TV's 10 Worst of 2008
If I don't personally watch a TV show, I wouldn't put it on my Top 10 list just because people told me they loved it or because it was great three seasons ago. In order to celebrate the greatness of something, it has to be something you actually enjoy.
I play by similar rules on my 10 Worst list, which complicates matters. For a show to make my Bottom 10, it has to be something I watch regularly or, at the very least, it has to be something I at least tune in for a few times during the year.
As a result, there are plenty of shows that may have stunk, but they won't make my list. It only took the pilot screeners of "Lipstick Jungle" and "Cashmere Mafia" and "The Ex List" for me to know that I wasn't in their target demographic, so I didn't need to waste my time. I stopped pretending to occasionally care about "CSI: NY" and "CSI: Miami" a long time ago. I know that even though much of the critical world hails her as an infallible genius, Tracey Ullman makes me want to bang my head against a wall, so I skipped her new Showtime show, despite the positive reviews. And as addicted as I may be to trashy reality shows, "The Hills" is past my threshold and I don't care if Bret Michaels or Tia Tequila ever find love.
And to cut off that ever-so-obvious question: If I hate these shows so much, why do I keep watching them? Well, it's my job. And maybe these are shows I once loved and hope to love again, or maybe they star favorite actors. Also, I have a bit of a masochistic streak.
10)The 2009 Olympics from Beijing (NBC) - Across three-quarters of the country, viewers got to take advantage of NBC's deal-making with the Chinese to watch live sporting finals in primetime. Those viewers got to revel in Michael Phelps' record-breaking achievements and other Olympic highlights as they were occurring. If you lived in the Pacific time zone, though, NBC decided you didn't count and the events all aired three hours later, forcing sports fans to either watch events where they knew the results or to cover their heads in the sand for three hours and pretend that what they were seeing hadn't happened hours earlier. Thanks for ruining the universal simultaneity of the Olympics, NBC!
9)"90210" (The CW)- At some point, "90210" will decide what it wants to be. Is it a trashy, tawdry, "Dynasty"-for-teens soap opera in the vein of "Gossip Girl" and the later seasons of "Beverly Hills 90210"? Or is it a semi-serious look at the problems teens and their parents face today, as seen though the prism of extreme wealth, in the vein of the earlier years of "Beverly Hills 90210"? Originally conceived by Rob Thomas and executed by "Freaks and Geeks" and "Life As We Know It" vets Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs, "90210" has been disappointingly unclear in its intentions. That's why viewers have had to suffer through the "21 Jump Street" undercover narc saga, a budding romance between Annie and Ethan that nobody really wants, the latest in The CW's neverending series of long-lost half-siblings and those episodes where they kept singing the same song from "Spring Awakening" over and over and over again. At this point, more than a few viewers are only sticking around in the hopes that someday Jessica Walter will get something to do.
8)"Grey's Anatomy" (ABC)- Ghost sex.
7)"Stylista" (The CW)- Maybe with magazines and newspapers going out of business left and right, this wasn't exactly the right time for a reality show about a group of self-obsessed twits cutting each other's throats to work for an Ice Queen in a job that mostly only mattered to them for the free dresses? Just possibly? Kudos, though, to the show's casting directors for selecting the least likable group of contestants in reality show history. I'm a sucker for trashy reality programming, but this was too extreme for me.
6)"24: Redemption" (FOX)- Thanks, "24," for slaking my desire for a "24" movie! The resilient awesomeness of Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer plus the higher-than-usual production values from shooting in South Africa didn't make up for a tension-free telefilm that peaked early and degenerated into the "24" producers ranting about the inefficiencies of the United Nations. The movie also introduced what looks to the the theme of the show's seventh season: Jack Bauer gets results and only weak bureaucrats have a problem with that "torture" thing.
5)"Criminal Minds" (CBS)- To my own criminal mind, this show is the worst of CBS' procedurals. It's monotonous, relentlessly gloomy and generically sadistic. And yet I often can't keep myself from tuning in to watch whichever semi-washed-up actor is attempting to kick-start their career by playing the killer-of-the-week. And every time I watch, I find myself wishing that Joe Mantegna, Paget Brewster, Kirsten Vangsness and Shemar Moore could be set free to get other work.
4)"Knight Rider" (NBC)- So NBC ordered a TV movie of "Knight Rider" that was critically derided, moderately watched and didn't even get a stamp of approval from fans. That was a dumb idea. Then NBC decided to send "Knight Rider" back to series, with a "creative" overhaul. That was dumb. Then, after only a few episodes (somehow even worse than the telefilm), NBC ordered a full season of "Knight Rider." That was dumb. Then, with ratings dipping, NBC announced plans to give "Knight Rider" another revamp, jettisoning the three members of the cast who could act. That was... ah, you get the picture. I know it's all part of Ben Silverman's master plan, but it seems like a lot of work for an hour-long weekly car commercial.
3) FOX Live Action Comedy - It wasn't so long ago that FOX's live action comedy department turned out "Arrested Development" and "Kitchen Confidential" and "The Loop." Nobody watched those shows, but it isn't like anybody watched "Unhitched," the spring's worst comedy, or "Do Not Disturb," which was the worst new comedy of the fall. It isn't like anybody watches "'Til Death" either and yet that show seems unkillable. The circumstances are so dire for FOX's non-animated laugher that it's possible to look back on the sheer mediocrity of "Back to You" with nostalgia.
2)"Heroes" (NBC)- Yup. I'm just kicking a dead horse here. Sorry, "Heroes." It's not like "Heroes" was ever the most spectacularly original series on TV, as comic book fans could tell you, but lifting plot points from from "X-Men" and "Watchmen" and "The Fly," tacking on a future apocalypse and then diluting the emotional impact around a dozen character nobody cares about at all isn't the same as storytelling. "Heroes" used to be a tremendous amount of fun and part of the pleasure was that the characters seemed to enjoy using their powers, even vicious killing machine Sylar. At this point, every member of the "Heroes" ensemble is so guilt-ridden and miserable about being super that all of the joy has been drained from the series. The characters we used to love are nearly unrecognizable and I'd suggest the producers start from scratch, except that none of the new characters have been worth embracing.
1)"True Blood" (HBO)- 2008 was a vampire-y year and maybe I burnt myself out on bloodsucking melodramatics in a summer that saw me zip through the "Twilight" books and several of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. Maybe I got sick of plotlines involving plucky heroines getting weak in the knees for every soulful vampire who furrows an eternal brow at them. Maybe I miss vampires who were scary more than just emo. There were always reasons to watch "True Blood," but most of them involved the cavalcade of celebrity nudity that included Oscar winner Anna Paquin and long-time fav Lizzy Caplan. But nudity aside, "True Blood" was plagued by the reheated South Gothic miasma that hung over every episode, drenching a protracted murder investigation with so many bad accents and ridiculous detours -- Tara's mom's exorcism? Jason's V-boner? -- that by the time they explained whodunnit, I'd forgotten what "it" was. The show's fanbase is growing and I wonder what percentage of the fans are treating "True Blood" as a very guilty pleasure (I get that) and how many think Alan Ball is weaving a profound allegory about being an outsider.