In its first season, “American Crime” burst upon the broadcast TV scene with purpose and chutzpah, taking a swan dive into issues and perceptions that most shows avoided. When the show returned for its sophomore outing, it attempted to have the same impact without refining its approach. What may have seemed novel the first time now felt heavy and hackneyed. There was no humor or self-awareness to balance out its juggernaut didacticism: justice does not exist, bad decisions will be made, people suck, and oh, here’s a twist to demonstrate that. If the series’ grimness is the end product, it doesn’t offer much else to the audience other than some fine performances to further amplify the aforementioned suckitude. “American Crime” is so much energy and earnestness gone to waste due to poor execution.
We weren’t looking to “Billions” to save Showtime, but this story of the financially rich and spiritually bankrupt disappointed us largely because of the great actors wasted on its premise. Perhaps there will be more to discover in the show’s return in Season 2, but in the meantime we’ll be wishing that Damien Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Maggie Siff, and Malin Akerman were spending their time elsewhere.
“Crisis in Six Scenes”
When Woody Allen is good, he really is one of our greatest living filmmakers. Unfortunately, he’s made more good than bad of late, and giving him a six-episode TV series (something he seemed to actively disdain having to to deal with) didn’t inspire any greatness. Good for Miley Cyrus, for taking a chance on the auteur; not good for Amazon or anyone else, who attempted to watch it.
Rarely do shows of such obvious intellect suffer such a drastic drop in quality between seasons as “The Fall” did in 2016. After two stellar years tracking Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson’s (Gillian Anderson) pursuit of the serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), Season 3 tried to answer a question no one needed to ask: “What happens after you catch the killer?” Worse yet, they answered it by teasing out an eventuality better executed in the Season 2 finale, repeating themselves, and trying to make up for their flaws with a grossly violent ending. We don’t know what’s next, but there’s a lot of work to be done in repairing this once perfect show.
“Feed the Beast”
Mixing the worlds of hip New York foodies and old school organized crime was never going to be easy, and the AMC drama — cancelled after one season — couldn’t quite pull it off. Eccentric villains proved overly cartoonish and an ill-defined female character failed to substantiate her minimal arc, making “Feed the Beast” a forgettable (at best) and laughable (at worst) attempt at high stakes drama. The talents of David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess deserved better, so here’s hoping they find it in the wide world of Peak TV.
“Whatever happened to predictability?” goes the “Full House” theme song. Well, it ended up on Netflix for the revival. With the exception of passing the baton — with a gender flip! — to the new generation of Tanners, et al, “Fuller House” is identical in tone, quality and cheesy ham-handedness to the original, and worse yet, is happily so. On one hand, we understand about not changing a successful formula. On the other hand, this was a prime opportunity to make a few updates, push the irreverence envelope and make an attempt to be vaguely clever while still maintaining some of the sweet spirit of the original. It was a missed opportunity to elevate the revival game. Instead, it exemplified what’s wrong with it.
The appeal of the gritty TNT series for Michelle Dockery was apparent: to break free of typecasting and shake off the high-society specter of Lady Mary. While the actress successfully became the morally challenged American con artist Letty, the series’ other elements didn’t quite cohere, as her personal journey of self-improvement and as a mother were undermined and sidetracked by a baffling romantic relationship with a killer who lacks charisma. Should the show be picked up for another season, we’d hope that it relies more on what Dockery can bring to the show and less on what the show can do for her. The series hasn’t quite figured out its tone yet either, and often serious beats came off as ludicrous. “Good Behavior” fancies itself to be bold and confident, but unfortunately its attempts to manipulate the viewer betray a lack of seasoning.
Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij will always hold a place in our hearts for their original films, and the writing duo’s first TV series proved equally ambitious…if a bit goofy overall. Many viewers are complaining about the ending (and rightfully so, for the most part), but the real problem with “The OA” was that it failed to fully invest in its central premise. A series obsessed with the afterlife and focusing on characters who die many times over needs to authentically discuss death itself, not skirt the issue with in depth discussions of made up science. If there’s a Season 2, perhaps they’ll get around to it, but that’s not good enough in an era of “too much TV.”
Oh, “Roadies.” Cameron Crowe’s first original series was absolutely stacked behind the camera, thanks to producers J.J. Abrams and Winnie Holzman, and Showtime’s music drama incorporated equally big names to fill out its impressive soundtrack. But the series hit too many speed bumps to prove itself a sustainable drama worthy of week-to-week viewing, including an unjustly spiteful attack on critics in the third episode. Crowe’s sensitivities used to make his work emotionally significant. Now, it seems like they’re breaking him.
It wasn’t a lack of money that left us disappointed by this episodic collaboration between Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter. We know this because HBO spent so much money making this series happen. Alas, a lack of engaging story (and tired characters) kept the series from gaining any traction with us; proof that even the most engaging talents can’t save a lackluster premise.
We harbor nothing but goodwill for Lifetime’s original and ballsy drama, and its second season was one of our most highly anticipated returns of the year. While it started out strong, the series became a bit too ambitious and fell victim to its own outrageousness. Season 2 packed in so many plots that not only did we feel overwhelmed, but the storylines had to increase their crazy factors to one-up the other storylines. The unfortunate side effect made certain plots feel less weighty, such as the police shooting story that many critics felt was exploitative and racially insensitive, especially when the show reverted to the POV of a white woman directly afterwards. Storylines about Jeremy, a character who was supposed to exit after Season 1, felt wildly out of character and shoehorned in. Maybe it was inevitable that “UnREAL” would suffer some sort of sophomore slump, considering its stellar first outing, but we still have faith enough to look forward to what comes next in Season 3.
We were pulling for Danny McBride to have a successful follow-up to his gone-too-soon “Eastbound and Down,” and adding our beloved Walton Goggins into the mix seemed like a can’t-miss. Alas, miss it did. The doofus antics of two men scheming in cruel ways to oust the new principal on the surface felt like the irreverent winner we craved, but the show never did balance it out enough so that we cared for the schemers or felt that there was an underlying clever observation. In the end, it felt like a chore to watch two people being awful, with very few laughs in between for a comedy.
“The Walking Dead”
First, at the end of Season 6, the show demanded that we live in fear that one fan favorite would be slaughtered. Then, at the beginning of Season 7, we spent an entire episode being brutalized by two character deaths, as well as the emotional torture of its star. “The Walking Dead” has never been a show to play nice with our emotions, but this year went from hard-to-watch to virtually impossible.
With the twists used up and a semi-fresh story lacking the bonkers narrative drive that made Season 1 worth (half-)watching, Season 2 of Fox’s event-series-turned-regular-series committed modern TV’s unforgivable sin: It was boring. Say what you will about some of the other questionable programming this summer (cough CBS cough), but at least shows like “Zoo” wouldn’t put you to sleep.
Did we truly expect greatness from the return of one of our favorite shows of all time? Nope. But we didn’t expect it to be this bad, and not just bad, but inconclusive in terms of its story. Of the six episodes aired by Fox this spring, one was truly good (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster”), two were fun enough (“Founder’s Mutation,” “Home Again”) and three it’s best not to discuss again. Those three were written and directed by Chris Carter, and if we learned any lesson it was this: The show’s creator will need a lot of help, should the series return for Season 11.