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The worst TV of 2014

This year, The A.V. Club’s TV writers nominated more than 90 programs for our year-end best-of list. But if we’ve learned anything from watching that much TV, it’s that there is no protagonist without a villain; no altruistic, kindhearted twin without an evil double; no Simpsons without Family Guy. And it’s in that spirit that we present these “superlatives” for the premieres, finales, returning shows, crossover events, and other television works we didn’t like as much as those 90 series, miniseries, and TV movies. This is the worst of everything that The A.V. Club plopped itself down in front of this year, a list that, fortunately, is much shorter than the one cataloging everything we liked.

Worst new show of the year: Stalker (CBS)

It probably feels like every terrible thing that can be said about Stalker has already been said, but in a world where good shows die fast and the worst somehow live to see another day, there’s always more to say. As a show that’s part of Kevin Williamson’s post-Vampire Diaries career, Stalker is just par for the course. The Following was an introduction to the hyper-stylized violence and nonsensical plots, and it was a success. So how does one catch lightning in a bottle twice? The obvious answer: by going from cults to stalkers. Thus, Stalker was born. Haunting covers set to fit the plot (including “Every Breath You Take,” naturally) and pop psychology courtesy of Dylan McDermott’s stalking expert (who is also secretly a stalker) are the bread and butter of the show. It’s not just a show that “hates women”—it’s a show that hates human beings with brains. And what’s worse is that there are glimpses that the show knows it’s every bit as ridiculous as the critics say—the Halloween episode would make NBC’s The Cape proud. But overall, a lack of self-awareness is what makes the show even worse than it would be by any other standard—a lack of self-awareness that led to Kevin Williamson’s rant claiming “We’ve all stalked someone at some point.” That is the mission of Stalker, and that says it all, really. [LaToya Ferguson]

Worst ending: How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

For nearly a decade, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor on-screen, Bob Saget in voiceover) kept his teenaged son and daughter frozen in suspense (and time) as he unspooled the tale of how he met the kids’ mother. Eight years into that story, viewers finally met the woman Ted spent his whole life searching for, a soulmate played with ample soul and wide-eyed affability by Cristin Milioti. A living question mark finally resolved, The Mother blossomed into the only reason to stick with HIMYM through its lopsided final season, with Milioti’s performance endearing her to viewers just as she’d soon endear herself to Ted. As promised all those years ago, the couple finally meets under the yellow umbrella in the series finale—then The Mother falls ill and dies offscreen. Abruptly shifting gears in its final moments, How I Met Your Mother contradicts more than 100 hours of television in mere seconds, recasting its titular tale as Ted asking his kids for permission to bang (bang bangity bang) their “Aunt” Robin (Cobie Smulders). It’s a betrayal of the show, its audience, and Milioti’s winsome work, something that could’ve been avoided all together in the show’s first ending: the pilot-script twist that suggests Ted and Robin won’t end up together in the end. [Erik Adams]

Worst fan service: Orphan Black, #CloneDanceParty

The science-fiction thriller Orphan Black is a stunning technical achievement and a weekly acting showcase for Tatiana Maslany, the star behind each genetically identical member of the show’s so-called Clone Club. Unfortunately, the charm of that central gimmick occasionally got the best of Orphan Black in season two, a tendency that was intensified by the show’s rabid online fan base. Nowhere was that clearer than in the closing minutes of the second-season finale, “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried,” in which the recently reunited clones put on a dubbed-out dance tune and get their chroma-key groove on. It’s not that the show shouldn’t let its hair down like this: Orphan Black has a wicked sense of humor, and it’s frequently fun in a way that doesn’t feel as forced as the promotional bug that encouraged the tweeting and Tumbling faithful to tag their finale posts with #CloneDanceParty. Gathering Maslany’s characters for what feels like choreographed fan-fiction is bad enough, but the sequence actively contradicted Orphan Black continuity: Any fan worth their GIFs knows that suburban mom Alison has more rhythm than she displays during #CloneDanceParty. [Erik Adams]

