Television, like seemingly everything in the world, is a highly contentious subject. While not a particularly profound insight on its own, it’s worth keeping in mind when considering the television critic. Critique is essential to the art form. Indeed, in a time where just browsing through your Netflix catalog can induce crippling anxiety, critics are here to cut through the noise. In short, television watchers need television critics.
Of course, that being said, critics could be wrong just about as often as they are right. After all, it’s not science. It essentially boils down to how a few people feel on a particular day about what they see flashing on their screen. Human error inherently comes into play. Not to mention hindsight is 20/20, and what may be considered a classic years after the fact may have stunk to high heaven at the outset. Television is a long form medium, that typically requires weeks (or days, now that binge watching is a thing) of viewing to really appreciate.
You’d be surprised which incredibly popular and beloved shows originally didn’t sit well with the critics. Or maybe you wouldn’t be. At any rate, here are 15 Huge TV Shows That Got Terrible Reviews.
15. Iron Fist
The recent negative reception of Netflix’s new Marvel series, Iron Fist, is (in a word) disappointing. It’s the first real stumble in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s series of Netflix releases. The series will lead into that franchise’s Avengers-lite team up of The Defenders, and so is a must watch for Marvel completists and superfans. After the overwhelming success and popularity of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, it was almost assumed that Iron Fist would be a winner; another knockout punch for the machine that cannot stop producing gold. And yet, Iron Fist currently sits at a dire 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Critics have panned the show for being boring, unoriginal and, frankly, badly written. Save for the first item on that list, these qualities were not highly unusual for superhero movies, pre-boom. But we live in a decidedly saturated market and there’s little room for misfires like this anymore. Here’s hoping Iron Fist turns it around next season.
14. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
These days, it’s near sacrilege to criticize anything Joss Whedon produces. Believe it or not, there was a time in history where Whedon wasn’t nearly the show business titan that he is now. The patron saint of nerds, most recently recognized for his heavy hand in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, got his start as a showrunner when he created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a name that admittedly invites mockery. Granted, everyone now knows that the show turned out to be a hit. But when it got its start, critics were lukewarm (to say the very least) and not entirely convinced of its merit.
It doesn’t help that the series came on the heels of its movie predecessor; a film that was near universally reviled by the critics. Viewers going into the series with a notion that it would be similar to the movie were eventually delighted to find a completely different tone (and, not to mention, cast). But at least initially, the critics were wary and didn’t really come to embrace the series until later in its first season, when it became apparent what a great show they actually had on their hands.
13. Grey’s Anatomy
Similar to Buffy, Grey’s Anatomy was, initially, dismissed as not being serious television. Seen as soap opera-adjacent, the first several episodes did little to impress critics. It’s worth at least briefly dwelling on the fact that both Buffy and Grey’s feature female leads, and that the asumption that either is a non-serious show is due in no small part to the fact that much of television critique is handled by men.
This being said, Grey’s was certainly later praised and, as anyone with a television (and pulse) can attest, has been one of the longest running and most popular shows in history. Its success saw the meteoric rise of Shonda Rhimes, and her many shows since. Even so, the first season was criticized for its corny and, to put it delicately, perhaps a little too earnest tone. Nevertheless, Grey’s Anatomy is currently in its 13th season, and renewed for a 14th, so clearly the cornball approach worked.
12. Family Guy
Even the most ardent of Family Guy fans will admit that there is a lot to critique. Arguably, the show is set up in a way that very pointedly asks to be criticized, doing what it can to cross the line wherever possible in an effort to rile up the critics and prove itself the most controversial show on television. But it has also proven to be a powerhouse of television comedy, spawning spinoffs and providing joke fodder for drunk frat guys across the country. It’s no wonder that Seth MacFarlane, the man behind the guy as it were, has become almost as famous as the show itself.
Regardless, when it first emerged on to the scene, Family Guy was not welcomed with open arms. Critics despised the show and its decidedly crude humor. Throughout its tenure, criticism has remained fairly consistent, and public opinion of the show has shifted in recent years as the show’s offensive themes fail to resonate as they once did. For now, at least, the series is going strong and there is no end in sight.
