The worst TV of 2013

When it came time to highlight the best television of 2013, The A.V. Club found ourselves in a bit of a bind: No single list could illustrate the depth and breadth of quality TV that debuted on American screens this year. But there is no “best” without a “worst,” and for every Enlightened, Orange Is The New Black, or Bob’s Burgers, there must also be a Do No Harm or Dads. Fortunately, it’s a little easier to define and contain the lows of the year in 2013, and many of the shows mentioned below won’t live to see the new year.

Worst new series: Dads
For as great a year as it was for new series—and it was, indeed, one of the best ever—it was perhaps an even better year for terrible new series. Hemlock Grove, Do No Harm, Zero Hour, Cult, We Are Men, and Betrayal all set new standards for awfulness. But unlike the good side of the ledger, where there was no clear “show of the year,” there was a clear worst new show: Fox’s Dads, a cynical cash-grab from the Seth MacFarlane factory that seemed to believe that Americans don’t just want racist gags, but the kind of painfully obvious racist gags that even Archie Bunker would have rolled his eyes at. Dads wasn’t just hateful; it was poorly executed hatefulness, which made it more boring than truly risible. It got a full season somehow, but declining ratings suggest that America may have caught on to its badness. [TV]


Worst attempt to make D-list celebs sympathetic:
Stars In Danger: The High Dive
As Nelson Muntz once said, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.” The “stars” of this threadbare reality competition consisted of two Baywatch alums, one disgraced former football player, a dancing-show refugee, two Real Housewives, Antonio Sabato Jr., and the entity known as JWoww. The producers larded every potential belly flop with slasher-movie music, even though the “stars” were diving into a nice, comfy swimming pool—not shark-infested waters. Contestants courageously and weepily overcame the fear of awkwardly jumping a short distance into water. It was especially frustrating since they were all competing against sweetly uncomplaining Soul Surfer inspiration Bethany Hamilton, who, the last time she faced aquatic danger, had her arm actually bitten off by a freaking shark. [DP]


Worst loss to the dance world:
Bill Nye The Science Guy
This year, Dancing With The Stars made the best decision in the history of its C-list celebrity fruit-picking: bringing back affable dance machine Bill Nye The Science Guy. While he never had a serious shot at the disco ball, his pro ballroom partner Tyne Stecklein provided a geek-inspired opening number that foreshadowed some amazing homages down the line. Unfortunately, he made a criminally early departure after suffering an injury during a Beethoven-themed Paso Doble; with his mobility impaired, not even the robotic Daft Punk jazz number could save him from the chopping block. In some other universe that Bill Nye probably knows how to reach, an audience has seen weeks more of slightly stiff but utterly committed nerd-themed ballroom dancing. Science can’t quantify how sad that is. [GV]


Most puzzling definition of “event”: NBC
In the year that saw the end of 30 Rock, NBC programming finally followed the lead of Jack Donaghy and Kenneth Parcell. That’s one way to explain the network’s decision to host a marathon game show in a giant hourglass. But Million Second Quizwasn’t a product of the guys who brought you Gold Case—it was part of NBC’s attempt to get audiences back into the habit of live viewing, a strategy dependent on “events” like Ryan Seacrest’s enclosed-space trivia challenge or the toxic dating show Ready To Love. Sure, The Peacock’s few remaining hits are can’t-miss live telecasts like Sunday Night Football and The Voice eliminations, but even a figure as stubborn as Jack Donaghy had to learn that Nielsen winners can’t be ginned up from the likes of The Rockefeller Center Salute To Fireworks. The Sound Of Music Live!, however, was a different story. [EA]


Worst novel: Joe Carroll’s magnum opus in
The Following
There were a lot of things to hate about Fox’s winter drama The Following, a show about a highly improbable cult of serial killers who were obsessed with the works of Edgar Allen Poe. But worse than the entirely nonsensical interpretations of Poe’s work, the weird obsession with kitchen knives and suicide, and the continued violence against women was Joe Carroll’s novel-in-progress, an untitled work that attempted to write the story of his nemesis’ death before it even happened. Naturally, this was difficult to do. Joe, unfortunately, was not up to the task. In one memorable episode, Joe tries to write out his enemy’s motivations, and loses himself in a string of question marks: “????????????????????” Which is how we all felt, ultimately. [SS]


