From the moment Mulaney was announced, it was the one new sitcom of the fall 2014 season I couldn’t wait to see. Then I actually watched the pilot. It pains me to say this, because I love John Mulaney and Nasim Pedrad and Elliot Gould, but as the show is structured right now, it doesn’t work. I have faith that something will change, and that while it inevitably gets clobbered in the ratings by football and zombies and good wives, it will get better. It needs to get better, because if it doesn’t, considering the talent involved, it would be one of the great TV show disappointments in recent memory.
For the sake of this post, “recent memory” goes back to 2004, when a certain sitcom starring two beloved rappers came and went before anyone realized it was even on. Here are 10 promising sounding series (I left off shows like Made In Jersey, which was obviously going to be awful) that should have been good or even great, but instead were bland at best and terrible at worst.
Method & Red (2004)
A Fox sitcom about Redman and Method Man hanging out with uptight white people? That sounds great! It gets better: How I Met Your Mother‘s Carter Bays and Craig Thomas and The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were on the writing staff. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Method and Red were upset with the way Fox chopped up and sanitized the show (Meth wanted it to be more like Arrested Development), Fox was upset that they were upset, and it was canned after nine episodes.
The New Adventures of Old Christine (2005)
When Barack Obama gives Julia Louis-Dreyfus the not-at-all-fictional award for being a National Treasure (not the Nic Cage movie, though that is also a National Treasure), his speech will begin with a highly censored Veep quote, then he’ll move onto raving about Seinfeld and Enough Said and SNL and Arrested Development. Thirteen minutes in, he’ll finally get around to mentioning The New Adventures of Old Christine, before ending with a reference to being spongeworthy, or something. It’s easy to forget about Old Christine because as wonderful as stars JLD and Wanda Sykes are, even they couldn’t make the CBS sitcom anything more than just that: a CBS comedy. (Think of movie star Melissa McCarthy still being on Mike & Molly.) It’s not the worst thing with Louis-Dreyfus’ name on it (that would be Watching Ellie); only the most bland. So much talent, so few laughs.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006)
Yesterday, Burnsy dared to wonder what TV would look like if Friends hadn’t debuted 20 years ago. It’s a fun “what if,” and I’ve wondered something similar about Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip: would it have lasted for longer than a season if 30 Rock hadn’t premiered the same year? Possibly, though I’m glad things worked out the way they did, because 30 Rock is brilliant and Studio 60 is Aaron Sorkin at his most mediocre. It never came close to matching the brilliant heights of The West Wing, nor did it ever sink to the smarmy lows of The Newsroom. It was…fine, if arrogant, except for the comedy sketches, which were just painful. Tina Fey was smart enough to make “Prince William and Prince, Time-Traveling Fart Detectives” intentionally horrible; Aaron Sorkin wasn’t nearly as self-aware.
Kid Nation (2007)
The only disappointing thing about Kid Nation is that it’s not still on. EAT IT, Utopia.
Kath & Kim (2008)
The Office was a critical and commercial success, so obviously American viewers would enjoy any foreign adaption NBC scheduled on Thursday nights. Not quite. Kath & Kim, based on the beloved Australian series of the same name, premiered in the plum post-Office timeslot in 2008, but a few weeks later, it was shuffled off the schedule. Selma Blair and Molly Shannon, who played the titular characters, are funny actresses, but they weren’t right for those roles, and the tone of the show was off. Every episode felt like less funny versions of the first few Office episodes, where the writers tried to have it both ways, a mash of separate American and Australian comedic sensibilities. Viewers had it no ways.
Ah, 2009, when FlashForward and V competed to be the MOST Lost-esque of Lost-esque shows. Technically, V won because it ran for two seasons, but it was never any good in the first place. FlashForward, which began with everyone in the world losing consciousness for over two minutes and seeing what happens to them six months into the future, had a not-terrible premise, a good cast (Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, and Dominic Monaghan), and a successful pilot. But like most shows with such a high-concept premise, it couldn’t keep up momentum with any consistency and quickly began to drag. Eight months after it premiered, FlashForward was cancelled.
Running Wilde (2010)
As bad as Running Wilde was, and it was very bad, its cancellation led to some really good things. If the short-lived sitcom, about a selfish rich dude attempting to better himself for an environmentalist he has a crush on, had been a success, who knows if creator Mitchell Hurwitz would have ever gotten around to making season four of Arrested Development? Or if star Keri Russell would have been available for The Americans, one of the best shows on TV? Or if Will Arnett…well, either way, he was probably going to provide the voice of an animated horse. It’s the role he was born to play.
The River (2011)
I stuck with Oren Peli’s found-footage supernatural horror series The River for an entire season, hoping it would live up to the creepy potential of its premise. Bruce Greenwood goes missing during an exploration on the Amazon River, his family and a documentary crew search for him, creepy things happen, etc. Problem was, there wasn’t nearly enough creepiness — what was supposed to be scary just looked cheap. It also didn’t help that the characters were one-note caricatures. We never cared if they made it out alive. Same with the show.
The Following (2012)
If The Following had been a self-contained, eight-episode story about an Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed serial killer and his cult starring Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, and Winona from Justified, it could have been must-watch TV. Instead, it’s been a 30-episode slog of hate, blood, and misery. The only good thing about is checking in on the dead-inside critics who have to recap it.
The Millers (2013)
We criticize because we care, Will Arnett. He’s the star of two of the shows on this list, which is a damn shame, because when he finds the right role, there are few people on television as funny. But he’s not the only reason why I picked The Millers over Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or The Crazy Ones — it’s the entire cast: Margo Martindale, Jayma Mays, J.B. Smoove, Nelson Franklin, Eliza Coupe, Beau Bridges. So many of our favorite people from our favorite shows, but is anyone here watching?