in Television

Fall 2014 TV Power Rankings

TV has become a year-round affair that’s nearly impossible to keep track of, with most of the best and our favorite shows airing anywhere but fall (Game of ThronesHannibalOrphan BlackTrue DetectiveParks and Recreation). Aside from The Walking Dead, is there a must-watch show premiering this fall? Probably not, but I watched nearly EVERY new scripted TV show of the fall to find out for sure. What follows is the evidence that I survived the masochistic task: my unwieldy power rankings of the Fall 2014 TV season.

Still to come: NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), Gracepoint (FOX), The Kingdom (DirecTV), Cristela (ABC), The Walking Dead (AMC)Jane the Virgin (CBS), Marry Me (NBC), Grimm (NBC) and The McCarthys (CBS)

33. The Mysteries of Laura (NBC)

A bigger mystery to me than Laura (or even Laura), is why Debra Messing keeps getting leading roles in TV shows. Or rather, how she picked this one, and who thought the Will & Grace and Smash star was a good fit for a brusque, “badass” awful woman cop show. In the opening moments, we learn that she has a black partner who won’t hesitate to cover her “skinny ass,” and that Detective Laura Diamond (a TV name if I’ve ever heard one) is a morose, protocol-be-damned police woman who can’t help but wonder if anybody has jobs, because HOW DARE people hang out in the park on a sunny afternoon. With its ratings already dropping, I wonder if she will have a job much longer.

Hopefully, it’d rid the world of NBC’s “Woman Crush Weddings,” which apparently is lifted from #WCW, a mind-numbing Twitter hashtag. I’m going to start one: #girlsIwanttofuck. NBC’s Wednesday night block is made up of three grimly serious cops shows (Law & Order: SVU and Chicago P.D. round out the triumvirate), so naturally the marketing campaign devolved into relying on Sophia Bush, Debra Messing and Mariska Hargitay’s considerable sex appeal, rather than being tough workplace role models or whatever.

Laura drives a Volvo, shops at Target and comes equipped with an inspired catchphrase (“You’ve gotta be kidding me!”), deplorable parenting skills and an insulting almost ex-husband Jake (Josh Lucas, never worse) who just can’t bring himself to sign the papers, a family dynamic that sets TV back 43 years. She drugs her children for a private school interview (God forbid these tyrants go to public), and blackmailed a gym teacher with a lot of parking tickets to even get them that interview. Laura actually says, “I’m a mother, with a shiny badge, a loaded gun and very little patience.” There’s the logline that sold the pitch! I think she said that on school grounds, but I could just be imagining that specific horror. It’s like a future Melissa McCarthy movie, except Mysteries of Laura takes itself seriously. You shouldn’t.

Favorite Moments From The Pilot:

1) When Laura Diamond makes a house call, a rich housewife bats her eyelashes; heh, you’re cute, you’re a “middle-aged woman cop…just like on TV!” Mysteries of Laura thinks its clever. Just like pilot director McG probably thinks his name makes people think of anything other than a Happy Meal with explosions.

2) Laura calls men sloppy derisively. The frame widens to find Black Partner spilling popcorn all over the place. Hypocrite alert: Laura’s a slob who eats week old burritos she finds hidden among the piles of crap on her desk.

3) Laura’s kids actually deserve to be drugged and/or murdered. They pee on each other in public and just might be insane. Best of all is when Laura gets called into school, her gun automatically out (you don’t want to go into an elementary school unarmed) and there appears to be BLOOD all over the classroom. But no, it’s just her messy children taking over art class, or whatever. Because bloody classrooms are the best setup for a joke.

The pilot has one pleasure: a mini-Galaxy Quest reunion! Quellek (Patrick Breen) has aged into what appears to be a gay Peter Capaldi, and joins his former Thermian leader Mathesar (the incomparable Enrico Colantoni). The pleasure wears off pretty fast when you realize it had to come on this show. Plus, Quellek gets killed off pretty fast (perhaps fitting), and unfortunately, Alan Rickman does not come prancing in, promising that, By Grabthar’s Hammer, he shall be avenged. Even that probably couldn’t save this show.

32. Z Nation (SyFy)

z nation

Oh man, this show is so crummy guys (CRUMMY). It’s close to becoming the designated Drinking Game Show of the week, but I don’t know if the show knows how bad it is yet, and I don’t care enough to find out. And I don’t foresee a shortage of drinking in my future.

