6 Awesome TV Shows That Started Off As Sucky Garbage
I think it was Socrates who once said, "This show used to be sooo good, but now it just suuucks." It is the nature of most television programs to start off promising and full of life, and slowly decompose into unrecognizable pimples in the "Continue Watching" section of your Netflix account. But sometimes the reverse happens. Shows that began as rank infestations of your screen become vessels of hope and joy and decent production values. Shows like ...
Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series is legendary. It constantly gets those "This show turns 19 years, four months, six days, and two hours old today. Now let's talk about it for 10,000 words" articles, and as we all know, that is the true measure of anything's success. And its pilot episode, "On Leather Wings," is wonderful. It's exciting, funny and even a little scary. And when you finish it, you can only assume that nostalgia hasn't led you astray; Batman: The Animated Series is still that fucking good.
And then it isn't good. The drop-off from the first to the second episode almost feels like a betrayal. "Christmas With The Joker" is the worst thing to happen to any holiday since the invention of candy corn. And it's made doubly bad by the fact that it's Mark Hamill's first appearance as the Joker. Luckily, BTAS gets its three worst Joker episodes out of the way in the first batch of ten episodes, but if you told me that the show was invented by Batman as some sort of anti-Joker propaganda, I'd believe you. Mark Hamill's Joker would become the most iconic supervillain performance in cartoon history, and it began with an hour's worth of animated dysentery.
Scattered amidst the intense disappointment are episodes wherein Batman is forced to share copious time with children. I'm not against kids showing up in comic book stories. Anyone who thinks that the presence of Robin automatically "ruins" Batman is three farts trapped in a goblin costume. But an episode in which kids steal the Batmobile and defend an unconscious Batman against the Penguin -- a villain who doesn't pose a threat to anyone tall enough to ride a roller coaster -- doesn't inspire confidence in the "greatest superhero show of all time."
Luckily, the show gets way better around the time they start introducing guys like Two-Face and Clayface and Freezeface, but that's assuming you even get that far into your Volume 1 box set. The last 90 percent of Batman: The Animated Series becomes a reward for finishing the first 10 percent. "Thank you for sitting through that without setting the DVD's, your TV, and your whole house on fire. You truly deserve the best that life (and Batman) have to offer."
It's hard to find a show with more precise comedic focus than Eastbound And Down. It was solely about unleashing Hurricane Kenny Powers on the Carolinas, and watching how people reacted to the damage and sudden uptick in cocaine sales. I love Eastbound And Down, so I was excited about the new HBO series from the same team, Vice Principals. All the pieces were there: Danny McBride! Walton Goggins! Kimberly Hebert Gregory! Yelling at kids!
And then I watched the first episode, which wasn't so much "Haha!" funny as it was "Ha? Heh?" funny. The show opens with McBride playing off of Bill Murray, and maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe I expected the laptop to erupt in my face, spilling joke demons into the world to turn our existence into pure comedy. I shouldn't have expected the apocalypse. That was my mistake. But, again, when the chessboard of actors and plots is laid out so perfectly, even vigorous mediocrity can be insufferable. When you go to Heaven and find out that it might not be serving Italian ice, Heaven kinda sucks a little bit.
Then Goggins and McBride took LSD and went to a high school football game. And the angels wept.
Now I adore the show. People ripped through the walls of my house to scream at me about the infinite intrigue and questions of Twin Peaks, but the best murder mystery of 2017 goes to Season 2 of Vice Principals. Yes, I know that Twin Peaks has David Lynch and horror and dark comedy and Kyle MacLachlan, but Vice Principals has "Busted by Lee Russell," so I think the winner is pretty goddamn clear.
Nostalgia can be a frightful, terrible thing. It can cause you to have ideas like "Maybe I should replay the Gex series" or "I should see if I, Robot holds up." It makes you believe that you had the same critical insight about pop culture as a child that you have right now. It makes you watch the Pokemon anime from the beginning.
Saying that the Pokemon show finally hit its stride 20 years into being around sounds inconceivable to most. Because most of the people who played Pokemon as a child and didn't become popular and keep playing through adulthood like me have a very perfect vision of it in the dank depths of their minds. Pokemon was warm and friendly, and was about kids doing the same things that you were doing in video game form. Ash Ketchum is literally you. So when you age past Ash Ketchum, of course it's going to feel natural to drop Pokemon and move on. You no longer see yourself in that role.
It's also natural to drop Pokemon because the first 19 years are mostly bad. The animation wavers between "acceptable" and "it should be illegal to do this to children." There is no character development, and not even in a "This is a kids show, so give it some slack" kind of way. The Pokemon anime is aware of the history of the Pokemon anime. It knows what has happened in the past; it just chooses to totally forget what happened. Over 900 episodes are devoted to proving that the Pokemon world is filled with people too incompetent to survive. There isn't a character on the show who shouldn't have been devoured by their pets by now. Just monsters munching on humans because evolution hasn't done its job and kicked mankind off the face of the Poke-earth yet.
Pokemon: Sun & Moon, however, serves as a vacation from the cycle of the Pokemon shows before it -- which is fitting, because the show is literally about Ash taking a vacation from being a ten-year-old warlord. For the first time since it started, the Pokemon anime feels as refreshing and interesting as the games that it's based on. There is an actual atmosphere and sense of location instead of Ash just being placed in a generic forest or city again. Also, the ending theme song is a montage of Ash dancing with Pikachu, and I'd be lying if I said that I haven't tried to replicate it with my dog at least once.
