In past years I have written “The 10 Worst TV Shows of The Year” lists for this website. I now renounce that practice as wrong and misleading. Not because it’s too mean, mind you; because it’s not comprehensively mean enough. If TV is capable of greatness–it is, and it is proving it more than ever–then awful TV is an offense to that potential and should be called out. But if it’s hubris for me to declare that I have seen the 10 best things that aired all year, it’s even more so to pretend I could isolate the 10 worst, much less to rank them.
It’s physically possible, at least, for a critic to screen enough of the year’s good TV to identify the best of the best. But millions of hours of TV is piped over cable a year; there must be awful, awful things that I have not seen–in that vast dark matter of tiny channels, syndication, and cheapo time-filler–because they are awful, because I do not seek them out, because life is a gift that it is a sin to waste. There are others I have forgotten, because the human brain protects itself from trauma.
So the below are not the 10 Worst TV Shows of the Year. They are simply 10 of the worst things someone who watches a lot of TV for a living can recall seeing. And for now, that is good, or rather bad, enough. Alphabetically:
Dads. There have been excellent, funny shows about terrible, bigoted people–All in the Family, South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This was none of those; it too often relied on jokes that could only be funny if the audience thought that cliches about Asians (or whoever else) were funny. And the show’s waste of good comic actors was almost as offensive.
The Dexter finale. I’ll admit that I’d given up hope that Dexter could be as good as its first couple of seasons long ago. But this finale, which went all in on implausibility and cheated any kind of real closure, must have been even rougher for loyal fans who expected better.
The Following. This wasn’t flat-out the worst drama a network aired last year (see Zero Hour, e.g.) and it was enough of a hit to be returning in January. But it was a big, ponderous, increasingly far-fetched example of the growing TV cliche of the evil, nihilist mastermind.
Hemlock Grove. You’ve read a lot of year-end roundups about the rise of Netflix this year with House of Cards, Arrested Development, and Orange Is the New Black, and I’m betting Netflix is glad most of them forget that this goofy, laughable horror serial existed. (And Ricky Gervais’ Derek must be glad for the diversion.)
Low Winter Sun, Ray Donovan, and Antihero Overload. Like The Following, a couple of not-very-good shows that fall among The Worst for embodying a bad trend: turning the antihero genre of Tony Soprano and Walter White into pain-by-the-numbers.
Ready for Love. The Bachelor meets Millionaire Matchmaker meets the slow demise of your faith in humanity.
60 Minutes’ Benghazi report. The damage done by most of the shows on this list ended the moment you changed the channel. Lara Logan’s credulous interview with a fraudulent “witness” to the killings of Americans in Libya further polarized a political debate and injured the credibility of a TV news institution.
Splash. Some reality shows achieve brilliance by embracing ridiculousness. This awkward, unpleasant diving competition just bellyflopped straight into it.
The View and Katie’s vaccine fumbles. The View, produced by newswoman Barbara Walters, legitimized the dangerous anti-vaccine crusading of Jenny McCarthy by hiring her as a co-host and rationalizing her undermining public health as one more provocative “opinion.” Later, Katie Couric, gave undue legitimacy to critics of the HPV vaccine on her syndicated talk show–and corrected it in a blog post.
Zero Hour. “Ze clocks!” This wacko supernatural thriller about apocalyptic Nazi timepieces might actually have been one of the best shows of the year, it it were a 90-second parody trailer.
Again: This is only a partial list–and thank God for that. Suggest your own Worsts of 2013 in the comments, if you can bear the memories.