Monday, December 24, 2012

Year End 2012: No. Stop. Don't. Just...wait in the car until I'm ready to turn the TV off

     Some will be lucky no one ever knew they had anything to
     do with ABC's "Work It". Others, like Amaury Nolasco and
     Ben Koldyke, aren't as fortunate.

Caveat for my year-end lists: the non-existence of my readership should render this moot, but I feel compelled to clarify a few things. First off, while these lists are referred to as "best of," "worst of," and everything in between, they are of course a reflection of solely my opinion. Some people might think that "Work It" is the crown jewel of the comedia dell'arte; those same people might think that "Parks and Recreation" isn't funny at all - I mean, nobody even falls down in it or makes sexual puns. That's fine. We'll agree to disagree. In addition, there are a lot of shows that I don't watch. As much as I've heard nothing but good things about "Parenthood" and "The Good Wife," I don't watch them and therefore as much as they might be deserving of being on such a list, they're not on this one. My "worst of" list is also a representation of shows that were not only bad, but specifically a disappointment. "Honey Boo Boo" was not intended as profound commentary on Southern life and the harsh realities of childhood fame whose execution completed failed. That's why it won't be on my "worst of" list, and a mediocre, inoffensive sitcom with such a stellar cast like "Up All Night" is (although really, the tipping point for that one was its hilariously misguided decision to convert to multi-cam).

And so it’s come to this: part three of my year end series, wherein I reflect on the moments in 2012 when I wished my parents had been new age hippies who got to tell their friends at parties that they didn’t even *have* a TV.

It is my list of the worst television shows of the year, presented in alphabetical order, followed by my selection of the single worst moment of the year in TV. One additional caveat: I have this terrible feeling that I’ve left some things off by accident.

Anger Management

So did you know I hate “Two and a Half Men”?


You do.

Weird. I never talk about it.

Well good thing that’s established. And that means you can guess how much I hated FX’s “Anger Management” a show so unfunny, offensive, and off brand for a network pumping out some of the best comedies on TV right now. This was a sad cash grab that my brain has full financial grasp of, but unfortunately makes my heart very sad. Because it has to air in a lineup with “Wilfred” and “Louie,” and at some point will likely have to air with “It’s Always Sunny” and “The League,” all of which are so much better TV shows (even if I don’t watch “Wilfred” and “The League” every week).

Sorry, maybe what’s really sad is that because the ratings for “Anger Management” are so high by cable standards, they’re actually helping to keep those four shows on the air.

I don’t want to live in a world in which those shows are receiving charity from the shitty four-camera sitcom where Charlie Sheen, just like on his last series, hates women and considers them sexual objects. I especially don’t want to live in a world where 90 more episodes of that are coming.

Here’s the first in a recurring trend of this list, which is me begging for someone, anyone, to make me understand something I find so perplexing: why does Charlie Sheen have a specific fan base?

Ben and Kate

I might be the only person who would put this on a worst of list for the year. Some people love it to death. And that’s fine. I just find it incredibly annoying thanks to a very irritating lead performance courtesy of Nat Faxon. As the writing partner of Jim Rash, I want Nat Faxon to succeed. As a writer. I’m glad he has an Academy Award. I don’t want to watch him be wacky for a half hour every week. Like my next pick, maybe there’s a screw loose in my brain that’s making me fail to see what it is that other people find so charming and endearing. In any case, neener-neener this show won’t be on the air when I next write a list such as this.

