TheWrap asked reviewers Amber Dowling and Mark Peikert to each choose their 10 best TV shows of 2015. Then we asked them to choose their 10 worst. These are the latter.
Amber Dowling writes: In this supposed Golden Age of Television, there are bound to be a few duds. But in today’s reality, when there are more than 400 scripted series on TV, it becomes a matter of quantity over quality as programmers struggle to meet viewer expectations. Not all bad television was created equal; as some shows with high expectations stumbled out of the gate, others took magnificent tumbles, going from critical acclaim to the cancellation block over the course of a single season. Then there were those shows you just knew were going to be terrible from the moment they were announced, and they surely didn’t disappoint.
10. “The Bastard Executioner” (FX) Kurt Sutter‘s follow-up to the ratings smash that was “Sons of Anarchy” was a mess from the start. Unnecessary violence (stabbing a pregnant woman in the stomach) coupled with exponential exposition guaranteed a massive viewership drop after the pilot, and it never recovered from there. In the end it was Sutter himself who pulled the plug on the project, when he took out ads in trade magazines announcing its cancellation.
9. “Pretty Little Liars” (ABC Family) The idea that a group of high school girls could somehow be connected to their friend’s murder and were being harassed by an unknown entity started off as cute. But now it’s just entered the land of obscene. Aside from random plot twists that don’t make sense and myriad situations that are completely solvable with a little
8. “Scream” (MTV) In the same year we lost horror mastermind Wes Craven, it seemed like a crime that the TV show based on one of his most popular franchises was butchered in such a gruesome way. Perhaps it had something to do with our comparison to Ryan Murphy‘s much more critically acclaimed “Scream Queens,” or maybe it was the sheer fact that this series failed to make sense from the beginning. Either way, our biggest shocker came when the show actually received a second season.
7. “Knock Knock Live” (Fox) These days it seems as though networks will use any excuse to put Ryan Seacrest back on television, especially with “American Idol” coming to an end. But if the idea of strangers coming to your home on live television wasn’t enough to scare people off, the host’s orange tan was certainly an incentive for viewers to flee. No wonder this experiment didn’t live through for a full season.
6. “True Detective” (HBO) Coming off one of the most critically acclaimed seasons of television of all time, it was Nic Pizzolatto‘s audience to lose when the HBO show returned for Season 2. Stunt casting and a massive publicity campaign weren’t enough to save the convoluted storyline from blowing up, while the poorly written characters made a mockery of Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch.
5. “Heroes Reborn” (NBC) With superheroes blowing up everywhere on television, we couldn’t blame NBC for wanting to get back into bed with a show that changed its landscape nearly a decade ago. But we can fault the network for making all the same mistakes with this miniseries follow-up. Repetitive storylines, a missing cheerleader and practically no action scenes to speak of turned this one from a relevant watch to a loathsome iteration come entirely too late to the party.
4. “Mr. Robinson” (NBC) Craig Robinson is a funny guy. Craig Robinson as a teacher with a laugh track and unfunny situations is a mockery of the art. The old school comedic styling coupled with tired punch lines and poor timing turned an office favorite into a short-lived mockery. Everyone involved deserved so much better. They should have known better, too; there’s a reason Jack Black never did “School of Rock” for television.
3. “Dr. Ken” (ABC) Whereas recent ABC comedies like “Fresh of the Boat,” “Black-ish” and “The Goldbergs” have been among the few new broadcast entries to yield laughs, “Dr. Ken” is a one-dimensional sitcom in which nothing new, interesting or relevant is brought to the table. In fact, if this is his A game, we’d ask Ken Jeong to stick to the supporting cast, please and thank you.
2. “Duck Dynasty” (A&E) Haven’t we had enough of these bigots by now? The sheer fact that the show continues to air (and that people keep paying pumping money into the family’s product line) is a source of embarrassment for those who continue to advocate for reality television.