If you heard about the Psycho prequel series Bates Motel before it came out and simply added it to the ever-growing pile of Dumbest Shit Ever, you're not alone. I have my own pile of Dumbest Shit Ever, and I lay the description of Bates Motel ("It's an origin story for Norman Bates! It's Norman Bates in high school!") down beside things like sleeveless hoodies and vegetarian hot dogs.
I did end up giving it a watch, and the first few episodes confirmed all of my fears. Season 1 of Bates Motel isn't quite sure what it wants to be, and it takes this frustration out on its characters and plotlines. Drug subplots! Prostitution subplots! Teenage romances! A town that is apparently filled to the brim with crime which makes a guy imitating his dead mother look as shocking as light graffiti.
One of the biggest strengths of Psycho is the fact that it takes place in a quiet town, and that stuff like Norman Bates' fashion sense is out of the ordinary. Bates Motel just adds it to the backdrop of continued insanity, ripping it of its power. If your focus is on the stuff that's worse than Norman Bates, how can you expect anyone to give a crap when you actually start focusing on Norman? You can't expect me to get pumped about my double quarter pounder with cheese if all of my appetizers are Big Macs.
Thankfully, the creators of Bates Motel are so talented that the last four seasons became really, really great, with some of the most fully realized characters in horror TV ever. Sadly, it had to come after a season of a show about an awful town, many awful people, and one slightly abnormal motel.
Like BTAS, Justified has a great first episode. It's like the pilot of The Walking Dead, where it can be enjoyed like a mini-movie that has no relation to the rest of the series. And I'm not saying that you definitely shouldn't watch the rest of the series, as Justified would become the coolest show on television. But if you want to watch the Justified pilot,and then, I don't know, lock yourself in the bathroom of a Dick's Sporting Goods until the galaxy collapses in on itself, you can do that. It's important to have options.
Can a show create a character that is too good? Justified is full of awesome redneck gangsters, from the domineering matriarch Mags Bennett to Sam "It's A Sam Elliot Character, Motherfucker" Elliot. But it struck gold in the first ten minutes with Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder. A silver-tongued hillbilly Lex Luthor, Boyd is effortlessly charismatic. And then he gets shot at the end of the pilot, is hospitalized in the beginning of the second episode, and disappears from the show for a while. Huh. Well I guess that's that.
To be fair, the creators of Justified didn't even know that Boyd would be such an important addition until audiences saw him and then surrounded their offices with torches and pitchforks, demanding that Boyd be instated as our one true god and king. But it does kind of seem silly in retrospect that you'd even think of having that character be in just one episode, like making a delicious apple pie and then hurling it in front of a lawnmower. So when you watch the show for the first time, you kind of assume that the show stupidly got rid of the best thing in any show ever, and that Justified will just feature new rednecks shooting at each other each week. But when you watch it the second time, those Boyd-less episodes? They're the Dark Times.
Justified was never unwatchable. So if you haven't seen any of it, I don't want you to think that it's bookended by success, and that the middle meat of the sandwich is feces and frowns. But the section that seems to have forgotten Boyd feels like it's missing something vital, like a bicycle without wheels or a Dale Hardt without Earn. Boyd propels Justified from a mediocre show about clever Appalachian folk to the top show about clever Appalachian folk. And that's a position that it will stay in until I unveil my own show, Daniel's Good Time West Virginia Moonshine N' Thinkin' Hour.
Gilmore Girls is a wonderful show, and I have absolutely no idea how you could recommend it to anyone. "Small-town people ... talk to each other?" It gives you very, very little to latch onto when it comes to big plot angles. There is no "but" to the Gilmore Girls concept. No "... but he's secretly dealing meth" or "... but they're actually vampires." Gilmore Girls gives you two options: you adore it with every fiber of your coffee-obsessed being, or you leave it. And man, do those first few episodes make it easy to leave.
The later seasons of Gilmore Girls work so well because the show is supernaturally incredible at building characters and relationships. The first half of Season 1 is an aching trudge because it just kind of assumes that you're going to be into the same shit that Gilmore Girls is into. You know when you get invited to the house of someone that you've never met, and your friends preface the visit with "It's gonna be so much fun! They're hilarious! You're going to love it"? And then you get to the house and the owner is like, "We're gonna do needlepoint for seven years, and all we have to eat is this one unsalted cracker." That's what being dropped into the world of Gilmore Girls is like.
You have to get to know these rabid needlepointers in order to care even remotely about them, as Gilmore Girls gives you absolutely nothing else to care about. Will Rory Gilmore do well on this one test at the beginning of the school year? Will Lorelai be polite at dinner? Will Luke pour the coffee? These are the stakes in early Gilmore Girls episodes. And while you will eventually enter the A Year In The Life Netflix series appreciating every nuanced Emily Gilmore glare and being unable to become sexually aroused unless your partner hums "Where You Lead," those first few hours will probably have you feeling tricked by the people you once trusted. "You told me this would be fun. But all they're doing is making pop culture references in the one restaurant in town. I thought we were friends."
Daniel has a Twitter that will be good in a few seasons.
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