HBO is amazing. They have consistently aired the best original programming of any of the networks for the past twenty five years. And to think it all started in 1979 when HBO and Operation Prime Time combined to make “The Seekers,” a mini-series from the best selling book of the same name. It starred Randolph Mantooth, Delta Burke, Julie Gregg and scores of other people who can now be found at car wash openings. But from that cheesy beginning, HBO created an empire of shows that were universally loved like “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood,” “Sex and the City,”… I could go on and on but, unfortunately, they don’t pay me by the word.
Jealous programmers tried to take away from HBO’s success and prestige by saying that Home Box Office had it easy. They had nudity, profanity, not be as big a slave to the ratings, had abbreviated thirteen episode orders and didn’t have to program seven nights a week, but only when they felt like it. Such bitter people. If all it took was profanity, a short order and nudity to make a hit show then how come the Playboy Channel doesn’t consistently have a forty share? To put it another way, if that was all it took, then how come every show HBO airs isn’t a huge hit? Maybe because of all the other factors involved like writing, director, show premise, the casting, etc.
Someone once said that to truly enjoy the successes, one must learn from the failures and HBO is really good at this. That’s why after the failure of “John From Cincinnati” you didn’t have “Darren From Cincinnati.” Or after seeing “Luck” you didn’t see “Fluke” or “Good Luck.” HBO learns from its failures. Maybe “failure” is too strong a word. It’s just that most HBO shows get amazing reviews but sometimes we, the viewers, look at it and go “huh?” But after the initial “huh?” let’s take a moment to enjoy HBO’s most overrated shows of all time.
9. Lucky Louie (2006)
Louis C.K.‘s a genius. A modern day, less fat Orson Welles. He can do no wrong. Face it people, we’re almost at the point where Louis C.K. can defecate on a critic’s desk and the critic would give it four stars and call it “ground breaking” and “brilliant.” Back in 2006, we were not aware of his genius. If we were, then “Lucky Louie” would still be on the air.
Maybe it’s better we weren’t because “Lucky Louie” was one of the most dank, depressing sit-coms of all time. It was about a family whose head was barely above water. The apartment set was a tenement and Louis was almost always fighting with his wife, Pam Adlon. People got robbed. Everyone was pissed off with one another and after every episode you just felt sad. Most people don’t watch sit-coms to be sad. It they did, they’d all want to work on them. So, mercifully, this show was gone after fifteen episodes. On the positive side, we did get to see Louis C.K. naked. Genius.
8. John From Cincinnati (2007)
The first time I heard about this show, I had no idea what it was about. After watching the first episode, I still had no idea what was going on. Something about surfing and metaphysics. How competition taints the spirituality of surfing. I’m just grasping at straws here. If I didn’t know better I’d think that David Milch and Kem Nunn took HBO’s money, got stoned and said to each other, let’s make a show no one understands but they’ll be too embarrassed to admit that they don’t understand it. If so, well done.
In the end, the lead character’s name wasn’t named “John” and he wasn’t from Cincinnati. Seemed like the perfect way to go out.
7. Luck (2011)
Another David Milch entry but at least this one made sense. It was about horse racing and the denizens at the track in Santa Anita. The cast was terrific with Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte in lead roles. Hoffman played a mobster who had just gotten out of the old gray bar motel after a three year stint and is looking to take over the track and get revenge over those who sent him to jail.
One of the things that made the show look so realistic also lead to its demise. Instead of using stock footage of racing or staging races, the producers had actual horse races. This lead to two horses stumbling, falling down and having to be euthanized. PETA and the American Humane Association shut this show down, not bad ratings. I just hope the wrap gift wasn’t glue because that would be in questionable taste.
6. 1st & Ten (1984)
If you’re of a certain age you remember this show fondly for its nudity. When you’re no longer that certain age and you buy it because the entire run was on sale for $19.99 at Walgreen’s then watch it, it’s only then can you truly appreciate its sheer awfulness. It was about the California Bulls, a fictional team who had the first female owner in sports history played by Delta Burke.