It’s SyFy’s answer/rip-off of The Walking Dead, set three years after the first infection. You know how screwed the world would be if a zombie apocalypse happened? DJ Qualls, yes that DJ Qualls, would be military. He practically is a DJ here, living up to his name, with “season tickets to the zompocalypse,” working alone at Camp Northern Light, or something. Even in a dystopia, nobody wants to hang out with DJ Qualls. Qualls is late to evacuate the base, and they leave without him; they immediately fly to their deaths. They’d rather die than hang out with DJ Qualls. I’d rather watch almost anything else than Z Nation.

Z Nation is filled with more nonsensical, military BS talk than the “Z’s” themselves (what a clever term for zombies). The world-saving mission that the surviving dregs of the military are on is called “Operation Bitemark.” Seriously. Most of the tomfoolery is uttered by DJ Qualls, rendering any call sign or operation name about as meaningful as a Bluth family mission. I’d take Operation Hot Mother any day, but I’m a Motherboy.

Speaking of children, there’s also a zombie baby stuffed amid a mission to the CDC, a possible zombie cure, and essentially all four seasons of TWD jammed in an hour. For those who bemoan the AMC show’s deliberate pace, Z Nation provides a terrifyingly awful counter argument. There are several deaths, time jumps and tragedies that befall this boring cast of stock characters, but there’s never a reason to give a shit. We need to care about these people before it matters when they die. Of course, Z Nation is a show where you’re definitely rooting for the zombies to tear into these people so we don’t have to waste any more time on them. The more they kill, the closer to the end of the world, and hopefully, the end of this show.

Favorite Moments:

  • “He’s a baby. He makes noise.” “Shut up.”
  • LOST refugee Harold Perrinau’s Hammond at one point sighs, “God, I hate moral dilemmas.” SyFy has a moral dilemma on whether or not they should keep this show on the air.
  • Fantastic zombie rules: “A month ago? That’s like 2 years apocalypse time.”

I actually did like the idea of a pop-up weapons caravan that sells various guns, knives, bullets and other hairy concoctions. I also enjoyed the conceit that the zombie’s speed depends on how long they’ve been dead: they’re fast immediately after, then slow as time goes on. This doesn’t explain why a baby turns into a devastating ferret-like monster once bitten, since zombism presumably doesn’t make you faster. Or so one would think. But there’s not a lot of thought put into Z Nation.

31. Forever (ABC)

forever

Ioan Gruffudd might be the most boring actor on the planet, yet he keeps landing TV roles, his career seemingly as immortal as his title character in this dull show.

At one point during this derivative pilot, Henry (Gruffudd) explains to us in a droll monologue: “My life is just like yours, except for one small difference…it never ends.”

I live forever, no biggie guys. I’m just like you. You can empathize me, relate to my suffering. WHAT THE FUCK?! If an immortal prick tried to befriend me, the injustice would be that I couldn’t friggin’ kill him. My life is just likes yours, except I’m Brad Pitt. My life is just like yours, except I own an island. My life is just like yours, except I’m the orphan of a now extinct alien race.

Henry has “seen a lot,” but hasn’t learn shit about life or his condition over the last 200 years of his life. He just knows that when he dies, he wakes up in the nearest body of water naked, not a scratch on him. He’s Ichabod Crane/Sherlock Holmes without the charm or quirks. He’s understandably obsessed with death, so he works at a morgue along with Joel David Moore (BonesAvatar), who has been neurotic and awkward as long as this show’s title (For-Ev-Er).

In the opening scene Henry’s the only survivor of a massive subway accident, and even before he gets a cryptic villainous phone call, I was having Unbreakable flashbacks. While it’s not exactly Mr. Glass on the other end, there’s someone else like him out there, and they’re about to engage in a Sherlock/Moriarty battle, with New York as the playground. Or something.

What’s depressing about Forever, or at least, a few of the things that make me depressed, is that the wacky premise is just an excuse to throw Henry into a police procedural opposite Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), a woman who escaped Woman Crush Wednesdays, and after one case, gets to bring Henry along during investigations until this show gets cancelled. This job tag-along crap is one of my favorite procedural tropes; if there’s ever a murder involving fantasy football, Red Pandas and IPA’s, I might walk away with a job.

