Monday, 23 December 2013

My Television Disappointments of 2013

Monday, 23 December 2013

There were lots of bad television shows in 2013, as there are ever year, but the truly hopeless ones didn't hang around long enough to bother me. Or I managed to avoid the absolute worst of the worst thanks to good judgement. So this list is more about disappointment, not abject terribleness... although, sure, many of my choices are terrible shows, too. Below are the 10 shows that let me down, tricked me into expecting greatness, or were simply made by people who can do better. And in the interest of fairness, I watched either all or the majority of their seasons/series this year—but if you want to defend anything on the list because it got better at some point, be my guest...

Marvel have had missteps in the past, but since 2008's Iron Man rejuvenated Robert Downey Jr's career they've been on a roll with blockbuster after blockbuster of snarky superhero spectacles. The idea of them bringing that winning recipe to network TV was very attractive, because the small-screen has obvious benefits when it comes to character-building and long-form storytelling. However, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has been a disappointment because it doesn't feel very special, and the constant shout-outs to its big screen brethren only make you realise it's the inferior child of the Marvel Universe. Joss Whedon's name may have been a key selling point at launch, but his input is clearly negligible as it doesn't feel like it's from "the creator of Buffy and Angel", as expected. Can they turn things around next year? Let's hope so.

This vampire drama was great fun once upon a time, but I can't remember what it felt like to feel that way now. What irritated me about True Blood's sixth season was how it started off rather well, considering how weak season 5 has been... before the usual bad habits started to return, the story lost all sharpness, and the final batch of episodes were once again an ungodly mess.

The perfect example of what happens when a sitcom distilled through one person's mind decides to go it alone: you end up with a well-meaning parody that doesn't sit right. Considering Community is any discerning geek's numero uno TV comedy, the fall from grace was especially sharp and tough to accept. Luckily, Dan Harmon was rehired to shepherd the imminent fifth season (which already looks like a return to form based on just a few trailers).

7. Showtime's 'DEXTER'
A once brilliant show can now be seen as a tale of two halves. It's unfortunate that Dexter's limp final season's soured a lot of my affection for the show, as I struggle to recall how essential I found Showtime's flagship drama between season 1 and 4. It had an anomalously decent seventh season amongst the crud, but you can't fathom why the writers chose the ending they gave fans. It just wasn't big or surprising enough, even if their hands were apparently tied by the wishes of the network to an extent. If I ever recommend Dexter to people, it's always with the advice to skip season 5 and 6, then imagine an alternate ending to 7 and forget 8.

There was a fantastic new serial killer drama on a US mainstream network this year. It was called Hannibal. Life being unfair, more people watched Fox's absurd The Following, created by Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries). I was hoping for something clever and ghoulish, but this was just unfettered nonsense and pulp trash from beginning to end. Kevin Bacon only got involved if Fox approved a cable-length run each year, but it's a shame he didn't insist on a swift four-parter. Maybe something half decent could have been done with that level of focus, but The Following got increasingly desperate and pathetic until a big anti-climactic season finale. Hopefully season 2's ratings will plummet and it will be axed, so Bacon can get back to something less embarrassing... like, that's right, those UK mobile phone adverts.

5. NBC and Sky Living's 'DRACULA'
If you're going to re-imagine Bram Stoker's Dracula in the age of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, you need to do something better than this limp offering. They kept the period setting to give it a classic feel, which I'm in favour of, and I liked the twist that Dracula's in cahoots with Van Helsing, but not much else worked. Making the Prince of Darkness into an American energy entrepreneur proved to be unutterably boring, as were his excuses for not simply ripping the heads off his sworn enemies. Jonathan Rhys Meyers can smoulder like coals on a fireplace, but his Dracula just wasn't dangerous or monstrous enough to carry a drama like this.

Stephen King doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to television adapting his best-selling horror fiction. To be fair, King has his fair share of film disasters, too (for every Carrie there's a Dreamcatcher). He clearly works better in the heads of his readers, but inevitable some ideas you just can't resist bringing to life. Under the Dome has a ludicrous but compelling idea (a quaint Maine town finds itself literally trapped beneath an impenetrable dome), but it did a piss-poor job with the execution and ramifications. The characters were drab and the show didn't seem to know what to do after the the dome appeared in the first episode. All the squabbles and drama wasn't terribly interesting, but the worst thing was how the writers didn't accurately portray the reaction this insanity would have on a real community. People were still seen walking their dogs and going for coffee in episode three, for crying out loud! I gave up after about five weeks of tedium, and I hear it didn't get much better.

3. Sky1's 'MAD DOGS'
God knows how a perfectly good miniseries ballooned into four-series epic (the final two episodes are due over the festive period). Mad Dogs has a great cast and its original mix of dark comedy, surreal imagery, and 'holiday-gone-wrong' drama worked very nicely when it started... but now it's just plain ridiculous and boring. It just feels like Sky1 continue to bankroll this because the famous faces sell the show to enough people on the ubiquitous city billboards, and the starry cast simply like having a luxury "holiday" every year paid for by B$kyB. At least we can be sure it's finally coming to an end now.

2. Channel 4's 'DEREK'
I don't know what happened to Ricky Gervais, but the grace he earned from The Office has finally run out. Derek is painfully unfunny and misguided in so many ways, but the most galling thing about this so-called comedy is how Gervais has convinced himself it's a significant, important and affective piece of social commentary. It's not. It's just lazy manipulation hiding its sins behind the fact it's ostensible about elderly care in modern Britain. But if that were true, why are the genuine old folks just silent stooges or background extras, as Gervais pulls faces next to grumpy best-mate Karl Pilkington in a comb-over wig? Abysmal. Even the title's font is bad.

From the makers of the flawed-but-fun Saturday evening fantasy epic Merlin, here comes another mishmash of magic and history that doesn't have an original thought in its thick skull. Why introduce a time-traveller only to never mention the fact again? All of the mistakes early Merlin made are present and correct, but Atlantis doesn't have any of its strengths—like a sense of direction audiences can invest in, because it's such a patchwork of ideas. Mark Addy's the only entertainment in this uninspired wasteland of ideas, that nevertheless pulled in enough viewers to earn a second series. When you think what it must cost and what could be done with that money instead, it makes me very sad.