To put it bluntly, this fall’s crop of new network television shows has been disappointing. There are some standouts (Jane the Virgin, Cristela) and a few that are entertaining and promising (The Flash, How to Get Away With Murder), but for the most part, it’s kind of a mess: the average Scorpion, the aggressively terrible Stalker, the “How did this even get made?” The Mysteries of Laura, and so on. The real problem is that just about all of the new shows blend together, especially the sitcoms, because they all share generic obnoxiousness and some truly irritating characters.
If nothing else, 2014 will be known as the year of the schlubby, bearded, slacker. He has replaced the sassy black friend as the go-to sitcom sidekick. In Mulaney, he is Andre (Zack Pearlman), the somewhat creepy friend who sports an unruly ginger beard. He pops up sporadically throughout the show, delivering cringe-worthy dialogue, selling pot, and generally just being a pest. In A to Z, the bearded guy is Stu (Henry Zebrowski), who hangs around to say sitcom-y things to the lead characters and to crush on pretty women. He is entirely forgettable in the pilot, and even when he gets a semblance of a storyline, his purpose remains unclear. Tonight, NBC premieres Marry Me, which is full of screeching, irritating characters — even though the cast is very good — and, yes, one of them is a bearded, jaded friend who doesn’t add much to the ensemble. All three of these characters are basically interchangeable and equally obnoxious, which is a shame because the actors behind them are gifted comedians.
Bearded dudes in flannel aren’t the only bad characters in these new shows. Their counterparts are the stupid women of romantic comedies — the ones who can’t use phones, can’t talk to men, and whose lives consist of nonstop embarrassing situations that are supposed to make them endearing but instead make them resemble awkward children. Dana in Manhattan Love Story takes the cake for the worst new woman on television, someone who doesn’t know how to exist in the world, let alone how to enter a relationship. Then there are the frazzled women who try to have it all, like The Mysteries of Laura‘s titular character, who resorts to blackmailing teachers and drugging her children. These aren’t qualities that make anyone want to watch the show.
Stalker‘s Jack Larsen is reprehensible, objectifies his woman partner, and is a stalker himself. In Scorpion, all of the geniuses are socially awkward nerds who say uncomfortable and offensive things to the people around them — yet we’re supposed to root for them! There is certainly nothing wrong with “unlikable” characters; often, they’re among the best characters on television. But it’s a problem when television focuses too much on identical, lazy characters whose sheer interchangeability make it impossible for viewers to connect.