Henry’s lifespan and accumulated knowledge only manifests itself in his keen observational skills. He’s another PsychMentalistSherlock character, because the public loves seeing assholes who can figure out that you’re allergic to coconuts, have 3 cats, like anal sex and are still emotionally recovering from the death of your postman. Women also love men who pay attention, so Henry’s a ladies man. Throw in a little bit o’ Nazi backstory, and you have Forever, a show I’ll be watching…

Never. Never again, anyways. Unless the Moriarty character is played by Alan Rickman.

30. Manhattan Love Story (ABC)

manhattan love story

“I want to write a love story set in Manhattan.”

“Oh my god, what a revolutionary idea, and even better, it already has a ready-made, totally informative, awesome title!”

“Love Story Set In Manhattan? Sounds awkward.”

Manhattan Love Story, silly.”

“OMG, you’re right.”

A studio exec leans over the coffee table, spilling their mimosa. “Excuse me, did you say Manhattan Love Story? We’ll BUY IT!”

Manhattan Love Story sounds like a vague place holder title a writer would have on his To-Do list, or the bare bones plot description of this mostly dreadful pilot. But, I suppose it tells you all you need to know: not to watch it.

In the nightmarish opening moments, Peter (Jake McDorman) walks down the New York street, debating whether or not he’d have sex with the women along his path. Coming from the opposite direction is Dana (Analeigh Tipton), who’s doing the same thing…with purses (she’s debating whether she’d own them, not fuck them, I think). When they pass one another, they both essentially say “Yes” to each other, and this is their unfortunate story.

Neurotic, single and “adorkable” Dana just moved to New York because of a new job. Of course, that’s not really important. What’s important is that she’s single and needs a boy, or so sayeth her evil, manipulative, yoga instructor friend/roommate Amy (Jade Catta-Preta), a character type that only exists on shitty sitcoms.

Amy’s that girl who always has to be in control, forcing her husband-or-whatever David (Nicolas Wright) to enlist his brother, who of course is Peter, to go on a date with Dana. You don’t need me to tell you that it goes terribly. Dana is a klutz with technology/everything, accidentally typing Peter Cooper into her Facebook status (a clever joke mined in Trophy Wife last year). She also calls instead of texts, and does the unbearably painful accidental text ABOUT Peter TO Peter (okay, so I’ve been there). Dana’s a mess, guys.

Whereas Peter is a ladies man who sees women as trophies, which makes sense, because he works for a company that makes trophies, a business that is BOOMING, because America loves to reward everything, not just first place, in order to celebrate mediocrity. You could say the same about Manhattan Love Story and network television, though that might be mistaken for a compliment.

Dana cries on her date, Peter makes fun of her cute list of things she wants to do in NY, and the pair have an awful, dueling stream of consciousness monologue happening in their respective heads at all times. It’s a conceit that might’ve been wonderful on How I Met Your Mother, but here, it emphasizes how little you actually want to hear these characters talk.

Peter and Dana, of course, make up, and have a moment en route to the Statue of Liberty, one of the things on Dana’s list. It’s clear the two of them will have a bumpy road, and I suppose that’s the flimsy hook of the pilot: what touristy things are these mismatched heathens going to do next in the most overseen city in America? Perhaps more importantly: will Dana conquer social media? Judging by the final moments, when she has an embarrassing encounter with her FB relationship status (a joke that would’ve felt biting in 2006), the outlook is about as bleak as this show’s prospects. The show probably won’t last, which is almost a shame, because then my spec script Toledo Love Story won’t get off the ground.

29. Bad Judge (NBC)

bad judge

You’ll hate this show by the opening frame: Kate Walsh, passed out in an impossible position, wearing a leopard print bra, and shimmery sequin underwear, is jolted awake by the omnipresent alarm clock. She’s late to work, and has to pop pills incessantly to get there in time, driving an insane hippie van en route to Van Nuys Municipal Court, while awaiting the results of her pregnancy test. It’s a testament to how lame this show is, that I feel bad that Van Nuys has the unfortunate duty of taking the brunt of the setting, and Van Nuys is the cesspool of the valley.

