What strikes one—when inspecting television’s hugest failures—is the large percentage of those which are remakes and retooling’s.
Now with the right amount or effort applied, with minimal intelligence and imagination, “Derivation” cleans up like Cinderella bound for the ball. Comb its hair, tell it to stand up straight and keep its fingers from exploring its nostril and presto! “Derivation” becomes “Inspiration.”
Did the majority of fans realize the successful sit-com Cybill (1995-1998) was a re-tooling of the Brit broadcasting mega-hit Absolutely Fabulous, which launched in 1992, or the bizarre and salacious Sci-Fi cult favorite Lexx, The Wizard of Oz?
Usually though, the projects are just so downright dreadfully derivative as to make your toe nails turn black and fall out. Which happened to me once watching Amanda’s, with Bea Arthur an American mutilation of John Cleese’s classic sit-com Fawlty Towers.
∗ ∗ ∗
The Bastard Executioner This wanna-be Game of Thrones clone ran on FX for a single (with only 10 aired episodes) season (2015) before it got the cleaver. The Bastard was inevitably crushed beneath the weight of its own endless exposition and penchant for excessive brutality as well as show creator Kurt Sutter’s apparent inability to infuse it with the same raw appeal of his prior success story, Sons of Anarchy.
Viva Laughlin This short lived 2007 “Brit import prime time soap high concept adult fantasy lovable rogue murder character driven mystery musical “dramedy” had a hard time deciding what it wanted to be: By trying to be it all, it was a zero. Think Cop Rock with better casting, far less originality and much-much more confusion.
Produced by the BBC for CBS by Bob Lowry and Peter Bowker and based on their successful British series Blackpool and its sequel Viva Blackpool the effort lacked for neither money nor talent with backing from Sony Pictures and Hugh Jackman and Melanie Griffith in the cast, and a time slot right after Sixty Minutes.
Despite all that, a lackluster, toe-tapping who-dun-it proved a hard sell and the show was cancelled after two episodes.
Ironside Then there was the 2013 NBC remake of the old Raymond Burr series (1967-1975) about a police detective paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet who continues to fight crime wheelchair bound. Starring the solid Blair Underwood, the series came under, immediate, attack by disabled actors for the casting of the non-disabled Underwood.
The producers explained his presence by pointing out the heavy use of flashback segments in the series before Underwood’s character becomes a paraplegic.
The more likely explanation for Underwood being in this series was that he lost a bet.
Called by one critic “aggressively bad,” the show lasted four episodes before they rolled Underwood and the whole idea out to the cornfield.
The Brink If not among the “worst,” it certainly was among the most disappointing.
Taking its cue from In the Loop and The Bed Sitting Room, The Brink sought to make slapstick gold out of Geo-political hay.
Casting Tim Robbins was good, casting Jack Black less so.
Too determined to press its own “hilarity,” and less willing to trust the sensibilities of its viewers, hopes of a second season were nuked by HBO.
∗ ∗ ∗
Some of the Worst of the Worst reflects the current concourse of corporate greed and “Neo-con” political influence towards the reduction of the American public into pliable little uneducated consumers based on the standard Eloi design.
The social lobotomy, known in medical circles as “Fox-tarding” has resulted in some media concerns seeing the choices before them as between either plummeting revenues or putting on the red dress and getting their big, jiggling moneymaker out on the nearest street corner.
In 2013, The Discovery Channel not only put on the red dress, it super glued the mattress to its back.
Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives This was an extension of the channel’s annual rating juggernaut known as Shark Week.
The special, which was dressed in all the respectability of a Ken Burns’ documentary, purported to be an investigation of consistent sightings of a Megalodon (from the Latin “big tooth”). This extinct species of shark 60-foot length made him, one of the largest predators to have ever lived and, the terror of the Cenozoic seas about two to five million years ago.
It was a startling claim, it was a ratings bonanza, and it was bull dung.
Nazi U-boats, grainy photos, breathless eye witness reports.
It was Alien Autopsy with teeth, displaying all the scholarship of the History Channel’s In Search of Noah’s Ark, and all of the integrity reflected in a typical Fox news broadcast.
But the Discovery Channel had scored a triumph in the ratings, and it only cost them their standing in the scientific community as “the world’s #1 non-fiction media company.”
Yet regardless of their failings, flaws, foibles or feebleness when compared to the denizens of that pool of polluted yak puke known as “Reality TV” they come off like Shakespeare in the Park.
Duck Dynasty Now an aspect of the genre that has always been a mystery to me, is why anyone would watch a reality show comprised of people with whom they wouldn’t want to have dinner.
