In the age of peak TV, there’s a lot of bad television out there. But rather than take the time to highlight what everyone should already be forgetting, IndieWire is examining the heartbreaking misses of 2017; the shows that felt like they had something special — either in concept, talent, or early episodes — but failed to fulfill that promise.
For the shows that weren’t cancelled, hope rings eternal. TV is a medium that allows for development, improvement, and the virtual erasure of bad first impressions. The shows below might be a long way from getting good, but their break bad hurt enough that even for the most disappointing, we still hope for the best.
And if you like any shows on the list, then good luck and godspeed. You found something there that we only wish we could have seen. Maybe next year.
On the basis of its cast alone, “Powerless” should have had a real shot. Unfortunately, Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Christina Kirk, Ron Funches, and Alan Tudyk can’t save a show that undergoes significant retooling and still fails to find its place. As DC Comics searches for its own way of achieving what Marvel has accomplished across film and television, “Powerless” not only felt out of place in NBC’s midseason schedule, but within the greater DC universe, as well. On paper, “Powerless” seemed like a lot of fun, but its wobbly creative start never gave it the momentum necessary to become a stand-out hit and survive beyond its first season.
15. “Santa Clarita Diet”
Saeed Adyani / Netflix
Those who enjoy Victor Fresco’s dark suburban comedy will likely point to its unique premise and equally distinct tone. Those who don’t like it will say those two things never come together, and, worse yet, the premise isn’t all that original when you strip away the quirks. We won’t go any further, for fear of ruining the best part of the series — the twist — but perhaps the most frustrating element of “Santa Clarita Diet” comes from its star, Drew Barrymore. While her onscreen partner, Timothy Olyphant, bites into every scene with the exploratory vigor needed to make this off-kilter comedy charming, Barrymore shows no interest in playing along. She’s very much who she always is, leaving the comedy duo half-cocked. “Santa Clarita Diet” needs a more adventurous performance from its headliner if it ever hopes to appeal to more than just a cult crowd.
14. “White Famous”
Michael Desmond / Showtime
For a “Californication” apologist, it’s painful to cite David Duchovny’s Showtime series as a reason to steer clear of the creator’s new show. But they share a lot of the same basic plot points, with zero updates made to mask the flaws in an original that’s aging poorly. Worse than Tom Kapinos’ self-plagiarism is the rage-curdling missed opportunity which “White Famous” represents. There’s an interesting story here about black entertainers who have to conform to the old and white ways of an old and white film industry, but “White Famous” is barely interested in discussing these systematic issues. If anything, it glosses over them in provocative fashion so ill-informed it feels like trolling. Jay Pharoah can do better, and Hank Moody deserves better in 2017.
Joss Barratt/Two Brothers Pictur
Initially sold to audiences as a he said/she said drama that aimed to dig into the misunderstandings surrounding a date gone wrong for Laura (Joanna Froggatt) and Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd), “Liar” ended up betraying that initial intrigue. Thanks to a few key turning points in the Sundance TV drama, the series pulled away from what could have been truly intense, meaty material when it comes to the concept of consent in these complicated modern times. Instead, it became a much more straightforward thriller; one which technically wrapped up every important detail of the narrative until, that is, a surprise ending that will remain unexplained until the premiere of Season 2, which won’t even go into production until January 2019. So fans will have to wait… but viewers may honestly not be all that interested in what comes next.
12. “I’m Dying Up Here”
Sure, this Showtime dramedy had all the trappings of a ‘70s L.A. story. But if you’re going to make a show about scrappy stand-ups navigating the Sunset Strip scene in hopes of stardom, they better be funny enough to be worth spending time with. The success of a show like this is always going to hinge on how many of the characters in this ragtag group of would-be comedians were worth following. From very early on, “I’m Dying Up Here” proved to be a premise in search of a more focused approach to its overstuffed cast list. With Jim Carrey’s involvement as a producer, a supporting turn from Melissa Leo, and a roster of character actors who have shined elsewhere, this opening season turned out to be less than the sum of its parts.
11. “24: Legacy“
The stage was set for a new way forward for the old CTU gang, and trading in show staple Kiefer Sutherland for the young, talented Corey Hawkins seemed like just the right amount of reset. But what the show managed to swap out in cast members (Hey, look! Miranda Otto and Jimmy Smits, too!), it felt like a lot of the same from a show that just can’t be the same series it was in 2001. Without updating its approach for a 2017 world, “Legacy” catered to an audience that can easily find more nuanced thrillers elsewhere and was likely burnt out by a “24” that had largely run its natural course. Given the groundbreaking format of its opening seasons and the go-for-broke bonkers nature of its action, “Legacy” still felt overstretched, even at half the usual number of episodes.
It’s hard to say who was more in love with Zelda Fitzgerald nee Sayre: her famous husband F. Scott Fitzgerald or this somewhat enjoyable but ultimately superficial Amazon biopic. Even if one gets over Christina Ricci’s clunky Alabaman accent, the series never really feels authentic, as if it’s playing more in the world of the Fitzgeralds than inhabiting it. Beautifully made, it’s a treat to watch, but its lack of heft and a strong point of view makes all the effort forgettable. Apparently, would-be viewers felt the same: In the end “Z: The Beginning of Everything” met its untimely end as one of the elite group of canceled Amazon original series.
9. “The Last Tycoon”
Given the sumptuous pedigree of the (albeit unfinished) work of one of the great American novelists and with a thoroughly handsome production design to boot, it’s disheartening that this show felt so empty after its full nine-episode run. Bomer is charming and Kelsey Grammer makes for a decent villain, but more than any show in 2017, “The Last Tycoon” became a glaring paragon of the just-good-enough dramas that have zapped away precious viewing hours in a time when there’s an armada of more worthy shows. With a goofy cliffhanger ending and a handful of twists drenched in misplaced melodrama, this seems like a show without an audience — even before it was canceled by Amazon. Above all, Jennifer Beals’ performance deserved a better show around it; burying what could have been one of the year’s most compelling storylines was perhaps the show’s most egregious misstep.