Nobody sets out to make a bad TV show
Very few shows are without any merit whatsoever (though there are a couple that come near). But sometimes, somehow, it all goes wrong. Maybe the scripts suck. Maybe the casting was all wrong. Often, the ambition severely overawes the budget. Occasionally, its a combination of all elements.So even though there are very few shows that dont find a fanbase of some sort (even Andromeda!), there are quite a few that are met with overriding derision.
Of course, pinpointing bad TV is trickier than singling out bad movies or books. Theyre one-off affairs, whereas TV shows are a series of episodes, sometimes spread over numerous seasons. So you can have shows that start off horrendously, but come good eventually (though in many cases – Outcasts being a recent example – the improvement comes too late). Or decent shows can go seriously off-course into Turkeyville (season two of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century anyone?). Were not going to include them (though some of the voting panel did think we should make a special case for Torchwood: Miracle Day) and concentrate on shows that were persistent and consistent offenders.
25. The Secret Circle (2011-12)
Adapted from a series of books by the same author who wrote The Vampire Diaries, LJ Smith, its probably not surprising that The Secret Circle often feels like The Vampire Diaries younger, less cool sibling. In fact, its almost impossible to look at it without comparing it to The Vampire Diaries, seeing as its basically a re-run with witches instead of vampires.
The crucial element thats missing, however, is sex appeal. While The Vampire Diaries positively drips with it, The Secret Circle has cast a group of bland, charmless adolescents (or pretend adolescents) who have all the charisma of a ulcerated bladder. Add to this predictable scripting, naff FX and fake teenage angst and this is one circle thats too square to bother with.
24. The Prisoner (2009)
You can forgive AMC for screwing up The Prisoner remake. Not just because, in Breaking Bad and Mad Men the network has two of the greatest TV dramas of all time, but because the original is just so damn peculiar. Itd be impossible to recreate that of-its-time cocktail of ’60s spy-fi, psychedelia, paranoia and flowerpunk weirdness. Instead, the producers of this remake chose to go their own way, while nodding to the original. Unfortunately, they did it in the blandest way possible So what went wrong? Well everything.
Portmeirion is an instantly recognisable location. The remake needed a setting with the same curious allure somewhere that could be half holiday home, half jail. Instead they chose a desert. Okay, sure, its a more plausible prison, but it hardly sticks in the memory. Likewise Jim Caviezel is a decent, if bland Number 6, lacking Patrick McGoohans anarchist temperament and barely suppressed rage. You buy him as a secret agent, but you never feel his bewilderment or pain. But above all else, its just boring. Only Ian McKellen as Number 2 leaves much of an impression. And while the first episode tries clumsily to tie into the McGoohan series, its hard to reconcile the shows as existing in the same universe. The curse of a remake is that it will be endlessly compared to the original, doubly so if the original is one of the few TV shows that can be called iconic without fear of hyperbole. The biggest failing of the 2009 remake isnt that it failed to match it its that it feels like they didnt even try.
23. Total Recall 2070 (1999)
Anyone familiar with the original, fast-paced, action-packed, wryly sardonic Total Recall will sit down to watch this spin-off and realise that something went very, very wrong. If Total Recall is Groucho Marx, Total Recall 2070 is Karl Marx. Its a slow, serious, philosophising psycho-drama, not a balls-to-the-wall actioner and while this makes it a nice mood piece alongside Philip K. Dicks other sci-fi hit Blade Runner, it doesnt make it Total Recall.
Its not really good telly either. Although leads Michael Easton and Karl Pruner do their best (the latter having an especially tough task having been given one of the worst mother-did-it haircuts in TV history), the show drops you into a world thats too confusing for casual viewers and too derivative for hardcore fans. Picture a police procedural with a dull android and no excitement and youre there.
22. Jupiter Moon (1990)
Youd think that a show that lasted 150 episodes must have done something right but theres a catch. In 1990 the short-lived Galaxy Channel (one of the first satellite channels in the UK) decided it needed a soap opera; something to fill three evenings a week and a Sunday omnibus. Bizarrely enough it picked Jupiter Moon, a series set on a space habitat in orbit of Jupiters moon Callisto. The idea was a series featuring normal ordinary folks living normal ordinary lives but have them living in extraordinary surroundings. Youve got to give Galaxys owners, BSB, credit for trying something so radically different.
The show wasnt disastrously dreadful; there was some pretty bad acting, some terrible fashions and awful special effects. But it had a good mix of drama and teenage angst and it also had some pretty good science and space exploration themes too. The main problem was it was pointless: too sci-fi for soap fans, too soapy for sci-fi fans. The show ran for eight months before the Galaxy Channel folded when BSB merged with Sky, and Jupiter Moon was quietly cancelled. Sky either wasnt as daring or as stupid as BSB, depending on your point of view. But who knows – in an alternate universe it might still be around today, along with Galaxy. It might have given Coronation Street a run for its money. Space Rovers Return anyone?
21. Astronauts (1981)
The calibre behind this ITV sitcom is impressive. Its written by two of the Goodies, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and script edited by the legendary writing duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Porridge, The Likely Lads). Clement even directed the pilot episode. But somehow, instead of producing comedy gold, there was a colossal reverse-alchemical reaction that resulted in pure lead. Astronauts is dreary, repetitive and bereft of decent gags. Its like being trapped on a train next to a bloke who farts every 30 seconds, announcing better out than in every time, like its the funniest thing ever in history.