Bruno Mars SNL

I don’t care that everyone else loves this, even more so than my decision to include “Ben and Kate” (in fact, it was probably the fact that everyone loved this so much that tipped this for me) – Bruno Mars hosting SNL was most certainly one of the worst things I watched on TV in 2012. He came out, he sang, he danced around – he did all the things we knew he was capable of doing. Pretty much no actual jokes, or certainly written, scripted attempts at jokes, the entire night. So I’m not sure why we’re lauding him as the second coming of Timberlake. Please go to Netflix and watch any of the four Justin Timberlake SNL episodes. You might find that there’s comedy in them. I’m not discrediting musicality and showmanship from what is, at its core, a variety series; Bruno Mars is certainly no January Jones. But I really don’t understand why it’s okay to give people an A just because our expectations were low. Similarly, I was apparently the only one who didn’t think it was a brilliant moment of television when Joseph Gordon-Levitt decided to forgo his monologue to strip – because he was in a lot of movies this summer but one of his favourites was “Magic Mike” which he wasn’t in, so went his explanation. This was about three months after that movie came out. Seriously, if you can explain to me why a) that makes any sense as a comedic premise, and b) is comedic...please. I need to understand this.


I’d like to borrow a quote from HitFix’s Dan Fienberg and say that “this is a terrible TV show and I really don’t get the people who love it. It is groaningly unfunny to me.” It’s exactly the same way that I feel about the show too, and I can’t say it any better or more succinctly.

And yet there are indeed people who love unfunny, toothless jabs at Hollywood culture.

Showtime’s “Episodes” is one of the lowest-minded comedies on the air. As Aaron Sorkin likes to do, “Episodes” is willing to tell us that a BBC comedy they’ve invented is brilliant, but unwilling to show us that comedy because the writers of “The Class” and “Episodes” are unable to write that show. For a comedy on premium cable, they lean really hard on funny voices/faces and sitcom clichés. But what really makes the second season so atrocious is the fact they completely ditched the one part of the show that could actually work at times. Matt LeBlanc was smarter than everyone else assumed he was in the first season, and it was an unexpected twist that was able to knock Sean and Beverly off their high horses. He hasn’t become “Professor Lawrence Pierce of the University of Chicago writes: ‘I think Homer gets stupider ever year’” level dumb, but “Episodes” had one thing going for it that didn’t make it completely unwatchable. Naturally, the brilliant, brilliant creative minds responsible decided not to carry that over from the first season. No doubt the doing of these phony, corporate, dream-crushing Hollywood executives, WHICH THEY ARE, in case you weren’t aware. (I am now, thanks, “Episodes”!)


Maybe this is unfair because I only actually watched two or three full episodes of “Glee” in 2012. But oh my God, if it isn’t just an excruciating mess of a series. In those three episodes I watched this year, I saw the same problems I saw with “Glee” when I was a regular viewer in the first two seasons. And the problem that is really a disease to the entire show is that it never earns one second of any emotional moment or any attention grabbing plot points they try to pull off. The Quinn car crash episode that launched a six-week hiatus for the show? That’s amateur storytelling with zero purpose other than screwing with me, and it’s really a damn shame because it came off an episode that had already completely blown an opportunity to tell a much more meaningful story about Karofsky’s suicide attempt than it actually did. Then there was the episode where we found out Coach Bieste was being abused by her husband, in which “Glee,” not realizing it has trouble being one show, decided to be seven shows at the same time and think they would be able to pull that off. They didn’t, and it left the abuse plotline frankly disrespected and with a lot less weight than it could have had by suggesting Rachel not getting into her dream school was a comparable dramatic companion to that storyline. It’s been interesting to watch the statistical life of “Glee” in that as much as America can eat up a show like this (and they have at times) and as much as it still has quite a presence on the internet, the ratings for “Glee” are about a third of what they were at its peak in the fall of 2010. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a show that generates as much merchandise and other external content that could also be canceled right here and now if Fox wasn’t stuck with shows like “The Mob Doctor,” its anemic Tuesday night comedy lineup, and an overall 26% drop in ratings versus last fall.

