it somewhat hard to get too upset with The Office at this point. The series hasn’t been especially and consistently good since season five and now in year eight with the lack of new ideas or creativity showing, it is clear that it is time for everyone to move on. But when the series showed some signs of life with Steve Carell’s departure last spring, I had hoped that the new injection of life (whoever that ended up being) would bring some new energy to the writing staff. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. This fall’s run started off well, but quickly devolved into aimless material that holds absolutely no weight or importance, even for long-time fans. Ed Helms is doing all he can with the new position he’s been given, but the writing hasn’t backed him up one bit. The Office is just…there now. Nothing matters. Nothing is that funny. Why should we care?
Modern Family (ABC): I understand why Modern Family is one of the most popular series on the air right now. In fact, I love that it is. However, it really makes me sad that for a season and a half, the writers have basically phoned it in. The first season of Modern Family was wonderful because it nicely merged familiar, mainstream conventions of the family sitcom with some sharp writing and stylistic flourishes. Since then? Blah. If the brass behind Modern Family have no larger aspirations in terms of telling a “realistic” story about the realities behind, well, modern families, I am fine with that. But I had hoped that the series would still stay as funny and moderately insightful. It hasn’t. The ABC comedy is so broad, so obvious and surprisingly unfunny a scary amount of the time. The performances are still top-notch, but the cast can only do so much with diminished material.
Smallville (The CW): Smallville’s final season had a slew of fantastic, all-time-series moments and really lovely episodes. Clark and Lois’ relationship was handled with intelligence and grace, the reappearance of both Lionel Luthor and Jonathan Kent gave the season some gravitas and outside of a few nitpicky things, I don’t have anything but positive notes about the series conclusion. However, season 10 of the Smallville fell victim to the same thing that most of the last few seasons did: padding. For whatever reason, the writing staff always had issues arcing out their story across 22 episodes, leading to a middle run of episodes that always felt boring, weightless and unnecessary. The final season was no different. I was willing to give Smallville the benefit of the doubt for a few seasons when they weren’t really sure if they would be coming back, but in season 10, they knew, and the issues remained. Ultimately, I think the series would have benefited from a shorter, maybe 13-15 episode, final season.
Chuck (NBC): I don’t even really know what to say about Chuck anymore. Most of the season four episodes that aired in the early part of 2011 were simply not good. The Volkov storyline didn’t really work, the inclusion of Chuck’s mother never brought anything too interesting to the series’ world and the stakes didn’t feel substantial enough for me to care. The episodes airing as part of the final season beginning this fall have been better, but it’s still not as effective or well-constructed as I would like it to be. I love the characters and the actors, so I have no problem sticking around for the final stretch fun. I just don’t care anymore.
There you have it folks. What are your biggest disappointments of the year?