Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dan's 10 Disappointing TV Shows of 2011

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Let's get one thing straight: this isn't a list of the Top 10 Worst TV Shows of 2011, although many of the following programmes would definitely appear on one. I just think it's too easy to throw together 10 terrible television shows, but the truth is I don't tend to watch the really awful stuff for longer than a few episodes.

Instead, my list is about the TV shows that were just about good enough to keep you watching, or you felt obliged to stick with out of loyalty to the brand, genre, or talent involved.... but were nevertheless very disappointing. Fact is, I watched all the episodes of everything on this list, so on some level you could say they were a success, but that's not to say I enjoyed most of what I saw.

I hope that explains my thinking behind some of the picks you don't agree with here, or are perhaps surprised by. The same overall rules apply as before, especially regarding how shows that premiered in 2010 can be counted if they broadcast 50% of their episodes in 2011.

And now, here are my most Disappointing TV Shows of this year...

10. American Horror Story
(Season 1) I grew to strangely enjoy this show, as you "enjoy" picking at a thick scab. From the creative minds of Ryan Murphy and Bryan Falchuk (Nip/Tuck, Glee), this was a "haunted house" movie stretched to 12 episodes, about the dysfunctional Harmon family moving into a Los Angeles home full of frightening ghosts from the building's notorious past. It contained some neat ideas (like how some ghosts are so corporeal they interact with the living as "real people"), and Jessica Lange's performance was brilliant as bonkers neighbour Constance. But the problem with AHS is that it had no sense of self-discipline, the story felt half-improved, some of the actors didn't have the right approach to the material (especially Connie Britton), and a great deal of its better ideas were stolen from movies. (The show even used music from Psycho and Bram Stoker's Dracula!) Okay, it was by design and thus intended to be a loving confection of tropes, but for me it came across as desperate. (random reviews) FX / FX UK

9. The Killing
(Season 1) There are far worse shows around, but The Killing is on this list because of how disappointing it became. What's extraordinary is that it had the best pilot of 2011, by some margin, and I was engrossed for the first five weeks. Based on the Danish original (which is required viewing for Guardian readers here in the UK), all American showrunner Veena Sud had to do was Americanise where appropriate and condense the 20-episode foreign season into half that time Instead, she flushed away many people's goodwill by revealing a "twist" that meant half the season had been a colossal waste of our time, and then gave us a finale that didn't bother answering the "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" question. That would have been defensible, had we not been led to believe there would be an answer this year, as most people only kept watching past episode 7 for an answer that never came. A crying shame, because the production on The Killing was exemplary, with a brilliant atmosphere (perpetual rain, overcast skies) and thrumming soundtrack. But they should have kept their eyes on the story and were wrong to mislead the audience to this extent. (review archive) AMC / CHANNEL 4

8. Chuck
(Season 4) The little show that would have been cancelled halfway through season 2, at any other time in NBC's history. It's managed to scratch out five seasons, but the fourth is where it started to lose much of its curious appeal. This is primarily because its story arcs didn't work for me, especially the annoying "search for Chuck's long-lost mom" storyline that soaked up so much time. As "Mama Bartowski", Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2) reminded us why her career tanked in the mid-'90s, bringing zero humour and scant charisma to an underwritten role. She was simply there because of her association with a geeky franchise, allowing the writers to do some cute Terminator in-jokes. Ex-007 Timothy Dalton fared better as a scene-chewing Russian super-villain, but even he outstayed his welcome. A poor year of a show that probably deserved the axe this summer, although the current fifth season has been much better... (review archive) NBC / SKY LIVING

7. Glee
(Season 2) If we're honest, Glee started to lose itself as early as mid-season 1 after its winter hiatus, but season 2 is where I lost patience. Overstuffed with (mostly weak) pop songs, it became clear the three writer-producers had little idea what to do with their talented cast. Beyond the storyline with Kurt and his move to the Dalton Academy, it was a case of random romantic match-ups (which were on/off more times than a light switch) and far too many celebrity guest stars. Gwyneth Paltrow had a brilliant first appearance (singing Cee Lo Green's "Forget You"), but bringing her back twice didn't work. The season also gave us too many "themed episodes", from Britney Spears to Rocky Horror. What was once a joyful show that made you giggle and hum along to cheery music became a one-trick pony you wanted to see put down. The most annoying thing is that I'm still watching Glee today, halfway through the even worse third season. I really have no excuse, beyond masochism and an unhealthy fascination with dancer Heather Morris. (random reviews FOX / E4

6. Episodes
(Season 1) A satire on TV production, specifically when hit British comedies get remade into terrible US remakes, Episodes was a leaden and unfunny misfire on most levels. There were performances from Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig (as a British screenwriting couple trying to keep their principles in the face of adversity), with a fairly amusing turn from Friends' Matt Le Blanc playing "himself", but it simply wasn't enjoyable to watch all the way through. It limped along after a poor start, with perhaps two episodes that actually rose to an acceptable quality level, which isn't enough. Given the talent involved and subject-matter that felt like it could have something to say about Anglo-American cultural differences, Episodes was one of this year's bigger disappointments to me. A comedy that had its handful of targets in mind, and bludgeoned them over and over, week after week... (review archive) BBC2 / SHOWTIME

