After celebrating the best shows of the year and the top 10 new series, we've saved the worst for last. With a record 409 scripted shows airing in 2015, it's time to look at the seedy underbelly of peak TV: the year's most disappointing shows.
Note that I said "most disappointing," not "worst." While Truth Be Told might be the most appalling show I watched in 2015, anyone who saw the sizzle reel at NBC's upfront could tell that it was going to be a train wreck. Instead, I'm looking at shows that seemed to have so much promise—that is, until they actually aired.
TV has been an embarrassment of riches this year; here are the plain old embarrassments:
10. The Returned (A&E)
Undaunted by the 2013 failure of Fox’s Gracepoint, a tepid, nearly shot-for-shot remake of the brilliant British series Broadchurch, Carlton Cuse took the haunting French series Les Revenants and created … a tepid, nearly shot-for-shot remake. Cuse could have elevated the material as he has done with Bates Motel (which wiped away the memories of those awful Psycho sequels and prequels). Instead, he weakened it.
9. Dig (USA)
As USA basks in adoration for Mr. Robot—my pick for best new show of 2015—don't forget that the network bet big (and lost) on this expensive Da Vinci Code knockoff starring Jason Isaacs and Anne Heche. While the Jerusalem series was a closed-ended story, USA fully intended to keep it going if the show was a hit. It wasn't. And Isaacs, usually so fantastic in everything he's in (I'm still mourning Awake's demise), was wasted here.
8. The Brink (HBO)
A political satire on HBO starring Jack Black and Tim Robbins—what could go wrong? Everything, it turns out. Despite the drudgery, HBO reflexively renewed the show for a second season before later wising up and putting it out of its misery.
7. The Slap (NBC)
In a desperate bid to reverse its sagging Thursday night fortunes, NBC scrapped comedies for the first time in 35 years, replacing them with this pretentious, laughable miniseries about an unlikable family, with each character more entitled than the last, whose lives are upended after one of them slaps a child. Not even Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, Zachary Quinto and Brian Cox could make this watchable.
6. Zoo (CBS)
In my cautiously optimistic review last summer of this drama, based on James Patterson's novel about an animal uprising, I noted that “Zoo’s premiere offers a dozen ways this could all go horribly wrong, perhaps as quickly as the second episode.” That’s exactly what happened: Zoo followed the path of CBS’ other recent big summer shows—Under the Dome and Extant—that boasted gripping, visually arresting premieres, only to unravel immediately thereafter. In the end, Zoo worked better as a comedy than as a drama.
5. Community (Yahoo Screen)
Yahoo Screen was heralded as a hero after it stepped in and rescued the cult comedy, giving it a sixth season after NBC canceled it. But the streaming service seemed to quickly lose interest in the show. Instead of revitalizing it for Season 6, Community felt zombified, devoid of the life and heart that marked most of its prior run. Still, the show had its moments, but the thrill was gone—especially for Yahoo, which lost millions on it. While another broadcast castoff The Mindy Project has thrived on its new streaming home (Hulu), Community serves as a cautionary tale for giving shows a second life. As Pet Sematary once warned, "Sometimes, dead is better."
4. The Bastard Executioner (FX)
There were huge expectations for Kurt Sutter’s follow-up to Sons of Anarchy, and this overstuffed, head-scratching medieval tale didn’t meet any of them. Even Sutter saw the writing on the wall and announced the show's end by explaining, “The audience has spoken, and unfortunately the word is, ‘meh.’”
3. The Comedians (FX)
Teaming Billy Crystal and Josh Gad for an FX comedy about the inner workings of making a TV show was an inspired idea—but that's where the inspiration ended. There were so many problems with the series, which joins The Paul Reiser Show as the worst of the Curb Your Enthusiasm imitators, but chief among them: The Comedians wasn't funny.
2. Happyish (Showtime)
Author Shalom Auslander mined his own advertising past for this misfire about a disillusioned ad exec (Steve Coogan). The original pilot starred Philip Seymour Hoffman (who died in 2014, shortly after filming it), and the early footage of him was sensational. That convinced Showtime to keep the project going, recasting Steve Coogan in the lead role, but he lacked Hoffman's charisma and presence—and Auslander's usual wit didn't translate to TV. Happyish quickly turned saddish.
1. True Detective (HBO)
Less than a year after True Detective’s groundbreaking Season 1 became the toast of Hollywood, the show's disastrous return made it a national punch line. Nic Pizzolatto’s inert follow-up imploded almost immediately, despite valiant efforts from new stars Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch. (Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, wasn't up to the task of playing criminal Frank Semyon.) Fargo’s exquisite sophomore season—my choice for best series of 2015—only underscored the extent to which Pizzolatto dropped the ball in Season 2.