We’ve hit the halfway point in our annual countdown of the best (and worst) television of the year. Time to tackle the hump slots!
#3: Smash S1
If anyone read my reviews for Smash last year, it should come as no surprise that the musical show ends on my worst list. I wanted to like the show – I really did. Original Broadway tunes every week and a resident choreographer to boot? How could I not love it?
Two words: Katherine McPhee.
I’ve said it numerous times that McPhee has a killer voice, but her lack of acting talent completely sinks the show. There are plenty of other blunders in Smash but as the show’s top billed star, McPhee’s inability to act is its worst offender. Even the talents of Megan Hilty as Ivy, the show’s other lead, can’t save it because she’s very quickly set up as the uber bitch to contrast McPhee’s angelic, doe-eyed heroine, Karen. Hilty’s acting chops put McPhee’s to shame (credit her time actually being on stage, whereas McPhee is straight out of the studio). There are moments when Ivy surprised me by shattering the characteristics of her stereotype, but unfortunately those were few and far between.
Aside from McPhee, Smash does have a solid acting roster. In addition to Hilty, Anjelica Huston, Christian Borle and Jack Davenport are excellent actors, working their butts off with the material that they’re given. But almost every character in the show needs some serious clean up, hopefully breaking away from the one-dimensional clichés they’ve been burdened with. Borle’s Tom is the lone character that isn’t decidedly horrendous, but in an ensemble show, we really need more than one interesting character.
Refusing to be known simply as a “backstage musical”, Smash shoots itself in the foot by shifting focus away from its strongest element: the mounting of the damn musical. The resistance to embrace what actually works results in some tedious subplots such as Julia’s groan-worthy affair with Michael (Will Chase), Ellis’ (Jaime Cepero) annoying quest for success and Dev’s (Raza Jaffrey) incessant moping and whining over Karen’s lack of attention. Thankfully, series’ producers seemed to have wised up, announcing that Michael, Ellis and Dev are being unceremoniously cut from season two. A bevy of new actors are joining the cast including powerhouse Jennifer Hudson and Sean Hayes, and there’s a shakeup on the creative team.
Will all these changes be enough to save the show? Only time will tell, but season one was a veritable train wreck, and suffered from taking itself too seriously. Had the show gone full-out camp, it might have been saved. Instead, the season one of the show is just a hot mess and rightfully earns a spot on the worst list.
# of episodes watched: 15
Returns: February 5th at 9pm EST on NBC
#5: New Girl S2
#4: Awkward. S2
#3: Lost Girl S2
Lost Girl was one of my favourite original series in recent years. After my husband discovered it, we ended up marathoning it, which was no mean feat considering that the series has a supersized 22 episode S2 order.
And therein lies the problem. The first season is a nice, compact 13 episodes. Some of them are filler, but many of the episodes are well-paced, full of witty dialogue, memorable villains and a great star turn by lead actress Anna Silk (as succubus Bo) and Ksenia Solo (as Bo’s human sidekick, Kenzi).
The second season, however, takes nearly everything that works in the first season and inverts it, leading to predictably disastrous results.
Chief among the problems is that the show didn’t plan to air 22 episodes. It planned for 13 – and it shows. The 13th episode of the season is clearly a season finale and the remaining nine episodes of the season have all the hallmarks of being poorly conceived and even more poorly executed, especially with regards to awful plotting and weak characterizations.
The perfect storm of suckage occurs in the plotline centering around Nadia’s (Athena Karkanis) reanimation. Nadia is the formerly comatose girlfriend of human doctor Lauren (Zoie Palmer) and she awakens – after a season’s worth of episodes – to little fanfare. She then disappears for a stretch of episodes (this is not uncommon as the show frequently sends characters away in S2 to save on budget). When Nadia returns it is revealed that she has randomly been possessed by the villain and, before you can say “whaaa?”, she is summarily killed. The resolution of the season-long arc is so rushed, poorly thought-out and terrible that it’s almost offensive. Nadia is the equivalent of television roadkill: she exists solely as a plot point to usher things along, so no one bothers to develop her character, or make the audience care. She’s there simply to be killed.
This wouldn’t be so bad if this didn’t happen with three (count ’em) other characters as well. Ciara (Lina Roessler), the past and current girlfriend of Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried), hangs around solely to keep him and Bo apart, then leaves, then comes back literally to die (she’s back one episode and then sacrifices herself). Then there’s Bo’s Dark Fae boyfriend, Ryan (Anthony Lemke) who could have been interesting, but actually just serves the same function as Ciara: he’s a Dyson stand-in. Finally, there’s Kenzi’s boyfriend, Nate (Aaron Ashmore) who seems to be on the show solely to give poor Kenzi something to do. I kept waiting for some kind of reveal, but no – Nate is simply a muscian who shows up to kill screen time and then give Kenzi someone to cry over when she forces him to leave. Too bad we never get to see what she found so appealing in him.
