The Worst Television of 2014

THR's chief TV critic offers a minor and varied sampling, to avoid becoming depressed
"Mulaney" might not have been the worst show of 2014.

It may seem strange to hear that I hate making lists about the worst of television, given that I have to watch so many bad — sometimes terrible — shows during the season that payback would seem the right and fitting denouement.

But wallowing in it all seems like so much more torture than necessary. In many instances, I’ve already savaged the offending show with a review. Seems like the point was made there. And if a show got worse, or was a returning series that I didn’t review because, well, most people don’t and there’s not enough time in the world to be comprehensive in that area, I probably vented about those shows via Twitter.

I got it all out.

Put another way: At the end of a year, so close to the fresh start of a welcome new beginning, why would I want to relive the horror of bad television? I don’t want to look back in negativity. I want to look forward — until that positivity is, in turn, crushed. So, no, I don’t like making these lists. I’m not a sadist.

Ah, but editors are total sadists. Just ask anyone.

Read more The Best Television of 2014

So here we are.

I’m going to make this a collection (of ill-conceived intent) instead of a numbered list (of failure). Because I normally love lists, but understand all too well that in this case we could be in the hundreds pretty quickly and then it would just be a kind of public shaming without end. Nobody needs that.

Who among you even remembers shows like Mind Games, Gang Related, The McCarthys, A to Z, The Red Band Society, Black Box, Friends With Better Lives, Believe, Crisis, Reckless, Growing Up Fisher, The Assets, Surviving Jack, Chozen, Those Who Kill, Believe, Bad Teacher, The Night Shift, Crossbones, Dominion, The Last Ship, Taxi Brooklyn, Welcome to Sweden, Working the Engels, Rush, Legends, Z Nation, Constantine, Benched — should I stop?

I mean, that’s not nearly every show. Not all of those are even terrible. That list doesn’t even count shows like Selfie that maybe could have been good had they not been canceled. Or good shows like Enlisted that were canceled. Or shows like Marry Me that I think are still on. Or pointless shows like Gracepoint. It doesn’t include returning shows that were lousy — and wow, there are a lot of those. It doesn’t include unscripted or reality shows of any kind because not even the Interwebs could house a list that long. This list, as you can probably guess, barely touches what came and went, much less what was terrible.

I like to point out — in one of the most positive gestures I can make about television -— that if we live in a world where 80 percent of TV content is crap, the upside is that the 20 percent that’s left is really great and you would never, ever need to watch the other 80 percent, because the vastness of the 20 percent would take all your available time.

That’s beautiful math, people.

But once we move away from the 20 percent and start documenting the desecration of the medium that is the 80 percent, well, then we abandon hope as we wallow in it.

So consider this just a representation of the worst of television in 2014, for various reasons and not limited to freshman series (and not including unscripted).

Mulaney. Fox. See, once you remember what was bad, you can’t take that memory back. It lives in your brain. Thanks, stupid list.

Mixology. ABC. I just fell down recalling what torture it was to watch this.

Stalker. CBS. Combine this with The Following on Fox and someone needs to give Kevin Williamson a big hug. Then persuade him to write a romantic comedy or something. Both of those shows are just heinous.

The Mysteries of Laura. NBC. And still it lives on, proof that you can’t kill bad no matter how much spite you write.

Manhattan Love Story. ABC. Really? Are we really doing this list? When you start talking about awful shows, where do you draw the low bar? At Mulaney? At Manhattan Love Story? How do you quantify woeful?

Bad Judge. NBC. Here? Is this the math you’re looking for?

I mean, what the hell? I’m putting this list together and having flashbacks to State of Affairs and all kinds of shows I want to forget. Like Black Box. Or Dominion. It’s beginning to blind me with rage.

I’m going to stop before I remember more. I look back at the list I made above — not the bold names of the accused — and I’m happy that some titles elude recollection. That’s how it should be. That’s what critics should do — forget, almost immediately. (Grrrrrr, this list.)

But, wait. There’s a different kind of bad. There’s being let down by shows that should have been better. Whose creators should have known better. The failure of expectations can sometimes be more annoying than enduring 30 minutes of an idiotic, soul-sucking sitcom.

I have lots of anger issues, for example, with Showtime’s The Affair because I loved the pilot and thought the second episode was really going to move things along — gah — by the third episode started watching it all come apart. I watched all 10 episodes like a masochist. The dual storylines stopped making any sense, stopped being remotely believable. It was all just cheap manipulation of the story — the laziest kind of drama. The Affair makes this list because of expectations and potential — all unmet — playing out on a premium cable channel. What a waste.

See, that’s a different kind of gall. When you expect more from a channel or a creator, the disappointment is often greater than the outright dismissal or disdain that comes from, say, Stalker or Mixology. When I watched Turn on AMC, I wanted it to be a whole lot better. When I watched Tyrant on FX, I wanted it to be a whole lot better. I expected both to be far greater than they were — because they come from channels with a history of quality. That history led me to watch more episodes of said shows. Watching more episodes led to them being on this list.

Read more The Best Broadcast Network Shows of 2014

The same can be said of HBO’s The Newsroom, wherein Aaron Sorkin’s soapboxing ended up punching him in the face, and another series that could have — maybe even should have — been great, instead, was so insistently flawed right to the bitter end.

Oh, and no worst-of-TV list can be complete without a show that failed its viewers with a terrible end. The most unkind element of television is that the very nature of the medium asks for an ongoing story, which means a show can be great for two or three years and then go off the rails. Sustaining greatness in television is the hardest of all tasks. But sticking the landing — god that is brutal business. As a critic, I dread series finales because they are fraught with peril (and fans often have wildly different agendas from critics in how they want to see a show end).

But I think we can all agree on this one: How I Met Your Mother snapped both ankles on the dismount. Yes, by then, the show was no longer garnering much acclaim (see: “ongoing story” and “sustaining greatness” above), but that was no resolution to the story. That was…just all kinds of wrong.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine

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