Critics' Picks: The 10 Worst TV Shows of 2016

6:00 AM 12/23/2016

by Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg

The low points of the viewing year for THR's TV critics Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg included rock 'n' roll disasters, DOA reboots, thrill-deprived superheros, terrorism for dummies, risible hospital drama and listless zombies hijacked by a tedious villain.

From left, 'Vinyl,' 'The Walking Dead' and 'The X-Files'
From left, 'Vinyl,' 'The Walking Dead' and 'The X-Files'
Photofest

The only thing you really need to know about this alphabetized list is that it could be 100 times longer. Possibly even longer than that. We may be in the Platinum Age of television and we may be enjoying/enduring the Peak TV era of countless new additions, but the dirty little secret is that lots and lots of them are bad.

Oh, so bad.

Many of them didn't even make this list because typing their titles would cause PTSD. We tried not to gang up on any one broadcast network and a point will be made below that bad/disappointing cable and streaming fare is somehow a worse crime than a heinous network show. It's all relative. And these are all relatively the worst of 2016.

  • American Housewife

    ABC

    Courtesy of ABC

    It's hard to imagine making a TV series this poorly conceived and executed in 2016 but it happened. This was ABC trying to make a CBS styled family show about being overweight and OK with it — but everything pointed to the opposite. Also it was terrible. — Tim Goodman

  • Conviction

    ABC

    John Medland/ABC

    Hayley Atwell is a treasure who was in an ABC series (Agent Carter) that didn't get enough viewers. So ABC rewarded her by putting her in Conviction, which was basically like tossing her an anchor instead of a life preserver. The pilot even had her undress (in front of her staff) and it was still unwatchable. That takes some doing. One of those shows where you think, "Who the hell thought this was a good idea?" And yes, I know that happens all the time at the network level, but whoa. — T.G.

  • Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders

    CBS

    Darren Michaels/CBS

    From a ratings standpoint, CBS had a fine year. From a creative standpoint? Not so much. This "Worst" list surely could have included Man with a Plan (especially the original pilot you were lucky enough not to see), a stale attempt to revise The Amazing Race, the increasingly frustrating The Great Indoors, the pointless Rush Hour and MacGyver remakes and the bizarre decision to cancel Limitless, the network's most creative procedural in years.

    Despite all of that, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders towers below the rest because of how inevitable its awfulness was. Who'd have guessed that a show about Americans being terrorized overseas would be little more than xenophobia writ large? Anybody and everybody. Giving (shoddily produced) global scale to the Criminal Minds franchise's already nasty woman-in-peril trappings, Beyond Borders offers international paranoia so perfectly tailored for the Donald Trump era that I fully expect a season two episode in which the team goes to Russia and discovers that nobody has gone missing and everybody is safe and they all respect Putin's glorious achievements for 43 minutes. — Daniel Fienberg

  • DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

    The CW

    Bettina Strauss/The CW

    Let's begin by acknowledging that the second season of Legends of Tomorrow has been much better than the first, in that nobody has said the name "Vandal Savage." It's still a show of questionably developed characters — the frequency with which the characters played by Nick Zano and Brandon Routh serve the exact same purpose is absurd, while nobody seems to have the same chemistry with anybody from week to week — and its treatment of time travel and its paradoxes remains simplistic. I'm also barely sure what the Legends' big-picture goal is this season. But it's better.

    But man, that first season could be the poster boy for how an ill-conceived, poorly depicted villain and a needlessly complicated core mission (plus Hawkman and Hawkgirl) can utterly cripple a show. There are elements here for something fun, but after 24 episodes, DC's Legends of Tomorrow remains the CW comic book show I mostly watch to avoid being confused during four-part crossover events. — D.F.