Essentially Lost Girl S2 is built on the same model as the second (terrible) season of The O.C. in which new characters are introduced solely to advance the plot and after they serve their purpose, they are sent away. Here’s a lesson to the writers as they prepare for future seasons: don’t introduce a host of new characters as plot fodder if you don’t intend to do anything meaningful with them or if you plan to dump them all before the end of the season! It doesn’t exactly inspire loyalty from frustrated audiences who waste their energy trying to give a crap about the newbies.
In some ways I can forgive Lost Girl for being in the awkward position of having to produce more episodes than originally intended and failing to plan appropriately (see my caveat below). On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel angry at how truly terrible the second season is since it takes a really interesting and enjoyable show and ruins nearly every single character in just 22 episodes. With the third (thankfully 13 episode) season about to start, let’s hope that the show has learned its lesson and returns to what made it so successful in the first place. If not, there’s always the Bitch Awards for 2013.
# of episodes watched: 22
Returns: January 6, 2013 @ 9pm (Showcase – Canada) / January 14, 2013 @ 10pm (Syfy – US)
Caveat: Had the season only been the initial 13 episodes, it would not have been on the ‘Worst’ list for the year
I think it’s impossible not to have Breaking Bad fall somewhere on a “best” list for television in 2012. It’s the most consistently brilliant drama season after season and this year is no exception. Walt (Bryan Cranston) finally takes his seat as the almighty drug kingpin exhibiting the most brash, uninhibited displays of egotism; he would make Kanye West blush. Long gone is the mild-mannered, cancer-ridden chemistry teacher that we felt sympathy for back in season one: replaced with a cocky SOB who unabashedly demands: “Say my name”. There are many anti-heroes on quality television today, but what makes Walter White the most fascinating of them all is not only his slow descent from virtue, but the desire to see him punished for his dastardly deeds. He’s an intensely rich and complicated character who’s undergone quite the arc, and even though he’s completely despicable, I’m still utterly compelled to watch his journey unfold.
Which brings to me an integral aspect to why the show works: the writing is superb. Not only are the writers unafraid of taking risks and potentially writing themselves into a corner, you always get the sense that they’re continually pushing boundaries, resisting the urge to fall into familiar predicaments. ‘Dead Freight‘ is a particularly good example of this, with the episode’s final seconds giving us one of the most daring moments on television ever.
Breaking Bad is a series unlike any other. I’m enthralled because I have no clue what will happen next, and that’s quite the rarity on television today. Additionally, the direction of each episode is meticulous, easily emulating the rich cinematic techniques you see in feature films. The acting, writing, and direction are working at an elevated level and it shows. They work together so harmoniously, Breaking Bad truly is the epitome of quality television.
Returns: Summer 2013 on AMC
Watch from: Season 1 (Start at the beginning and work your way through)
#3: The Good Wife S4
The Good Wife is a show that I watch religiously – devouring new episodes like a gluttonous child – and yet I find that I have no desire to review it for the blog. Part of the reason may simply be that I want to watch the show rather than deconstruct it; it may also be because it airs on Sunday – which is the busiest TV day of the week.
Unfortunately the lack of coverage for the show frequently means that I have only one shot to advocate on its behalf and that’s during the Bitch Awards, when it inevitably appears.
One of the reasons I feel the need to champion the show is because it’s not what people think it is. It’s not just another lawyer show, and Margulies is not playing a lawyer version of Nurse Hathaway (her character from ER). No, The Good Wife is not only the best network TV show on the air, it’s also one of the only shows that never panders to its audience. Which doesn’t meant that it’s serious and stuffy – far from it. This is a show that has everything: drama, comedy, intrigue and an absolutely sparkling supporting cast.
Last year I highlighted the rotating roster of judges and guest stars and S4 has been no different. What’s improved is that suddenly everyone has more to do in more satisfying storylines, with one sole exception: Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) who has been saddled with a 50 Shades of Suck S&M, love/hate relationship with her ex-husband. Thankfully that story has been brought to an abrupt halt, which means that when the show returns in January, it will be back to firing on all cylinders.
For those of you who have yet to give the show a chance due to preconceptions, I implore you to give yourself a chance. It takes a while to get accustomed to, but The Good Wife is appointment viewing of the highest order.
Returns: Jan 13, 2013 on CBS
Watch from: S1 (Start at the beginning and work your way through)
We’re over the hump now! With only two days remaining, will your favourites make the cut? Come back tomorrow at 12pm EST to see what clocks in at second place on the 2012 Bitch Awards