Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Which show has had the most unfortunate or just plain bad title? (Old and new upcoming shows are fair game.)
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), GoldDerby
Well, you already know how I feel about “Magnum P.I.” Incorrect or unnecessary punctuation is a huge pet peeve of mine, as are needlessly long titles and ones that were basically generated from Mad Libs. ABC has been the worst offender of all of these, and while I can rant about “How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)”, I’ll go with “Selfie.” Because the only thing worse than being saddled with a terrible title is a good show being saddled with one and unable to overcome it.
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
Instead of focusing on one TV show, I want to focus on a network: ABC. ABC has an unfortunate history of great comedies with terrible titles that were canceled before their time, likely because those titles turned off potential viewers: “Happy Endings,” “Trophy Wife,” “Don’t Trust the B- in Apt 23,” “Selfie,” “Cougar Town,” and maybe even “Downward Dog” (the title is clever, but most people assumed it was a yoga show). They’re all great shows! I weep for what could have been.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Rolling Stone
My first impulse is to say “Cougar Town,” but that show managed to run six seasons, so the title, while horrible (and utterly non-applicable starting with episode 7), wasn’t that crippling, and it also provided fodder for a running gag in the opening credits. “Trophy Wife,” on the other hand, was DOA thanks to a title that was meant to be ironic, but that scared away viewers who might have liked the very smart, warm, and utterly non-cynical show that it actually was.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
Too many of the answers are too obvious. I already answered “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when we did the show that seemed like the worst idea conceptually, but the title could also count given that the title of the movie was already a punchline before the movie was a bomb, so it had a silly title AND one tainted by failure. “Cougar Town” is too obvious. “Trophy Wife” is too obvious. [ABC, for what its worth, is really, really prone to bad titles and I’ll let Liz Miller “celebrate” ABC’s love of generic titles. Hi, “Deception.” Bye, “Deception.”] NBC’s upcoming “New Amsterdam” has an awful title because it was a title that was already used for a semi-recent failed show and also says nothing at all about the current show and is, in fact, probably a barrier-to-entry because it sounds both foreign and old, when the show is neither.
Every once in a while somebody on Twitter will say that they refused to watch a show because the title rubbed them the wrong way and that ticks me off, in the few instances in which the show is/was actually good, because why is it hard to just not keep saying the title of the thing you’re watching over and over. Don’t stop yourself from watching a show you want to watch because its title is bad. For my actual answer to the question, I’m going with ABC’s “Uncle Buck,” if only if it caused me to get into wars with commenters who insisted that because THEY didn’t previously know that “buck” was a popular racial slur, surely there was nothing wrong with ABC applying the name to an African-American comedy. My only feeling is that if a title provides no particular value to a show, and the “Uncle Buck” brand surely had no positive impact on “Uncle Buck,” and the word “buck” was, indeed, verifiably a racial slur… Maybe just don’t do it! What’s the harm in not being a wee bit racist when you can avoid it?
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
I once asked Judd Apatow a few years ago how he felt about the title of the Netflix comedy “Love,” and he laughed. “You can take a word that everyone uses and make it a title — like ‘Joy.’ It’s like how I love when I see a diner and it’s just called ‘Food.'”
“Love,” “Crashing,” “Girls” — we get it Judd, you like one-word titles. And while conceptually these titles are nice in their simplicity, they make our lives as critics and editors a living hell on a logistical level, and also while they do make bold statements, there’s something to be said for finding perhaps two words that have never been combined together for a title and seeing what happens.
A shout-out here to Hulu’s “Casual,” which is a better title than “Love,” but it’d be lovely to imagine a world where there was a more exciting title for what I keep hearing is one of the best TV shows around. I like “Casual,” but the title just doesn’t stick in my brain. (Sorry.)
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
“Sex Box.” I mean, come on. That was the perfect storm of bad TV meets bad title. The WEtv game show based on a much better British series mixed “Love Connection”-type questions with post-coital pillow talk by having couples discuss their relationship troubles AFTER presumably banging it out inside a huge cube on stage. Because nothing saves a relationship like making the beast with two backs inside a high-tech shipping crate and then chatting about intimacy with a stranger without even getting to wash up.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
For a past pick, without a doubt, it was FX’s “Terriers.” Despite the genius premise, casting, and overall writing, the show title confused the heck out of the general viewing audience. People were hoping it was a detective canine rambunctious little ratter and couldn’t get past the fact Donal Logue had two legs and not four.