Other than for cheap “bragging rights” or to emerge victorious in a replay of Le Dîner de Cons* is there anyone who would actually consider breaking bread with any one of The Real Wives of New Jersey? or those strutting indictments of the underfunding of the American educational system featured in Vanderpump Rules?
With Duck Dynasty, however, the mystery is ratcheted up to a stratospheric level, why would you want to watch a show featuring individuals you’d be aghast to find moving in next door to you? Even in a pack of brain pulverizing entries like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo! and Dance Moms this is the lowest of the low.
Stupid, ignorant buffoons displaying a complete lack of grace or intellect while playing with guns.
Hey, that’s entertainment!
The family is infamous for their pronouncements about the evils of society supported by the standard misinterpretations of the Bible.
The Ten Commandments, you may agree, are long overdue for an upgrade, and if the deity in his infinite wisdom were working on that at this very moment, I’ve no doubt one of the new chiseled amendments would be directed at the “Reality TV” trend; “Thou shall stop making stupid people famous.”
Duck Dynasty succeeds in being the lowest of the lowliest low and, with its premiere on the A&E Network it became official: their initials, formerly standing for “Arts and Entertainment” will henceforth denote “Awful & Execrable.”
Kid Nation Some of these series often try to amuse with what approaches child abuse; as is found in Dance Moms.
“I actually cringe when I hear that woman screaming. Like here is a verbally abusive psycho screaming at children on TV, great idea networks!” — Leigh Raines, critic
Kid Nation was guilty of child abandonment.
The “Kids” in question are left in a faux town and forced to live by their own means without adult supervision.
What was of brief interest, was how rapidly the capitalists, the users, the needy, the treacherous revealed themselves from among the children participating.
From the outset, legal action was threatened. Laws were questioned regarding the legal meaning of “child labor.” Meanwhile with the “kids,” the scenario taking place would be recognizable to any reader of The Lord of the Flies; only far more shallow.
Fortunately, the cancellation came faster than the lawyers could file.
∗ ∗ ∗
I’m told I’m going out on a limb here with this next one, but I’ve been there before and quite like the view.
I Am Cait Supporters claim that it is a watershed moment in the social history of this nation, but I don’t buy it. Transgender Americans have been on the radar for a while now, and if Caitlyn Jenner has brought any focus on the plight faced by those shackled by gender identity issues, it was achieved by Jenner jumping in front of a societal shift already in motion and pretending to be leading it.
It doesn’t matter to me in the most diminutive “least” if Jenner opts for gender reassignment surgery or not. It doesn’t affect how well I sleep, the price of my morning cup of coffee or the next book I read.
It wouldn’t matter to me if Jenner opted to have her brain transplanted into the body of a Red-ass Baboon. Unless if when encased in that Red-ass Baboon body, Jenner commenced flinging her poo at me. Which, when you think about it, is what she’s doing presently on I am Cait.
The only aspect of this ego-fest that is the least interesting is the revelation that if a self-involved, narrow minded, narcissistic douche undergoes gender reassignment, what you get is a self-involved, narrow minded, narcissistic douchette.
Keeping up with the Kardashians The historical crimes of the moneyed class against this nation have been many, but the two greatest in my opinion were:
- That of the rich, slave-owning class of the south manipulating poor southern whites into shedding their blood in the civil war in a doomed effort to maintain the privileges of those with one foot on the neck of their “black chattel” and the other on the neck of the poor white farmers.and
- In people like the Kardashians, the Housewives of Beverly Hills, and others, who employed their own marketing savvy and a shamelessly pliable media, to convince average American TV viewers that their lives were somehow worth giving a damn about.
George Bernard Shaw once famously told a young admirer who requested his autograph that the young man should be more concerned with devising how he was going to make his own autograph worth collecting rather than go about asking other people for theirs.
Though, I acknowledge that the study of humankind holds an intrinsic fascination, and having lived in Hollywood many years, I appreciate the gauche and guilty appeal of “freak shows”; Shaw’s observation can, for the most part, be applied to viewers of reality TV.
We can thank E! for providing America with the longest “fifteen minutes” on record. Yes, the family has business smarts, but I’ve seen snakes on a Texas road flattened out by 16 wheelers that had more talent.
But as with all greatest innovations, both its promise and its threat are found within the essence of what it is. Fire warms or fire burns, nuclear fusion can provide the energy to sustain a city or expunge it.
Television can instantly put before you what has great importance, or have you believe there’s great importance to everything put there; down to ring around the collar, the cigarette brand you smoke or Kim Kardashian’s ass.