  • Feed the Beast

    AMC

    Courtesy of AMC

    Speaking of not very good ideas terribly executed, hello AMC! Wow, was this a gigantic whiff. David Schwimmer as a depressed, morose sommelier in a restaurant drama where the other lead is unlikeable and the villain is the effete, pipe-smoking Paul Kinsey from Mad Men — what could possibly go wrong? Everything. Which is why I left out two actors' names. Sorry Schwimmer, someone had to be credited. Even cable channels who make good stuff in the Platinum Age can go wrong once in a while — it happens to everyone, hence a list like this. — T.G

  • Fuller House

    Netflix

    Michael Yarish/Netflix

    As predicted way back in January, the first episode of Netflix's Fuller House was, indeed, the single most excruciating episode of television for all of 2016, a steady death march of flaccid punchlines, bloated nostalgia, over-eager callbacks and self-congratulatory back-patting extended over 35 minutes so that the actors could stare directly into the camera for 13 seconds in an attempt to reunion-shame the Olsen Twins for having better things to do.

    There probably were approaches in which a Full House reboot could have acknowledged the passing of time without hollow pandering and shameless rehashing of a past viewed exclusively through rose-colored glasses, but nobody involved in Fuller House wanted that. Probably the audience didn't want that either, a reminder that if we don't collectively demand better, then better won't be given to us. Netflix also had a stinker with the laughless Will Arnett booze-redemption comedy series Flaked, but at least Flaked had the conviction of Arnett's passion for the material. — D.F.

  • Pure Genius

    CBS

    Sonja Flemming/CBS

    I laughed out loud so many times it almost hurt, which is really saying something for a drama. On the plus side, it was CBS's funniest show. Ridiculous "not a thing" technology moments crashing into a trite hospital drama without anyone to root for equals, well, a whole lot of saved time. — T.G.

  • Vinyl/Roadies

    HBO, Showtime

    Photofest

    Since I've long declared that network and cable/streaming shows are playing on an uneven field, it's only fair to judge the latter more harshly when it offers up something truly bad or disappointing (otherwise critics could just make endless lists of bad network shows). HBO's Vinyl wasted what could have been the best Bobby Cannavale role ever on a show that had tons of potential (and money and pedigree) and then completely imploded creatively. Vinyl was the epic disaster of 2016 without question. But in many ways Roadies was more disappointing. Cameron Crowe was supposed to save the rock 'n' roll TV show. He did not. Boy, did he not. And if not him, then who? — T.G.

  • The Walking Dead

    AMC

    Gene Page/AMC

    I don't know if you've heard this, but Negan is a bad, bad man. In 2016, The Walking Dead aired eight episodes of people talking about how bad Negan is, followed by eight episodes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan sneering, monologuing and peacocking to illustrate how bad Negan is. Along the way, Negan became so bad he became boring, or else the endless conversations and displays of his badness became so overblown that I became desensitized.

    The Walking Dead has now killed off too many characters whose names I remember and done too flimsy a job of introducing new characters, with exhaustingly long periods separating characters and diluting the connections between them. Something needs to be done to reinvigorate the Walking Dead zombies and, more importantly, to reinvigorate the show's pacing. The latter process could be started by AMC telling producers, "Get back to doing regular-length episodes, not every story requires 90 minutes," something AMC will never tell the producers of TV's highest-rated show. — D.F.

  • The X-Files

    FOX

    Ed Araquel/FOX

    Fox brought The X-Files back this winter to great excitement and for three episodes in the middle, the revival ranged from OK ("Founder's Mutation" and "Home Again") to really good (Darin Morgan's "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"). But those episodes were bookended by a trio of lifeless entries stuck in a mythological rut, full of robotic performances and paced like a slug on a salt flat. Maybe it's a coincidence that the three lifeless episodes all came from series creator Chris Carter and the three superior episodes from other contributors in the show's vast stable, but it sure didn't feel like it. Promise me more X-Files episodes from people named Morgan, Wong or, in an ideal world, Gilligan and I'm enthusiastically on-board. But my desire for more of Carter's X-Files is now exhausted. — D.F.

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