The Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the Worst TV Shows of 2018

8:00 AM 12/24/2018

by Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg

Networks, cable and streaming platforms all served up their share of slop, including dismal sophomore seasons, dead-in-the-water newbies, tone-deaf movie spinoffs and “prestige” embarrassments. We watched so you don’t have to. You're welcome.

'13 Reasons Why,' 'Ozark,' 'Happy Together'
'13 Reasons Why,' 'Ozark,' 'Happy Together'
Courtesy of Netflix; Courtesy of CBS

In a world of 495 scripted shows, "worst" can mean many things.

Obviously it can refer to sheer ineptitude, but is it really interesting to pick on something like The CW’s utterly amateurish The Outpost over and over again, even if that low-budget acquisition had the feel of a summer-camp arts-and-crafts project? Nah.

More often, "worst" can be applied to degrees of frustration, annoyance, and disappointment that come from a show falling from previous heights, failing to live up to the level of its pedigree or badly blundering an interesting concept. Often, that hurts more than mere ineptitude. 

Here are 10 of the year’s most dispiriting lowlights, listed alphabetically.

  • '13 Reasons Why'

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    The first season of 13 Reasons Why was often gripping television, pointed drama with a clear storytelling imperative. The second season ran around for 13 hours like a chicken with its head cut off, bouncing off of walls, running into dead ends, undermining key character arcs from the debut season and meandering through one dismal secondary story after another, wasting a still-terrific young cast along the way. The trial relating to Hannah Baker's suicide and its myriad causes would have been the worst TV show of 2018 had it been a series on its own; it too often felt like 13 Reasons Why was going through the motions of being controversial for the purposes of toxic buzz, without ever being thoughtful about consequences, something I'd never have said about the first season. Already a poster child for Netflix's refusal to let any story be close-ended, 13 Reasons Why went from acclaimed to reviled in its second year, meaning there's no luck left to press in its equally unnecessary upcoming third season. — Daniel Fienberg

  • "Bright and High Circle" from 'The Romanoffs'

    Amazon

    Justina Mintz / Amazon

    Overall, The Romanoffs was a hit-and-miss disappointment, but far from a disaster. Even if it couldn't live up to Mad Men, Matthew Weiner's loosely connected anthology had a bunch of great casts, some successful installments and interesting ideas about identity and aspiration in our current day. The "Bright and High Circle" episode, though, was the sort of wild misfire nobody without Weiner's clout could have gotten past a network at script stage. Intended or not, it played as Weiner's ham-fisted response to the #MeToo accusations he has faced, placing greater criminality on mob justice and rampant speculation than on actual abuses. But even if you take the ideological disaster out of the equation — and that's impossible to do, since the episode is 100 percent ideology with almost no dramatic tension to speak of — "Bright and High Circle" was still a total waste of Diane Lane, Andrew Rannells and Ron Livingston, spreading a sour taste across the rest of the series. — D.F.  

  • 'Camping'

    HBO

    Anne Marie Fox/HBO

    Relentlessly unfunny, this remake of a British series from Julia Davis (let the world please realize henceforth that only Julia Davis can pull off Julia Davis kinds of shows) features a woefully miscast Jennifer Garner in the lead. But beyond that, it can barely be endured for how unlikable and unfunny everyone is (save Juliette Lewis and, in a smaller role, Bridget Everett). But don't confuse what "unlikable" implies. Virtually all of Davis' work centers on someone unlikable. But those show are always funny. This show is just packed with unlikable. It's like going camping without provisions and with bears everywhere and really annoying people around you. Not survivable. And one and done. — Tim Goodman

  • 'Happy Together'

    CBS

    Sonja Flemming/CBS

    Sorry, Happy Together. On your own, you were nothing worse than a mediocre waste of the talents of Damon Wayans Jr. and Amber Stevens West. As part of one of the worst slates of fall TV ever, you're a representative for just how uninterested the broadcast networks seem to be in doing anything with any aspirations at all. By two or three episodes in, Happy Together's entire premise — something about producer Ben Winston's own experiences with Harry Styles, except that it was ashamed to be about that at all — had become just an amorphous shrug and the series was just a group of actors trying really hard with nothing to play. Part of why this fall produced basically no breakout successes is because broadcast networks refused to take even the smallest of swings, and critics and viewers alike are smart enough to spot this level of collective blandness.  — D.F. 

