Welcome to the TV in 2012 roundtable. I’ve assembled nearly 20 of my fellow critics, scholars and friends to reflect and review the year in television. Between now and the end of the year, the group will discuss various topics covering the highs, the lows and everything in between. See previous entries of the roundtable here.
The roundtable is back. Today, we discuss our picks for the worst and/or most disappointing shows of the year.
Cory Barker: Everyone has their own definition or criteria for “worst” or “disappointing,” so I’m leaving it up to you to decide on how to respond. And I’m even hoping that you have an answer for both this time (Les). So, what shows just bummed you out in 2012?
Noel Kirkpatrick: Worst seems harsh, and I also don’t know that I watch TV that I actively dislike. Why would I do that? (Unless you’d like to pay me. Then I would do it. Because I’m willing to sell out my principles. Editors, take note!) So let’s go with disappointing. All of my potential choices are hour-long melodramas that saw some of the wheels come off the wagons. Revenge‘s whole Initiative thing has taken the show in a weird, muddled direction, and The Vampire Diaries has become stagnant and wheel-spinny. But those things began to occur in the fall of 2012, leaving the spring 2011 portions of those seasons good, particularly Revenge. So that leaves…
Downton Abbey. While the series is what helped make PBS relevant to the TV conversation again in 2011 as a “high-brow” British period drama (what the hell is an entail?!), it was always melodrama in great costumes. It was soapy and addictive, with inter-family scheming, 1910s romantic longings, and Maggie Smith just being awesome (because what else can she do but be awesome now?). But the 2012 series crashed and burned. It couldn’t not address World War I, but visits to the front seemed pointless, especially since no one ever stayed there very long; the Bates ex-wife murder case took one of the show’s strongest components and made it into the weakest; and perhaps most damning was the episode that featured the burned soldier claiming to be Patrick Crawley, the man who could totally upend all of Downton. It was a compelling melodramatic development that could’ve changed the show in delightful ways, but was all wrapped up in a single episode, leaving with absolutely no impact.
And that’s ultimately what made series two such a chore: Very few things seemed to matter since everything was so overstuffed with plot, and nothing had time to breathe. At least Maggie Smith and the Christmas special were still awesome.
Andrew Rabin: I went into 2012 fully expecting Work It to be my least favorite series of the year, if not ever (okay, not ever. H8r has that one locked up). And Work It was awful. Just terrible, terrible television. I’m sure one of you will write about Work It. Maybe five of you. Maybe I’ll look stupid for being the only one to not pick Work It. But while Work It was absolutely dreadful, at least it tried to do something that wasn’t on television right now. And that’s just not something that ¡Rob! can say. ¡Rob! was just lazy. It was full of stereotypes. It wasn’t funny. And it was just a racist version of the hundred mediocre goofy guy with a hot wife and annoying in-laws sitcoms we’ve seen since Everybody Loves Raymond. And so, for shear lack of creativity, ¡Rob! is my worst show of 2012.
Most disappointing is a much bigger challenge, because that relies heavily on expectations, and expectations are largely out of the hands of the show. If Girls did not have the pre-airing reviews it had, if Smash‘s pilot wasn’t as good as it was, if Partners was not from “the creators of Will & Grace” then expectations would be different, and the disappointment may not be there. That said, nothing has disappointed me this year as much as The Mindy Project. Again, this is due in part to my high expectations- Kelly Kapoor was one of my favorite characters on The Office and I read Mindy Kaling’s book over one weekend. I liked Chris Messina on The Newsroom and Anna Camp on The Office and Mad Men. And Stephen Tobolowsky! And yet, the show has been just…there. It hasn’t been awful, but it has just been very blah. Now, at this point last year I may have said the same about New Girl, so things can change. Mindy has certainly attempted to fix things up, with cast and writer changes. But right now, the characters range from unlikable to forgettable, Mindy’s place of work (and Kaling’s knowledge of the field, her mother was a gynecologist) has not added anything, and the vast array of guest stars, undoubtedly paying off favors to Kaling, have provided nothing except promotional gimmicks. I’m not giving up on the show, but it is certainly disappointing.
Les Chappell: I’m tempted to pick only one show just to spite you Cory, but I watched way too much awful television on purpose this year not to make fun of as much of it as possible.