A show about Britains first three astronauts (so yeah, theres the posh man, the working class fellow and the uptight woman) and dog stuck on a space station together, its like watching early Red Dwarf with all the decent gags sucked out into the vacuum of space. The characters are extraordinarily unlikeable, the jokes are predicable and the pacing in glacial. Most of the humour comes from the astronauts getting on each others nerves, the irony being they never irritate each other as much as they do the audience. Amazingly, it lasted two series. But then, My Family lasted eleven.
20. Birds Of Prey (2002-2003)
Oh, dear. This series had such potential. The source material has rich pickings, and the central characters are strong, independent women with interesting backstories and plenty of series potential. So, what went wrong? Lets ignore the continuity issues – that the series takes place outside of DC Comics’ monthly comics continuity is not a problem. If anything, it could be viewed as a potential strength – after all, by not having to adhere to the continuity of the comics, the series was free to do whatever it needed to ensure the success of the show. So, what went wrong? Was it the performers?
Well, the cast – though not star-studded – was comprised of talented and experienced actors (Ashley Scott as Helena Kyle/Huntress, Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon/Oracle, Rachel Skarsten as Dinah Redmond/Black Canary). What about the writing? Oh, dear god, yes – the writing! First of all, the writers made a complete mess of the character of Harley Quinn. It wasnt just another interpretation of the character – it was a completely different, much darker character who just happened to share the name. The writers also appeared to have no idea what to do with any of the other principal characters. Nor how to construct coherent plots with believable dialogue. A wasted opportunity. And if you want to see how Birds of Prey should be handled, pick up any of Gail Simones run on the pre-DC 52 series.
19. Gene Roddenberrys Andromeda (2000-2005)
One of the longest-running shows on this list, lasting a full five seasons, Andromeda had serious genre potential. Gene Roddenberry is credited as creator (well, hes called creator, but its just as likely the series was based on a Post-It note he left on the fridge before he died saying, “Must write another series”) and sci-fi stalwart Kevin Sorbo stars as ships captain Dylan Hunt, a man who, with his eponymous sentient ship, has been frozen 300 years out of time (hmm, did the Post-It note add, “Like Buck Rogers”?).
It started as vaguely bearable, but its patchy tone – ranging from intergalactic war epic to some frankly cringe-worthy comedy episodes meant by the end of season one it was already outstaying its welcome. The generally passable ensemble ended up being pushed aside in favour of Captain Hunt-centric episodes as the seasons wore on, making for an ultimately disappointing show with a hero so perfect he was dull and often unlikeable. It made Enterprise look like Battlestar Galactica. Perhaps the best comment ever about the show came from Paul Cornell: Made by a bunch of people whove clearly never seen Galaxy Quest.
18. Come Back Mrs. Noah (1977-8)
Youd be forgiven for thinking that David Croft could make a successful comedy out of any genre. His list of classic British comedy hits is near unblemished and the subject matter is wonderfully diverse in setting and period: Dads Army (World War 2 Home Guard); Are You Being Served? (department store); It Aint Half Hot Mum (World Wars 2 troop entertainers); Hi-De-Hi (50s holiday camp); You Rang My Lord? (1920s); Oh, Doctor Beeching! (60s train station), Allo Allo (World War 2 French resistance); Oh Happy Band (northern town brass band). But when he turned his talents to science fiction – along with Are You Being Served? and Allo Allo collaborator Jeremy Lloyd – there was very little to laugh about.
If Astronauts was boring, the BBCs Come Back, Mrs. Noah was just downright embarrassing. Featuring a cast co-opted from other Croft comedies, it starred Molly Sugden as Mrs. Noah, a housewife who won a competition to have a look around Great Britains new spaceship. And guess what? Shes stuck on board when it accidentally goes into orbit, unable to return home. The two posh, dim officers from It Aint Half Hot Mum (Donald Hewlett and Michael Knowles) are the two posh, dim astronauts, while Ian Lavender (stupid boy from Dads Army) is a wet journalist who also gets carted into outer space. And there they have fuzzy-blue-screen-and-Kirby-wire weightless fun as Mrs. Noah wonders if she ought to cancel the milk and the posh astronauts press the wrong buttons on computers with hilarious results. Comedy “highlights” include attempts to pee in a wall-mounted loo using magnetic boots. Honestly, anyone who ever moaned about Red Dwarf season eight didn’t know when they had it good.
17. Kingdom Hospital (2004)
Its got a logo that looks like it was designed for a nightclub. Its got ham-fisted characters who you couldnt give a damn about. And its got blue-grey filters over every shot to make you think they went outside when it was dark (but they wouldnt, because night filming is expensive). And in case you doubted that Stephen King was involved, its in Maine, features Spooky Children, and “macabre” horror that just isn’t funny.
Worst of all, its mind-numbingly boring. How can anything with a talking anteater be boring? Kingdom Hospital manages it. Thirteen episodes with plot enough for about two, it proves that Stephen Kings writing skills dont stretch as far – or, indeed anywhere near – drama. Youre better off watching von Triers original, Riget. This sadly is often the way with remakes, but the liberal application of a fine layer of utter nonsense to Kingdom Hospital makes it doubly true here.