This is the fifth in a multi-part series, The Year in Television 2011.
Tastes in television can of course be very subjective. One show may be your cup of tea, but not for the person sitting next to you. For instance, I love Louie, but my husband can’t stand it. I thought Torchwood: Miracle Day was a yawner, and yet the show seemed to have its vocal fans right here on AfterElton.
But where reasonable people can differ on any number of shows, the list below we can probably ALL agree on. These are the true TV stinkers of 2011. Now there probably were worse shows in 2011 than what appears on this list (H8R for instance), but all the projects appearing below added insult to injury: they might actually have been good. Our list includes the new shows that totally botched a decent concept… or squandered a good cast. And it includes mature series that suddenly hit the creative skids.
In short, these were all programs that seemed encouraging, but ended up encouraging us to quickly change the channel.
What went wrong? The very well-known name brand had a lot going for it, including Drew Barrymore as an executive producer, but the cracks were showing even before the premiere when a preview of the reboot at Comic Con was widely panned.
Problem number one was the casting. We loved Minka Kelly as a Texas cheerleader in Friday Night Lights, but she wasn’t up to the task of anchoring a series of her own. And other than the delectable Ramon Rodriguez as Bosley she got little help from her castmates.
Where was the modern day Farrah Fawcett. Or even Cheryl Ladd? The stiff-as-a-board performances from these latter day angels couldn’t even live up to the work of a Tanya Roberts or a Shelley Hack.
But the bigger problem may have been audience expectations. The original series created “jiggle” TV, and sent pretty girls running and jumping through a typical backlot detective landscape. The Barrymore movie remake turned the Angels into something goofier, almost campy. The new TV series might have gone either of those routes, but instead seemed to take itself very seriously, and the show suffered for that.
By turning itself into typical crime procedural, Charlie’s Angels seemed like another episode of Law & Order… with three dull Mariska Hargitays instead of one.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen from their towering Louboutins.
At one time, Desperate Housewives was one of the sharpest, wittiest shows on TV, filled with delightful characters and twisty stories that people could relate to. It looks like this series has simply run out of ideas and stayed on the air at least one season too long.
This eighth and final season began with the Wisteria Lane housewives secretively burying a murder victim. It devolved quickly into more familiar territory: alcoholism, adultery, impotence, divorce, suicide, and the PTA. The stories were all familiar, and viewers began to wonder about the value of it all. As they wondered, they wandered off.
An unforgivable sin of the final few seasons has to be the way gay characters were introduced and shifted to the sidelines. The show initially invested in Bree’s gay son Andrew, and even introduced his porn star fiancé. New gay neighbors Bob and Lee dropped in from time to time to add some sass and complications, but they too seemed to drop off the block.
It’s a familiar story: top-rated series stays on the air a couple of seasons too long, and limps off the air. This may be the saddest, most underwhelming end to a series in memory.
Some say Dexter is spent, that this show reached such dizzying heights in the John Lithgow/Trinity fourth season that it can never recover. While I hope there may be some hot blood still pumping in Dex, I’m afraid they may be right.
This isn’t the fault of series star Michael C. Hall who still turns in an exciting, absorbing performance episode after episode. But after six seasons his “dark passenger” has become predictable and repetitive. Sure, major characters die, Dexter finds more visual ways to kill, and he puts himself in ever greater danger. But somehow, we’re beginning to realize that it all may not add up to very much.
Admittedly, there was probably nowhere to go but down for this series. After the Trinity story arc, when Dexter returned home to find his wife dead and his baby in a pool of her blood – how can you top that?
How to Be a Gentleman
This show was so bad it was rumored to have been cancelled by CBS while the premiere episode was actually running.
Handsome Texan David Hornsby left It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to write, produce and star in Gentlemen with Kevin Dillon (the man responsible for Drama, the mostly unlikable character from the usually enjoyable Entourage).
An updated and unfortunately less funny Odd Couple, the series chronicled former high school classmates as they attempted to renew a friendship that may never actually have existed before. Hornsby played an uptight columnist (is there any other kind on TV?) and Dillon was an Iraq War veteran and personal trainer.
The jokes were lame and sparse, the sexual situations were gross, and there was some farting. It was like an episode of Whitney, but with guys in charge.
Try as it might, this flightless bird couldn’t get off the ground.
Millions were spent on extravagant sets, designers were hired to fashion retro “stewardess” uniforms, dour indie-Queen Christina Ricci was hired to give the period piece quality acting sheen, all to no avail.
Influenced by the critical success of the superior macho-retro Mad Men, producers spent $10 million on the pilot. Scripts were written to promote stories featuring the women in the cast. Initial critical reviews were largely positive, most expressing the theme that the show would develop and grow and “find its legs.”
Unfortunately, that’s proven not to be the case. Audiences haven’t exactly flocked to Pan Am, and the show has reportedly been cancelled. The show grew to be vanilla and blah instead of thrilling. It was like an airline meal. The box looked nice, the contents? A little dry.
Pan Am turned out to be another nighttime soap. It had the angry mistress, the jealous sister, the mean-as-nails professional. We’ve seen this before. Sure, Pan Am shows the double standards women faced fifty years ago. But, oops, the women seem to accept them, even as they are being presented as strong women. The show can’t help but seem bland as the “coffee, tea or milk” they served their passengers.
