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- American journalist and attorney
Any “worst” list has to define itself, otherwise you’re left thinking, “Wait, where’s 9JKL? Where’s The O’Reilly Factor?” My list below consists only of scripted shows — thus, no O’Reilly, no Megyn Kelly Today (or Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly — so many Megyns, so little time). And I would never put a sitcom co-starring treasured show-killer David Walton on my list — he suffers enough, and so, no 9JKL. I also did not include shows I didn’t make it all the way through, like the first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist, or American Horror Story: Cult. No, these are the most egregious shows I watched — really watched — this year. (Oh, and I have one more “worst” to write about, one that breaks some of the rules above — but that’s for tomorrow.)
Marvel’s Inhumans (ABC): The worst comic-book TV adaptation is also the worst show of the year. With dialogue so wooden they could have used some of it to build the flimsy-looking sets, Inhumans combined the most tiresome clichés of the superhero genre with the most boring elements of historical costume dramas. The only character worth caring about was giant dog Lockjaw, and even he seemed to slink off, embarrassed, after the opening episodes.
Wisdom of the Crowd (CBS): Well before star Jeremy Piven was accused in real life of sexual misconduct, he was guilty of egotistical misconduct in this egregious, and now canceled, drama about one billionaire’s high-tech hunt to find his daughter’s murderer.
Valor (The CW): In a fall season rife with tedious military dramas (The Brave, SEAL Team, the military-equipped S.W.A.T.), this was the most tedious, not least because it tried to combine elements of watery soap-opera romance with its shooting and dive-bombing.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO): Apparently there were a lot of people waiting for another season of Larry David’s cranky formula comedy. I just assumed he’d pretty much said what he wanted to say in this format, and the new season confirmed it: Tiresome variations on what once worked well, with new ideas — like a season-long fatwa imposed upon Larry — that never yielded comic gold.
I’m Dying Up Here (Showtime): I was dying watching this wincingly unfunny series about the 1970s comedy-club scene in Los Angeles. The dramatic plots about the struggling young comedians were trite and predictable; Melissa Leo was trapped in a no-win role as a tough club owner based on Mitzi Shore; and, worst of all, every second of the “comedians” performing at the club was deadly: the definitive example of the difference between being funny and trying to act funny. For the solution to this problem, see the year’s other, far better, comedy-club show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Friends from College (Netflix): With a cast that included Keegan-Michael Key, Cobie Smulders, and Fred Savage, how could this college-reunion comedy go wrong? A couple of ways, it turns out. Starting with the tone, which veered between comedy and drama with no commitment to either, and with characters who were frequently selfish bores who just chattered on and on about themselves.
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Sundance): When it comes to highfalutin mysteries, this one was running neck-and-neck with USA’s The Sinner in my mind, but Lake won out, if only because it featured a superior actor (Elisabeth Moss over Jessica Biel) grappling with superior mediocrity: which is to say, China Girl is more interestingly bad, and thus worthy of this list. Nevertheless, by the end, I really didn’t care if the bad people were caught in this overwrought mystery story — I just wanted all the trumped-up emotional agony to end.
I Love Dick (Amazon Prime): Insufferably full of itself, this supposed satire of pretentious artists ended up being a pretentious show about the ways artists are misunderstood by the world, and frequently by each other. A very good cast — Kathryn Hahn, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Bacon — seemed gulled by co-creators Sarah Gubbins and Jill Soloway into thinking they were doing something meaningful, but the whole thing played like an interminable improv exercise.
Disjointed (Netflix): Chuck Lorre was responsible for one of the best new shows of the year (that would be Young Sheldon) and this, one of the worst. Kathy Bates, whose instincts for TV roles have been uneven (Harry’s Law, anyone?), stars as a hippie running an L.A. pot dispensary. Nonstop weed jokes so bad, they were worse than a season’s-worth of Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.
The Orville (Fox): What would one of my “worst” lists be if I didn’t include a Seth MacFarlane show? This one, his exhausting Star Trek rip-off, is notably dull. But renewed for a second season!
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