We’ve spent the week honoring the best TV shows of the year and the top 10 new series, but now it’s time to shift from the best that TV had to offer in 2016 to looking at some of the worst: the year’s most disappointing shows.
Of course, “disappointing” isn’t the same as “worst.” Nothing on this list is as toxic as Man With a Plan or Notorious, both of which seemed like trainwrecks from the moment the first footage was screened during the upfronts—and then proceeded to live down to expectations. Instead, this list is devoted to the 2016 shows that seemed destined for greatness—at least, until they actually debuted.
Without further ado, here are the year’s biggest misfires:
10. Westworld (HBO)
As I noted above, “disappointing” is not the same as “worst,” and that distinction is particularly key when it comes to HBO’s overly ambitious sci-fi Western. Alternately fascinating and frustrating, it often came tantalizingly close to unearthing the brilliant show hidden inside (perhaps at the center of the maze?), but kept falling short of the mark. Despite riveting work from Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton, Westworld couldn’t get out of its own way for much of its first season, stubbornly focused on what it saw as shocking, game-changing twists that in reality were telegraphed several episodes in advance. Still, its season finale cliffhangers give me hope that the show will be able to right the ship in Season 2.
9. BrainDead (CBS)
When I named this summer series from The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King as one of the 12 shows I was most excited to see in 2016, I noted, “If the Kings can make BrainDead even half as compelling as The Good Wife, CBS will finally have a summer series worth watching more than two episodes of.”
If only that had been the case. Instead, BrainDead, about brain-eating bugs taking over Washington, D.C., fell into the same traps as most of CBS’ previous high-concept summer dramas. While the show did settle into a quirky groove later in the season, it was too late for viewers and for CBS, which pulled the plug. (At least we’ll always have those ingenious “previously on” musical interludes—the best thing about the show—which kicked off each episode.)
8. Crisis in Six Scenes (Amazon)
Amazon thought it had landed a big coup when it signed Woody Allen to create his first-ever TV series, but in retrospect it should have granted the writer-director his persistent request to be let out of the deal. Allen's inert entry—which seems like a first draft of a script he never bothered to rewrite—is about a radicalist on the run (Miley Cyrus), who disrupts the lives of a suburban Connecticut couple (Allen and Elaine May) in the late ‘60s. Crisis ranks with the worst of Allen’s films, and brought Amazon’s sensational streak of September comedy releases (One Mississippi, Fleabag, Transparent’s third season and then this) to an abrupt, humorless halt.
7. Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons (HBO)
As a podcaster and sports comedy writer, Bill Simmons is often peerless. But as an HBO talk show host, he was surprisingly toothless. Had Ben Affleck not gone on an enraged rant about Tom Brady and Deflategate in the first episode, Any Given Wednesday would have gone its entire, abbreviated run without attracting any outside buzz whatsoever. HBO mercifully pulled the plug in November after realizing that no amount of tinkering could save the show; it just didn’t work.
6. Damien (A&E)
A&E’s thinking on this was sound: Given the success that Lost co-showrunner Carlton Cuse has had with his Psycho prequel, Bates Motel, why not try a sequel series to another iconic horror film, The Omen, developed by a different hit showrunner (The Walking Dead’s Glen Mazzara)? But while Bates Motel was elevated with a pair of magnificent performances from Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore, Damien was doomed from the start, thanks to an uninspired turn from Bradley James as the all-grown-up Antichrist. The hell with it.
5. The Family (ABC)
How long did it take the best broadcast pilot of the 2015-16 season to completely unravel? Oh, about five minutes into the second episode. The Family was the story of a politician preparing a run for governor (Joan Allen) who is stunned by the return of a boy that seems to be her son, even though he went missing a decade ago and was presumed dead. Yet the gripping pilot turned on a dime, and the series became depressingly conventional. What a missed opportunity, and what a waste of a terrific actress in Allen.
4. UnReal (Lifetime)
The only non-freshman show on the list suffered the biggest season-to-season quality drop of any series this year. While its delicious debut, about the sordid behind-the-scenes goings-on at a Bachelor-like reality show, UnReal completely lost the thread in Season 2. It took a compelling idea—the show's first African-American suitor—and buried it under a slew of nonsensical twists (including, ridiculously, a Black Lives Matter-related shooting storyline that was abandoned as quickly as it materialized). Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby tried to keep the show together through the sheer will of their performances, but UnReal is now so off the rails that the show (which is now on its third showrunner) might not be able to find its way back for Season 3.
3. Feed the Beast (AMC)
You’d have thought that AMC would have learned an important lesson from 2013’s Low Winter Sun: its audiences would no longer tolerate generic dramas about even more generic white male antiheroes. But instead, the network rushed this drama onto the air (adapted from a Danish series by longtime Dexter showrunner Clyde Phillips) about two pals, one a parolee in debt to a mob boss, who team up to open a Greek restaurant in the Bronx. When a cable drama doesn’t make it to Season 2, you know that it’s bad, and Feed the Beast certainly was.
2. Roadies (Showtime)
Showtime would have signed up for a series from either Cameron Crowe, J.J. Abrams or Winnie Holzman (who created My So-Called Life) in a heartbeat; a series from all three of them should have been a slam dunk. But Roadies, which followed the road crew for a touring rock band, wasn’t. In fact, there’s only one thing more disheartening about TV this year than the fact that Crowe—the former Rolling Stone journalist behind some of the most iconic films about music—couldn’t craft an entertaining drama about the music industry...
1. Vinyl (HBO)
…And that’s the fact that Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger made an even worse drama about the music industry. How could those two legends have teamed up for such a bland drama about the ’70s New York music scene? From the Scorsese-directed pilot, in which the maestro kept ripping himself off, it was clear that the show’s foundation was about as solid as that of the building that collapsed in the episode’s closing moments. HBO at first reflexively renewed the show before realizing that it was beyond repair. As the network reinvents itself with The Night Of and Westworld, it will look back at Vinyl as the moment it hit rock-bottom.