Seinfeld is about as close to television royalty as a comedy can get. So great was its popularity that, since the moment it ended, it spawned a seemingly endless amount of copycats and wannabes, all vying to be crowned the next king of situational comedy. But before the accolades and praise, Seinfeld fell under the careful scrutiny of the critics. They were, characteristically, not kind. Granted, not every critic hated it (the bandwagon started early), but there were some who derided the show’s content for being obsolete and irrelevant, a claim that is both hilarious and ironic considering the decades of mimicry that have ensued in its stead.
Eventually, though, the show’s theme of “nothing” was embraced by the public and it became the aforementioned cultural powerhouse that we all reference today. Its many (many) knock-offs have followed a similar path, with critics panning and then accepting them. It’s seemingly a rite of passage for the New York-set sitcom.
10. How I Met Your Mother
Speaking of Seinfeld knock-offs, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) was the second generation, technically a rip off of Friends (and Seinfeld, by proxy). Though the show has gone on to be one of the most popular sitcoms on television, it had a rough start, being accused of the standard fare of early sitcom issues. Corny plot lines, subpar acting and slow writing plagued the show, and stirred the critics into writing how much they disliked this new group of New York narcissists, a trope that (after two iterations) was beginning to feel exhausting.
HIMYM is a weird example of a bad review sandwich. Because, after a rough start, the show got better and critics praised it for years, with only a few noticeable stumbles. Then the final season, replete with controversy and questionable decisions, found the critics dusting off their pitchforks for one last skewering. The show ended much how it began: poorly.
9. The Office (U.K.)
Ricky Gervais is responsible for the popularity of an entire format of situational comedy. The fourth wall breaking, interview-style sitcoms that include Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, Veep, and the U.S. version of The Office can all trace their roots back to the original British version of The Office, a show that critics and fans alike love. Oddly enough, this was not always so.
At first, critics absolutely hated The Office. Frankly, it’s somewhat unsurprising, considering how many conventions it broke. It was criticized for being boring and laborious, a real-time observation of the typical work day that, according to at least one critic, managed to capture the boredom a little too perfectly. As critics and audiences spent more time with the show, it’s sharp, twisted sense of cringe humor began to grow on them, leading to American network NBC making a version of their own.
8. Ghost Whisperer
To be honest, it’s hard to not make fun of Ghost Whisperer. From the name to the premise to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s acting, it’s not exactly the serious drama it attemps to be. And yet, television (as agreed upon by the viewing public) is about suspension of disbelief. A little bit of schmaltz and a little bit of melodrama never hurt anybody. Unfortunately, it did repulse critics in the beginning. Their critique? Well, that it was schmaltzy and melodramatic. Fair points for someone whose job it is to suss out this sort of stuff.
The jury is out on whether the more melodramatic aspects were ever fully done away with, but they clearly became less of an issue as time wore on and what originally plagued the show as a negative became what people loved about the series.
7. Fuller House
For every über-popular show that’s gone off the air, there’s now a rabid fan base clamoring for it to come back on. One supposes the sentiment is innocent enough; a longing and nostalgia for their favorite show. But it doesn’t always work out the way everyone thinks it will. After all, years of being off the air can change a lot, especially when (in its heyday) a show had a close-knit writer’s room consistently putting out gold. Bringing something back from the grave can, as Stephen King might say, change things. Such was the case for Fuller House, the reboot of Full House which apparently someone asked for.
On the one hand, the show was praised for being a great kick in the nostalgia for fans. On the other hand, it was also an unnecessary rehashing of a show that’s been gone a little too long to justify dredging it back up. The New York Times hated it so much that it dubbed it a “self-conscious, dated and maudlin reminder of the ceaseless march of time and your inevitable demise.” Ouch.
6. Two and a Half Men
It’s hard to consider Two and a Half Men outside the context of its biggest star’s meltdown and eventual departure from the show. But it’s necessary to put that out of your mind in order to see what else went wrong. Namely, the show’s plodding march of dreary and outdated humor – or so said the critics. Much like any sitcom, the jokes landed infrequently at first and, perhaps as a result of the medium, the acting was heavily criticized for being subpar. The show won’t be receiving much in the way of defense from its fans either, as many of themwere angered by the late series change in stars from Charlie Sheen to the decidedly less charismatic Ashton Kutcher.