Horrible Whitney Cummings sitcoms
            - 2 Broke Girls (CBS)
            - Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC)
            - Whitney (NBC)

To be fair: I don’t believe Whitney Cummings had any creative input into “Are You There, Chelsea?” other than being BFFs with and being the Pam 6.0 version of Chelsea Handler. But I’m lumping these “comedies” together because of the DNA they share. First, I think all of them star legitimately funny actresses. Second, I think the scripts were written sometime in the early 90s before so many of their punch lines were played to death on better sitcoms. Third, I think they’re egregiously offensive in their treatment of just about any type of minority...or majority, really, you could think of (special shoutout to the diner stereotypes and every last damn horrible pun on “2 Broke Girls”). Fourth, each of them (but particularly the NBC pair) so miss the mark on what the intention of the shows are by not fully going for it; it’s twenty minutes of bad people doing bad things, never so dark that it could reach a new level of comedy, before one final minute of unearned sentimentality. It actually makes me a little glad to know that at the end of the season, we can say goodbye to a second show from this trio. As for “2 Broke Girls,” stop. Just stop. First of all, no. Second of all, don’t. I mean, why? Just, what are you doing? What is this, “2 Broke Girls”? I mean, just no. No. No, no, no.

Men raising their children shows
            - Baby Daddy (ABC Family)
            - Guys with Kids (NBC)

2012 was apparently the year that TV writers decided that fatherhood was hi-fucking-larious. Between ABC Family’s “Baby Daddy” and NBC’s “Guys with Kids” (if I’m forgetting any...I’m better off that way), suddenly “man raises child instead of woman and literally no other comedic premise” sounded like a viable television property. I really don’t see anything in either of these shows where it looks like someone could have possibly seen what was groundbreaking or simply worth airing about a series such as this. As TV critic who I can’t remember said on Twitter when the show premiered, imagine if any of the jokes in these shows were to be made about equivalent female characters. I think in that universe, “Girls with Kids” is most likely a very raw, gritty HBO drama, circa the “Oz”/”Sopranos” era, about tough as nails women who battle their way through the world while raising babies, fighting off deadbeat exes, and possibly finding forbidden love at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Extra points go to “Baby Daddy” for a barrage of pointless fat jokes about Chelsea Kane’s character’s only alluded to formerly-fat self. Extra points also go to “Guys with Kids” because executive producer Jimmy Fallon tried to tell it me it was awesome, or rather “light-hearted fun” that will remind me of the family sitcoms I watched growing up. The “family sitcoms” I grew up with were pretty bad, and they were still probably better than this. Even something like “Yes, Dear” whose entire premise was basically “Lol parents” was a funnier and more well rounded sitcom.

The Mindy Project

If it isn’t the first episode, it’s in one of the early episodes of “Girls” that Shoshanna asks Jessa which character she would be on “Sex and the City”. I remembered thinking that it was very important that “Sex and the City” both existed in their universe and that its existence was acknowledged; it was an important contribution to the narrative that these characters that think they’re very worldly and unique could share the simplest of plot descriptions with “Sex and the City”: “HBO half hour depicting misadventures of four female friends in New York City”.

Despite acknowledging that much of her life inspiration comes from romantic comedies, Mindy Lahiri doesn’t fail at her life as hard or in as interesting a way as Hannah Horvath. It feels very much like dud plotlines on “Happy Endings” in which the show acknowledges that a plan/idea/experience/whatever is a bad cliché from ‘80s movies, yet continues to tell that story anyway, pretending that they’re excused.
There’s nothing interesting or particularly funny about the premise, and the main character is obnoxiously unlikeable in a way that’s just as uninteresting as the premise. It has no firm grasp on its universe and who occupies it, this according to the number of stories I’ve read in the last couple months about recasting and promoting/demoting cast members, which is perhaps why the supporting characters are thus far interchangeable. It feels cliché to continue to compare Mindy Kaling to Lena Dunham in this context, but “Girls” was really the worst thing to happen to this show – it only makes “The Mindy Project” seem less ambitious, yet also somehow trying too hard, by comparison.

I don’t care how much I haven’t liked recent seasons – “The Office” will always be one of my ten favourite TV shows of all time. Which is why it really pains me to include Mindy Kaling’s solo TV effort on this list, here because it falls under the umbrella of disappointment mentioned above.

