We’ve talked about the movies, but what about the 400+ scripted TV series that aired in 2016? Well…there were a few turds, so let’s begin with those.
Let’s bitch it out…
One thing you’ll notice about this list: the well-intentioned prestige shows are primarily clustered near the bottom of the list, while the derivative teen/genre (sometimes teen genre) series wind up in the top.
The Rules: A minimum of three episodes of each show were screened to ensure shows were given a fair shot to improve. Obviously I didn’t watch everything available on TV so it is safe to assume there are worse shows, but I didn’t include series that I didn’t watch (so no Kevin Can Wait, 2 Broke Girls or NCIS: Pasadena on this list).
10: The Flash S2 (The CW)
When it debuted, The Flash was Arrow‘s more enjoyable younger brother. Then came S2, which was saddled with two unfortunate narratives: 1) setting up the launch of spin-off CW series Legends of Tomorrow in the first half of the season and 2) the long, slow, predictable reveal that Jay Garrick was S2 baddie Zoom in the latter half. Individually the season might have been salvaged, but combined the two plots basically sunk the series. Thankfully S3 has been better, but the youthful optimism and joy of the first season appears to be gone forever.
9: The Good Wife S7 (CBS)
Robert and Michelle King may have had a grand plan in mind for the series finale of The Good Wife (and lord knows how they managed to spit out 22 episodes a season for seven seasons), but holy cow was this final kick at the can ever a disappointment. Beloved characters like Cary and Diane were given the short shrift, beloved newbies like Luca were left to flounder in the background and whoever made the decision to prominently feature Peter (Chris Noth)’s legal problems in the build up to the series finale should have been caned. Sure “give no fucks” Alicia was fun, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan was hot, but that series-ending slap was felt as much by fans of The Good Wife as it was by Alicia.
8: Braindead S1 (CBS)
BrainDead (RIP) was the Kings’ other CBS series – this is the political comedy the Kings were developing while The Good Wife sputtered to a close. BrainDead‘s debut was accompanied by high expectations, but those were dashed almost immediately thanks to the series’ shrill political caricatures and its general inability to balance tone and genre (see the bizarre clip above, which doesn’t make much more sense in context). The alien bug stuff was very clearly a modern day riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but BrainDead was staunchly uninterested in committing to its sci-fi trappings. The political stuff wasn’t much better, however (neutered was a frequent descriptor tossed around online), nor were its barbs particularly observant. If anything BrainDead seemed to exist as a platform for Tony Shaloub to show off his terrible, terrible Southern accent. Despite game performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Tveit, this was a hot mess experiment of a series that never even got off the ground.
- Caveat: We would, however, watch a spin-off series with breakouts Nikki M. James and Johnny Ray Gill without hesitation. BrainDead did them wrong.
7: The Night Of S1 (HBO)
If you only watched the pilot episode, you might think that I’ve had a stroke for putting The Night Of on the Worst list (some critics have it on their Best Of list). Unfortunately I watched all six episodes and I will never get those five other hours back. Yes the visuals are outstanding, Riz Ahmed and John Turturro are fabulous and the arguments that the series makes about the failures of the criminal justice system are pointed and terrifying. But five. fucking. hours is a long time to make the same argument over and over again. Throw in Turturro’s disgusting foot malady, lady lawyer’s last minute lobotomy in ethics and the stereotypical depiction of the nightmares of jail and The Night Of wound up as little more than a “prestige drama gone wrong.” Better luck next time HBO.
6: Love S1 (Netflix)
Had I been able to watch more than an episode of Flaked, it’s possible it would be on this list instead of Love, but here we are. Love is what happens if the most annoying hipster barista you knew mated with every self-obsessed Los Angeles resident and that baby was given a TV deal with Judd Apatow. The series is meant to be clever, observant and witty, but instead it’s the TV equivalent of the drunk guy you can’t get away from at a party. Gillian Jacobs is slightly more tolerable than Paul Rust, who I mostly wanted to kill, but they’re both pretty insufferable and even if that is the point, it doesn’t make me want to watch 10 bloated ~35 minute episodes. Netflix has a pretty decent track record, but there’s not enough in this douchey “love” comedy to justify its existence.
