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.
Every year, the television networks unleash a slew of bad television programs onto us. We know it is coming. We hope the stuff they produce and air won’t be awful, but are entirely aware of the fact that most of it will be. It sort of feels like this season’s crop of bad new television is worse than normal, but that’s like saying the most recent time you feel down the stairs is the worst. The strain on my eyes and the ringing in my ears is just still raw. Again, it is important to remind you that these are just the worst programs on the major networks. I am absolutely certain there is something on a cable channel I have never heard of that is worse than at least a few of these. But, there’s only so much time in the day for bad television and when you have all the resources that the major networks do, those failures are more egregious and important to note. So without further ado (or rambling), here are the worst new series of the year.
H8R (The CW): I know that I usually keep my scripted and unscripted analysis separate, but there is no way that I could leave H8R out of this discussion. You know, because it’s one of the worst television programs to ever make it to the airwaves. H8R isn’t just awful, it’s outwardly and overtly offensive. Much like Glee and its creator Ryan Murphy, H8R suggests that criticism automatically equals bullying and just like that aforementioned series and its creator, H8R assumes that the best way to fight bullying is to bully the bullies. Maybe there is an interesting miniseries to be found with celebrities coming face-to-face with people who despise them, but H8R is absolutely not it. Mario Lopez and his team glamorized some of our culture’s worst kind of celebrities and forced mostly logical, if not somewhat excessive, internet folk to apologize for said logical criticism. I’m sorry, but if you go on reality television, you open yourself up to criticism. Freedom of speech still exists (I think, right?) and H8R would basically prefer it didn’t – or at least would prefer that only celebrities get that right.
I Hate My Teenage Daughter (FOX): Completely unfunny, lacking in perspective and voice and more or less an embarrassment for everyone involved. This is one of those comedies that gives the multi-camera format a bad name. Sometimes, I still cannot believe I Hate My Teenage Daughter actually made it to air, then I remember FOX aired a full season of Brothers. FOX should probably re-think their multi-camera sitcom output.
Whitney (NBC): Whitney Cummings should be happy that Teenage Daughter exists, as it incidentally makes her tepid NBC sitcom look dramatically better by comparison. Much has been made about Cummings’ breakout fall and I’m all for her being successful and more women-led comedies in general, but goodnight is Whitney painful to watch sometimes. Like Teenage Daughter, this one feels out-of-date and simplistic in the worst of ways. The supporting cast is full of the most miserable people of 2011 and despite Cummings’ perceived skills, Whitney has no individual voice. I don’t think it has a chance to improve.
The Playboy Club (NBC): When you follow television as closely as I do, you reach a point where you know exactly what to expect with a pilot episode. You’ve heard all the critic discussion, you’ve seen the tweets and reviews and it’s just all right there in front of you. Occasionally, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that a pilot/series isn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. Unfortunately for NBC and the producers of The Playboy Club, this wasn’t one of those occasions. Playboy Club tried way too hard to be a prestige drama that it forgot to give any of its 10 initial storylines sufficient substance.
The Paul Reiser Show (NBC): Man, it’s been a bad year for NBC, hasn’t it? Okay, to be fair, that sentence could have come from any story like this from the last half-decade, but anytime you trot out the murder’s row of Whitney, Playboy Club and The Paul Reiser Show, you’re doing something absolutely as wrong as humanly possible. Paul Reiser sucks. He’s not an engaging performer, he’s neurotic tics are annoying and it’s not 1995 so I’m very unclear why NBC thought this would ever be a good idea. Reiser’s Curb Your Enthusiasm rip-off made me appreciate how skilled Larry David is and I don’t even really like Curb that much. When people talk about the quality differences between multi- and single-camera comedies, I will always point to this one as argument for why the format doesn’t matter.
Man Up! (ABC): Speaking of tepid single-camera comedies! Hey-o! Get it?! Sorry, I can’t not finish all my sentences with exclamation points when discussing Man Up! I never want to talk about the man-cession ever again, but I would, however, prefer to write a dissertation about the man-cession than watch another 22 minutes of Man Up! Is there a point where we stop giving Dan Fogler the ball? He’s had a lot of opportunities to run with it and, well, it’s just not happening. Josh Gad is the new Jack Black, Tyler Labine is the poor man’s Jack Black and Dan Fogler is the crazy, drunk, unappealing and obnoxious homeless man’s Jack Black.
Terra Nova (FOX): There were most definitely more objectively “bad” new series to come at us during 2011, but Terra Nova deserves to make this list for being a colossal disappointment and frankly, for being a waste of money. After all the delays, the script re-writes and the producer turnover, Terra Nova ended up being exactly what you would expect from a series guided by Brannon Braga: uninspired, dull and formless. I’ve seen the first three episodes and much of last night’s two-hour finale and followed the rest through paratextual means, and that still feels like too much. Terra Nova failed to embrace the ridiculousness of its premise or dive into larger, probably annoying mythology. Instead, it tried so hard to be an all-quadrant tentpole family drama that it alienated the audience that could have made it a hit in the first place.
Charlie’s Angels (ABC) and How to Be a Gentleman (CBS): I won’t too much time on either of these busts, as to re-create the amount of time we all spent watching them while they were on the air (although I actually took time to procure them this week to make sure I could discuss their “quality” with clear eyes). BOOM. But seriously, both Charlie’s Angels and How to Be a Gentleman were very, very bad. The former had no reason to exist beyond middling name recognition and the latter felt like it was literally sent here on a timedesk from 1989.
Extra-special “worst”: The Killing (AMC): I cannot put The Killing in the same category as the rest of these goofballs because it had a handful of really affecting moments, a couple great performances and a boatload of atmosphere that I still find very appealing. But the first season’s poorly constructed and misguided narrative ended up being damaging enough to warrant mention. We’ve all talked about the finale, but The Killing got it wrong way before that when it decided to eschew using its running time on character depth and instead turned into a single episode of Law & Order stretched across 13 hours. Ugh.
Well there you have it. Your worst newbies of the year?