Ah, what hopes we entered 2012 with. Terrible series like Entourage had ended, we had several new shows that promised a second-half upswing in quality (New Girl, Suburgatory) and upcoming mid-season shows like Awake which were more interesting than the fall offerings. It looked like a fine year of TV was coming that would render lists like this irrelevant – and then in the first week ABC cock-slapped us across the face with Work It. Unquestionably the worst pilot I saw this year (Beauty and the Beast on the CW being a close second) this was a show that was irredeemably awful from beginning to finish. Ridiculously lazy concept, horribly written jokes, embarrassing performances and some of the cheapest production values ever to air on a network show, I can only think that Paul Lee put it on the air to prove he could. I’m probably the only person to watch the second episode, and after it culminated with a Ben Koldyke flirtation performance complete with whale-tail, I knew for a fact I could never sit through another moment. This may seem like the obvious pick, but in its short life Work It was so flaccid, baffling and embarrassing for all involved, I can’t say qualitatively I watched anything worse this year.
And on most disappointing, let’s talk a little about NBC’s most hyped show of the 2011-2012 season, Smash. What seemed at the start to be a fun show sprinkled with lively musical numbers and behind-the-scenes tension about putting on a show turned into a comical mix of awful characters and pointless story arcs. Most frustratingly, there were interesting parts of the show (Jack Davenport’s asshole director at the top of the list) that made it likable at times, but Theresa Rebeck and company seemed to have no idea what the strengths and weaknesses of their narrative were. We had the maddening machinations of Ellis, the adoption-related whining of Leo, too much time dwelling on Karen Cartwright’s so-called innate awesomeness, and the excruciating depths of Julia’s affairs, all of which sabotaged anything entertaining on the business side of the story. And the songs, while well-performed by Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty, seemed to make so little sense after a while that the only way I could rationalize what I was seeing was to believe every character was drinking hallucinogenic mushroom tea during rehearsals and that they really thought the lavish production surrounding them was real. I want to think that a second season retool can fix some of these problems and reemphasize the parts that work, but when a show earns the “Best Unintentional Comedy of 2012,” extracting it from the hate-watch category seems a nigh-impossible task.
Julie Hammerle: I love, during this time of good cheer, having an opportunity to tell TV all the ways it has disappointed me over the past year. The most disappointing show for me (and I believe someone actually mentioned this show in s/his “best of” post, so obviously this is subjective) is and was How I Met Your Mother. That show has always been one of my favorites, and, for much of its run, has been my go-to, #1, lucky best pick on the DVR. But this season has been not much more than wheel-spinning plots and lame, hacky jokes. It’s as if they fired all of their writers and brought in the Rob! comedy team. Lily’s character is no longer a character, but a caricature. I can’t believe that a woman (Alyson Hannigan) who has been pregnant twice in her life and who was pregnant during the TV gestation of little Marvin Erickson would allow Lily to be written in such a hokey way. It’s as if they got a screener of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and just thought, “Yeah. This is good. Let’s do this.” Cobie Smulders is the only one who seems to be trying at this point, and that’s probably because Robin is the only character getting any interesting emotional arcs.
As far as the worst show goes…hmm…I’m going to go with the continued bane of my DVR, the show that sucks me in every time and makes me hate myself for it. That show is Cupcake Wars. Cupcake Wars is simply lazy, tension-free television where people make awful puns depending on the episode theme and everyone thinks she’s the queen of red velvet cupcakes. Red velvet cupcakes are over, people, move on! No one is impressed with you!
Heather McLendon: There were many disappointments for me this year in television. The Mindy Project, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife. (Seriously that Kalinda subplot?)
I really looked forward to Revolution. I thought its premise was brilliant and an intelligent critique of our technologically-dependent culture. And then it utterly stumbled under its own ambition. It chose outrageous sword fights and melodrama over its initial, powerful narrative of a post-tech world. It forced a protagonist upon us that wasn’t at all compelling. And it severely tested our willingness to suspend disbelief.
