We’re inching closer to the top as the fourth annual Bitch Awards counts down the best and worst television of 2014.
Read on to see what captured spots seven and eight…
#5: True Blood S7
#4: The Following S2
For the second year in a row The Following makes the worst TV list. Last year it actually came in at #1, but just because it doesn’t take that dubious honour a second year in a row doesn’t actually mean that the show has improved (alas it just means that there are other worst shows!)
In their second year, creator Kevin Williamson and his hackjob writers veer slightly away from Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his Edgar Allan Poe cultists…so that they can introduce a brand new group of insane wackos…who worship Carroll. Le sigh. This cult, led by Lily Gray (an embarrassed looking Connie Nielsen) and her diabolical twin sons (both played with overeager enthusiasm by Sam Underwood) routinely employ the same savage tactics from S1 and frequently target nubile young women for misogynistic and horrible deaths. Double sigh.
Back in play is the perpetually tortured Tom Hardy (Kevin Bacon, phoning it in) who is working solo – often at odds with the FBI, much to the consternation of former colleague Mike (Shawn Ashmore) and his niece Max (Jessica Stroup). If S2 does one thing right, it is the introduction of Max. Not only is the presence of a (somewhat) capable female necessary to balance the series’ rampant misogyny, Max frequently acts as an audience surrogate, calling Hardy out for his BS. It’s probably a minor miracle that Max survives considering how much the show loves to murder its female characters (including Lily and Valorie Curry’s Emma, whose death comes one year too late). Naturally the murderous rampage doesn’t apply to the show’s most groan-worthy character, Claire (Natalie Zea) who returns looking like a changed woman but, as written by the shows team of trained monkeys, remains just as stupid and weak as always.
The Following is a dumb, schlocky mess of gory murders that are offensive, but never scary. The idea of a second (copycat) cult is even more ridiculous than Caroll’s Poe obsession from S1 and the new characters are merely ciphers – there to add to the bloodshed or serve as walking blood bags until they are murdered. The season ended with Joe back in police custody and one of the twins escaping into the night, suggesting that The Following will try its hand at a Hannibal-esque storyline with Hardy seeking Joe’s input (ugh. Why not just watch Hannibal, which is infinitely better at everything?).
The fact that this insufferable show has been granted a third season (featuring Michael Ealy,who deserves so much better!) is surely one of the signs of some kind of forthcoming apocalypse.
- # of episodes watched: 15
- Caveat: I’ll concede that the first episode train attack is legitimately frightening. Also: if I could have stomached Williamson’s new show, Stalker, it’s likely that that series would have made this list thanks to its even more egregious depiction of violence against women and misuse of Maggie Q’s talent. The trailer of a woman being burned to death in her car was enough to keep me away.
- Returns: Monday, March 2, 2015 at 8pm EST on FOX
This will likely be the most contentious entry in this top 10. I’m under no delusions that this is a unanimous choice; for many, I imagine that The Leftovers was one of the worst shows of the year. For me, it’s one of the best because I found myself constantly thinking about it, wrestling with its complicated themes and rich performances. After overcoming the first few difficult episodes, the show quickly became my Sunday night staple and by mid-season I found I was anticipating it more than any other show.
As created by Damon Lindelof (the Lost mastermind) and author Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers concerns a Rapture-like event that whisks away 2% of the world’s population and leaves the rest of the world in a stunned, grief-stricken state. The series is set in the small town of Mapleton, which would have a Norman Rockwell appeal if all of its citizens were not completely f*cked up. Although not everyone in the town has lost someone, two year’s later the residual anger, questioning and grief has permeated everyone’s everyday existence. Things aren’t helped by the presence of the Guilty Remnant, a cult (for lack of a better term) whose members take a vow of silence, smoke constantly and pull increasingly dangerous and malicious pranks to ensure that the disappeared are never forgotten. While the GR are responsible for most of the conflict throughout the season, their real power is refusing to let people pretend that they’re alright. Not only has no one truly moved on, but the event that supposedly caused so much strife is clearly simply a scapegoat, a catalyst to be blamed despite the fact that no one’s life was even remotely perfect beforehand.
