[Blogged by Jeremy Grayson]
I don’t watch bad television. Well, not much of it, anyway. I know people who watch bad shows as guilty pleasures, but I just don’t usually have the time for that. Once in a while, I’ll seek out a low-budget sci-fi show that’s become infamous for its poor characterizations and poorer special effects, and make it through one-and-a-half seasons before returning my attention to the works of Mutant Enemy. I actually like the occasional change of pace, as analyzing why a certain show sucks is a good way of flexing my analytical muscles. But it’s not a change of pace I can sustain for long.
So yeah, I’m not too proficient in bad television. Which is why you’ll never see me compile a “Worst Shows of the Year” list – I ignore current shows that get even marginally maligned by the critical community, because my brain cells are better used up watching the latest episode of The Americans then whatever Will Arnett-based comedy that’s currently sucking the life out of the networks. (Come to think of it, the first season of Snooki and Jwoww is on my watchlist. But I suspect that’s only because my brother has been trying to mess with my head by secretly writing new shows onto my watchlist. I shall delete it shortly.)
But although I don’t watch much bad TV, I watch a good deal of disappointing TV. Sometimes a show I like will have an off-season. Or maybe sometimes I’ll come into a new show with high expectations, only to have them dashed as thoroughly as Nick Andopolis’ guitar. Either way, I do not end the day as a happy little critic.
The 2014-15 season had some good surprises. There were new shows that were far better than I anticipated them to be (Better Call Saul). There were returning shows that featured pleasant resurgences of creative energy (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). And there were plenty of shows that continued (or even improved on) their strong quality from the previous season. But because I very rarely get to flash the cynicism around here, let’s look back at some shows that were less-than-satisfying this time around.
One thing to keep in mind is that, once again, this is not a “Worst Shows” list. It’s a ranking of the shows that most distressed me with their lack of quality as compared to my expectations. (I’m not including a show like Orphan Black, for example, because Orphan Black was disappointing last year, and my expectations weren’t lofty enough to be affected by the continuing levels of disappointment it’s displayed this year.) These were the shows I believed in – the shows that let me down.
(P.S. I’ll avoid major spoilers, but I’ll be discussing some general plot details from each series, so be warned.)
I’m giving this show the bottom spot not because it was the strongest of the five (it wasn’t), but because my disappointment with it was relatively lesser than that of the others. The Simpsons has become something of a communal punching bag over the last fifteen or so years, enduring many criticisms regarding its decline in quality compared to the golden years of the Nineties. I for one have been defensive over the recent seasons of the show, since around the airing of “Eternal Moonshine on the Simpson Mind”. Granted, The Simpsons is not the show it once was, nor will it ever be again, but recent years have seen such brilliant episodes as “How I Wet Your Mother” and “Holidays of Future Passed”, proving that the show can still breathe life into its yellow-skinned heroes when it’s ready to.
As I’m writing this, the series has just wrapped its 26th season. And it may well be one of the worst seasons it ever aired.
Start with the premiere, a climax to a year-ago buildup interview promising the death of a certain prominent character. The identity of the deceased was nothing short of anticlimactic, and the episode itself was forgettable. Add the slow fizzle of a Futurama crossover, a forgettable retread of “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”, an in-universe episode featuring Kang and Kodos (!!!), an Elon Musk showcase, and a whole bunch of other half-baked ideas and wasted opportunities, all leading up to a head-scratching jugband finale. (On the plus side, Dennis Perkins of The AV Club had a field day criticizing the jugband.)
Any highlights? Well, there’s a Judd Apatow-penned episode that was written back in the days of Season One. (No, really.) Plus, the season features a sweet “Lisa’s First Word” follow-up and a pretty good “Treehouse of Horror”. There are also cameos by Sideshow Bob, Rick & Morty, and Jim Ignatowski (???), as well as a Game of Thrones parody involving beer. These are all almost enough for me to forgive the insulting and disturbing Family Guy crossover done last fall (which I’m not counting as part of the season, since it was technically a Family Guy episode).
But honestly? The Simpsons took a step backwards in quality this season. And I for one am hoping for a speedy recovery, in part because the show will likely still be around for another few decades, and I’d hate for the completist in me to have to sit through another three dozen lousy seasons.