  • 'Heathers'

    Paramount Network

    Courtesy of TV Land

    Jason Micallef's update of the 1988 dark comedy classic Heathers was a questionable venture to begin with and its muddled execution was a mess of bad casting, iffy core concept and a confused approach to how aggressive it wanted its satirical approach to be. What might have been even worse was Paramount Network's toothless handling of the show. If you feel like you've made a clear-headed and scrutiny-proof series with a controversial approach touching on what will inevitably be hot-button issues, you have to be prepared to stand by the art you've made. But if you aren't prepared to stand behind the art you've made — and Heathers is not very good art — then shamefacedly trying to sneak the show onto the air between exactly the sorts of national tragedies a GOOD version of the show would have been intelligently commenting on, looks bad. Very bad. — D.F. 

  • 'Here and Now'

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    I could just as easily put Netflix's The Good Cop here, but that show was made intentionally to feel like a toothless network show with easily digestible saccharine feel-good vibes. Doesn't make it right, but it was built that way. Being good was never the plan. HBO is in the prestige business and whiffs again (this time badly) with this Alan Ball series that was a jaw-dropping hot mess trying to take on, as I said in my review, "Trump, post-election depression, possibly some liberal idealism and race absolutely, with some gender issues in there as well, plus gay and possibly trans culture, the notion of fluid sexuality, Muslims, aging and empathy." None of that worked and, with a cast fronted by Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter it was a big swing and miss from HBO and creator Ball. Tonally, this show was all over the map and, after four episodes, there was no clear path forward. HBO canceled it. — T.G. 

  • 'Insatiable'

    Netflix

    Annette Brown/Netflix

    Oh, dear, what a disaster right out of the gate. Derided immediately for its fat shaming and larger point — fat girl gets accepted and feels OK about herself only after losing a bunch of weight and getting hot — Insatiable actually had much, much worse problems to overcome. As I said then: "Insatiable is trite, way over the top (even for a series that appears to be trying to go there for comedic effect), unfunny and, running at 40-plus minutes per episode, a bloated mess that's labor-intensive to get through." It probably doesn’t need to be hammered home in 2018, but with Peak TV overload and any number of great options, audiences have little incentive to stay around for something terrible. That said, Netflix renewed it. — T.G. 

  • 'LA to Vegas'

    Fox

    FOX

    The new year had barely begun — Jan. 2! — and Fox, then still a network in theory, dropped this dud on everybody. At best, it was some kind of Airplane! homage put through a modern-day blender. But at worst — and more accurately, the result of what happens when you trust proven producers (Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Steve Levitan) rather than just trusting your gut when you see a bad pilot — LA to Vegas was mostly stupid. It starred a badly miscast Dylan McDermott, but the real damage was in the writing. How stupid was this series? Asked and answered in my review: "How bad is LA to Vegas really? Well, it makes 22 minutes feel like a slow 44 and it made me scribble down this note: 'Who greenlighted this? Seriously, do your fucking job.'" Fox canceled it. — T.G. 

  • 'Ozark'

    Netflix

    Jessica Miglio/Netflix

    Yes, I know Ozark remains an award show favorite and it still has passionate fans. Enjoy! No 2018 show proved as difficult for me to get through. If it wasn't the thin-as-a-wafer plot spread across both the entire season and each absurdly padded episode frustrating me, it was the visual monotonousness of a series that decided "darkness" would be its one-note aesthetic in addition to its one-note theme. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are too talented to be wasted on characters this exhaustingly dour and Julia Garner is too good and the storyline with Ruth too fertile to be constantly reduced to C-plot status. The second Ozark season felt like it had run out of ideas even before it started relentlessly killing off second- and third-tier characters in its last few episodes. And yet for this cast, especially Garner, I'm likely to keep watching and to keep pulling out my hair. — D.F.

  • 'Yellowstone'

    Paramount Network

    Emerson Miller/Paramount Network

    Well, people over 55 totally loved this series — maybe because they do less streaming or like things to feel and look like they did 30 years ago? Yellowstone was the first drama for the Paramount Network (yeah, that's really a thing) and the first foray into series television for Kevin Costner. Billed as "epic," it delivered with excessive helicopter shots — and the use of a real helicopter that almost became a character. But mostly there were epic amounts of soapy nonsense here, including Costner talking existentially to a dying horse in the opening minutes of the first episode and Kelly Reilly going beyond scenery-chewing vamp-sexiness to actually chasing wolves in a dress and spouting this line, emblematic of so many others: "It's only the things that I love that die, Rip, not me." A little bit of me died while watching it, I know that. But Yellowstone was renewed. — T.G.