So far, I’ve spent this Best (& Worst) of 2014 TV week celebrating the finest that television had to offer this year, from the top 10 shows to the 10 best performances. But today, it’s time to leap over to the other end of the spectrum, and mourn the moments that TV let me down in 2014.
I decided against a 10 worst list, because some shows — like Mixology and Manhattan Love Story — were clearly doomed from the start and promptly lived down to expectations. Instead, I’ve focusing on the year’s biggest disappointments: shows (and performers) who aspired to something greater, and perhaps even briefly achieved it, before it all came crashing down. Here is 2014’s Hall of Shame, in alphabetical order:
A to Z (NBC)
This sitcom — chronicling the A-to-Z relationship of Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti —was one of the most promising fall pilots. Its stars had terrific, unforced chemistry. And then … nothing happened, for episodes on end. The jokes evaporated, and no actual stakes ever materialized. And how could a show set at not one but two different workplaces get away with never showing anyone doing actual work? After How I Met Your Mother, I thought the fantastic Milioti had finally found a part worthy of her talents. Better luck next season.
Bearded best friends
One of the most depressing developments of the fall season was the discovery that all the networks’ comedy development teams were operating from the exact same bland playbook: don’t forget to cast a bearded best friend! Like a virus, they popped up on almost every sitcom this fall, including Mulaney (Zack Pearlman), A to Z (Henry Zebrowski), Manhattan Love Story (Nicolas Wright) and Marry Me (John Gemberling). Now Gemberling is the last beard standing, not that I could really distinguish him from the other three.
When I reviewed the Extant premiere this summer, I was excited about the sci-fi drama’s possibilities, both in storyline and the performance it was coaxing out of star Halle Berry, as an astronaut who returns from a lengthy solo mission to discover that she’s pregnant. A few episodes later, those optimistic dreams were the opposite of extant. Instead of learning its lessons from Under the Dome, which quickly squandered its beguiling premise in 2013, CBS repeated them all again.
(Ron P. Jaffe/Fox)
How I Met Your Mother finale (CBS)
While I was never a regular How I Met Your Mother watcher, I had been eagerly anticipating how series would pay off the story it had been setting up for nine (!) seasons. Instead, the finale confirmed everyone’s worst fears — that the Mother (Milioti again!) had died — and turned into How I Barely Met Your Mother. It was a legen — wait for it! — dary addition to the annals of all-time worst finales. (Make room, Dexter!)
Out of all this year’s new sitcoms, I was most excited about seeing Mulaney, created by and starring one of SNL’s all-time great writers (and the man behind Stefon!), John Mulaney. And then I watched the first episode Fox made available, which was…awful. Soon after, Fox shared four more episodes, each one more depressing than the last. How could someone so innovative end up in something so conventional? Even worse, the show completely wasted its fantastic cast (including Martin Short and the underrated Nasim Pedrad).
A year after Fox had scored big with a midseason drama featuring a movie star (Kevin Bacon’s The Following), it tried again with this Greg Kinnear legal series — and failed spectacularly. Billed as the law version of House, it lacked any of that show’s zest and wit. Kinnear’s Keegan Deane was less an anti-hero than an anti-character, as clunky a fit as the show’s silly title.
Sleepy Hollow (Fox)
It’s the hat trick of Fox disappointments! Season 1 the Fox supernatural series was a delightful, wackadoodle wonder. And that’s what has made Season 2 so upsetting, as the series has undone so much of what made it addictive in the first place. John Noble, so vital to the end of Season 1, has been neutered this year, while Orlando Jones was stuck on the sidelines. There are still flashes of the trippy show that once was (and Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie remain terrific), but Sleepy Hollow suffered the biggest quality dropoff this year.
So intriguing in theory, so bland in execution. Still flailing post-Breaking Bad, AMC came up empty again with this uninspired Revolutionary War drama. It was somehow renewed for Season 2, and saddled with a longer title: Turn: Washington’s Spies. There, problem solved!
FX’s incredible run of essential dramas came to an end with this controversial Middle Eastern series, which finally offered one antihero too many for a network packed with them. And no, don’t remind me that this was renewed over the far-superior The Bridge.
Christopher Walken (Peter Pan Live!)
Two weeks later, I still can’t believe what I saw on Dec. 4. Walken’s Captain Hook was supposed to save Peter Pan Live! Instead, he almost sunk the show. That an actor who is so reliably riveting in everything he appears in — no matter how great or lousy the project itself is — could sleepwalk through a three-hour live performance was one of the year’s biggest stunners. Whether it was due to age or boredom, Walken lost a big chunk of his luster that night.
That was cathartic; now it’s time to praise television again! Check back Thursday for more 2014 TV VIPs.