In many ways, this was a great year in television, one in which I struggled to make room for all my favorite shows in my Top 10 lists, even when splitting them into multiple lists. But with so many channels producing so much original programming year-round, the best stuff still represents a very thin slice of the pie – and if you cut into other sections, it was still easy to find plenty of things that were rotten.
I can’t say that these 10 shows were the actual 10 worst to air in 2010. Because of the demands of my job, I often wind up just skipping over shows I suspect have no chance of being good. I haven’t seen a second of “Bridalplasty,” “Skating with the Stars” or the “Kate Plus 8 Minus Jon Multiplied By Rampant Narcissism” specials. These are just the 10 worst things I actually watched, in some descending order of terrible-ness (and you can find Fienberg’s own worst-of picks here):
“Gravity” (Starz): Eric Schaeffer has carved a strange little career as writer/director/producer/star of a strain of uncomfortable movies (“If Lucy Fell”) and TV shows (“Starved”) that try to get laughs out of severe emotional problems. This comedy about a support group for failed suicides represents the nadir of the Schaeffer oeuvre, not just because it was stifling and spectacularly unfunny, but because Schaeffer kept distractingly inserting himself into the story as a cop obsessed with one of the group members.
“The Marriage Ref” (NBC): Where Schaeffer had a track record that (mostly) prepared me for the badness of “Gravity,” “The Marriage Ref” was Jerry Seinfeld’s first TV show since “Seinfeld,” and its lineup of celebrity guests featured a lot of other genuinely funny people like Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Larry David and Ricky Gervais. But wow was it insufferable: a bunch of wealthy celebrities getting together to make fun of ordinary people with exaggerated problems, contemptuously laughing like hyenas at each other’s lame jokes about the common folk. So of course NBC is bringing it back for another season.
“Outsourced” (NBC): There are objectively worse shows on this list, but “Outsourced” was perhaps the most disappointing. After NBC had finally come up with a Thursday comedy lineup where all the shows were either great or at least capable of occasional greatness, in came this cheap, hacky sitcom that wouldn’t have felt out of place airing after “Friends” or “Seinfeld” in the late ’90s, and one that leaned so heavily on Indian stereotypes that it almost singlehandedly undermined the great progress the network had made in casting South Asian actors in well-rounded roles elsewhere on the schedule. The sad thing is, many of the actors on this show are likable and seem capable of being funny, but they’re hampered by an insufferable main character and lazy writing. Some readers insisted the show got significantly better after the pilot, but of the two later episodes I saw, one was hovering just under mediocre and the other was entirely about the main character getting diarrhea from eating Indian street food. Yay! (And here I wasn’t entirely sure Fienberg was being serious when he discussed this episode on our worst-of podcast.)
“Feces My Dad Says” (CBS): CBS struggled with how to title a show based on a Twitter feed with a name you can’t say outside of pay cable. They may as well have called it “Why a Twitter Feed Is Not the Same as a Sitcom.” What had been funny in 140-character bursts on Justin Halpern’s feed felt groan-worthy coming from the mouth of star William Shatner, who was in on the joke in the way Halpern’s father never seemed to be. Couple that with the way the show almost instantly sold out the dad character by revealing that he’s really just a lonely old man who uses blunt humor as a defense mechanism and you have a show where I wonder why anyone bothered.
“My Generation” (ABC): This soap opera about seven alums of a high school class of 2000, reunited after 10 tumultuous years, debuted on the same night as “Outsourced” and “$#*!,” but we don’t have it to kick around anymore, as ABC canceled it after 2 episodes had aired – and before I got around to watching the second one on my DVR. But the pilot was both pretentious and predictable – every single character’s life had turned out to be exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from them as high school seniors! – and kept awkwardly shoehorning in the events of the last decade. Ambition is an admirable thing, but “My Generation” aimed high and badly missed the target.
“Outlaw” (NBC): One of the funnier shows on this list, albeit not one that was intended as such. Jimmy Smits played a Supreme Court justice who abruptly quit the most powerful court in the land to go into private practice and take a series of cases where he was always on the side you’d least expect him to be – at least until the viewers, unlike Smits’ hapless associates, realized that he always picked the side you didn’t assume he’d be on. Because he’s an outlaw! A very silly show, and not one that Smits’ charisma could carry on its own.
“The Event” (NBC): A reverse-engineered sci-fi thriller, in which they seem to have come up with a tagline – “What is The Event?” – and then tried to build a show around it. I gave up on the show a few weeks in after it became clear that the producers weren’t going to answer, or even offer notable clues, about that question for a long time – I’m told that 10 episodes in, viewers still have no idea – and that the characters and transitional stories they were giving us in the meantime weren’t remotely interesting enough to merit waiting.
“Big Love” (HBO): I never fully loved this polygamy drama in its first three seasons, but always felt the good (the wives and kids) outweighed the bad (goofiness at the polygamist compound, Bill Paxton’s blank lead performance). Then came season four, which tried to stuff three seasons worth of story – notably Bill Henrickson’s misguided, reckless decision to run for the state legislature and expose his lifestyle to the world – into a one-season bag and was such a crowded, overwrought mess that even star Chloe Sevigny admitted it was terrible. (Or she did until her publicity team convinced her to blame the reporter who asked her about it.)
“The Decisions” (ESPN): It isn’t often that you get to see an entire city get a knife stuck in its back on live TV, but that’s exactly the grisly spectacle offered by this heinous PR miscalculation by LeBron James and his management team, in which he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach, screwing over Cleveland and also jilting suitors in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and New Jersey. But it wasn’t just the idea of “The Decision” that was horrible, but the foot-dragging execution, including a squirmy interview with imitation human Jim Grey, who at one point stalled for time by asking LeBron whether he still chews his fingernails. It was like the worst “American Idol” results show ever.
“Memphis Beat” (TNT): How do you make a show starring live-wire Jason Lee as a cop by day, Elvis impersonator by night, set in the colorful city of Memphis, and make it the dullest police procedural on television? I’m still baffled.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com