Yet out of all the shows, I have to say that the seventh season of Doctor Who has been the biggest disappointment for me. I adore Doctor Who. I’ve got a dalek schematic in my apartment and a Tardis teapot. I. Am. A. Fan. Which makes the seventh season all the more painful to watch. The “mini-movie” method that Moffat employed didn’t work for me. It’s like he went from one extreme (ridiculously convoluted meta-narratives) to another. Amy and Rory (Gillan and Darvill) felt tired, almost bored; we all knew their end on DW was coming and they didn’t hide that fact from their performances. Many of the episodes (like “Asylum of the Daleks” and “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”) were rushed, scattered, and resolved too quickly. Those first five episodes lacked DW’s soul – that crazy wonder, commitment to character and relationships, and magnificent storytelling that was present in seasons one through five. (Yes, even season five, despite Moffat’s penchant for meta-narrative puzzles and endless rabbit holes.) I want DW to resuscitate itself, and I’m hoping that a new companion just might accomplish this in 2013.
Mark Waller: I guess when I think of “worst” and “most disappointing” television, I think of a couple of different things. “Worst” makes me think of purely horrible television programs, which, like Noel, I can’t say I spend a whole lot of time watching. (Unless you count Minnesota Twins baseball in 2012, which was, for the most part, some of the most agonizing television that graced my television screen in 2012.)
So, I’ll go somewhat unconventional by saying my most disappointing show in 2012 was Breaking Bad. Let me explain: Breaking Bad was still one of my top shows of the year. For the most part, it was yet another season of exemplary television, with riveting performances and plot twists that I am not likely to forget any time soon. “51” was one of my favorite episodes of television this year. What was disappointing about the season, though, was the rushed conclusion. Going into the first half of the final season, I figured that Breaking Bad still had a checklist of “to-do’s”: find a resolution for Mike, have Hank figure out that Heisenberg = Walt, have Walt’s cancer come back, have all hell break loose in some shape. The first half of the season ticked Mike and Hank off the list in a fashion that, while still making for highly recommendable television, did not crackle with the unpredictability of prior seasons (and especially season three.) That unpredictable nature is what made the third season an all-time season for the ages. Which seems a bit unfair to judge Breaking Bad in that regard, but then again, they set up their own lofty expectations by being outstanding in the past. Being merely very good in future seasons leaves me feeling disappointed in comparison.
Oh hell, alright, the worst show of 2012 was Lifetime’s Dance Moms reunion because YOU CANNOT JUST USE ANDY COHEN’S REAL HOUSEWIVES REUNION FORMULA AND APPLY IT TO DANCE MOMS, LIFETIME. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. Okay, that’s off my chest now.
Cory Barker: Let it out Mark. It’s okay.
Chris Castro: The show that disappointed me most this year had to be The Newsroom. I am a staunch defender of Sports Night and big fan of The West Wing, even though I never watched its final two seasons. Aaron Sorkin even surprised me with his excellent screenplays for “The Facebook Movie” and Moneyball, two films whose subject matter I didn’t find interesting in the slightest and yet ended up being two of my favorite films of the past 5 years. So, even though Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was famously rotten, I was eagerly awaiting Sorkin’s return to television, and on HBO no less! With Emily Mortimer, the generally likable underdog Jeff Daniels, the always wonderful Alison Pill, and the DA from Law & Order playing a cursing drunk guy! Sure, the generally reviled Olivia Munn was listed in the credits, but her role was probably small enough not to get in the way. What could possibly go wrong?
So, so much went wrong. So much of The Newsroom felt like a parody of Sorkin’s previous TV shows, I began to wonder if he had suffered a head injury if for no other reason, than the fact that he decided to make it seem like every female character on the show had also suffered brain damage. It’s honestly hard to even write about how much I ended up hating this show and nearly everyone on it because it just makes me want to scream. I can no longer stand the sight of Jeff Daniels’ face. If I ever see Emily Mortimer or Alison Pill in real life, I feel like I’ll need to ask them how many fingers I’m holding up and who the President is. As bad as Studio 60 was(and yes, it was very bad) I can’t recall ever feeling anything as strong as hate for any of its characters. In fact, I still think of the majority of that cast fondly.
Every character I was supposed to hate on The Newsroom I ended up liking more than the “heroes” of the show. The only reason I wanted Alison Pill’s character and “Jim from The Office” to get together was because I actually liked and felt sorry for the other characters they were dating. I ended up really liking Olivia Munn on the show mostly because she didn’t have to play a blithering idiot.
