Picking the worst moments from a TV year overflowing with them – an inevitable byproduct of having so much stuff from which to choose – is the journalistic equivalent of playing a no-win game of Whac-a-Mole.
So consider the following list of “worsts” culled from 2014 – including events related to television, as well as on-air missteps – a mere snapshot of some of the places where TV went wrong, with the disclaimer that a good show isn’t immune from being singled out when it experiences a particularly weak moment.
As for the worst individual programs, only a few merit a spot on this roster, in part because amid a fall of mostly poor new comedies, it seems unfair to single out one or two of them. (OK, fine, “Bad Judge” and “Mulaney.”)
‘Utopia’s’ Failed Experiment. Fox billed this reality show as a “social experiment” but lacked the courage to pursue it as such. Instead, the network predictably went for such outlandish casting as to turn “Utopia” – which commanded not one, but two hours on its schedule before being canceled – into the unscripted alternative to “American Horror Story: Freakshow.”
Dish’s Bad Attitude. Yes, we all know distribution services are fighting the good fight by trying to hold the line on rights-fee negotiations, but Dish has been particularly combative – and seemingly oblivious to the concerns of subscribers – in getting into disputes that lead to blackouts, triggering all the usual last-minute histrionics, name-calling and Websites with silly hashtags.
The Hollywood Film Awards. CBS is perhaps to be forgiven for trying to get itself a piece of the awards season action on the cheap, but this slapdash, amateurish special (mounted in mid-November, no less) clearly wasn’t ready for primetime. It takes a lot, frankly, to make the Golden Globes and People’s Choice Awards look like “Citizen Kane” by comparison.
‘Honey Boo Boo’ Says Bye-Bye. “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” was never exactly one of TV’s bright spots, even if it became an unlikely hit for TLC. But the ugly way the show went off the air – and the network’s self-serving spin that all it really cared about was “supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children” – left a particularly sour taste, with allegations that family matriarch June had renewed a relationship with a convicted child molester.
‘MediaBuzz’ Without Bite. With the entire media world analyzing Gabriel Sherman’s book about Fox News Channel mastermind Roger Ailes, the network’s own “MediaBuzz” host, Howard Kurtz, spent weeks ignoring it, at one point teasing coverage for the following week that didn’t happen. By its very nature, a program like Kurtz’s has to exhibit a willingness to bite the hand that feeds it from time to time, or it might as well be titled “MediaShill.”
CNN’s Malaysian Airlines Excess. While CNN understandably milked interest in the missing-airplane story, the need to fill time with no new information produced plenty of lowlights, none more embarrassing than anchor Don Lemon’s questions about what happened and whether a black hole might have been involved. The only vortex here was the one into which standards disappear when faced with the deadly combination of too much time and not enough news. Dishonorable mention: Ebola coverage.
‘Big Driver’s’ Revenge Fantasy. Lifetime aired a lot of mediocre movies in 2014, but “Big Driver” – with impressive names like Maria Bello and Olympia Dukakis attached to raise expectations – really veered into a ditch, turning Stephen King’s story into a distasteful tale of a brutal rape that gives way to a bloody revenge fantasy.
‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Eyes Halve It. Although “Sons of Anarchy” made no bones about pushing the envelope in terms of basic-cable content throughout its run, the torture/maiming quotient achieved stomach-turning extremes in its swan-song season, including not one, but two characters having an eye gouged out. And in the dishonorable-mention department, don’t forget the Parents Television Council criticizing the show for a graphic sex montage that opened one episode, proving once again that in the U.S., anyway, sex tends to rile such watchdogs a lot more than violence does.
‘Homeland’ Takes a Bath. While the fourth season was widely viewed as a bounce-back year for “Homeland,” the Showtime drama featured a terribly tone-deaf moment early in its run, when Claire Danes’ Carrie tries to take care of her baby daughter, and temporarily thinks about drowning her. There had to be a way to demonstrate that the character lacked maternal instincts without resorting to that.
ESPN Analysts Tackling Hot-Button Issues. Whether it was NFL prospect Michael Sam coming out as gay or domestic-abuse charges involving Ray Rice and other players, football commentators frequently appeared to be way over their heads when discussing social issues that deviated from the customary focus on X’s and O’s. Even allowing for an element of theater in sports media’s free-for-all debates, it felt at times like ESPN needed to keep a boilerplate apology ready at all times.