The Neighbors

A goofy premise does not a bad show make, even if the worst shows this year were probably high concept “comedies”. Sure, part of what makes “The Neighbors” so stupid is its premise of a normal family living in a gated community of aliens. But what propels it into the next level of suck is its refusal to rise above that premise, as if the writers have said, “We can’t even really try to make this any good. Let’s just be thankful we’re getting paid, fill the pages, and go home.” With no bar to climb, they offer weekly installments of bathroom humour, telegraph every last bad punchline, and direct every actor (especially the kids) to act as if they’re starring in the hammiest children’s theatre production ever. Why this isn’t just off on Nickelodeon to be ignored, I’ll never know.

The New Normal

It’s dark, dark days in the world of new fall shows. As mentioned in my quick initial review of the pilot, “The New Normal” is more of the same Ryan Murphy problems that dominate “Glee” and what little I’ve seen of “American Horror Story”. It’s largely unfunny and unapologetically offensive in the same way that Michael Patrick King uses being gay as his excuse for filling the universe of “2 Broke Girls” with ugly cultural stereotypes. The great-grandmother character played by Ellen Barkin is one of the worst characters I’ve ever seen on a primetime TV show, her disgusting ignorance and shock value being played for laughs because it’s a Ryan Murphy show and the bigger the better. I would really like access to that man’s inner thoughts for a day. What makes him tick? What makes him completely fail to see why his shows are such ridiculous, schizophrenic messes? I’m hoping this is the last we hear out of him for a little while. He’s done comedy, he’s done something in the middle with “Glee,” he’s done horror – what’s left? It's been a few years since "Nip/Tuck" so maybe he could try his hand at drama again. Although, maybe he’s secretly been writing Carrie Mathison on “Homeland”. We’d have no way of knowing.

The Newsroom

I don’t think there’s another show on TV that makes me angrier than “The Newsroom” when I read comments from people who love it and think it’s brilliant social and political commentary. So of course, I nearly forgot about it when compiling this list.

“The Newsroom” is more of the same sexist, holier than thou garbage from Aaron Sorkin, who is once again giving us a behind the scenes look into what he wants us to think is the most important television show in history. And just as on his last TV show, it falls victim to the fact that nothing we see on screen gives us any indication that that’s actually the case, which Alan Sepinwall now calls “The Studio 60 Problem”. Every week, the elitist snobs of “The Newsroom” spend an hour pretending they know how news works in a way that’s so condescending to actual journalists who, for shame, had to take the time to research stories for hours or even days rather than granting themselves the hindsight of a time machine so they could get all their facts right in a single night. It also seems to think that journalists get big scoops because every friend they’ve ever had in their entire life now works at BP and can give them all the details on the oil spill in the gulf. I think a lot of shows are bad, but I never judge someone for liking a show that I think is terrible. I think this might be an exception though, considering what I hate the most about “The Newsroom” is it’s fooling people into thinking it’s awesome when it is so incredibly frustrating. See you in June for season two.

Oscar telecast

Well, they asked Hathaway and Franco to captain the young and hip Oscars in 2011. Unfortunately, Franco developed a case of fleeting narcolepsy and Hathaway was reduced to saying things like “It’s the young and hip Oscars!”. So this year, we took a complete 180 by bringing Billy Crystal aboard for a ninth time. I completely got why they did that – he’s a reliable performer. That being said, as Crystal’s career has faded, his material didn’t really change over the years. He trotted out an old blackface bit he used to do on “SNL” in the 1980s and it launched a night of uncomfortable bombs, bits falling flat, and Cirque du Soleil routines that have nothing to do with cinema. Just as this year’s Oscar telecast spent so much time trying to forget about this year’s movies and remember the good old days, I will spend 2013 and beyond trying to forget this year’s Oscar telecast.