The Playboy Club
Here was a show your grandpa could watch. If your grandpa was Hugh Hefner.
Playboy the magazine is so old and out of touch, there’s no way it would interest the core demographic that TV lusts for: age 18-39, mostly women. It seems to me that the market for The Playboy Club was my dad’s generation, not a highly prized demo, by the way.
So they licensed the Playboy name and logo, built some sets, refashioned the bunny outfits, hired some decidedly gorgeous actors, including the ever-attractive Eddie Cibrian, and the gorgeous, out actress Amber Heard. Unfortunately, Cibrian was given little to do other than strut around the club attempting a John Hamm impression, and Heard was little more than eye candy.
The freshest storyline was gay and, from my perspective, was given short shrift. Alice, a lesbian bunny played by Leah Renee Cudmore, married her gay husband (Sean Maher) so they could hide their true identities … while raising money to found the early gay rights group, the Mattachine Society.
Instead, The Playboy Club turned out to be another soap without foaming action. Having the ubiquitous Parents Television Council hound the show didn’t help, either. Instead of licensing the Playboy name and logo, producers should have looked at other magazines that would have offered viable dramatic story arcs to entice an audience: how about Men’s Health or Highlights?
“Re-imagined” from a highly-regarded British series of the same name, the American version made nearly all the mistakes of past failed TV transplants:
They replaced sleek London with gritty New York, gentle Bobbies with grimy street cops, sadistic, refined, upper-crust serial killers with sadistic, refined Wall Street types. Oh, and they made the lead character about 20 years younger.
A little disclosure, I love Helen Mirren and the original Prime Suspect. She played an aging Inspector, scraping and scrambling against all manner of superior males to carve out a career in the police force. When she finally gets her chance, she mostly succeeds.
The American series, however, did not have the same importance as the import. A version of Mirren’s terribly flawed character with all her demons and addictions might have worked on cable, but it never would have been allowed on NBC. Still, Maria Bello, a fine actress from Coyote Ugly and A History of Violence, gave it a shot. She fashioned an authentic winter wardrobe, including a hat that evoked Telly Savalas’ Kojak, and she developed a confident strut that made her both the smallest, and the most important person in the room.
But the same can be said for a dozen other police procedurals on TV. Prime Suspect had a great lineage, and could have been a contender. The only great thing about this adaptation though, was the hat. The hat was genius.
Star of a beloved series waits for years to return to TV, chooses a prestige project, assembles a superb supporting cast, and launches … on the CW?
Buffy’s return to series TV was ranked by most critics as the #1 must-see event of the season, and why not! Ringer promised viewers a great TV actress taking on a dual role, like Elizabeth Montgomery playing both Samantha and Serena on Bewitched. But without the laugh track.
Turns out the show probably could have used a little levity, anything to break out of the pack. It also could have used the prestige of a bigger network, a little viewing power to get it – and keep it – going. Instead, after a fairly encouraging debut, it faded away.
Sarah Michelle Gellar has brought verve to TV before, but there just wasn’t much she could do with what turned out to be a glossy, convoluted version of a daytime soap plot. Playing twins has been done to death on daytime. Applying an impenetrable storyline didn’t help viewers who attempted to join the show late. Giving Gellar’s character(s) dour, haunted lines removed her best opportunities to be entertaining.
Kudos for luring the gorgeous Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd to series TV, but The Ringer sounded hollow and just wasn’t the right vehicle for SMG. Better luck next time Sarah Michelle. And if it has to be twins, consider the Samantha/Serena combo. You’d look great in a black wig.
You’d think that for all the money FOX reportedly poured into this production at least the CGI dinosaurs would look real. They didn’t. But then again, we thought the human cast was equally two dimensional. And the scripts – they could easily have been taken from the Land of the Lost reject pile. I kept expecting Chaka and the slestaks to wander through the set.
This was supposed to be a family-friendly show, and that might have been Terra Nova’s biggest misstep. In trying to please both kiddies and adults it wound up pleasing no one.
Even though it has been renewed for a second season, X Factor may ultimately be the most disappointing show of the year. The finale this Thursday night crowns a winner, but will many viewers care?
Bedeviled by the year’s time it took to launch the show in America, TV’s music competition landscape simply shifted between Simon Cowell’s departure from American Idol and X Factor’s premiere.
Idol was rejiggered to higher ratings glory with the addition of two aging superstar judges, and the gimmicky, highly accessible The Voice crowned a popular winner to ratings success. Meanwhile, Simon pressed forward with his British transplant and predicted out of this world viewership. He hired and fired judges. He returned Paula Abdul to his side. He hopped on and off a series of private aircraft. One thing he got right: importing Steve Jones to a grateful, slobbering America.
But when the bloated thing finally premiered, ratings didn’t exactly raise the roof. And I don’t see any way they could get better, with forgettable contestants performing mostly older songs by vintage acts like Hall & Oates, Madonna, Culture Club and the Supremes. This isn’t exactly cutting edge stuff.
So that’s it for our list of the year’s biggest TV stinkers. Agree? Disagree? What would be on your list?