“American Horror Story: Hotel”
Every year this happens. Every. damn. year. Every damn year we look at the amazing casting and the visual spectacle promised by “American Horror Story,” and every damn year we say to ourselves, “Hmmm, maybe this year it won’t just be outrageous plot beat after outrageous plot beat! Maybe it’ll hold together as an actual story, with characters worthy of their actors!” And every damn year we end up being wrong about that. Just enough time for us to forget about this should pass, though, before the inevitable “American Horror Story: Brothel” or “American Horror Story: Food Truck” or “American Horror Story: TV Writers’ Room” premieres in 2016. That’s why we’re leaving this note here for ourselves, as a reminder.
If we were making a Worst of 2015 list, this may or may not be at the very top. But we don’t do that sort of thing. So it’s on here instead. Crackle needed to break into the original series game in a big way, and not just so people would have a good reason to remember what Crackle is, let alone figure out how to watch it. They needed “The Art of More” to be good so that people would trust them with future original content, an issue that continuously popped up in 2015 as new distributors tried to break into the TV game. This limp, unconvincing and dated drama was not the way to go. Whatever’s next for Crackle, beyond “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” will have to make up for what this cost the network.
Let me get this out of the way straight off: “Bloodline” isn’t a bad show. It’s actually a pretty good show, marred by expectations set impossibly high by the stellar cast and intriguing premise. After all, this was Kyle Chandler’s return to television in his first role since playing the iconic Coach Taylor in one of the best television series ever made, “Friday Night Lights.” Throw in Sissy “Two-Time Oscar Winner” Spacek, Sam “Pulitzer Prize” Shepard and Ben Mendelsohn — knocking a challenging part out of the park — and “Bloodline” is, on paper, the most prestigious entry in Netflix’s impressive lineup. Perhaps that’s why the 13 episodes making up Season 1 were so unfulfilling. The mystery established in the first episode was strung out too long, resulting in a meandering and occasionally redundant season held together by powerful acting, if not equally compelling writing. Still, there will always be opportunity in “Bloodline,” especially heading into Season 2. We may be setting ourselves up for disappointment all over again, but we’ll be eagerly anticipating the new episodes.
“The Brink” ended up being the exact definition of why we call these shows the Most Disappointing of the year: There was great potential here, but somehow got squandered on a too-scattered narrative featuring some quite unpleasant characters. There were a lot of compelling bits to be found in this attempt to tell a “Dr. Strangelove”-style tale set in the modern political landscape. (Most of them involved Aasif Mandvi’s character, who was possibly the most likeable of the bunch.) But it just didn’t find its voice, in the end, and will remain what it is: disappointing.
The spinoff to “The Walking Dead” represented far more than an easy cash-grab for AMC. After seeing what was possible when a prequel series was done right via “Better Call Saul” earlier in the year, “Fear the Walking Dead” could have taken the franchise in a brave new direction, or at least provided desired explanations for how the world became what it is in “TWD.” Instead, it introduced a group of characters — average at their best and annoyingly stupid at their worst — who almost immediately were on the run from a horde of walkers. Sure, it made sense for AMC to try to replicate its successful entry without alteration from a business standpoint, but “Fear the Walking Dead” didn’t take the time to establish its characters in order to justify the suspense surrounding their fate. And there weren’t that many surprises anyway.
“Hand of God”
“Hand of God” is almost deceptively disappointing. The Amazon original series starring Ron Perlman lures you into its dark world with an intriguing premise — a judge believes God is telling him how to find his daughter-in-law’s rapist — almost long enough for you to realize how disgusting your surroundings have become. “Hand of God” uses religions as a crutch to support its twisted tales, instead of engaging in a legitimate debate over the insanities inherent in belief. Worse yet, the characters put through the wringer are almost unabashedly evil, with far too many missteps in a so-called righteous quest for the audience to believe anyone is doing what they do for the right reasons. And on top of the heap are the formerly likable visages of Ron Perlman and Dana Delaney, relegated here to less dynamic and doubly despicable versions of Frank and Claire Underwood, which leads us to…
“House of Cards” (Season 3)
It’s rare that a show can drop so much in our esteem from one season to the next, but while on a technical level, “House of Cards” didn’t disappoint in 2015, the storytelling choices left us wanting. The show tried some new things, and there were a few standout moments over the course of the season. But between some pacing issues, Frank’s political schemes proving incredibly ineffective and an extremely dark turn for Doug, Season 3 was a pretty big disappointment. We’ll wait and see how things change in Season 4.
If you grew up loving Kermit, Piggy and the rest of the gang, “The Muppets” was an easy sell: all your favorite characters, in a modern mockumentary-style comedy set in the franchise’s showbiz-parody roots. But we’ve watched every episode of the ABC comedy, and we’re still waiting for it to truly capture the joy and love associated with this bunch after decades on screen. Maybe we’re burdened by nostalgia on this one. There are glimmers of the show this could be, every once in a while. But between a weird fixation on the Muppets’ sex lives, a weird implementation of guest stars and a weird take on Kermit (who just doesn’t feel like Kermit), well, maybe the retool in progress will help things? Maybe.
“True Detective” (Season 2)
You don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone. Or, in this case, ’til he’s gone. Nic Pizzolatto’s solo second season just couldn’t live up to the towering heights of his collaboration with Cary Fukunaga in Season 1. Whether the problem was the stable of episode directors not having enough power to push back, or simply that Pizzolatto got too far into his own head when penning the disastrous second season, one thing was certain: This wasn’t just a disappointment when compared to Season 1. Season 2 lacked the first year’s distinct sense of location and gripping, well-rounded central characters, but judged on its own it also just looked and sounded messy. The LA world was lost in a sea of beautiful but overused overhead shots (we got the metaphor, guys), and the dialogue is mocked to this day. Because Season 1 was so good, Season 3 will undoubtedly still be a hot commodity. But our expectations have been lowered.
“Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”
Oh, on the surface this was an awful lot of fun. All your favorite actors — literally, all of your favorite actors — being silly on camera! Goofs a’plenty! Injokes galore! Michael Showalter playing Reagan! What else could you want? Well, some jokes not based on the original film, I suppose. Better pacing. Cameos that felt woven into the narrative, instead of taking you out of the story. In general, more ambition and cohesion. You know, the stuff that takes a fun romp and elevates it into comedy gold. “First Day of Camp” wasn’t a waste of time or anything — it gave us a lot of gifts. But it could have been so much more. Oh, on the surface this was an awful lot of fun. All your favorite actors — literally, all of your favorite actors — being silly on camera! Goofs a’plenty! Injokes galore! Michael Showalter playing Reagan! What else could you want? Well, some jokes not based on the original film, I suppose. Better pacing. Cameos that felt woven into the narrative, instead of taking you out of the story. In general, more ambition and cohesion. You know, the stuff that takes a fun romp and elevates it into comedy gold. “First Day of Camp” wasn’t a waste of time or anything — it gave us a lot of gifts. But it could have been so much more.
Indiewire’s Year-End TV Coverage:
The Top 10 TV Shows of 2015
The 10 Best New TV Shows of 2015
The 25 Best TV Episodes of 2015
The 15 Best TV Scenes of 2015, From ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ to ‘You’re the Worst’
The 15 Biggest Dick Moves of the Year, or What Enraged TV Fans in 2015
The Most Shocking TV Moments of 2015, Ranked