Most baffling corporate partnership: Project Runway and Red Robin

Blatant product placement is hard to do gracefully, but in its 13th season, Project Runway completely eliminated the artifice around its business-side concerns by recruiting Red Robin to furnish the season’s $100,000 cash prize. Beggars can’t be choosers, nor can aging reality franchises scrutinize potential underwriters for their luxurious prize packages, but there’s a massive disconnect between watching the designers make clothes to fit on walking dress forms while constantly mentioning the fast-casual restaurant chain known for its seam-busting burgers and bottomless steak fries. To bridge the gap, Heidi Klum mentions that the prize package includes an “opportunity” to design a uniform for Red Robin servers, but that isn’t enough to make the relationship any less ridiculous. Should the Red Robin partnership fall through, maybe there’s a national nudist organization with some money laying around? [Joshua Alston]

Worst crossover: Family Guy, “The Simpsons Guy” (Fox)

Given the years of playful rivalry between the shows, the novelty of a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover episode should have been enough to carry “The Simpsons Guy,” in which the Griffins flee Quahog and wind up in Springfield. From the lazy, awkward results, it seems the Family Guy writers were hoping fan service could substitute for actual quality. Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are such compatible cartoon buffoons, their pairing offered “Simpsons Guy” its best shot at justifying its existence, but they actually suffer the episode’s worst indignity. For no real reason, Homer and Peter find themselves in an interminable “sexy car wash” montage, sudsing and squirting each other in tied-off tees and denim cutoffs. Family Guy prides itself on cutaway gags, but the car-wash scene—set to Kelis’ “Milkshake”—is its most successful look-away gag. [Joshua Alston]

Worst new low: The Following (Fox)

The Following distinguished itself early on as one of TV’s dumbest shows, requiring the audience to believe literature professor Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) commands enough charisma to build an impossibly large murder cult inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. For those willing to make the leap, The Following asked for even more suspension of disbelief in its second season, with Joe revealed to be alive after being nearly vanquished, and with his eyes set on infiltrating another death cult and undermining its leader to gain more followers of his own. In other words, The Following became a show about anti-competitive maneuvering between two violent cults, which sounds ridiculous enough to watch bemusedly, but the show somehow managed to be boring, shedding half its viewership before the season was out. [Joshua Alston]

Worst casting: Every biopic on Lifetime

This was the year Lifetime unleashed a handful of godawful celebrity biopics on the unsuspecting public, each one worse and more exploitative than the last. Shoddy quality, total disrespect, and shamelessness aside, perhaps the most egregious crime was in the casting. There was the laughably blind casting of The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story—Zack Morris, depending on the angle, looked either 10 or 70 years old—that outshone the poor quality of the film. Then came the terrifyingly bad wigs that plagued The Brittany Murphy Story (Let’s not forget about the Ashton Kutcher casting: a white man in a trucker hat!). Most recently, there was the offensive Missy Elliott casting in Aaliyah: The Princess Of R&B (hiring a light-skinned, petite actress to portray a dark-skinned, plus-sized hip-hop icon? Yikes). Lifetime surely won’t slow down on the biopics next year, but here’s hoping the network at least hires a casting director who remembers to put on her glasses in the morning. [Pilot Viruet]

Most unnecessary remake: Rosemary’s Baby (NBC)

2014 was a year full of networks heading back to the well, mining every established property from Nick Hornby adaptations to BBC murder mysteries in an effort to capitalize on brand recognition. Many of these felt unnecessary, but few felt as superfluous as NBC’s take on Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin’s 1967 novel previously adapted as a classic 1968 horror film. Lacking the precise and paranoid vision of Roman Polanski, the two-night miniseries failed to conjure its own perspective, coming across as a flat, forgettable reiteration of a story told better in multiple other incarnations. (CBS’s Extant, while not a good show, at least found an original spin on the “mysterious pregnancy” narrative.) Inconsistent characterization gave Zoe Saldana nothing that Mia Farrow hadn’t done 45 years ago, and Patrick J. Adams was such a nonentity as her husband that Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet sucked up every last bit of energy from the main couple. There was some potential in revisiting the story in an era where women’s rights are constantly under siege, but the miniseries failed to dig deep into any of its large ideas, content to plod on for three hours and hope the title got someone to check in. [Les Chappell]

