The explosion of good TV in the past 15 years has less to do with the medium becoming something other than a vast wasteland than the sheer number of networks and number of programs increasing exponentially, allowing more original voices to slip through the cracks and onto television. But this also means there’s exponentially more bad stuff, more networks programming useless reality drivel or, worse, lazy scripted TV. 2010 was both an exceptionally good year and an exceptionally bad year for television. Here are the 10 worst shows that premiered in 2010.
10. The Event (NBC)
Some shows squandered more promise than The Event this year, but none followed such a relentlessly audience-eroding approach. Debuting to some of the biggest numbers for a new show this year, The Event saw its audience thin quickly as it drove viewers away with its needlessly labyrinthine plotting, predictable mysteries, and a steadfast refusal to create characters worth caring about. With Lost and 24 both leaving the air, there was room for a show like this. The Event won’t be that show.
9. Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)
Some critics hailed this cop drama as the return of the venerable Cagney & Lacey, but the characters proved too formless to offer that kind of pleasure. Sold entirely on wink-wink, nudge-nudge suggestions that the title characters might be lesbians (but not really, middle America!), Rizzoli & Isles stranded Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, and Lorraine Bracco in a wasteland of predictable crime-show plotting, clumsily deployed humor, and gruesomely pointless violence against women. TNT struck gold with blissfully unoriginal crime dramas in the past, but between this and the similarly bad Memphis Beat, 2010 wasn’t the network’s year.
8. Outsourced (NBC)
It’s rare to see a show attract the pre-emptive hate that greeted Outsourced, distaste driven largely by the fact that it had pushed the beloved—if struggling—Parks And Recreation from NBC’s schedule. That might have been possible to overcome had Outsourced been good, or even average. But the show turned out to be the worst kind of lazy, offering jokes based largely around tired cultural stereotypes and plotting straight out of Suddenly Susan. Whether the show should be called xenophobic is ultimately in the eye of the beholder—it is—but no one could deny the terribleness of its jokes.
7. Blue Mountain State (Spike)
Spike, TV for guys, began an attempt to break into the world of scripted television in earnest in 2010, its efforts finding their nadir with the crude, misshapen Blue Mountain State, a smug show about college life that seemed assembled out of bits and pieces of other college programs then patched together with old copies of Maxim. It was a bad year for college shows in general (see also: Glory Daze), but Blue Mountain State took the prize by offering nothing of redeeming value to offset the ugliness at its core.
6. Outlaw (NBC)
Every episode of NBC’s misbegotten Jimmy Smits-is-a-renegade-former-Supreme Court-justice-turned-crusading-lawyer-because-he-can-evidently-do-more-good-that-way-or-something lawyer show Outlaw seemed to take place in an alternate universe, not only compared to our own, but from that of all preceding episodes. Smits’ politics shifted, based on how edgy the show wanted him to seem. The courtroom proceedings were similarly ludicrous, seemingly based on the show’s producers doing their research by watching old reruns of Ironside in a language they didn’t speak.
5. The Marriage Ref (NBC)
Jerry Seinfeld made his return to TV in the worst possible way, reappearing after the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics with a terrible show absolutely no one could have wanted to see. In The Marriage Ref, Seinfeld and his celebrity friends watched clips from the marriages of ordinary American couples whose small marital problems had been blown way out of proportion (like on a sitcom!). Then, Seinfeld and his gang mocked the couples, before the eponymous ref (comic Tom Papa) made a ruling. At its worst, Marriage Ref felt like Hollywood’s smug sense of self-satisfaction had started to devour likable comedians whole. At its best, it was just boring.
4. $#*! My Dad Says (CBS)
There were several bad sitcoms to debut this year, but $#*! My Dad Says had the added offense of being both bad and boring. Based on a popular Twitter feed, the series took what could have been an interesting idea for a comedy—son in economic trouble moves in with his estranged father—and made every element as bland as possible, trucking in situations and gags that were old when I Love Lucy used them, and permeating the series with the insufferable air of one of those shows NBC used to stick on between Friends and Seinfeld. Not even William Shatner as the crotchety father could save this one.
3. Plain Jane (The CW)
The ugly duckling myth is a potent one, suggesting that those who lack physical beauty may be more special than they appear to be (or might grow up to be a really hot bird). Numerous reality shows have been based around this premise, none quite as offensively as Plain Jane, which ignored all evidence that the “plain” women at its center were actually incredibly interesting—not to mention attractive—then proceeded to make them all as bland and vapid as possible, the better to look like the cover of a supermarket fashion magazine.
2. The Fairy Jobmother (Lifetime)
The U.S. continues to suffer through the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, any minor glimmers of hope wiped out by nearly double-digit unemployment. Enter a cottage industry of bullshit reality shows designed to help Americans through this trying time. Take The Fairy Jobmother, a remake of a British series that posited the only reason so many people lack work is because they lack confidence and/or good hygiene. It’s a show designed to flatter those with jobs into thinking those without must all be shiftless layabouts with no marketable skills, not people struggling through a profound and terrible situation. Instead of Capra-esque community-building, The Fairy Jobmother is all about how the individual can get ahead.
1. Gravity (Starz)
The film industry stopped giving Eric Schaeffer money to make terrible, self-indulgent films, so he moved over to cable, taking the cash of networks trying to get into scripted programming, networks that would buy into Schaeffer’s intriguing concepts for shows he would eventually make all about himself. Take Gravity, co-created with Jill Franklyn and paired with the sublime Party Down for some reason. What seemed like a potentially interesting series about a suicide survivor support group, starring Krysten Ritter and Ving Rhames, became a show about Schaeffer’s detective character, who had only a tangential connection to anyone else. But even without Schaeffer’s character, Gravity would have been awful. A character tried to commit suicide by cake. An atheist met her dream lover, an Irish grifter, in Heaven. Everyone in the group was an awful stereotype. Gravity could have been awesomely bad, The Room of television. Instead, it was mostly boring. And awful.
Special award for being terrible but endlessly watchable: Happy Town (ABC)
Happy Town might have made the list above if it weren’t terrible in a tremendously entertaining way. A too-self-serious attempt to remake Twin Peaks, Happy Town featured, among other elements, a killer bird, a kidnapper everyone refused to talk about, and the most ludicrous finale in the history of ludicrous finales to overwrought mystery shows. And that’s to say nothing of dialogue like “The Thaw Fest is about dogs and carousels. Ain’t about darkness.” If a DVD release of Happy Town ever materializes, it could become the next TV camp classic.
Special award for being terrible but also seeming good: The Big C (Showtime)
At this point, Showtime’s attempts to make “quality” TV just feel insulting. The network’s formula for good programs—pumping in a bunch of elements you might expect to see on a good show but neglecting to find a strong, creative voice to guide it—became so nakedly contemptuous in The Big C that not even a terrific Laura Linney performance could rescue it. Showtime seems to think that coming up with a high-concept premise that allows an award-winning actress to hide a terrible secret while quirky music plays against vaguely comical situations equals the hard work of making a truly vital series. The emptiness of The Big C’s “She has cancer! But she’s not telling anyone!” premise exposes how dry the well went long ago.
We’re not going to lie. These shows were also terrible.
The A-List (Logo), Bridalplasty (E!), Fly Girls (The CW), High Society (The CW), Miami Medical (CBS), Past Life (Fox), Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family), The Real Housewives Of D.C. (Bravo), Scoundrels (ABC), Undercover Boss (CBS)