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Academy of the Overrated: T.V. Edition


Shakes asks about the most overrated shows ever to appear on the teevee. (Fortunately, I’ve never seen Lost and can avoid her wrath.) Doing this with television can be tricky, especially since so many series go on after being exhausted (because critics seemed to catch up with Six Feet Under only after it became not very good, for example, it could plausibly be on a most underrated and most overrated list.) So I’m thinking of shows in their “prime.” And I also strive to bracket out questions of mere genre taste; I find The X-Files overrated not so much on aesthetic grounds as that I find the entire premise too intensely irritating to get beyond, which I don’t think is really with the spirit of the category. Anyway, here we go:

  • Sex and the City: It was a critical darling and cultural icon. And it was also a show with C-grade broadcast sitcom writing and (Cynthia Nixon excepted) barely-adequate-to-horrible acting about exceptionally uninteresting characters learning fundamentally sexist lessons. In other words, the easiest choice on the list.
  • 24: The recent discussion about its right-wing politics obscures the real problems with the show, which is that it sucks, something that was quite evident before its politics became clear. In the immortal words of the Editors, “Here’s the plot of “24”: there’s a bunch of terrorists, Kiefer stops them, oh wait no he didn’t, but now he did really, and just in the nick of time! Because even the cruelest TV executive couldn’t stretch this over more than 4 hours, the rest of the show has to be padded out with subplots, mainly involving his daughter getting kidnapped. Oh, Lord, can that girl get kidnapped. Most people can live a good long life without ever getting kidnapped; an unfortunate few do get kidnapped once; there are probably a few examples through history of people getting kidnapped two, or maybe even three, times. Kiefer’s daughter gets kidnapped like seven times a day. She gets kidnapped from people who kidnapped her from kidnappers. If she makes it to dinner time without being kidnapped at least twice, that’s a cause for celebration in the Kiefer household.” And the fact that Keifer Sutherland can win a best actor Emmy tells you all you need to know about the value of those awards.
  • The West Wing: It may seem strange to put what is, I guess, Sorkin’s best show on the list, but that’s the overrated/bad distinction. Even if most critics only saw the glaring suckiosity of Studio 60 after it became a ratings fiasco, it’s hard to call it overrated at this late date, and SportsNight wasn’t long-running enough. Between its wholly unearned reputation for political acuity and the fact that it was a mediocre show discussed as if it was comparable in quality to The Sopranos (hint: in an actual great show, all the characters don’t sound like the script’s author), I found it essentially unbearable despite the good actors. I’ll admit that the 9/11 episode was anomalously bad, but when I saw those students trapped in a room so that a “character” could read–complete with blackboard!–trite moderate-liberal position papers about the Political Implications Of Terrorist Attacks at them, I could identify strongly with them because I had seen an Aaron Sorkin show.
  • Law and Order: SVU Granted, the all-pervos-all-the-time premise does largely pre-empt the “I’m putting the Iraq War on trial!!!!!!!!!!!!!” moments that make many late episodes of the mother show unwatchable. Still, there’s something about the DeMillian simultaneous exploitation and moralism that’s very annoying, and as a procedural it’s pretty lame. Plus, Mariska Hargitay isn’t that good.

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