Drunk Sam Waterston actually was a hoot to watch. But 99% of everything else in the show was just so frustrating, preachy, self-satisfied, ridiculously fictional, and so despicably misogynistic that…
I actually had to step away from my computer there. I have both too many words and not enough words to describe how awful The Newsroom is and how angry it makes me feel. To paraphrase a much better program, I didn’t think it was possibly for something to both suck and blow at the same time. Until I watched The Newsroom.
Greg Boyd: In terms of disappointment, I’m not sure any show can match Awkward. this year. After an excellent first season that just improved as it went on, I was ready for it to continue to get better in season two, or at least to continue its previous level of quality. That’s not what happened, unfortunately. After a promising start, the show quickly began to focus most of its attention on the love triangle between Jenna, Matty, and Jake, largely to the detriment of other (and in my opinion, more compelling) aspects of the series: Jenna’s overall character arc, her relationship with her parents, and the show’s other supporting characters, among other things. The show never became bad, and the strong season finale seemed to right the ship, which leads me to hope that the next season will be a return to form for this once-excellent series. But in 2012, Awkward. went from a series that was almost in my top ten to a merely slightly above-average show.
I didn’t watch most (almost none, actually) of the shows many consider to be among the worst of the year, so I can’t really make an informed pick in that category. However, I definitely think Smash deserves a mention for the way it disintegrated so quickly after a terrific pilot. It took only three subsequent episodes for me to decide to give up, so for all I know it could have gotten better. But judging by others’ reactions, I highly doubt that it did. Was it as bad as something like Work It (or some the other shows that have been mentioned so far)? Probably not, but of the shows I watched at least some of this year, it was one of the only legitimately bad ones.
Emma Fraser: One of the best season finales this year came from The Vampire Diaries and it was both bold and shocking. It was always going to be a hard task to live up to this major moment and sadly season 4 has been disappointing with this storyline so far. Elena becoming a vampire was always going to change the dynamic between the three leads and there is maximum shipper rivalry that seems to be dictating this story. The problem is that it appears as if the writers are unwilling to choose a side and are attempting to please both sets of fans, but all this fan service does is annoy both groups of shippers and potentially alienates fans who don’t care about which brother Elena ends up with.
Season four also suffers from a certain plot that reduces Elena to a character that lacks free will. The sire bond has taken away some of this characters agency and this has made this season so frustrating. It’s not all disappointing as Caroline is as awesome as ever, the Professor Shane plot is ticking along nicely and they have finally found a role for Matt as the resident human. I still really enjoy the show and hope that the latter half of this season will iron out these kinks.
Worst is harder question as I have a habit of watching some awful shows (like all the reality shows on E!), but I’m going to go with the one I watched every episode of this year and that’s America’s Next Top Model. The college edition introduced new judges and a new way of voting, the new judges weren’t terrible (even if I miss the J’s), but the voting made no sense. This cycle was a mess and while the final catwalk challenge was interesting it didn’t really live up to the idea of models who were also at college. It also makes me sad that ‘booty tooch’ is a phrase that I now know. I clearly hate myself because I’ll probably watch the next edition.
Danny Grinberg: “Why the hell are they skiing?!” I screamed at my laptop. I could’ve substituted “skiing” with other gerunds and the question still would’ve been as baffling. “Cooking in ski gondolas” or “shooting at blocks of ice” for example. When Top Chef: Texas migrated to Vancouver for its final stretch in February 2012, the producers’ senses of logic and dignity clearly did not make the trip. Starting out promisingly, the ninth season eventually surrendered any pretense of being a cooking show and simply became a sideshow. Instead of presenting great dishes made under creative constraints, the episode “Culinary Games” brought us miserable chefs trudging through the snow and repeatedly falling over.
The current season of Top Chef: Seattle isn’t as desperately gimmicky, but I still can’t bring myself to care. That’s partly a result of overfamiliarity, I think. After ten seasons of sharply varying quality (yes, I still hate you, Toby Young) in seven years, the formula has become far less surprising and relevant. It also hasn’t helped that producers have diluted the brand with subpar Just Desserts and Masters editions and are now even milking the competition postmortem with Last Chance Kitchen and Life After Top Chef. Because, no matter how hard Tom Colicchio tries, there are only a finite number of ways to get mad about an underseasoned protein.