Worst response to a mancession that never existed:
We Are Men
The 2011-12 TV season was filled with sitcoms about a supposed “mancession,” in which men couldn’t find jobs and had to rely on their womenfolk to take care of them. The trend culminated in last year’s worst show of the year, Work It, and it fizzled out as soon as it began, with only Last Man Standing clinging to the airwaves. (And even that show has largely backpedaled from its initial premise of a successful man baffled by the women in his life.) But CBS’ We Are Men felt as if it could have been right at home in that wave of shows. It was about a bunch of spiteful dudes whose supposedly fun adventures in an apartment complex for single guys made them seem less like they were mad at their exes and more like they were just mad at women in general. And their irritations were Super Bowl-beer-commercial non-specific. Women like things that smell good! And they like to hang out with their husbands/boyfriends! What a drag, right? We Are Men went the way of Work It: canceled after two episodes. [TV]


Worst promotional poster and title:
Do No Harm
Do No Harm was a show about a neurosurgeon who, every night, would switch to an evil Mr. Hyde-esque alter ego. So, of course, NBC decided to call it Do No Harm—which makes it sound like a TNT drama about doctors making cups of tea, which might air at 6 p.m. on a Saturday. And then they decided to plaster every city in America with a disgustingly ugly Photoshop botch-job of a poster that features the protagonist (Steven Pasquale) with another face lamely projected onto his hands. Comedian Paul F. Tompkins dubbed the show “Doctor Face-Hands,” simultaneously giving it a far better title and a far more intriguing-sounding premise. A doctor with a face on his hands! That we’d watch. [DS]


Worst suicide attempt: Maya Lewis,
Scandal
Scandal took gore up a notch when Olivia Pope’s mother, played by Khandi Alexander, ate her own wrists to get transferred from her high-security cell to an infirmary, allowing for her easy escape. The nightmarish dialogue included lines like, “Most people would have passed out after a few bites but this one, she just kept chewing until she found an artery.” The sounds she made—dear God, the smacking. Sometimes, we can still hear it. [GI]


Worst returning lumberjack: Dexter,
Dexter
Dexter set a new standard for final-season stupidity. Never again will defenders of Lost or Battlestar Galactica or The Sopranos have to endure the snipes of those who believe those endings to be terrible, because all they’ll have to say is, “At least it was better than Dexter, right?” and their detractors will have to agree. The worst final season of all time culminated in the worst series finale of all time, an episode that attempted to wedge in a grand conclusion it hadn’t remotely earned and concluded with the main character receiving nothing in the way of consequences for his actions—not even a light reprimand from those who knew his secret. Then it tried to provide the suggestion of consequences by having him feel guilty for the death of a loved one he didn’t really have anything to do with. Dexter sailed his boat into a hurricane and became a lumberjack, which is a sentence that didn’t exist before 2013. Thank you, Dexter. [TV]


Worst FX shot driven into the ground: the bifurcated cow,
Under The Dome
One of the bigger disappointments of the 2013 fall TV season, Under The Dome had numerous problems that made it eligible for this list many times over. Repetition plagued the show, from its reliance on redundant (and obvious) expository dialogue to revisiting its money shot at seemingly every chance: When the dome came down in the first episode, one unlucky cow happened to be standing right on the border between the dome and the outside world. That split the poor bovine down the middle, its innards plainly—and awesomely—visible through the glass-like substance that now cut off Chester’s Mill from the outside world. It’s an undeniably neat bit of effects work—so neat that it was repeated roughly 1,000 times in the succeeding episodes. [KR]


Worst memorial tribute to Hal Needham:
The Crazy Ones blooper reel
Thanks to the teamwork of Robin Williams, James Wolk, and Hamish Linklater, The Crazy Ones has gotten funnier since its pilot. But the self-congratulatory montages showing how much fun everyone had between takes are everything you might fear from a sitcom created by David E. Kelley and starring Robin Williams. [PDN]


Worst reality show:
Big Brother
The best seasons of Big Brother have provided enough social and strategic gameplay to keep fans addicted throughout the summer months. The latest iteration, however, cobbled together a rather loathsome group of individuals that deployed copious amounts of racist and homophobic slurs early in the season. Cultural ignorance turned into a viable strategy, with two of the three final contestants being the worst offenders throughout the summer. While initially excised from actual episodes and shown only on the show’s live feeds, the uproar over the contestants’ behavior online soon forced the network’s hand. CBS started airing disclaimers to distance itself from those it placed inside the house. And this from the network that proudly stands behind CSI! [RM] 