Kate Walsh plays Judge Rebecca Wright, and she’s actually not as Bad as you think she is: she’s a slutty, messy alcoholic, sure, but she shows up, and goes well beyond her job description when it comes to helping out Robby (Theodore Barnes), a kid whose parents are in jail because Rebecca put them there. As Judge Hernandez states, “You’re a Judge, not a social worker!” but who really cares? Rebecca may have had wine and cake for breakfast, or so she says, and we’re supposed to revel in how screwed up she is, but she mostly just talks about how bad she is, than actually being bad. She saves Robby from bullies and juvie, makes a nice speech at some boring gala and has friends at the Court, while seeing through the inherent bullshit of Douglas Riller (the normally fantastic Chris Parnell), who’s on trial for having two families or something.

The show also stars Ryan Hansen (Party Down) as Gary, one of Rebecca Wright’s many hook-ups (they have sex in her chambers!). After Gary Busey, he’s her favorite Gary, clearly the one that’s supposed to stick (for the four episodes that this show will last). I think Gary Busey could make a more coherent sitcom than Bad Judge.

Bad TeacherJudge was envisioned as a female Eastbound & Down, with Adam McKay and Will Ferrell trying to spice up a show…created by Anne Heche (THE Anne Heche). What remains is a show that doesn’t know what it is, stumbling out of the gates drunkenly in high heels. Its pilot starts abruptly; I felt like I had a hangover similarly potent to Rebecca’s, not the kind of feeling I want when watching TV.

I expected to despise Bad Judge, but instead, due to its limp existence, found myself completely emotionless. Bad Judge not only lacks laughs, but a pulse. There’s some inkling of a Bad Santa-like relationship between Rebecca and Robby, and it certainly was the most tolerable part about the pilot, but to call it disjointed from the rest of the proceedings is an understatement. It didn’t mesh at all with what the show is supposed to be. Of course, I don’t know if NBC has any idea what Bad Judge is supposed to be, and I’m not going to bother finding out.

Tone Bell (Whitney), who plays Tedward Mulray (really?), the court security officer and pigeonholed black character, remarks: “2014 is a trip.” Excuse the poor writing (it’s not like Bad Judge sets a high bar), but 2014′s Fall TV is a (bad) trip.

28. Mulaney (FOX)

mulaney

Saturday Night Live writer-performer and stand-up comedian John Mulaney is talented, likable and a star seemingly perfectly suited for a TV show.

But something has gone horribly wrong with Mulaney. I was told by someone I reasonably trust that Mulaney was originally intended as a meta-sitcom hoping to lampoon the very nature of sitcoms themselves. Instead, what came out is exactly the kind of show that John Mulaney would most certainly revel in making fun of. It’s a crappy, cliche sitcom, one so bewildering and unfortunate, that I’m at a loss of what the hell I just watched.

In the show, Mulaney is a struggling stand-up comedian and writer, nervous for an interview with the pompous TV personality Lou Cannon (Martin “Life’s Too” Short “To Be Wasting His Time On This”). He, of course, gets the job, but it’s a mixed blessing because Lou sucks. While Mulaney struggles with his “dream job,” fellow comic Motif (Seaton Smith) finds himself in the zeitgeist with a new hip joke, “Problem Bitch.” Even if it doesn’t have an ending, he has an 18 hour window to come up with one, until the audience realizes they’re “laughing at nothing.” It’ll take you far less time to realize you’re doing the same thing while watching Mulaney, even with the live studio audience somehow churning out a laugh track.

Whenever I create the League of Extraordinarily Awful TV Characters, pretty much everyone on this show will compete for a spot on the hotly contested roster. Jane (Nasim Pedrad) argues convincingly that definitions of “crazy” for men and women mean entirely different things, but she justifies every bad thing a man has thought about a “crazy” woman in this episode. She’s going through a break up, so she breaks into the guy’s emails, stalks him, uprooting flowers that she planted at his apartment. She actually is INSANE. Hilarious.

Andre (Zack Pearlman) is the douchiest drug dealer you could come up with, inspiring a Newman-like hatred from Mulaney and the rest of his friends. And that’s the point; the parallels between Mulaney and Seinfeld are obvious. Each episode starts up with Mulaney’s stand up, and he plays a version of himself alongside larger-than-life sitcom characters who “enliven” every scene with big entrances.