However, Seattle also remains disappointing on its own merits. For all of their boasts of toughness in the audition episode, the judges admitted lots of unremarkable chefs who are making unremarkable food. Even worse are the many annoying egoists who are mostly interested in stoking petty drama and campaigning for the villain edit. Compared to the apices of the Chicago and Las Vegas seasons, where the casts at least backed up their bickering with amazing food, Top Chef: Seattle keeps falling short. When the nicest thing you can say about a formerly beloved show is that it’s not as terrible as last season, it’s probably time to pack up your knives and call it quits.
Adam Wright: Now THIS is my cup of tea, shows that made me rage. As you all, there’s plenty that brew up #AdamRage. But there’s one event or episode that caused so much #AdamRage, it caused #AdamHeartbreak and #AdamWeeping. Yes, I like hashtags.
I’m not going to say it was the most disappointing show of 2012, but it was definitely for me the most disappointing finale. For so many reasons, the House series finale really pissed me off as a fan who stuck around through it all. All the mediocre plots, the awful plots, and WTF plots, and the “Huddy”. I told myself no matter how bad things got, we will get a great conclusion, right? Sigh.
What made the series finale so disappointing was how great the previous episode of that season were. They weren’t GREAT, but they were good. The final few episodes, with Wilson learning he has cancer, that’s when things really got great. For me the heart of the show was the relationship between Dr. House and Wilson. Both Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard knocked it out of the park.From what we saw from the episodes before the finale, we knew it was going to be dark and emotional. It wouldn’t be a cheesy happy-ending of any kind. (You can check out here what Cory and I thought on how it would end. )
Now to the Finale. Dr. House is in a burning building with a random guy we don’t know. Um…ok… Then we get some flashbacks on how he got in the building with this random guy. Dr. House thinking about giving up, he starts hallucinating past cast members. It was cool to see Cameron and others back, but it was so hard to swallow not having a Cuddy cameo. Whether it was Shore’s ego or Edelstein’s ego that got in the way, it doesn’t matter. The episode itself was pretty dull. The hallucinations were used to help Dr. House learn about himself. But we already knew all this about it, and so did it.
All this could have been saved. The building exploded…and House died. Yes, Dr. House was dead. There it was, the tragic ending the show needed to finish its grand theme. In the end, he paid for his sins. But wait…TWIST! He faked his death. And the last scene is Dr. House and Wilson driving off. Yes I know Wilson is dying, but that final scene was a happy ending in my books. A complete 180 in tone. It was so damn cheesy. Not to mention a blatant rip-off of one of Sherlock Holmes stories. Remember, Dr. House is loosely based off Holmes!
The House series finale left me thinking that the writers didn’t have the balls to make that big move in the end. Just like Kurt Sutter who refuses to kill off Clay on Sons of Anarchy despite all the logic pointing to it. Instead we got an eye-rolling, cheesy ending we’d expect in a romantic-comedy.
Cory Barker: I demarcated “worst” and “most disappointing” after ranting and raving about Dexter being the worst show of 2011, only to see it make such a thunderous return this year. I probably tend to over-exaggerate my hatred for veteran shows that ultimately let me down. So I’ll try to curb my seething over the next few sentences about How I Met Your Mother. It’s funny, when Eric mentioned it as the show that surprised him most; I assumed we were in for a nice, long rant about the show’s continued nose-dive into mediocrity. Oh well. For me, no show has earned the “most disappointing” label over the past few years like HIMYM. After a seventh season that managed to recoup some of the goodwill the show pissed away in the previous two years, this fall run provided very few laughs and boatloads of emotional manipulation. At this point, the show actively insults the fans more than it tells good, propulsive stories. No, I don’t actually care about the Mother. But I do care about how the lack of movement on that front damaged Ted for good and how some of the other narrative gymnastics turned Lily and Marshall into one-note non-entities. Left at the center is the Barney-Robin pairing, one that used to move me but now only makes me roll my eyes. I’m happy that everyone in the cast and crew gets to keep a job, but it’s an embarrassment that this show is continuing onto next season.