After Charlie Sheen was fired, the series lasted another four seasons before finally being taken off the air, fizzling out in an strange series finale that mirrored the real life oddity surrounding its cast and crew.
5. Sex and the City
Long before HBO became a famed purveyor of quality television, it aired Sex and the City, a show that invites a lot of ridicule from New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike. The former crowd disdained the series for its gentrified and fantastical portrayal of the city, while the latter simply disliked the show’s main cast, seeing another group of self-centered WASPs who invited little empathy.
Regardless, the show went on to become a fan favorite and even spawned two movies. It even received a little love from the critics after they warmed to it. The first few episodes, however, were not a strong jumping-off point. Bad writing, failed attempts at erotica, and unlikable characters gave this show a rocky start.
Season 2 saw a marked uptick in quality and critics were quick to praise the writing staff’s newfound footing, something that would hold true for a good chunk of the series. The films notwithstanding, of course.
4. The Office (U.S.)
Keep in mind that when The Office first came to an American audience, the format was still (quite literally) foreign. British humor doesn’t always play well in the United States and while the show was tailored for an American audience, it was still received with a side-eye at first. Though, oddly enough, one of the major complaints was not that the show was new and confusing, but that its content was tired and trite. A workplace comedy again? It was the mid-2000s and the relative drudgery of work had been long established by the comic strip, Dilbert, and pretty much every sitcom in existence. Not to mention, what The Office was attempting to offer had already seen success in the United Kingdom, leading many to wonder why it was necessary to send it across the Atlantic.
3. The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory is truly an anomaly of television. Perhaps the most popular sitcom on television right now, this show is a behemoth and its stars’ salaries reflect that. It’s also one of the most heavily criticized and panned shows in modern history. Self-proclaimed nerds and left brain types hate the stupidity and pandering nature of the jokes. They criticize the show for taking a shallow approach to science and playing it for laughs rathern than finding any deeper humor in the complexities. Not to mention, the absolutely outdated laugh track that highlights how ridiculous some of the jokes on the show really are.
In all likelihood, The Big Bang Theory is the last of its kind and, when it finally rolls over and dies, it will hopefully stay dead, lest we get a Fuller House-esque reboot. Otherwise, who knows how long this long-dead horse will continue to be beaten?
2. Parks and Recreation
Perhaps even more beloved than The Office, Parks and Recreation was the second American iteration of its particular comedic format. What everyone now remembers as an earnest and hilarious show was once near-universally hated. In short, critics felt that it was uncomfortable, and it undoubtedly was. Coming on the heels of The Office, Parks and Rec was stuck somewhere between a knock-off and an homage, finding it hard to develop its own identity. That and a few casting errors (sorry Mark/Paul) made the first season of this otherwise stellar series a bit of a stinker.
To give credit where it’s due, the writers and showrunners took these critiques very seriously and eventually returned with a show that very much knew what it was and ended up finding a voice that became uniquely its own. Parks and Rec would eventually go on to have such venerated guest stars as Joe Biden and Michelle Obama. Not bad for a show that started out as a cheap The Office knock-off!
1. Breaking Bad
While not terribly received, Breaking Bad‘s lukewarm reception is still very surprising. Along with Game of Thrones and Mad Men, Breaking Bad was one of the few shows that consistently performed well and defined the modern Golden Era of television. It was, at the risk of hyperbole, a near perfect show. But critics felt otherwise when it first debuted and, due to sharing a network with the likes of Mad Men, it had the misfortune to be compared to it.
While Mad Men was praised for its realness and believability, Breaking Bad was seen as a ridiculous show peddling a highly unlikely scenario. Which is, after all, what television is. This evidently sank in with critics after some time and they eventually came around to regard the show with adoration. But Breaking Bad‘s start is a testament to shows everywhere that sometimes you have to slog through a bit of mud to get the gold.
Are there any other big shows that were dismissed by critics? Share them in the comments!
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