Worst assassination exploitation in a season of assassination exploitation:
Killing Kennedy
This November marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the U.S.’ 35th president, which meant an inevitable flood of books and TV specials commemorating the event. Killing Kennedy, the National Geographic Channel’s adaptation of Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s 2012 book, was one of those TV specials. There was little overtly offensive about it; even Rob Lowe’s broad attempt at a Kennedy drawl is too sincere to be distasteful. What makes the movie so unfortunate is its complete lack of purpose. For 92 minutes, the film plots out the parallel lives of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald with thudding literalism, covering history without bothering to invest it with drama, complexity, or even unintentional humor. Offering neither an alternative explanation for Kennedy's death nor any insight into history, Killing Kennedy exists simply because of a calendar date and a star who said “Uh, sure.” [ZH]


Worst pilot:
The Goldbergs
It might have gotten better. It might have settled into the comfortable groove of a sitcom about a family that fights but really does love each other. And it might have the considerable comedic talents of Jeff Garlin and voiceover from Patton Oswalt at its disposal. But none of that can retroactively make up for how dire The Goldbergs’ pilot was. That first episode indulges all of the show’s worst impulses, and all of the pitfalls of the concept come out—playing up nostalgia for the ’80s as a “simpler time” (for whom?), totally unexamined, archetypal characters, and lots of pointless yelling. With a first episode so broad that American Horror Story looks a master of subtlety by comparison, it’ll take a lot more than just a few decent episodes for The Goldbergs to make up for its original sin. [ET]


Worst violation of bro code: Watson and Mycroft hooking up on
Elementary
Elementary’s second season has offered precious little development of Watson, despite the initial promise of her character. Making one of her few pivotal character beats a one-night stand is bizarre; making it a retcon from earlier in the season is baffling; making her sex partner Sherlock’s brother Mycroft just makes it all about Sherlock (again). Sherlock’s trust issues eclipsed any effect it might have had for Watson (and the episode textually admitted it had no context for her decision). Even more oddly, as the show tries the leap from episodic to serial, they haven’t referenced it since. It’s a violation of bro code, for both the show and its audience; here’s hoping this episode falls through the syndication cracks. [GV]


Most horrifying Freudian drama:
Princesses: Long Island
The first season of Princesses: Long Island was compelling though often repulsive reality television, but its crown jewel wasn’t the squabbling titular princesses—it was the bizarre, horrifying triangular relationship among princess Amanda, her “cool” mother Barbara, and her extremely effeminate, creepy boyfriend Jeff. In the first episode, Amanda and Barbara go bikini shopping with Jeff, where Amanda’s mother forces her daughter’s boyfriend to compliment her body. Their entanglement only gets weirder and sadder, culminating in Jeff’s not-quite proposal to Amanda on a gross Metro North commuter train. This is the sort of reality programming that’s impossible to turn off and impossible to forget, no matter how much you might want to. [ET]


Worst fictional musical: Hit List,
Smash
Of all the mistakes made in revamping Smash for a second season, the biggest was the addition of an off-Broadway rock-opera called Hit Listwhich so desperately wanted to be Rent thatit killed off one of its fictional creators to mimic the real-life death of Jonathan Larson. Written by the insufferably angsty character Jimmy Collins, the fictional musical rocketed from an early workshop to a full-blown Broadway production despite being “young and hip” in only the most trite ways: setting songs at the VMAs (a year before Miley!), singing odes to Lady Gaga, and encouraging the audience to live-tweet their experiences. Besides the catchy “Broadway Here I Come,” Hit List was filled with generic pop ballads, had no discernible plot, and served as a breeding ground for a boring love affair between Jimmy and Smash’s lead Karen Cartwright. Worst of all, it took time away from the show’s far superior fictional musical, Bombshell. [CS]