∗ ∗ ∗
One of the most unnerving aspects of “Reality TV” is that the virus has gone global.
Penitents Compete Okay, the plug was pulled on this Turkish reality show, aka Tövbekarlar Yarışıyor, before it even got started, but it would’ve proved a blunder for the ages.
A rabbi, a Buddhist monk, a Muslin imam and a priest – sounds like the setup of a bad joke, but no – this holy quartet were tossed ten avowed atheists. They were then expected to reveal to the disbelievers the errors of their ways.
The prize for any contestant who saw the light was a trip to their new “Holy Land”: Mecca, Jerusalem, Vatican City or Tibet.
Cooler heads prevailed and plans for the series were withdrawn.
Excess Baggage Australian TV selected one of the least ghastly concepts behind a reality show and re-fitted it for viewers down under.
Stateside, The Biggest Losers (another version of which is currently on the Down Under TV airwaves) is where contestants are chosen for their bulk, and then through supervision placed on strict diets and exercise regimes. At the season’s conclusion, the participants are asked to step on the scale, and the one who lost the most poundage was the victor.
The Biggest Loser, at least presents common folks in their struggle to overcome adversity in their lives, and there is some worth in that.
Australia took that concept and drained it of that scant merit, by having the eight rotund contestants shackled to eight rotund celebrities.
Picture an overweight trailer park mother of three paired in partnership with Kristie Alley.
∗ ∗ ∗
The demand for more and more, as the panderers struggle to feed the monster has resulted in causalities worldwide from some dolt merely taking a tumble into a fire pit, to bounced contestants downing barbiturates and whiskey floats, but for an extended “Butcher’s Bill” we must turn to France.
Dropped In the French version of Survivor two teams of contestants are airlifted by helicopter and then dropped into rugged and remote locations around the world, from where they must work their way to the assigned pickup zone within 72 hours, where they’ll be taken out and progressed onto the next dropped site.
The company behind the reality series Adventure Line Productions (ALP) had a death during filming in 2013.
A contestant in Koh Lanta, another Survivor clone, complained of arm and shoulder pains, a complaint that was dismissed by the set doctor. The man died of a heart attack soon thereafter.
The show was shut down due to the public outcry. The doctor who had examined him, unable to bear the guilt and media pillorying, committed suicide.
Worst was to come.
On March 9, 2015, the Dropped location was near to the Andes Mountains in north-west Argentina. Shortly after lift-off film footage, taken from the ground, shows one of the helicopters smashing into the other from below then both plunging down to explode in a huge fireball killing all ten aboard the two aircrafts.
Both pilots died as well as five of the ALP production crew on site.
The other three were prominent French athletes who were celebrity contestants on the show.
Florence Arthaud, 57, was a world class sailor who held the speed record for solo crossing the North Atlantic.
Alexis Vastine, a Light Welterweight boxer, won the bronze at the 2008 Beijing games after suffering two very controversial calls by the referee that reduced him to tears of frustration in the ring. He was 28.
Camille Muffat was a much beloved figure in France. A swimmer who, at the 2012 London Olympics won the Gold Metal in the 400 Meter Freestyle, the Silver in the 200 Meter Freestyle and the Bronze in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. She was only the third French woman to win three medals in a single Olympic. She was 25.
Sylvain Wiltord, former Arsenal footballer was another of the celebrity contestants, but he had been voted off the show the day before and so was not on the flights.
∗ ∗ ∗
The “Reality Series” trend was spawned by the short-sighted, bottom feeders that lacking an elf’s fart worth of creativity, have strangled their “better angels” and have taken to pandering to the very worst in people.
It is the lowest form of entertainment, comparable to secretly spying into your neighbor’s bedroom window or slowing down when passing a particularly gruesome car accident.
Alas, Rome had its gladiator show, we have reality TV.
∗ ∗ ∗
There is one more series I feel I should mention, yet it does not qualify for placement on the “Worst TV List” because it lacks merits. On the contrary, it’s not badly done, is well acted and shows originality. It deserves mention not because it’s so awful, (actually it’s quite good) but because there’s never been a series before that could potentially trigger an international confrontation which in turn could lead to World War III (Okay, worst case scenario.)
Okkupert aka Occupied This political thriller from Norway premiered there October 5, 2015. Its premise is reflective of both regional concerns and recent history.
The plot in a nutshell: In the near future, climate change is wreaking global havoc with hurricanes and rising sea levels. The Middle East has been overcome by a state of severe instability with civil wars breaking out that curtails petroleum exports to the rest of the world. The United States has managed to achieve energy independence and, returning to its old isolationist ways, has withdrawn from NATO, but Europe is thrown into crisis.