1. “Two and A Half Men” (CBS) The best thing we could say about the sitcom’s final season is that it finally put us out of our misery. When the show title is no longer relevant and the former star has long since departed to drink Tiger Blood, you know you’ve hit rock bottom. Nothing against Ashton Kutcher or Jon Cryer, but this was a classic example of “how far can we really take this?” Let’s just drop a piano on all of our heads already.
Mark Peikert writes: One definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions while expecting different outcomes, but no one has mentioned that to the heads of television networks. That’s why we’re still suffering through dark dramas with charismatic, antihero leads and procedurals in which the medical examiner joins forces with a detective to solve a crime a week (because only a single person dies in a major metropolis in any given week). That’s why this year’s worst shows weren’t necessarily unwatchable, but they were indicative of the crowd-think mentality of the industry. Here are the 10 series that best exemplified the worst TV currently offers.
10. Best Time Ever (NBC) Neil Patrick Harris‘ immense charms and huge talent were lost in the manic production of NBC’s live weekly variety show, which saw him dashing from segment to segment like a one-man team on “The Amazing Race.” From his weird stalking of a random couple in the first episode to the execrable at-home karaoke competitions, this was one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
9. Truth Be Told (NBC) Two couples (racially diverse, NBC would no-doubt like me to add) allegedly say the things that everyone thinks but no one actually says! Except in this case, what has previously been left unsaid is due less to its outrageousness than to its extreme banality.
8. Blood and Oil (ABC) We do not remember “Dallas” because of Victoria Principal–we remember it because of Larry Hagman, a good-looking actor who knew how to command the screen. Someone tell that to the executives in charge of casting this ABC “Dallas” ripoff, because lead hunk Chace Crawford isn’t even a Patrick Duffy.
7. The Following (Fox) We see this subgenre a lot–a limited series that is dragged out until it becomes a caricature of itself (hi, “Revenge!”). But “The Following,” thankkfully canceled after last season, lands here because of its orgasmic delight in extreme brutality and exotic violence, in addition to its always-questionable internal logic (Edgar Allen Poe, really?).
6. Secrets and Lies (ABC) You came for Ryan Phillippe‘s abs, but you stayed for murder mystery at the show’s core–plus a great, buttoned-up performance from Juliette Lewis. But along the way, the show did what so many limited series do: It ran out of steam and ideas, becoming so twist-laden that the narrative collapsed in on itself. And that ending! Here’s hoping the new season (also with Lewis) learns from its predecessor.
5. Rosewood (Fox) With any luck, the death knell for the medical-examiner genre has been sounded with this wan Fox offering, which wastes Morris Chestnut in a Miami setting as the beautiful (but addicted-to-death!) M.E. who partners up with the beautiful (but skeptical!) new detective, played by Jaina Lee Ortiz.
4. Life in Pieces (CBS) Family can be a wonderful thing, but not when it’s rendered as one-dimensional and trite as on this CBS stab at a comedy, where the grandparents don’t understand remotes and wives withhold sex as punishment.
3. Flesh and Bone (Starz) A series about the trials and tribulations of ballet dancers? Yes, please! Unfortunately, what Starz’s backstage drama served audiences was less beautiful people suffering for their art and more twisted souls who happen to work in the ballet picking their way through a city littered with drugs, strip clubs, Russian mobsters, and incest.
2. Dr. Ken (ABC) So many people lied during the making of this deeply unfunny comedy. Yes, the anarchic presence of star Ken Jeong should absolutely be tamped down so he can play a doctor and family man! Yes, it is enough of a premise that he’s a doctor! Yes, all those jokes about mime are funny in 2015! Yes, people will watch!
1. Happyish (Showtime) Take Steve Coogan, Kathryn Hahn, Ellen Barkin, and Bradley Whitford; give them scripts that rail against such tired sacred cows as advertising and complain about the difficulties of being a middle-aged white man in America; slowly leech them of everything that makes them interesting and relatable and you have “Happyish.” Bonus points if your show creator also does interviews railing against his critics and the notion of “likability.”