Worst use of voiceover: Everything but Jane The Virgin

The scourge of the TV voiceover is not a new development, but this was a particularly bad year: Manhattan Love Story’s dueling voiceovers from both male and female perspectives debased both genders, while MTV’s Awkward. abandoned the blog that justified its narration, amplifying its overbearing presence in the process. Solid new shows like Black-ish and the prematurely canceled Selfie struggled to balance the creative potential of voiceover with the constant, nagging suspicion it’s only there to service network demands. But really, this was a bad year for the device the second Jane The Virgin arrived with a voiceover full of personality, perspective, and functionality. In the year of the Latin Lover Narrator, every other disembodied voice is the worst in comparison. [Myles McNutt]

Worst attempt to making drinking seem fun: Mixology (ABC)

Over the course of its single-season run, Mixology committed many, many sins—a premise with laughably low stakes, an asinine structural conceit, casual misogyny, an insistence on making the euphemism “smash” some kind of a catchphrase—but the most curious is its depiction of drinking. A night out at a bar with friends should theoretically be an enjoyable time, but Mixology believes that a bar is a battlefield and drinking is a necessary evil in the midst of war. Every character is so desperate to get laid that they spend more time strategizing how to snag their latest conquests than actually having fun. The bar itself never feels like a place where everybody knows your name, and no one in the series’ claustrophobic world is there just to be there. Mixology was a sitcom set in a bar; the very least they can do is make drinking and hanging out seem like more than a chore. But alas, that was asking too much. [Vikram Murthi]

Worst arguments that women can have it all: The Mysteries Of Laura, State Of Affairs, Bad Judge (NBC)

NBC’s most surprising full-season order from its 2014-15 crop was The Mysteries Of Laura, the Debra Messing vehicle that launched a million “CopMom/MomCop” jokes. Messing’s Detective Laura Diamond can shoot the ear off a perp on a public boardwalk or Taser a guy outside a playground, but she also eats pretzels off of the ground and sedates her destructive young twins with cold medication. Laura was only one of a breed of new female TV leads this fall who have trouble balancing their professional and personal lives. In State Of Affairs, Katherine Heigl’s “sexually irresponsible” CIA analyst Charleston Tucker earns the disapproval of her therapist through her “reckless personal behavior”: picking up strangers in bars as a way of coping with PTSD. Other characters referred to Kate Walsh’s Bad Judge as “Little Miss Train Wreck”; in the show’s original pilot, the ironically named Judge Wright starts her morning with a hangover, Gatorade, and a pregnancy test. Later, she illegally parks in handicapped spaces, and takes a fire ax to the car of a driver who bugs her in traffic. Although Walsh manages to sell this unsavory character in a charming way, Bad Judge became one of fall’s first cancellations. But Laura and Charleston continue holding down the fort, sniffing dubious sandwiches and performing bar tricks for strangers. [Gwen Ihnat]

Worst show we’ll never get a chance to name the worst show: Hieroglyph (Fox)

When it was picked up in mid-May, Hieroglyph looked like Fox’s midseason take on Game Of Thrones, an epic, supernatural series from Pacific Rim writer Travis Beacham. Based on the trailer for the show (which received a straight-to-series order) Hieroglyph was bound to join the annals of big swings at genre programming on broadcast networks. By June, however, it was unceremoniously canceled, its order revoked after Kevin Reilly’s exit from Fox, when everyone involved realized that the show was a complete mess without needing to see another episode. That left only a tantalizing glimpse of absurd MacGuffins (even John Rhys-Davies can’t make the phrase “The Book Of Thresholds” work), lesbianism as bald provocation, and the promise of the epic supernatural Egyptian conspiracy thriller to end all epic supernatural Egyptian conspiracy thrillers—including this one. [Myles McNutt]

Most/least-shocking cameo: Homeland, “Redux” (Showtime)

The most predictable thing about Homeland is that it will always find a way to be Homeland. No longer the borderline-great series it was in season one, every time the series displays even a hint of quality (as it did at the beginning of season four) it quickly relapses into near-incoherence. So it wasn’t necessarily surprising when Damian Lewis showed up in a cameo as the blessedly deceased Nicholas Brody, but it was kind of exhausting, an endpoint for the shoehorned-in ridiculousness of Homeland (until the next time that happens). Worst of all: Even though Brody’s appearance was clearly a hallucinatory result of Carrie’s mental breakdown, it wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility that he was somehow alive when Lewis first appeared on screen. Such is the nightmarish insanity of Homeland. [Eric Thurm]