In Norway, a radical Green Party takes control of the government, with the charismatic new Prime Minister Jasper Berg (Henrik Mestad) vowing to cease all fossil fuel production. This causes a panic in European markets, and leads a desperate EU to offer their tacit support for a Russian “Velvet Revolution” (read low key invasion) of Norway with the understanding that the Russians will restart oil production.
The stories follow the Prime Minster; his loyal bodyguard Djupvik (Eldar Skar) and Thomas (Vegar Hoel) a reporter determined to reveal the Russians as the invaders they truly are. What follows are kidnappings, assassinations, freedom fighters, double dealings and all the rest with a goodly portion of the action in English.
The show’s creator, Jo Nesbø∗, recalls, when he initially began peddling the concept around in 2013, being told the notion of Russia invading a country within Europe was “too farfetched.”
Events in the Crimea last year have shown otherwise.
The series was the most expensive Norwegian production ever, with a budget of 90 million kroner! (Okay, that’s 11 million US and we spend more over here on Super Bowl commercials – but c’mon, it’s Norway.)
The series has played throughout Europe, the UK and is currently streamed by Netflix in Canada, India, the US and elsewhere.
It’s been a hit with everyone – whoops!
Except the Russians.
Which kinda figures.
The Russian government has made no secret of their displeasure either, the Russian Foreign Ministry blasting it and their ambassador to Norway denouncing it as being “in the worst tradition of the Cold War.”
Moscow has taken steps as well to block its distribution within Russia, more concerned with this fictional invasion than they are with the actual ones they’ve committed.
Series producer, Marianne Gray admits, “The timing is insane given what is happening in the world.”
But the series and its success serves as a gauge for the tension Putin’s Russia is provoking in Scandinavia. Here in America, if we give any consideration to the political turmoil in Russia and the rise of “Putin-ism,” it is either with a mild annoyance or bemused distain, such is our disregard of the old “Soviet” bear that we tend to view as being declawed and toothless.
However in other portions of our Global Village, proximity fuels regional apprehensions to a more fierce intensity, especially in the Nordic countries.
Finland, once staunchly against any geo-political entanglements, is now debating applying for NATO membership and has gone on public record as asserting that they reserve the option of accepting an application “at any time.”
Sweden has called up thousands of its reservists for exercises to, according to the arm forces official spokesperson, “increase the operational effectiveness of our units in response to the changing security situation in Europe.”
In 2015, the government of Sweden made public its intent to return troops to strategic areas in the Baltic as a reaction to what was denounced as Russian war games in the vicinity.
There is even a movement to reintroduce conscription, and it may be taken as a gauge of the tension felt by the common Swedish citizen that the move is favored in national surveys.
Little Denmark too has concerns about Russia having had to scramble its fighter jets on nearly a 100 occasions to counter incursions by Russian aircraft into its airspace.
Nor did it help tensions in 2015 when Mikhail Vanin, the Russia ambassador to Copenhagen, remarked in an interview that if Denmark opted to join NATO its warships would then be “targets for Russian nuclear missiles.”
Awareness of this event, likely contributed to the producers of Okkupert airing it in Denmark under the title of The Russian Ambassador. (You think, maybe?)
But Norway remains the hot bed of anti-Russian sentiment, with a Gallup Poll in 2014 reporting 89% of the Norwegians surveyed disapproving of the Russian leadership, the highest of the 41 countries polled.
Marie Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s defense minister offered a terse and telling explanation for this shift in Nordic sentiment towards Putin’s administration, saying “Russia has shown both the ability and willingness to use military force to achieve its strategic objectives.”
So, despite its many merits, there is my reason for including Okkupert aka Occupied in this roll; for the sheer uncertainty of the future, and concerns over the fate of the world that viewing it instills in me….
∗ ∗ ∗
Using that criterion, I suppose I have to add one more entry to this worst TV list of mine:
“CNBC Republican Presidential Debates” In the United States anyone can be elected to the high office of the presidency. As Americans that’s one of the unpleasant realities we must suffer. That and the Kardashians.
* * *
∗ Perhaps better known by the American remake, the mildly awful “Dinner for Schmucks” with Steve Carell
∗ Nesbø is apparently a former economist, current reporter, a songwriter and lead singer of the Norwegian rock band “Di Dere” as well as an author with works translated into 40 languages among them the ten “Harry Hole” crime novels, and a recently published children’s book, his first: “Doktor Proktors Prompepulver” (English translation: “Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder”). Suffering succotash, Jo, just kick back with a brewski once in a while! And when do you even find time to clip your toe nails?