I mourned NBC’s cancellation of Community last spring as much as anyone, in part because the re-Harmon-izing (see what I did there?) of Season Five felt much like a return to the show’s classic days. So I was naturally overjoyed when Yahoo! picked up the series for another season, giving the show a chance to fulfill its “six seasons and a movie” mantra.
There’s been talk that the show will actually move past this mantra, and could potentially get picked up for additional seasons. My advice right now: Lay it to rest. Community has had its day, and while the sixth season hasn’t been as bad as some other NBC-originated sitcoms were by that point (say, The Office or Scrubs), it’s still the weakest non-gas leak year of the series.
The basic problem with Community by this point is twofold. It starts with the characters, and the sheer lack of investment I still have in any of them, save perhaps Britta. Between the wild and loony storytelling in Season Three, the fumbled character arcs in Season Four, and the hastily rewritten arcs and lack of linear storytelling in Season Five, these characters barely have any room left to develop. Every romantic relationship the show has tried out has fizzled (save for Abed and Brie Larson’s Rachel, although we haven’t seen her at all this season). And characters like Dean Pelton and Chang have been stretched far beyond their one-joke limits.
Then there’s the humor. Many Seinfeld fans have pinpointed that show’s drop in quality in its last two seasons to the departure of showrunner Larry David, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. By its eighth season, Seinfeld‘s weird and unnatural sense of humor had become not only popular, but ubiquitous, and the popularity had an influx on the mechanisms of the show itself. (Season Eight featured the self-parodic “Bizarro Jerry” episode, as well as “The Yada Yada”, an episode specifically engineered to turn a slogan into a national phrase.) The show’s sense of humor had become apparent, often formulaic, and the quality suffered from it.
So too with the current season of Community. There have been flashes of greatness here and there (often in the form of surreal episode tags) but too much of the season is built around jokes and situations we’ve seen already. Abed’s meta-references have grown stale, and so help me, if the show tries one more riff on “Cooperative Calligraphy”, I’m going to scream. The extra running time provided by Yahoo! has done the show no favors, causing episodes like “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” to simply drag on and on.
If this is indeed the last season of Community, so be it. I actually wouldn’t mind a movie by this point, perhaps as a final burst of energy to wrap up the series in stylistic fashion. Because honestly, I don’t know if I can muster up enough enthusiasm to spend another full season at Greendale.
I’m not going to spend a huge deal of time on this one, since I already devoted a few paragraphs to Arrow in last week’s “Printed Page to Simple Screen” article. But we should at least take a minute to figure out where Arrow went wring this season, and how it can hopefully right itself in Season Four.
So let’s see. A good part of Arrow‘s third season was devoted to Team Arrow operating without Oliver. Some TV seasons introduce a theme and explore its many different aspects and permutations – Season Three of Arrow hits us with a single basic theme a good two or three separate times. We also had the uncompelling murder arc, a two-dimensional Big Bad, and some incredibly weak and forgettable flashbacks.
Oh, there was fun to be had. Some of it came in the form of Brandon Routh, whose Ray Palmer lent the season some much-needed refreshing humor. And the Brick storyline was pretty cool, too. But too many of the shafts fired this season missed the target, instead miring Arrow in dull and dreary storytelling with so little of the emotion and humor that made the first two seasons engaging.
I’m still an Arrow supporter, if only because the showrunners have proven adept at changing the show’s tone between seasons, and I can easily see them lightening things in Season Four. But this was an off-season for the best superhero series since the end of The Spectacular Spider-Man, and I only hope it can regain its footing by next fall.
You have no idea how much it hurts to write this. But I’m pledged to be honest when it comes to television (and probably some other things, on occasion), so write it I must. A year ago, The Good Wife ended its best season, and I couldn’t be happier. But that happiness has now dissipated. It’s hard to sustain quality, I know, but it shouldn’t be this hard – and the show has immediately followed its best season with what may well be its worst.
The Good Wife is notorious for the way it strings viewers along with seemingly odd and inconsequential storylines that, sooner or later, prove to have satisfying results. It’s made very good use of the 22-episodes-per-season format, juggling numerous story threads at this point and that, and then dovetailing them into many of its finest episodes.