To make my imaginary worst list, I actually have to watch more than a handful of episodes of a show. So, it’s not really worth badgering Work It! (although it seems that so many of us have said that so it’s going to get a free pass). This might not be a surprise for anyone who reads my tweets or work, but my pick for worst is Gossip Girl. The last few episodes of the fifth season started to ruin everything the show built up in the previous 20-25 episodes and then in the fall, the final season shattered those things, stomped on them, shoveled them up into a Hefty Trash Bag and threw them off an Upper East Side high-rise. In the days after the finale, I’ve begun to realize that long-time writer and mid-run showrunner Josh Safran, someone who I kind of hated for years, actually understood these characters the best. Once he jumped ship to Smash last spring, Stephanie Savage (and to a lesser extent, because at this point all his work is to a lesser extent, Josh Schwartz) returned to GG and pretended that everything Safran did never happened. This sort of re-writing happens when new creative voices come into the picture on procedurals from time to time, but it’s so weird to see it happen on a show where all the writers worked together at one point. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter that the final season turned the few remaining likable characters into immature, childish brats (even more so than normal), or that the finale had more happy endings than a J.K. Rowling epilogue. The show was never that good. But it ended in legitimate disgrace to those 93 of us who paid attention from the beginning.
Wesley Ambrecht: One of the benefits to holding my tongue on round-table posts like these, is that y’all do a lot of my ranting for me. For example, I don’t have to take The Vampire Diaries, How I Met Your Mother or Gossip Girl to task again, because you guys have done that. Unlike Cory, I wouldn’t have put GG as my worst show, but I do think it disappointed me more than any other show in 2012. It kills me when a show is handed a victory lap and then squanders it.
On that note, Fringe is another prime candidate for most disappointing show of 2012. Last year, I defended Fringe and the writers’ decisions to tell dual narratives. Some of their plotting was hackneyed but their ambition was commendable. So far, that has not been the case this fall. Jumping forward to 2036 should have breathed new life into the show. It should have allowed J.H. Wyman and company to tell vastly different stories than anything else on TV, while simultaneously challenging both the viewers’ knowledge of the world and our protagonists’ place in that world. Instead, the futuristic setting has served as little more than a platform to return to second-rate procedural storytelling. The hunt for Walter’s plan may have given the season a clear story engine but it has also prevented the show from challenging the norm. At this point, the plan would have to be utterly breathtaking to justify the amount of time they’ve devoted to it. It also doesn’t help that Georgina Haig was disposed of so quickly, sending us back to the same group dynamics of yesteryear.
Work It was not the worst show of the year. Work It wasn’t even that bad. Sure, the production values were low but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me laugh once or twice. As for what was the worst show of the year, that’s harder to say. ¡Rob! was every bit as awful and racist as Mr. Rabin suggested in his entry, as was TBS’ Sullivan and Son, but both had the benefit of being a brisk 22 minutes whereas shows like Perception and Chicago Fire took up twice as much time out of my day. Thinking along those lines, I guess The Firm was the worst show of 2012, since its terrible pilot took not one but two hours from me. It also ran for a full 22 hours, which I still find funny.
Cameron White: I like Mindy Kaling. I like Chris Messina. And I like the idea of an MTM-esque sitcom in which the co-workers are more of what you might find on The Office while the home life is the sad reality of the rom-com fantasies Hollywood plants in our heads. So why don’t I like The Mindy Project? Perhaps it was expectations. I was more excited about it than most other new and returning sitcoms, but while Ben and Kate skyrocketed to the top of my list of favorite TV shows, and New Girl pulled into its sophomore season with bolstered confidence, The Mindy Project has struggled time and again to find a balance between its two worlds. There have been some bright spots and some truly funny moments contained in isolation within the show, but the only consistently good element has been the chemistry between Messina and Kaling; everything else is wildly hit-or-miss, which explains why there’s been a few cast shake-ups recently. More importantly, though, the show has neither a) managed to make the workplace/home-y rom-com worlds jibe in a natural way nor b) found the right balance between comedy and drama. I keep watching because I hope it improves, but I can no longer hide my disappointment at how mediocre it has been in its often difficult-to-watch first season. It’s so bad, I picked this show over Up All Night, another comedy that has disappointed me this year in its second season, particularly, and which is also going through a major shake-up.
