It’s been said that we’re living in a golden age of television. It’s not despite having a thousand outlets for entertainment that this is happening, it’s because we have a thousand outlets for entertainment. On a Friday night in February 1985, your choices for TV viewing were: Webster, Dukes of Hazard (finale, I think) and the always-quoted Codename Foxfire. That was it. Each of those shows took a third of the TV viewing audience.
Of course we have the ridiculous reality shows and for some reason The Learning Channel has turned into the world’s saddest circus sideshow, but the writing on TV is consistently spectacular: Better Call Saul, American Crime, Angie Tribeca, Kimmy Schmidt, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Rick and Morty… even the worst episodes of bad shows like The Flash and The Walking Dead are better than the best of Dallas or Rosanne.
It seems with all of this competition, everyone has really stepped up their game. The writing is undeniably better now than at any other point in history, the production values are the best, the special effects are often feature-worthy. The only thing that television can’t seem to shake is giving starring roles to pretty people with no talent. Case in point: Julie Bowen. Co-stars not withstanding, could you tell me the difference between her roles on Happy Gilmore, Ed, Lost, Boston Legal, and Modern Family? She’s won an Emmy more times for being herself than Michael Richards did for being hilariously racist.
Speaking of Lost, one of the reasons I liked that show so much is because they knew who the weak actors were and consistently wrote them out of the show; there’s a reason Boone died first and why Claire was either kidnapped, had amnesia, or disappeared for about 100 of the 108 episodes.
Often a bad lead actor can kill an otherwise good show – or, more often, a bad lead actor kills off a mediocre show. Below is a list of shows that are good despite having the worst actor out front.
1. The’00 Star Wars Trilogy: Lets get this out of the way first. These movies would’ve been much better had Hayden Christensen not been in them. There’s even a Fan Cut online somewhere that shows how enjoyable the movies can be if we would’ve focused on Obi-Wan instead of “the lame reasons every character turned into the character you loved.”
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Although Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t an incompetent actress (see “The Body” episode), compared to everyone else on that series – especially after the shitty half of the cast left to star in Angel – she is an amateur. Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Seth Green, James Marsters, Nathan Fillion, Michelle Trachtenberg (who simply copied Gellar’s acting style so that they would seem like siblings) were all way better than the lead and made that show worth watching. Even Nicholas Brendon has been especially interesting as of late.
3. How I Met Your Mother: I used to say HIMYM was a shitty show, but it wasn’t the mediocre writing that I objected to (keep in mind, I’ve seen every episode of Wings), it was the awfulness of Josh Radnor. Every other person in that show is spectacular: Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan are all genuine talents. Even minor characters like Bob Saget, Wayne Brady, and Bill Fagerbakke are better than Radnor. It could only be worse if Denise Richards was cast as some sort of nuclear scientist or if Kaley Cuoco ever worked again.
4. Supergirl: I’ve only seen about 50 minutes of Supergirl, so I can’t say much, except that Melissa Benoist is pretty and nothing else.
5. The Blacklist: I’ve loved James Spader in everything he’s ever been in, except he’s never in anything good (Sex Lies and Videotape, True Colors, Wolf, Crash, 2 Days in the Valley, Boston Legal), so when I heard the Blacklist was coming out, I was excited. I watched every episode as it came out during season one. As the season progressed, I noticed that I was spending time on my phone while Megan Boone was on screen. So this season, I record it; wherever she’s the main attraction, I hit the “fast forward” button until someone interesting comes on. I honestly think, if not for her, this show could be another Better Call Saul. Instead, it’s another show that’s kept afloat by its co-stars, like my marriage.
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