The 11 worst things that happened on TV in 2019, from 'Game of Thrones' to 'Survivor'

In 2019, there was more TV than ever before, from scripted dramas and reality series to sports, news and sketch comedy. And in that vast crop, there was some really fantastic TV. 

But for every superb “Dead to Me” or great Oscar acceptance speech or triumphant underdog team clinching the World Series in Game 7, there were embarrassing new series, excruciatingly dull awards shows and finales practically begging for angry Twitter reactions.  

As the year draws to a close, we rounded up the worst offenders on TV this year, in the hope that, as TV becomes even bigger in 2020, it just might get a little better. 

The terrible ‘Game of Thrones’ finale 

The few months away from Westeros hasn’t lessened the sting of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series finale, “The Iron Throne.” Overall, the final season was a letdown, with a rushed plot and no emotional resonance. The finale itself was poorly directed and dull, even before the controversial decision to have Jon Snow (Kit Harington) kill Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and anoint Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) as king. Over eight seasons there were plenty of fantastic moments, but the writers’ inability to stick the landing tarnished the series’ legacy and made its inevitable Emmy wins seem like a fluke at best and pandering at worse. 

The reality TV tinge of ‘The Great British Baking Show’

What happened to the sweet, homey show about grandmas who bake simple cakes? The 10th season of the British treasure threw out the most beloved tropes of the series in favor of something flashier, and far worse. Producers chose a young and attractive cast of bakers that was considerably less talented than in previous years; episodes showed more footage of interpersonal drama and tears onscreen; the judges asked contestants to prepare ludicrous dishes and then eliminated contestants almost randomly to drum up drama. These choices made “Baking” (which streams on Netflix in the U.S.) seem more akin to shallow, aggressive American reality TV. We are far more disappointed in what we watched than judge Paul Hollywood could ever be in a bake. 

The overly weird ‘Dickinson’ (and the disappointment of Apple TV+)

Tech giant Apple jumped into the original programming sphere last month with Apple TV+, a streaming service that debuted with just nine original series. One of them was “Dickinson,” a half-hour comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld about Emily Dickinson’s teen years tinged with modern music and slang. The year’s biggest love- it-or-hate-it series, it illustrates the overall disappointment with Apple’s big TV bet, which (so far) has failed to produce any truly great shows, even if “For All Mankind” and “Servant” are halfway decent. 

New shows with all the wrong ideas: ‘Dollface’ and ‘Almost Family’

Every year networks and streaming services debut new series, hoping to find the next “This Is Us,” but this year there were some true flops, Hulu’s “Dollface” and Fox’s “Almost Family.” The former turned twenty-something women into a gross stereotype that wasn’t funny (not ideal for a comedy) and the latter tried to turn an egregious crime into a heartwarming family story. 

‘Big Little Lies’ wasting a second season (and so many Oscar winners)

If the second, and disappointing, season of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” has any moral, it’s that Hollywood needs to learn to let stories end. When it debuted in 2017, it was intended as a seven-episode series. Creator David E. Kelley and producer/stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon should have stopped there. The decision to bring back the series without a compelling story was a huge mistake, and the wonderful cast (including Meryl Streep) couldn’t save it.

‘Arrested Development’ ends with a whimper

Remember when fans used to clamor for more “Arrested Development”? You won’t see hashtags to save it anytime soon. The so-so final eight episodes of the cult sitcom, which began on Fox in 2003, arrived on Netflix last March with little fanfare and a reminder of the sexual misconduct allegations against star Jeffrey Tambor. It was a sad end to a once-brilliant sitcom that raises the question: should it have been rescued from cancellation at all?

Awards shows without a host 

Take note, 2020 awards shows: You need a host. The 2019 Oscars, plagued by pre-show controversy, barely scraped through without a host, but when the Emmys tried the tactic in September, the broadcast was a slog. As, more often than not, ratings fall for these gilded, self-congratulatory Hollywood affairs across the board, taking away a major element designed to entertain the audience at home is a grave error.

Not-so-live musicals

Live musicals are sometimes ratings bonanzas not because of  the nostalgia for the title, but rather the live aspect of the event, the sense that anything can (and probably will) go wrong. But the two we got this year were anything but, from Fox’s version of “Rent,” which aired a pre-recorded dress rehearsal after a cast member’s injury, and ABC’s “The Little Mermaid,” mostly the 1989 animated movie with live songs sprinkled in. 

The mind-boggling ‘Dancing With the Stars’ eliminations

The long-running reality competition series disappointed in its 28th season as a slightly tweaked voting formula led to some of the most emotional eliminations for all the wrong reasons. The judges had to pick who would stay and go among the two couples who received the fewest audience votes, and often they had to choose between two of the best-dancing couples of the night. The judges were irritated, the couples were heartbroken and bad dancers (including former White House press secretary Sean Spicer) stayed in the competition far too long. The problem was summed up, sadly, by James Van Der Beek’s elimination. Despite his solid performance in the Nov. 18 episode, he wound up in the bottom two, and the judges chose to send the former “Dawson’s Creek” star home right after he revealed his wife’s miscarriage and danced while sobbing. The decision seemed so antithetical to everything the usually uplifting series is about. Even his competitor, Ally Brooke, thought it was wrong: She asked if he could take her spot and stay in the competition. 

‘Survivor’ and ‘Big Brother’ mishandled racism and sexual harassment  

Twice this year, CBS reality show participants stepped over the line: On “Big Brother,” houseguest Jack Matthews was accused of racism by fellow contestant Kemi Fakunle, and on “Survivor,” contestant Dan Spilo touched multiple women against their express wishes. In both cases, the networks prioritized keeping the drama onscreen over punishing bad behavior and protecting victims. Matthews and Spilo should have been sent home, but they were left on their series, risking potential repeats of their offenses (and Spilo did). TV networks and producers need to learn how to promote safe and inclusive environments, or rethink the entire genre.

Netflix’s cancellation spree

Every network and streaming service has to cancel multiple series every year; it’s just a fact of the industry. But in 2019 Netflix wielded its axe at a far higher rate than the streamer had before, cancelling such a wide swath of its series that, from an outside view, it seemed to speak more to the company’s overall strategy rather than viewership for any one series, which it (mostly) won’t reveal. As more shows (good and bad) are announced as a “third and final” or “fourth and final” season (including greats like “Dear White People” and “GLOW”), it becomes clear that Netflix isn’t out to get 200 episodes of a sitcom or even 100 episodes of a twisty drama, the outmoded formula for syndication. While certainly not every show needs to last 10 seasons, some have the potential to evolve and grow for years. Especially on a platform that pioneered the idea of binge-watching a series over a week or two, it’s sad that Netflix originals might never keep us occupied for very long. As streaming becomes more dominant in the industry, it’s a safe bet to say we’ll be far less likely get a series that runs as long as “Friends” or “Grey’s Anatomy” again. 

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