With the great, comes the awful. These were the shows that were more than disappointing. They were just bad.
For the shows I loved this year, you can see both parts of that list here and here.
City on a Hill
City on a Hill — a classic example of a great start but precipitous drop in quality — had all the makings of prestige television but had all the tropes, too. Tropes that it wasn’t interested in dissecting: the corrupt FBI agent who can get things done, the prosecutor on the rise who plays by the book, the armored-car robberies around town by two down-and-out brothers. If I told you this was set in Boston in the 1980s, would it matter? Would you be surprised? Kevin Bacon was fun to watch here, but even he couldn’t drag an interesting story out of City on a Hill.
The Terror: Infamy
Coming off the excellent first season of The Terror, The Terror: Infamy had so much promise and room to play. This anthology series, now set in a WWII Japanese-American interment camp in California, attempted to ramp up the horrors of both civilization and the supernatural. In the end, it examined neither very well. Instead, what it did have was plenty of dry acting and unfocused plot threads that had the primary characters going here and yon for no discernible reason. It’s sad that movies and television have had so little to say about this particular, horrible aspect of American history. The Terror: Infamy did not do it any justice.
I Am The Night
I Am The Night looked great. And that’s about it. Based on the story of Fauna Hodel, a real-life California girl with connections to the Black Dahlia murder , this noir crime drama felt as if the characters were completely out of sync with the story, especially true for Chris Pine’s journalist. Pine does great work here as a veteran of the Korean War shaken by his past, but he looks utterly out of place: everyone else is stylized and of a period, but not him. It’s offsetting. And India Eisley as the Fauna could use a lot of work. Her accent is thick yet her acting is not. It’s a good metaphor for the problems with the show: juicy story, little to chew on.
If you were to only go by the pilot episode of NOS4A2 (a play on the word “Nosferatu” and based on the book by Joe Hill), you’d think you had a great entry into the genre of television horror drama. It has some fascinating elements, including Zachary Quinto as a old man who preys on the energy (I think?) of children to maintain his vampire-like youth all wrapped up in a Christmas kidnapping. It’s creepy to be sure. Then beginning with episode two, it adds more and more random bullshit without bothering to make any of it work together. Here’s a list of plot threads that, I swear, I’m not making up: a teenage girl with a motorbike who can transport anywhere by riding on a local, covered bridge; an alcoholic father who is sometimes negligent and sometimes loving; a weird librarian who can see parts of the future with the help of Scrabble tiles, but also has seizures; a piece of the past involving roller skates as a mode of teleportation; a mentally challenged school janitor with a love for comic books; a place called “Christmasland”; an overly simplistic story line about class. Hill’s original is partly to blame here, but the writers should have inferred what to mimic from the text and what to morph into something better. This was a frustrating, awful mess.
Fear the Walking Dead
Season Five of Fear the Walking Dead was, and I avoid hyperbole here, a disaster. There were leaps of logic in this series that absolutely no one should be asked to make. I’ll try to explain one of the worst narrative choices, but I’m not sure if I can really convey how terribly stupid it all was. In an attempt to rescue some people whom they’ve never seen and that they’ve only heard on a walkie talkie, our heroes fly over a mountain in a small airplane — though none of them actually know how to fly an airplane — and crash it. Duh. There’s no explanation as to why they didn’t just drive there, but oh well. And then over the course of the first half of the season, they rebuild this airplane, although none of them even knew how to fly it in the first place. Oh, and there’s a nuclear power plant that’s endangering them, though no one seems to have any sort of radiation poisoning. That almost sounds like a weird dream, and I wish that’s all it was. One character, I shit you not, got irradiated zombie blood in her mouth and never gets sick. I just can’t.
The contrast of good acting and wretched writing has to be the starkest on this show than any other. So many great actors are utterly wasted. Garrett Dillahunt, Lennie James, Colman Domingo, Ruben Blades, and Jenna Elfman — all stellar actors — are worthy of so much more than this.
The showrunners really should sit down and discuss their vision for this show. This is just sad.