The Leftovers was labeled “grief porn” by many viewers & critics, perhaps not unfairly. I’d be hard pressed to argue that it is not depressing and challenging. This is not a “feel good” show, especially in the early episodes when it is hard to connect to these grief-stricken character whose histories are a mystery. And yet, by the end of the season, as lives collide in a violent confrontation that endangers most of Mapleton, I was completely engrossed in the outcome.
One of the series’ greatest assets is that it is stunningly well-acted. While some of the storylines and characters don’t work as well as others (the dog shooting and Wayne harem storylines were my least favourite), the series deserves at least three acting accolades: Justin Theroux as the raging, unstable Sheriff Kevin Garvey, Gone Girl‘s Carrie Coon (the most lauded actor in the cast) as Nora, a woman who loses her entire family and my personal favourite, Amy Brenneman. I’ve never been impressed by the Private Practice / Judging Amy actress, so her nearly silent role as Theroux’s wife Laurie was a revelation to me. Throw in some great supporting roles by former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston as a disillusioned preacher and Ann Dowd as the malicious leader of the Guilty Remnant and The Leftovers is ripe with talent.
I’ll concede that the show is not for everyone. I appreciated the complicated examination of grief and memory, the stellar acting and the way that the slow unspooling of information deepened my emotional investment in the lead-up to the last few episodes. For some it’s too much sadness, too many plot holes, too much Lindelof. For me, The Leftovers was interesting and thought-provoking and I’m already looking forward to the show’s return to see where things go next.
- Returns: Summer 2015 (following Game Of Thrones)
- Watch: The single character focused episodes, 1×03 ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter’ and especially 1×06 ‘Guest’, as well as the all-flashback episode 1×09 ‘The Garveys At Their Best’.
#7: Happy Valley S1
This one is a doozy.
Happy Valley is a British crime drama created, written and starring Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood, who most critics affectionately describe as “a no-nonsense police sergeant.” Our introduction to Catherine cements several of her defining character traits: she responds to a call to aid a suicidal man and talks him off the ledge by explaining how much worse her life is than his. Catherine is frank, rough around the edges, yet surprisingly maternal. Her house is a refuge for strays: her alcoholic sister and her grandson (orphaned following her daughter’s suicide) are both staying with her. The death ends up driving more of the plot than Catherine knows when her daughter’s recently paroled boyfriend, Tommy Lee Royce (a wonderfully despicable James Norton), is entangled in a Fargo-esque kidnapping plot.
The setting of Happy Valley is integral to its success: it always looks cold and dreary, characters wear heavy jumpers and, in a subplot that isn’t entirely resolved, the city has a persistent drug problem that reinforces a pervasive sense that Catherine and her team are the only ones preventing things from falling into the abyss. In many ways this series reminds me of last year’s #2 Best TV series, The Fall (which returns Jan 16) – both Netflix series are presided over by take-charge women dealing with misogynistic police forces. Catherine is much more wounded than Gillian Anderson’s Stella, however; her failed marriage and her failed relationship with her daughter before her death weigh heavily on Catherine, eating into her compassion and sympathy. It’s a very complicated, difficult role and Lancashire is absolutely superb at winning us over, despite her flaws.
The other main reason to recommend Happy Valley besides the performances and the cat and mouse between Catherine and Tommy is a mild spoiler. The case comes to a head in the fourth episode and the climax literally had me on the edge of my seat. I’ve never been so invested in the outcome of what initially seems like a minor scuffle and a simple road crossing! iI defy anyone to watch the first four episodes and not immediately succumb to the need to start up the fifth following that cliffhanger. I may have actually freaked out a little bit when I couldn’t immediately find the clicker! It’s that good.
- Returns: Supposedly there will be a second season in the UK in 2015, but no specifics.
- Caveat: Perhaps because the cliffhanger is so amazing, the final two episodes feel a little anti-climatic and stretch credulity a little.
- Watch: It’s only six episodes, so watch them all.
That’s it for day four. Tomorrow at 9am EST we’ll tackle the hump position as the Bitch Awards for TV reaches the half-way point. If you missed yesterday’s post discussing our #9-10 picks, click here.