- Caveat: …except for Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), Jacobs’ Australian roommate, who I would also watch a spin-off of in a heartbeat.
5: Scream S2 (MTV)
Occasionally a TV series is like a bad relationship: you know it’ll never change its awful ways, but you can’t stop yourself from coming back. That’s Scream to me, which was a middling, albeit occasionally enjoyable teen horror show in S1.*
In S2 Scream added half a dozen new characters so lifeless that I couldn’t be bothered to remember their names. The series also cut back on the kills and turned its two best characters, Brooke and Audrey, into full-blown idiots (see #3 below – it’s a trend for teen series apparently!). Emma remained intolerable (ditto Willa Fitzgerald’s “acting”) and arcs were drawn-out into infinity. The final icing on the cake was the beyond-obvious reveal of Piper’s accomplish: bland as milquetoast Kieran, who was then disposed of in the most laughable of all climaxes.
Worst of all: despite airing 10 episodes, this damn show could never give us a reasonable chase scene! And yet despite all of this I’ll be back to see how everything gets wrapped up in S3.
- *Admittedly Scream was still bad enough in S1 to merit a spot on 2015’s Worst of List – coming in at #4 – making it the only show to land on the Worst list two years running.
- Caveat: The mostly standalone Halloween special was an improvement and Emma’s Final Girl moment suggests that she’s finally en route to becoming a cheerworthy heroine. Either that or she’ll be killed off in S3’s opening scene (a boy can always hope).
4: Damien S1 (A&E)
Alas, sometimes even ambitious series fail to deliver. This sequel to The Omen film franchise was likely doomed from the start (see also: FOX’s The Exorcist, although that series deserves a reprieve), but creator Glen Mazzara’s interest in creating a series that employs a diverse cast of actors and writers was admirable. Too bad the show they produced was pure drivel!
Damien finds the son of the Devil living a regular life as a late twenty-something photographer who specializes in pain and suffering. Bradley James (of Merlin and a brief, memorable stint on iZombie) is tragically devoid of his usual charisma; his personality has been replaced by blank, confused expressions (is it the character or is James wondering how the hell he wound up on this show?). Throw in a murky, depressing colour palette consisting solely of blacks and greys, a female lead (Megalyn Echikunwoke) less dynamic than her “killed in the first episode” sister (the show’s lone creative surprise) and, I kid you not, entire episodes set in a) a hallucinatory hospital and b) a woods filled with living vines and Damien is the longest, most laughably bad series of the year.
Mazzara seems to think that vast conspiracies and satanic rituals are compelling enough to fill 10 episodes, but by episode three there are only so many times we can chuckle at Barbara Hershey chewing the scenery or watch demon dogs attack one of the Vatican’s emissaries. Damien is two to five episodes of content stretched into ten and it is about as exciting as watching paint dry, which in an era of 400+ TV shows is completely unacceptable.
- Caveat: It’s almost worth watching Hershey’s scenes because she seems to be the only one who is enjoying herself (likely because she knows the series is garbage)
3: The 100 S3 (The CW)
It’s been a rough year for what is arguably the most adventurous of The CW’s shows. The 100 stumbled out of the gate almost immediately last season with the creative decision to backtrack on a number of character developments (Bellamy, Jasper and Monty all essentially became idiots). Then series creator Jason Rothenberg went and killed Lexa, the show’s most badass female character, in the most unceremonious manner possible, prompting a backlash from fans tired of the outdated “Bury Your Gays” trope (FYI: 2016 killed off a record 25 lesbian and bisexual characters).
It quickly became hard to separate the show from its public relations snafu (Rothenberg didn’t help matters by coming off as a grade-A asshat everywhere he could). Between the tone deaf issues with Lexa and the lacklustre characterization and the downward trend in story telling quality (why was Pike even there?! And why didn’t he die 10 episodes earlier?!), S3 of The 100 goes down as one of the most creatively disappointing series of the year.