On the upside, I pick my dramas very carefully, and someone’s already written a bit about Smash, so let’s just say I’m content on the drama side for the moment. Revolution came pretty close to dislodging my faith in it, but those last few episodes showed some serious improvement, which is par for the course for Eric Kripke (Supernatural‘s first season is mostly standalone Monsters of the Week until Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up, at which point the show begins to slowly accelerate its plot).
Kerensa Cadenas: Maybe I had just pinned too many hopes on The Mindy Project. It’s hard not to because Mindy Kaling is so likeable and her book was fantastic. I was fully expecting an awesome and hilarious deconstruction of romantic comedy tropes with a dash of discussion about women’s health. How wrong I was. The Mindy Project has been by far the most disappointing series of 2012. The majority of the characters on the show are really unlikeable masquerading as people you are supposed to root for, the plots thin and mostly unfunny and many of the depictions of women and race are at times offensive. There are some bright spots (Chris Messina’s dancing, a majority of “Teen Patient”) that displays the potential the show holds, but usually those minor bits of progress are immediately backtracked leaving a patina of disappointment.
I keep saying I’m going to stop writing about Gossip Girl, but I can solemnly swear this is the last time. As one of the last (alongside Cory) viewers of a formerly great show, the final season of Gossip Girl was hands down the worst thing in 2012. Having spent a large chunk of time being invested in this world and the characters, the final season felt like a resounding fuck you to the Gossip Girl audience (all three of us). With ridiculously boring yet convoluted plot lines (Bart Bass’s oil embargo), the devolution of the characters into even whinier caricatures of themselves and the complete lack of regard for any/all previous story lines and character histories went beyond being the worst to also being the most depressing TV experience of 2012. And they ruined Blair Waldorf and I, for one, can never forgive them for that.
Cory Barker: People are really let down by Mindy.
Andrew Rabin: Really thought I was making an out-of-the-box pick there. Should’ve bashed Girls instead.
Eric Thurm: Even though I respect a lot of what the last season was going for, Mad Men was far and away my most disappointing show of 2012. That’s a weird way to characterize the most formally experimental string of episodes in the show’s history, including one that might be my favorite single episode of the series’ run (“Signal 30”), but all of the experimentation eventually rang hollow for me in the face of what seemed to be overt and hamfisted writerly manipulation. Some of the show’s attempts to play around with its own narrative structure didn’t add anything other than just appearing to be clever for cleverness’ sake (“Far Away Places”), characters stated the themes of the season over and over and over (Glen!), much of the season played like blatant fan service (Fat Betty, Roger on acid, Lane punching Pete), and worst of all, the characters became almost completely stagnant. The worst two offenders: I was impressed at the beginning of the season when it seemed like Don might be able to make some progress dealing with his personal issues in his new relationship with Megan, and Pete had become far away my favorite character on the show as the writers allowed him to grow the hell up and find some stability in his own marriage over the course of the first four seasons. But for no good reason (spoilers, I guess?), Pete reverted to being an even worse creep than ever and Don turns back into his old horn-dog self at the end of the season, making me wonder why I even bothered investing in the characters if they weren’t ever going to change.
Wesley Ambrecht: The Mindy Project has been messy but racist or sexist seems a bit harsh. Actually a lot harsh.
Jamiesen Borak: There is perhaps no other show that has continued for so long with such little purpose or point like The Office, and yet despite several seasons of mostly horribleness I found myself with high hopes going into the fall. The show was a complete mess back in the spring with the return of Catherine Tate’s character proving to be pointless and impact-less despite being introduced as yet another shakeup. By the end of that season I had the intention of stopping my involvement with the series altogether, but then it was announced Greg Daniels would be returning and playing a large role in once again retooling the series for one final season. The transition from the Daniels to Paul Lieberstein run of the series is where the show changed from low-key/slice of life humor to a cartoony caricature of itself (Toby really does ruin everything), and the few bright spots of the later series involved the return of Daniels (see “Goodbye Michael”), so naturally I assumed this meant the series would be improve. And while it’s true I’ve maybe laughed slightly more (once or twice an episode now), it’s a minor recalibration that comes nowhere close to the glory days of The Office.