5. Dexter
(Season 6) It's a huge shame to see Dexter appear on this ignoble list, as a few short years ago it was a regular in my Best Shows list, but season 6 was the year when the wheels finally came off Showtime's top-rated series. There have been warning signs for awhile now, notably during the ragged fifth season, but this year was a particularly bad run. Despite the potential of delving into a religious theme, the writers lost sight of what made the show so great in its heyday, and countless mistakes amassed throughout its run. The greatest sin being a twist tardily revealed weeks after most fans had guessed it, and a peculiar decision to have Deb suddenly find her adopted brother sexually attractive. Throw in the show's continuing problems in giving its extended cast anything worthwhile to do (just kill a few already!), and the misjudged casting of Colin Hanks as the season's villain (who's no Jimmy Smits, let alone a John Lithgow), and Dexter simply ran aground under a weight of shit. The only hope is knowing the show now has an end-date of 2013, so the writers can work towards a definite conclusion. Trouble is, can its current writing staff pull something off that fans will enjoy? (review archive) SHOWTIME

4. Primeval
(Series 4 & 5) This year we had a double-dose of Primeval, because digital partner Watch showed series 5 months after ITV finished series 4, as they were filmed back-to-back. It was an unexpected return of a show ITV axed because of costs, with two new regular characters along for the ride, but this was a very inauspicious year. Primeval has rarely been good, but it can be fun if you accept its flaws and formulas. I just don't think it has anything left to offer anyone, because the new characters were a washout (especially tedious Irish "action man" Matt), and the fifth series in particular was a big waste of time until a half-decent finale. It's a show that has moments to enjoy, but it's reached a point where I'm struggling to stay interested on a character or storytelling level—or even in a superficial "ooh, dinosaurs" way, to be frank. (review archive) ITV1 / WATCH / BBC AMERICA

3. Outcasts
It had a familiar yet appealing premise, an ambitious production filming in South Africa, with some good actors involved, but Outcasts failed to live up to expectations. SF nerds took great delight in tearing the show's setup apart, and none of the characters left any impression (apart from the excellent Liam Cunningham). It didn't help that Jamie Bamber's character was killed off in the first episode, or that so much of the story and twists felt analogous to things we've seen done better in Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Solaris recently. I have an appetite for intelligent SF mysteries with a measured pace and emphasis on character, but Outcasts just wasn't any fun and almost crawled through its hours. However, it did inspire this blog's busiest article in many years! (review archive) BBC1 / BBC AMERICA

2. Life's Too Short
(Series 1) The sitcom that appears to prove The Office's Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are creatively bankrupt, Life's Too Short distilled everything they've done before (a mockumentary format poking fun at a disabled character, with meta-jokes and celebrity cameos) but did nothing new or interesting with those ingredients. For half the seven episodes, it didn't even feel like a Warwick Davis-starring sitcom, as so much was an excuse to shoehorn in Gervais, Merchant and a guest-star-of-the-week. Things improved slightly for the last three episodes, once the storyline with Warwick's divorce became a bigger focus, but my goodwill was exhausted by then. It just wasn't insightful or clever, as everything here had been done better in Extras, and poor Warwick was forced to play himself-doing-a-David-Brent impersonation. A sore disappointment from two writers who used to demand only the best, but are now happy to devise stupid shows for their friends (see also Karl Pilkington's An Idiot Abroad). (review archive) BBC2

1. Torchwood: Miracle Day
While there were concerns about "Americanizing" Torchwood when Russell T. Davies announced those plans, I don't think any fan anticipated the debacle that Miracle Day became. It still had its creator at the helm, who managed to recruit a writing staff of people who'd worked on some impressive shows (Buffy, House, Battlestar Galactica, X Files, Breaking Bad), and it wisely refused to tone down the sex/violence. In fact, quite a few people believed this could be the making of Torchwood because it had more money to play with, had a very ambitious high-concept story (everyone on the planet suddenly stops dying for an unexplained reason), and was reprising its very successful Children Of Earth miniseries format.

Unfortunately, Miracle Day fell flat on its face after a decent start. Once the novelty of its idea had worn off by episode 4, it became clear just how irritating the new American characters were (especially belligerent dickhead Rex Matheson), they made the godawful mistake of trying to make audiences sympathise with a child-killing paedophile (then had no idea what to do with Bill Pullman's slimy character halfway through), dandy hero Jack Harkness had nothing to do until two-thirds into the story, Gwen Cooper was as irksomely forthright as ever, there were no aliens, and the ultimate explanation for the titular "miracle" was extremely silly and vaguely explained. I can't think of any other show that so spectacularly flopped after such a previous high (although Children Of Earth is somewhat overrated). It even made committed fans fall out of love with the show! I don't think anyone would care if Torchwood never came back now, as Miracle Day appeared to kill a promising franchise. How ironic. (review archive) STARZ/ BBC1