Stalest Homeland joke: Friends With Better Lives (CBS)

It’s a long, laborious road from pilot script to series premiere, which is exactly how the swifty canceled 2014 sitcom Friends With Better Lives wound up opening with a head-fake gag praising the hottest new show of 2011, Homeland. But let’s try to trace that timeline: The show, a “the grass is always greener” setup focusing on a group of pals in their 30s, was ordered to pilot in January 2013, meaning its script was being finalized just as the potential of Homeland’s thrilling first season was being spoiled by the messy plotting and tortured romantic subplots of its second. Nonetheless, the show had reached peak popularity in the months leading up to CBS’ series order for Friends With Better Lives—which wouldn’t premiere until March of the following year, several goofy Dana Brody storylines and one Nicholas Brody death later. And so it was that the disappointment of the How I Met Your Mother finale was immediately followed up by a joke that made Majandra Delfino and Kevin Connolly sound like they’re about to take one another to bed, when in fact they’re about to turn on a show that hadn’t turned anyone on in two and a half years. [Erik Adams]

Worst attempt to recapture reality’s glory days: I Wanna Marry “Harry” and Utopia (Fox)

As Fox’s president of alternative programming, Mike Darnell was one of the chief architects of the reality-television boom, masterminding Joe Millionaire and American Idol during his tenure at the network. When Darnell left his position last summer, he left big shoes to fill, and 2014 was a pivotal year for the network’s reality development as a result. It’s unfortunate, then, that the two centerpieces of Fox’s reality development were so lifeless: The ambitious Utopia fell flat once America realized that the people willing to spend a year building a new society for TV cameras aren’t people you want to spent a year with. I Wanna Marry “Harry, meanwhile, took Joe Millionaire’s deceit to an absurd level that made everyone involved look so clueless it sucked all the fun out of an already dubious premise. There’s a larger crisis in reality television—over the summer, ABC’s Rising Star was tossed on the pile of failed singing competitions—but Fox’s failures raised the biggest questions about whether networks are capable of expanding on the genre’s legacy, rather than soiling it further. [Myles McNutt]

Worst example of potential cut down in its prime: ABC cancels Selfie

In the pack of new romantic sitcoms that invaded this fall TV season (including Manhattan Love Story, A To Z, and Marry Me), Selfie started off slower than most: an update of My Fair Lady for the social-media age, featuring the self-centered Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) and her marketing-rep Pygmalion, Henry Higgs (John Cho). What began as a look at an obnoxiously vain protagonist quickly transformed due to the unabashed charm of the show’s two stars and their rapidly accelerating chemistry. As early as episode three, Selfie established an enjoyable rapport between Gillan and Cho, augmented by a delightful supporting cast. But fall 2014 was not much of a season for romance, as Manhattan Love Story became the very first casualty of the TV season, soon followed by the death of A To Z. Selfie fans were nervous, and rightly so, as the show got the ax right after Henry’s impressive, passionate waist grab of Eliza in episode six. ABC canceled Selfie just as it was finding its groove; it deserved much more of a chance. [Gwen Ihnat]

Saddest discrepancy between promo photo and show: Crossbones (NBC)

Whatever was in the water in the NBC publicity department this year, it sadly didn’t make it to the set of Crossbones. There’s a baroque madness to this shot of star John Malkovich, a pursed-lip glamour shot from the fever dream of a syphilitic dandy that is in no way indicative of Crossbones’ limp re-imagining of historical pirate captain Blackbeard. This photograph deserves songs in its honor, not an already-forgotten primetime buccaneer non-extravaganza that makes Christopher Walken seem like the most fearsome fiend to sail the high NBSeas in 2014. At least Malkovich’s Blackbeard and maverick motorcycle doctor T.C. Callahan have this much in common: There’s more intrigue and excitement packed into their most infamous still images than there is in Crossbones and The Night Shift combined. [Erik Adams]