But… was there a single storyline this season that reached a satisfying conclusion? The election story began well as a good showcase for Alicia, and gave us the excellent bottle episode “Oppo Research”, but it ultimately accomplished little on a story or thematic level. The Lamont Bishop thread opened with an air of menace and intrigue, then slowly fizzled out as the writers became less and less sure of where to go with it. And so many characters were pushed to the sidelines – Cary became little more than a plot device, Diane barely registered for anything that didn’t involve the season’s increasingly confusing “firm swapping”, and Eli was barely given any substantial material at all. (Though daughter Marissa made a welcome return, and provided the season with many of its best moments.)
The most glaring issue with The Good Wife this season, regrettably, was the entire Alicia/Kalinda debacle. Once the show’s most intriguing character, Kalinda ceased to be an interesting presence a few years ago, and it’s only recently that fans have begun to figure out why. We many never know precisely what went down between Juliana Margulies and Archie Panjabi – other than the fact that if something didn’t go down, I’ll eat every hat in my closet – but the way the season handled the relationship between these two characters is nothing short of an embarrassment.
I need to move on now, before I get too depressed. My only hope for The Good Wife is that, if the next season truly is its last, the show can let loose a final burst of creative energy and send the show out on a high note. Then maybe we can retrospectively forget about the royal screw-ups of the sixth season, and celebrate the series for its better years.
Okay, all of you folks who predicted that I would put The Last Man on Earth at #1, stop patting yourselves on the back. It wasn’t like this was a hard decision. At all.
When I first got word about The Last Man on Earth, I was excited. I mean, hugely excited. Phil Lord and Chris Miller were signed on as executive producers, and if you’ve watched The Lego Movie or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (two of the best animated films of the past decade), you know that those two are experts at taking seemingly dumb ideas and spinning them into ingeniously entertaining stories. There was no reason to think that Last Man wouldn’t be wickedly entertaining, even if Lord and Miller were just second-level to creator/star Will Forte.
Last Man premiered in March, and for its first two or three episodes, it was an interesting and often amusing sitcom – perhaps network television’s response to the 30-minute comedies-in-name-only airing on premium cable. If Fox was abolishing its Sunday night Animation Domination block, at least they had this series (along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine) to keep things lively).
But as the 13-episode initial season of this new comedy progressed, we the viewers could only sit by and watch helplessly as The Last Man on Earth went completely off its rails. Exactly when it occurred is a matter of debate (although I hold it took place somewhere between the arrivals of January Jones and Mel Rodriguez), but the show went downhill quickly, and it continued this slide at a seemingly tireless rate, right up to its nauseating finale.
In the face of all the promise of its concept, Last Man squandered one opportunity after another in favor of pitching cheap sex jokes. These jokes were mildly funny when introduced in the fourth episode, irritating by the sixth, and excruciating by the ninth. I had given up hope for the series even before the finale aired, but something about the show’s trainwreck-like self-destruction compelled me to keep staring. I regret that now.
The fundamental problem with The Last Man on Earth – apart from the fact that it features shallow jokes, redundant developments, and a complete lack of good plot momentum – is that its main character is horrendously unlikable. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having an obnoxious sitcom protagonist, as classic examples like Archie Bunker and Alex Keaton can attest. The trick is to give that character an underlying level of charm beneath his gross exterior, and to surround him with a supporting cast that simultaneously brings out the best and worst of him. But Phil Miller (get it?) has no depth beyond wanting to “bang the hot chicks”, and none of the other characters are well-established enough to offer any introspection to his persona. They mostly exist as figures for him to project his obnoxious and increasingly awful feelings onto, and none of them develop in interesting enough ways for us to care about them as individuals.
There was potential for a good series – a great series, in fact – but it was squandered by genuinely bad writing and an overall sense of unpleasantness. The show has been renewed for a second season, but, in all frankness, I wouldn’t watch this series again if it were the last show on Earth.
Jeremy Grayson is a freelance writer and reviewer for Critically Touched. He plans to continue writing until they pry the keyboard from his cold, dead hands. Or until he gets a paying job. Whichever comes first.