2: UnREAL S2 (Lifetime)
Ah yes, the sophomore slump. The pain of a poorly executed second season is real, folks. This is what happens when you let the person keeping the series on track creatively and professionally – that would be Marti Noxon – escape to other projects and leave the somewhat crazy showrunner in charge – that would be Sarah Gertrude Shapiro.
Despite the best of intentions, S2 of UnREAL is a creative monstrosity. Rachel (Shiri Appleby), the show’s lynchpin, is put through the wringer unnecessarily because Shapiro believes that it’s better drama and both Rachel and Quinn are saddled with unlikable (and unbelievable) love interests. Meanwhile the latest crop of girls never amount to anything beyond background noise and, most problematically, the arc involving new “black Bachelor” Darius comes off more like a creative exercise than a real story. Regardless of how and why they were conceived, 2×07 “Ambush” (the shooting episode) and the fallout are abject failures. In a year dominated by headlines about the realities of carding, police brutality and Black Lives Matter, this was the most tone deaf development on TV. In UnREAL‘s quest to be “edgy”, Shapiro and her writers inadvertently reinforced the shitty reality that they were trying to dissect. The result was one of the most intolerable seasons of a previously “good” show in recent memory.
1: Shadowhunters S1 (Freeform)
And then there’s this turd.
“Oh Shadowhunters” was a popular refrain I uttered whenever I watched an episode of this piece of sh*t. As a example of how to make inoffensive, poorly realized fantasy, Shadowhunters is a stunning success. If, however, you’re looking for interesting characters, good acting or anything resembling a compelling plot, this is a show best steered clear of (in fact just run in the opposite direction). The series is the second adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling Mortal Instruments YA book series (the movie was also a colossal failure) and, in my mind, the most interesting thing about it is the fact that the main romance is mildly incestuous. YES THAT’S THE BEST THING I CAN SAY ABOUT SHADOWHUNTERS. Oh sure, the thriving interspecies queer romance is a nice addition (but hardly groundbreaking) and some of the guys are decent eye candy, but to get to that, you’ll have to suffer through Katherine McNamara’s attempts to overcome her stilted dialogue, her Cheeto-coloured wig and her own lack of talent.
Shadowhunters is basically “Baby True Blood on a budget”: a bunch of sexed up teenage characters dressed up in leather from different monster backgrounds with edgy temporary tattoos, wielding glowing plastic swords and tossing around poorly executed special effects. It’s kiddie play; avoid unless you need the bright light of truly bad television in your life.
- Dead of Summer: This teen horror series essentially couldn’t figure out what it wants to be, so it throws various subgenres into a blender and hits puree: slasher, possession, satanic cult, etc. Unfortunately the writing, characterization and aesthetic can’t support any of those, much less all of them. Exceedingly patient viewers are rewarded with one helluva twist in the series’ final hours, but you have to endure a whole helluva lot of garbage to get to it. Not worth the effort.
- Divorce S1 (HBO): Sarah Jessica Parker’s return to TV in a Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) vehicle should have been a slam dunk, but Divorce is completely unenjoyable. Even a dark comedy about the pitfalls of separating from a spouse should be, you know, funny, but this is basically just Rich White People Problems The Series. Also: Thomas Haden Church’s moustache is the worst. It’s meant to be bad…and it is.
- Freakish S1 (Hulu): This 10 episode series dropped all at once with virtually no publicity…and rightfully so. It reeks of amateur acting from its high school cast and the plot, about a mutant-producing cloud that engulfs a town following a reactor accident, reminded me far too much of 2015’s Worst series Between. *Shudder*
- The Shannara Chronicles S1 (MTV): This adaptation of Terry Brooks’ YA fantasy looks reasonably ok considering the FX budget and costumes, but the young cast and scattered writing make it instantly forgettable.
- Van Helsing S1 (Syfy): The latest ill-advised attempt to capitalize on an established brand (Van Helsing’s granddaughter fights vampires!) is painfully awful. With a dollar store budget, wooden acting and barely perfunctory writing (from playwright Neil LaBute!), Van Helsing is so bad I could only watch one episode.
That’s it for the bad shows. I’ll be back to talk about the Best Scenes/Sequences of the year later this weekend.