The recent end of HBO’s deservedly praised “The Wire” had me thinking about shows that received heaps of praise but were less than deserving of the honors. Here is my very unscientific list of the most overhyped shows on TV.
NYPD Blue was praised for its gritty and realistic take on police work. Dennis Franz’s portrayal of Andy Sipowicz was lauded as being a “warts and all” portrayal of a cop who wasn’t always a heroic figure. But for me, NYPD Blue’s “realistic” drama never rang true. The show appeared to be written and shaped by people who hated New York and viewed it as a humorless place populated by unhappy people, and had little of the dark sense of humor that a cop show set in NYC should have. New York is a live, vibrant place that also had a lot of crime. While the show broke ground with nudity and language, that isn’t much to hang your hat on in the end. And Dennis Franz’s work was nowhere near as impressive as the acting that was happening all over the show Homicide on a weekly basis.
24 is one of those series that is great if you don’t dig too closely, and the underlying feeling that anything can happen on the show helps gloss over many of its glaring plot inconsistencies. But the truth is that with the exception of the first season, 24’s “real-time” approach to series television has led to unnecessary plot threads and some incredibly bad writing to help fill the gaps within each “hour” of the show. The problem came to a head in the disasterous season that ended last year. CTU once again got easily breached. Jack once again tortured a bunch of people, and as always, there were bad people in the White House and at CTU. And the nuclear explosion early in the show all but guaranteed the show would end with a wimper and not a bang, which it did. Thankfully, critics rightfully savaged the season as the show’s all-time worst. Perhaps a change in locations in the next season will inject some fresh ideas into the show.
Sex and the City
Sex and the City is by far the worst show that I found myself watching week in and week out. This alleged sitcom followed four average looking women who talked about sex incessantly. It was full of lame jokes and broad humor that wouldn’t have been out of place on a 70’s ABC jiggle and giggle sitcom. While Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon turned in decent work given the material they had to work with, Kim Cattrall had the comic timing of a cereal box watch. Her lines were often delivered with all the subtlety of the Monty Python “Nudge Nudge” sketch. The show would have been far more engaging with a really loud laugh track. I look for the upcoming movie based on the show to have a huge opening weekend followed by a huge drop off. It will be on DVD in three months.
Six Feet Under
The problem with Six Feet Under was that the relationships of the main characters, the Fisher family, were never anywhere near as interesting as what was going on around the edges. The entire main cast of Six Feet Under was written to be a group of self absorbed characters. That made it very tough to care about anything that happened to them. Add to that the fact that the main conflict in the show seemed to consist of people treating each other like garbage and then yelling the F-Word at each other and you have the makings of a show that could be fitfully interesting, but never worthy of the critical praise heaped upon it. I did think the finale wrapped up the show nicely though.
I get it. They cussed in the Wild West. But when your (censored) dialogue calls (censored) attention to itself, it becomes a (censored) gimmick, not great (censored) writing.
Okay, this one is hard because I used to watch M*A*S*H religiously, sometimes three times a day in reruns and I thought every single episode was brilliant. Time has not been kind to the final seasons of the show, though. The first 2/3 to 3/4 of the episodes found a wonderful balance between comedy and drama, with the edge being toward comedy. But the last seasons of the show seemed more given to speeches and melodrama that hasn’t aged well. 2/3 of M*A*S*H remains a classic. The other 1/3….. not so much.
The Cosby Show
This ratings juggernaut seemed like comedic gold when it aired during NBC’s long Thursday night reign. But in retrospect, how many specific episodes of this show can you remember compared to classic shows like Frasier, Seinfeld, or Cheers? The Cosby Show commanded big bucks for reruns when they were first sold because of its massive success, but it is telling that the show is rarely seen in syndication these days. Cosby was funny and the show succeeded because you could watch it with your kids and laugh, not because it was a great sitcom.
These days, ER is one of those shows that causes people to say, “That’s still on?” But in its glory days in the early to mid 90’s, the show was a huge critical and fan hit. But the show itself was essentially a rewrite of St. Elsewhere with little of the care or skill that went into creating that show. For almost every character ER had you could find a direct parallel to St. Elsewhere. Skilled black surgeon with ego problems. Caring doctor whose personal life is a mess and filled with misfortune. Young doctor trying to learn the ropes at the hands of a difficult and demanding mentor. St. Elsewhere did it better and with much more interesting characters and situations that were allowed to breathe. And don’t get me started on NBC’s endless, “You won’t believe what happens in the last 5 minutes of ER!” promos. Seriously, if the hospital in ER were a real hospital, it would have been closed sometime after its 48th shooting/bomb explosion.