Worst talk show hire:
Jenny McCarthy, The View
You wouldn’t expect ABC’s daytime talk show The View to incite real controversy, but the most recent addition to the roundtable justifiably stirred anger. When Elisabeth Hasselbeck left to go to Fox News, there were any number of people who could have been an effective replacement, but the network chose former actress and model Jenny McCarthy, notorious for her opposition to vaccines, a position that has been continually shown to be scientifically ungrounded. McCarthy’s opposition to vaccination isn’t just “different,” it’s dangerous. It’s good for talk shows to host a variety of perspectives, but espousing widely discredited beliefs that endanger children (in a clear effort to court controversy and ratings) is a bridge too far. [ET]


Worst late-night trend: cancellation of every show not fronted by a white man
Sure, we still have Chelsea Lately, and Arsenio Hall. But the late-night TV landscape, never one to shift quickly with the times, remains largely the domain of the white male comedian. That doesn't mean that exciting young talents like Pete Holmes shouldn't be getting shows, but it was truly disappointing to see FXX cancel Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell earlier this year, followed quickly by MTV’s decision not to renew Nikki & Sara Live. Not just because of the different perspective both brought to late-night television, but because both were extremely funny, fresh, exciting shows with great futures ahead of them. [DS]


Biggest waste of onscreen talent:
Ironside
Blair Underwood is a one-man charm offensive, and yet even those boundless reserves of charisma couldn’t lift this unnecessary remake out of the brooding-cop mire. Even worse: The combined, winning presences of Underwood, Spencer Grammer, Pablo Schreiber, and Brent Sexton didn’t distract from the fact that Ironside was a paint-by-numbers procedural dressing up in the clothes of the Raymond Burr original. At least Grammer, Schreiber, and Sexton got off easier than Ironside’s marquee name: With appearances on Rick And Morty, Orange Is The New Black, and Justified, respectively, they got to take part in shows that deserved their contributions in 2013. [EA]


Worst TV about TV:
The 2013 Emmys
This year’s Emmys would still have been horrible even if they weren’t supposed to celebrate the best of television. As it is, the whole thing became painfully ironic. Although Neil Patrick Harris’ 2009 hosting stint had dragged the Emmys up from 2008’s awards—the previous low point, in which four reality hosts led the show with pretty much no plan whatsoever—not even his game efforts could help this year’s event. The bloated suckfest featured no fewer than five individual memorial tributes, plus a montage; another slew of unworthy winners (Tony Hale, Merritt Wever, and Stephen Colbert were among the few deserving exceptions); Carrie Underwood randomly singing “Yesterday”; and an inexplicable interpretive dance number featuring shows that had nothing to do with dance, like Breaking Bad. When Steven Levitan won (again!) for Modern Family, he commented, “This may be the saddest Emmys of all time, but we could not be happier.” No viewer could say the same. [GI]


Worst reason to stay tuned after
Breaking Bad: Low Winter Sun
It’s one thing to use a hit show to lead into a new show, it’s quite another to hold the viewers of that hit show hostage. AMC paired the final season of Breaking Bad with new drama Low Winter Sun, but apparently didn’t have enough faith in the drawing power of a gritty Detroit police drama starring Mark Strong and Lennie James. Their solution? Hold onto the audience by embedding the teasers for next week in the commercial breaks of the newer show—some of which took a full half-hour to arrive. Making it more painful, Low Winter Sun was also one of the season’s worst dramas, a dreary and badly plotted affair that shackled Strong and James to thinly drawn cop-show clichés. It’s understandable that AMC would want to use Breaking Bad’s hit status to launch its next bald-antihero drama, but by the end, this just made viewers resent the new show’s existence. [LC]


Worst hostages in the history of all hostages: The Sanders family,
Hostages
This is a little premature, because the Sanders are going to grace our screens for a few more episodes, but this family is perplexing. At one point, two of them were on a bus leaving Canada, but they came back to the house where they were imprisoned, because, well, we don’t actually know why, except maybe they got confused. At this point, the two adults have spoken to several law-enforcement officials and even the president of the United States but have consistently lied to save the asses of kidnappers who have done the following: killed their daughter’s baby daddy; implanted them all with tracking chips; tied them up with duct tape and terrorized them; and even, you know, shot Brian Sanders, when he was trying to escape. Stockholm syndrome would be an acceptable, legitimate explanation, but Hostages is instead going with the implausible angle that Ellen Sanders, the mom, has fallen in love with her terrorizer, Duncan Carlisle. Escape, you people! Run away! [SS]

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