For a recent and current bad title choice, I vote “Dr. Pimple Popper” simply because there’s no subtlety here, you understand there’s going to be a Gallagher-esque “don the plastic raincoats” POV despite all the heartwarming backstories of people living with ginormous poppable things on their bodies. A better title would be “Dr. Lee, Pore Whisperer,” a bit less in-your-face (heh!).
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
I’m sure you expect me to talk about “Cougar Town” or “Terriers” or something like that, but no, I want to talk about my favorite title for a TV show ever, and almost certainly one of the most inexplicable titles for a TV show ever: “No Soap, Radio.” It’s based on the punchline to a joke where the punchline is that, literally, the punchline makes no sense. It’s also one of the weirdest shows I can think of, set in a hotel where a different sketch comedy series seemed to be happening in every room. But can you imagine succeeding with a title like “No Soap, Radio”? Neither could “No Soap, Radio,” as it was canceled after five episodes.
Jacob Oller (@JacobOller), Paste
“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is the brainchild of a retiree and it’s not hard to tell. If TV shows were subject to Gene Siskel’s famous question of “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” then “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” would be the mind-numbingly literal, Panic! at the Disco-entitled answer. Any ridiculous title, anything that attempts branding at all, deserves more respect than a show that, whenever I have to talk about it, makes me describe it like a grandmother explaining a snippet of a program she saw in a doctor’s waiting room. It doesn’t help that the title opens the show up to even more mockery than its premise, giving detractors a perfect little Mad Libs template for jokes.
Clint Worthington (@alcohollywood), Consequence of Sound, Freelance
I remember seeing billboards for CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” absolutely everywhere in the months leading up to the show’s premiere in 2015 and thinking, “Oh boy, another hokey sitcom that dabbles in stereotypes of women being mentally unstable, needy psychopaths!” Thankfully, as creator/star Rachel Bloom remarks in the lyrics of the first season’s theme song, “the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.” What CW’s marketing (and that unfortunate title) sold the audience was a Farrelly Brothers-level rom-com; what we got, thankfully, was one of the funniest, catchiest breaths of fresh air TV has seen in a long time. A musical romantic comedy that, yes, still dealt with a woman reacting in flighty, unhealthy ways to the possibility of reuniting with her ex, CW’s cult hit about lovesick Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) and the intersection between her love life and mental health is as honest and lovely as it is side-slappingly hilarious, with songs you’re like to hum to yourself while glancing back at those billboards and wondering what your problem was in the first place.
Rather than being a sitcom version of “Fatal Attraction,” “Crazy-Ex Girlfriend” investigates the relationships and media tropes that made us roll our eyes at the title of the show, sight unseen. It’s a shame that audiences didn’t pick up on the cleverness of the title before writing it off – otherwise, the critically acclaimed but poorly rated show might have the viewership it deserves.
Robert Voets/The CW
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
There are plenty of bad titles attached to bad shows, and, while those deserve constructive criticism as well, the bad titles that really rile me up are the ones attached to good shows; titles that could be an impediment to viewing for a series that deserves the easiest access possible. Titles like “Cougar Town” and “Trophy Wife” are infamous already, so I’ll highlight one more error from the good folks at ABC: “Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23.” The rhyme simply isn’t enough to justify how alienating this title is for newcomers: Is it a mystery about an unnamed woman in Apt. 23? Is it a show about an antihero who’s isolated herself? Is it a quirky sitcom with winning performances and a soft heart? There’s no way anyone asked themselves that last question, and that’s the problem; no matter how you spin the title, what you’re left with is a bad person and an apartment number — that’s not good enough. I’m glad this show has snagged a second-life on Netflix and other streaming outlets, but I wish its initial run would’ve been given a better shot.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “Sharp Objects” (four votes)
Other contenders: “Pose” (two votes), “Big Brother,” “GLOW,” “The Great British Baking Show,” “Succession” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.