The other day, I think I finally figured out the key reason that I’ve really disliked the last few years of “The Big Bang Theory”. And I figured it out by watching reruns. In the early days, Sheldon had his quirks, but he either didn’t mean any harm by them or he didn’t understand the distress he was causing his friends. In the show’s sixth season, he just completely shits on everybody, openly admitting that he has no interest in anyone but himself. We always sort of knew that, but they began spelling it out in such an ugly, mean-spirited way that made me cringe and cringe, yet the show’s studio audience only cheered louder and louder as the series became more popular and Sheldon Cooper entered the cultural zeitgeist.

Oddly enough, CBS’ “Partners” featured a character so horribly unpleasant that I’m surprised America didn’t fall in love with him, especially considering the characters and the audience treated this man, stomping over the only people in the world who will tolerate his crap, as a loveable scamp. The craziest part is, one of the show’s creators Max Mutchnick claims the character is based on him, just as David Krumholtz’s character is supposedly based on David Kohan. All I know is, I would never want to be associated with such a horrible creation. And if that’s an accurate depiction of Mutchnick, I feel sorry for the people who call him family or friend.

Up All Night

“Up All Night” might be the most proficiently mediocre show on TV. I wouldn’t even call it bad. But it’s on this list for two reasons. The first is how disappointing it is considering the talent involved. When you have a show written by funny SNL alums starring Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph, and Will Arnett in his first human role since playing Gob Bluth...and it just isn’t funny at all? I don’t really understand how that happens. The second, and as mentioned above the final straw for my decision to include it, is NBC’s hilarious choice to revamp the show next spring for five multi-cam episodes before it disappears as the most pathetic whimper into the night since “The Paul Reiser Show”. Maybe that shouldn’t affect how I feel about it in 2012, but it’s such a ridiculous televisual BJ for Lorne Michaels that there’s no way anyone in a boardroom at NBC doesn’t realize that this will not only not work, but will fail spectacularly (that being said, I can’t wait to watch a multi-cam episode and marvel at the weirdness). Grow a pair, guys. Set these people free.

The Voice

You know, I kind of actually liked “The Voice” in 2011. With “American Idol” as the Goliath to its David, the NBC singing competition stood up and said “We can do this without frivolous bullshit. We can make this about the contestants and not about crazy celebrity personalities. Hell, we can make Carson Daly seem sincere!” The show returned in 2012 and said “Oh, that stuff we said? Yeah, just kidding. We’re gonna go ahead and put peacocks on Cee Lo Green’s shoulder, have strippers dance with the contestants as they sing, and enter all of the contestants into Ryan King’s ‘March Sadness’ bracket.” What happened, “The Voice”? I was ready to root for you not just as a singing show, but as the savior of NBC.

Work It

It only took three days into the New Year for every critic compiling a worst of list to know what would headline it. Painfully unfunny and egregiously offensive, the only thing worth laughing about in regards to the totally unwatchable “Work It” is just how little effort was put into any aspect of this show – be it writing any attempts at humour beyond the premise of guys in drag, appallingly cheap set design, and complete contempt for all the people on the show as well as apparently those who watched it. “Work It” was not a bad show for 2012 – it was a bad show for the medium. I would go even farther and say that “Work It” was a pathetic excuse for art in general, and anyone involved in the creative decisions on that show should be ashamed of themselves. (Are TV people allowed to do the “Alan Smithee” move, or is that just a movie thing?)

And finally, just for fun:

The Worst Moment in TV for the year 2012
Bar Mitzvah Boys on “2 Broke Girls”

For something that infuriated me so much, I don’t actually have much to say about this. You’re just going to have to watch for yourself. None of this is funny. It’s just overly crude, sexist garbage, delivered by children no less. Some might say your standard CBS comedy. But this is a new low. To get even more specific, the line at about the two-minute mark is where you can actually pinpoint the second that your TV’s heart rips in half.

Next week: Let’s end on a high note with the ten best shows of the year