Instead of a greek chorus, you had Fran Tarkenton as the announcer who would tee up important plot points. As I said earlier, every episode had gratuitous nudity and U.S.F.L. football footage to substitute for the Bulls. Occasionally, there would be a “serious” episode dealing with the dangers of steroids, domestic abuse and knowing when to stop playing. These were the unintentionally funniest episodes they did. If anyone wants to buy my “1st & Ten” DVD set, I’m entertaining offers.
5. Arli$$ (1996)
I know what you’re thinking (I have that power). How can a show that is so universally reviled be considered overrated? Well, someone must have liked it because it ran for seven seasons or Robert Wuhl has some really incriminating photographs of the president of HBO. It’s kind of hard to zero in on a single reason to despise this show. Could it be the unctuousness of star, Robert Wuhl, the cheesy athlete cameos, the unrealistic plots or the poor use of an outstanding supporting cast? It’s a pick-em.
On paper I should have loved this show. It’s about sports and I did like Robert Wuhl’s stand-up. But in the first episode when one of Arliss’s clients, a football player, needs money, Arliss suggests the player drop the ball at a crucial time. Yeah, that could happen. At least, they had the decency to put in some nudity. I’m sorry, how did this thing stay on the air for seven seasons?
4. Life’s Too Short (2011)
This one’s kind of a cheat because it originally aired in Great Britain but HBO picked up American rights, so they get the blame. It starred little person, Warwick Davis, who’s desperate to be a big star again but is trapped by demeaning parts and people treating him like crap. He’s also an agent for his fellow little people.
The series was executive produced by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Frankly, the whole thing just reeked of trying too hard. It’s fun in the beginning to see Warwick get constantly crapped on but after awhile it becomes mind numbing. Plus, Warwick isn’t a very nice person. He’s petty, selfish and undercuts his clients to give himself the best roles. In the end, it felt like “Extras” but without the heart. The one bright spot was Rosamund Hanson as the secretary who may have actually had some kind of brain damage.
3. Doll & Em (2013)
Another that first saw life in Great Britain. It focuses on movie star “Em,” played by Emily Mortimer and her ditzy friend and new personal assistant Dolly, played by Dolls Wells. They’re in Hollywood and Doll is just getting over a bad breakup. The whole show business satire angle feels so old and tired by this point and no new ground is trod. Yes, we know celebrities can be stupid and vapid and Hollywood is just plain silly.
This series is semi-improvised and that’s not good. There seems to be this universal truth that any improvisation is good. It isn’t. Especially when done by people who aren’t funny trying to be funny. You get a lot of repeating of story beats or variations on things the other character has just said and you get a lot of awkward pauses. Awkward pauses need a payoff (like in “The Comeback”) because on their own, they’re just not entertaining.
2. Hello Ladies (2013)
It’s not that this show is that bad, it’s just that it could’ve been so much better. Stephen Merchant has done some excellent work elsewhere but it’s always been with Ricky Gervais. Here he plays Stuart, a successful software designer who had an attractive actress living in his guest house. He thinks that because he is successful financially, that he will finally do better with woman. It doesn’t quite work out that way.
Most of the comedy comes out of Merchant’s bungled attempts to hook up with women. It could be amusing at times but mostly you saw what was coming a mile away. Yes, he’s an a**hole but a lovable a**hole. Not so.
1. The Mind of the Married Man (2001)
This was a show about a bunch of Chicago newspapermen in their forties and how they struggled to be married while just skirting the line of cheating. It just felt so mean. Most of the male characters are venal and incredibly selfish except for Taylor Nichols who was the sensitive moral one who, of course, gets made fun of by the others.
There were stories about not wanting your wife to see your browser history, about getting a topless massage but without the happy ending, how they couldn’t understand why a colleague would not want to be married to his beautiful wife, etc. You want to yell at the screen, “Grow up and stop whining!” I did but it didn’t do much good, much like this show.