The Worst TV of 2021

Not everything was good

There’s so much TV. But not all TV is good. Here’s a rundown of the shows that I watched, but that I kind of hated.

Halston

Halston

Roy Halston Frowick was one of the great geniuses of later 20th century fashion and an example of what not to do when given the opportunity to slap one’s name on a vast array of licensed products. He was also a highly charismatic figure who charmed the clients he dressed and, during the disco era, served as the prince of New York night life.

Eventually he flew too close to the sun. His corporate association with JC Penney ruined his career while cocaine and AIDS shortened his life. I have no opinion on whether or not a heterosexual actor (Ewan McGregor) should be allowed to play Halston, a gay man, but Ewan’s disappointing performance–which seems to be the results of bad writing and direction–had two modalities: First is Halston as a wide eyed young man from the corn fields of Nebraska surprised and excited to be designing Jackie and Kennedy’s hat who speaks only in expository dialogue revealing his plans to be the most successful fashion designer in the world.

Second is Halston as a jaded, raspy voiced grandiose queen, hiding his dilated pupils behind an oversized pair of sunglasses and threatening to replace Paul Lynde as “center square” on Hollywood Squares. They skipped the part where he was an attractive confident man in the prime of his life and career; the sort of person you wanted to hang out with at Studio 54. Krysta Rodriguez plays Liza Minelli, Halston’s best friend who seems more like a wacky romcom sidekick than the living legend that she, in fact, was during the seventies. Andy Warhol and Calvin Klein–who loom large in Halston’s life–aren’t even onscreen characters.

Hacks–Season one

I had high hopes for this because of Jean Smart. And Jean Smart is great in this…as always. And the premise sounded good on paper: a Joan Rivers-like comedy legend Deborah Vance (Smart) forms an unlikely alliance with a cancelled Gen-Z comic in order to update the material in her routine. The problem is, Ava, the Gen Z played by Hannah Einbinder  is supposed to be talented…but the examples they show us of her comedy aren’t that impressive. She certainly is embittered, TMI, superwoke and claims to be sexually fluid. But unlike Amy Schumer, Bridget Everett, Chelsea Peretti and Sarah Silverman who let it all hang out (but also know how to craft that seemingly random stream of consciousness into a routine that works as a set) Hannah only seems to know how to blurt out inappropriate, caustic remarks which make everyone uncomfortable and get her into trouble.

TV

It’s also notable that this cancellation of hers–we learn–happened because of an insensitive remark she made about a Republican Senator. Making the right-wing angry on Twitter isn’t cancellation, it’s something most comics do on a daily basis. But in this universe, it means she’s unable to work in L.A. and needs to write for Deborah which she feels is a gig beneath her. Meanwhile Vance needs Ava because she’s about to lose her Vegas residency because she’s not bringing in the young people. (Yeah, that always works: young people LOVE it when older entertainers try to speak their language and relate to them!)

Ava grows to respect the elder comic and, in return, convinces Deborah to freshen up her act by making it more autobiographical and personal. However, this satisfying and heartwarming conclusion relies on the unlikely notion that comics have never used their own personal histories as material for their acts until Gen Z came along and it never would have occurred to Deborah to make such a career move unless Ava put the idea into her head.

And Just Like That–Season one

Sex and the City
Publicity Still from And Just Like That.

Sex and the City was pure escapist indulgence that took place in a New York City that never existed except in our fantasies. It was extremely entertaining, but it was more of a glossy magazine with spicy articles that you read while waiting to get your haircut than an actual show with characters and a story arc. Defenders of the show play up the fact that it was about four women and their friendships and thus had a feminist message of sorts, but all these women were white, wore designer clothing and seemed to have enough money to eat in fancy restaurants as much as they wanted to.

But wasn’t that the point?  Fantasy and escape? If you want “reality,” turn off your television and go read a Toni Morrison novel. Fifteen years later after the original series went off the air–post-George Floyd–it’s hard to justify rebooting a show about four privileged white women sipping overpriced cocktails.

However, this foursome remain so popular, there will always be money to be made checking in with them (even if one of them doesn’t return). So how do you put them back on television without appearing absolutely tone deaf? It’s quite a conundrum. They could add characters to the show who aren’t white and straight, but these new characters must be more than tokens or sidekicks. They must have plotlines of their own. So that’s what they did. The show drops three new main characters, all women of color (one of them identifies as non-binary) into the narrative just like that. (Maybe that’s the real meaning of the title!) There are also scenes that take place on the subway!  Carrie wears sneakers!  Miranda is drinking and thinking about dating women!  One of Charlotte’s daughters might be a “they”!

I admire the intention, but the whole thing feels like those “healthy options” that appear on the McDonalds menu after a particularly damaging article comes out about how much fat and sodium a Big Mac has. It gets the press off McDonalds back, but no one orders these items because the people who go to McDonalds want a Big Mac.

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