The whole show is trying too hard; John Mulaney and company seem so desperate to please, that each tired situation and joke nearly causes physical pain. Everyone is mugging for the camera as if they’re attention starved extras. It’s like watching an ill-advised sketch that isn’t working…that runs for 22 minutes. This show has Martin Short and Elliott Gould, two all-time greats. It can’t be this dire, can it?

Motif’s “joke” boils down to this: “If you don’t know the problem, you’re the problem bitch.” FOX makes an easy target as the problem bitch for a show with so many of them, but I don’t think anyone is innocent. Everyone involved with the show is the problem, bitch.

27./26. A to Z (NBC) & Selfie (ABC)

Selfie - Karen Gillan - John Cho

Both of these are grouped together for many reasons. One is so I don’t have to waste the time writing two separate entries, but mostly it’s because both shows are misguided, mostly repugnant sitcoms, wasting the efforts of truly likable people. It’s also because I watched them on the same day, about a month ago, and have blissfully forgotten most of that experience.

karen-gillan

How does a show with Karen Gillan and John Cho elicit so much hatred? Because they happen to be in a show called Selfie. It’s an abhorrent title that has no defense, but we as a society deserve at least some of the blame for enabling a studio to even consider this a smart idea. There’s an inherent hypocrisy that Selfie is getting such a bad rap for a name, when almost every single one of us are taking selfies whenever possible. But at least we’re not making a TV show about it, you rightfully counter.

The title isn’t the only problem with Selfie, unfortunately. Its first half is as bad and cringe-worthy as you expect a show called Selfie to be, with Karen Gillan slutting it up and bravely becoming the world’s worst human, consumed with likes and follows, with no notion of how to be an actual person. She is the Black Hole of Suck that embodies all that’s wrong with social media. Enter John Cho, as her life coach and I’m sure her eventual love interest, except the show won’t last long enough to get there.

It’s a testament to Gillan and Cho’s talents that they can SOMEHOW make the show watchable in the second half, when Gillan’s Eliza Dooley becomes less like a terrifying caricature and a living manifestation of nails on a chalkboard, and someone who just barely avoids deserving a punch in the mouth from every person she meets. It’s actually a mild miracle that could portend a dramatic turnaround a la Cougar Town, but I doubt it.

Sidenote: Is John Cho on a mission to star in every TV show on air? He had Go On, a recurring role on Sleepy Hollow, this mess, and a cush voice gig on American Dad. I guess he figures he needs about 2-3 a season to have one at any given time.

a to z

Since How I Met Your Dad didn’t happen, A to Z is the gimmicky, schmaltzy romantic sitcom that hopes to take its place, even gifted with the absolutely adorable Cristin Milioti, who somehow lived up to being the Mother on HIMYM. It also has Mad Men scene stealer Ben Feldman, the Andrew to Milioti’s Zelda (get it, A to Z?). There probably isn’t a more delightful new coupling on TV. Or so you’d think.

A to Z is a show that stars a woman I’m legitimately mad I’m not old enough, New York enough, or talented enough to have met before she was famous. The pilot features multiple Back to the Future references. I still probably won’t watch another episode.

Andrew (Feldman) and Zelda (Milioti) are perfect for each other because the Narrator (Katey Sagal doing her best Allison Janney impersonation, oddly enough) tells us in an obnoxious opener that actually “reveals” that Andrew’s a man’s man who loves sports with the boyz, while Zelda is a girl’s girl…and Andrew sings Celine Dion (who doesn’t?)…blegh. They, of course, have insanely specific shared interests, ones that can be mined for comedy and for stubborn, insistent proof that they are one another’s romantic destiny. Instead, Andrew just comes off as a creep in proving their meant to be-ness. It’s hard to make the charming Ben Feldman creepy, but A to Z manages just fine. That’s what happens when a guy tracks down concert footage to prove whether or not someone you hardly know was in attendance.

Feldman and Milioti are meant for great things, just not for each other, at least not in A to Z. Like Andrew’s character, it’s trying too hard. If it was a bit worse, and I was a curmudgeon, I’d finish this review with the painful retort: “With an entire alphabet to play with, the only letter it reaches is F.”

That’s a failing grade, y’all.

  • Carolyn

    How to Get Away with Murder is a mess of a television show. Ethically unsound and unlikeable characters. Andrew from A to Z isn’t creepy, having your boyfriend lie on the stand is creepy. #AndyGreenedoesntknowTV

  • Andy

    I hope that hashtag sticks!