They’ve attempted to put the emotional focus back on Jim and Pam after seasons of them floundering aimlessly (aka having two kids), but it feels mostly hallow and forced. Two new guys were introduced in the first episode, but they go in and out of importance, adding almost zero impact to the office dynamic. Andy continues to be a total buffoon and an embarrassing sort-of lead for the show/office (to think he was once the standout new character back in season three is almost unthinkable now). Catherine Tate’s character continues to exist for no reason other than for Andy to be cruel to. And most annoyingly, we’re still subjected to plots about Erin’s romance with Andy. There’s so little investment in these characters at this point as they barely even resemble their former selves. There’s truly no show I dread watching more (except How I Met Your Mother, which is my second most disappointing series, but even that has at least one highlight moment this year).
But perhaps the most disappointing thing related to the show is that NBC decided not to move forward with its would be spin-off series The Farm. There is nothing potentially good in any way about this Dwight centric series, but I would totally watch every episode of that horrible series. I mean if The Office‘s legacy is already this tarnished, might as well go all the way here. At least they still intend on airing the pilot as a regular episode of The Office later this season. I’m not sure my TV heart could take that much disappointment.
Sabienna Bowman: Nothing this season has disappointed me more than the retooled version of Up All Night. In its original incarnation, Up All Night wasn’t exactly a laugh-a-minute, but at least it had a purpose. Even when it wasn’t making me laugh, I enjoyed watching the ways in which the series explored traditional and non-traditional gender roles through Will Arnett’s charming and subdued stay-at-home dad Chris and Christina Applegate’s workaholic mom Reagan. There was much grumbling about “The Ava Show” within the show, and all the ways in which it distracted from the Brinkleys’ home life, but I was perfectly happy dealing with Up All Night’s split-personality as long as it meant a weekly dose of Maya Rudolph being awesome.
Now Up All Night is a purposeless, tone-deaf excuse of a sitcom. With “The Ava Show” cancelled, Reagan is a stay-at-home mom (supposedly—who could tell when baby Amy is trotted out for roughly thirty seconds an episode?), Chris went into business with Reagan’s brother (or so they say—it’s not like we’ve seen a single work-related plot since this happened), and poor Ava wanders around aimlessly with Jack from Will & Grace for some reason. Unlike Seinfeld, Up All Night truly is a “show about nothing,” unless you count “aging hipster parents trying to stay cool and boring viewers to death in the process” as a mission statement. It’s a dreadful waste of talent that would be cancelled if NBC believed in mercy, unfortunately for all involved they prefer to reanimate this lifeless series one more time this spring by adding a laugh track. Hopefully they remember to add a few jokes too.
As for the worst thing I watched? Well, that would be 2 Broke Girls. The series is exactly as terrible as everyone says it is, but I still find myself being held hostage by the considerable charms of Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs.
Adam Lukach: Chalk it up to lowered expectations or a shallower pool of shows, but I’m having a hard time thinking of a show that actually disappointed me this year. Maybe it’s because I do take on most of my watching after the fact, so I have people like you guys to parse through the messes that networks so often bestow on us. When your biggest disappointment is a horse-killing show about horses that barely even made it on the air before it also was euthanized (Luck), then it’s been a good year.
What quelled even my most cynical moments this year, I think, is simply the shows that I watched and how they have earned my trust, fostered an aesthetic during old seasons. Even at their shark-jumpiest, Breaking Bad and Mad Men only increasingly became what they already were: a tension-crazed Western or a museum of themes. To hold that against them as a disappointment would say more about my expectations than the quality of the show. Plus, these shows, along with others, were insulated by brilliance and the consistency of a vision. What more can you ask from a show than to be what it is, to be honest with you as a viewer. Sure there was clunky execution and dumb wrinkles in a show like Girls, but can I really be disappointed that it’s exactly the show I thought it was going to be? And it does it well? No, I don’t think so. I’ve been lucky enough not to have a show that I pinned hopes on (Mindy Project) completely let me down in terms of both execution and results this year, so I guess I’m lucky for that.
Next up: TBD