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Top 10 TV Shows That Wasted Great Concepts

by Lucas Hedinger
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Television has never been as good as it is today. The past few years have seen it rise to new heights, and it is safe to say that this golden age of TV has no shortage of creativity. But a good idea does not always mean a good product, and in the world of entertainment, nothing is more disappointing than wasted potential. A good idea being ruined by terrible execution is a way more infuriating occurrence than a show simply being bad. Let’s take a look at perfect examples of this phenomenon. Here are 10 bad TV shows that wasted great concepts:

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10 Revenge

ABC’s Revenge Trailer Season 1 – Pilot Promo HD

Revenge was a unique drama about a mysterious young woman moving to the Hamptons under a fake identity to avenge the murder of her father, who was killed in prison while serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. With an expertly crafted plan years in the making, the so-called Emily Thorne seeks out to slowly destroy the lives of anyone who played a part in her father’s demise.

The clever premise of ABC’s Revenge was inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count Of Monte Cristo. And while the first season of the show was admittedly fun and compelling, the following seasons very quickly devolved into an overly convoluted mess that widely overstayed its welcome. Revenge was eventually cancelled in 2015 at the close of its fourth season, but it was announced in November 2019 that a sequel series is currently in development at ABC.[1]

9 The Lying Game

“The Lying Game” (trailer)

Emma, a teenage foster child living a life of struggle and poverty in Arizona, finds her life turned completely upside down when she meets her identical twin Sutton, who she never knew existed. Sutton, who was adopted by a wealthy family, asks Emma to take her place back home for a few days, while she goes on a mission to uncover the truth behind the identity of their birth mother. Working hand in hand, the sisters quickly find out they are at the center of a strange and bloody conspiracy that could answer why they were separated at birth, and never told of each other’s existence.

The Lying Game had a premise for the ages. Had it been placed into the right hands, it could have easily become a modern classic of conspiracy thrillers. Unfortunately, what we ended up with was a surprisingly flat teen drama with poorly designed storylines, and a mishandled mystery constantly cornering itself into every possible cliché, all in a desperate attempt to keep itself interesting. Needless to say, people did not stay to find out what happened next, and The Lying Game was abruptly cancelled in the middle of its second season, along with all of its potential.[2]

8 The Secret Life Of The American Teenager

The Secret Life Of The American Teenager : Trailer

Okay, this one is a given. The Secret Life Of The American Teenager is now infamous for being one of the worst TV shows of all time. But, the basic concept behind it could have made for a heartfelt and genuine tale of teen pregnancy. In a world where shows like Skins, Euphoria or Sex Education exist, showing teenagers in a more realistic light to address serious topics, it is almost inexcusable that such a lazy and superficial series was allowed to go on for five seasons.

Aside from its very simple synopsis (15 year old girl finds out she is pregnant after her first time), not a single aspect of this show is even passably decent. The writing is awkward at best, the acting is painful to watch, and looking back, the only real achievement The Secret Life Of The American Teenager deserves to be credited for is the one of putting Shailene Woodley on the map. Even if years later, Woodley herself admitted to disliking both the show’s ideals and the character she portrayed in it, revealing that she was forced to complete the five seasons due to being “legally stuck” in her contract.[3]

7 Another Life

Another Life – Katee Sackhoff | Official Trailer | Netflix

An astronaut and her highly dysfunctional crew have to face horrific events as they leave on a dangerous mission to discover the origin of a giant artifact that mysteriously landed on Earth. Not a particularly out of the box concept, but one strong enough to create one hell of a space opera in the form of a television show. Those are pretty rare. But that is definitely not what we got.

Another Life is a perfect example of writers taking a great concept, only to dumb it down to something that is almost insulting to the audience’s intelligence. The storytelling is at an all time low here and has very few redeeming qualities. The series premiered on Netflix in the spring of 2019 and is already regarded as one of the worst shows the streaming service has ever produced. That said, Another Life somehow got renewed for a second season in February 2020. Go figure.[4]

6 Heroes

Heroes Trailer – Season One

A group of ordinary people who mysteriously develop superpowers after an eclipse, have to find each other and act as one to prevent an apocalyptic future from happening. As they navigate through their new reality, they find themselves hunted down by a secret organization known as the Company. A thrilling ride, right? Everything about this story sounds like a success begging to be made. And it was…at first.

While its first season is widely regarded as one of the greatest seasons of television ever made, Heroes was brutally affected by the infamous WGA writer strike of 2007. As a result, NBC was forced to condense the story of the second season in a lowered total of 11 episodes, instead of the planned 24. This last minute decision caused the show to become largely uneven, and it sadly never recovered from the hit. After that, Heroes remained a broken mess with a disorganized story, up until its ending after four seasons in 2010.

A sequel series titled Heroes Reborn attempted to reinvigorate the franchise in 2015, but it was cancelled after one season due to poor ratings, effectively ending the Heroes universe.[5]

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5 Riverdale

Riverdale | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

It is almost too easy to put Riverdale in this list. After all, no show in our time has ever been so successful due to audiences feeling some twisted sort of enjoyment in seeing how much of a train wreck it can keep on being. A show that is so shamelessly incompetent that a whole new genre of internet memes was born out of it. A show so awfully written, with plot lines that make so little sense, that its own cast members are on record, confessing in interviews that “the writers have no idea what they’re doing” and “are just randomly making things up as they go.” So yes, it is too easy to put Riverdale in this list. But here we are.

What makes it so infuriating is that, in theory, the concept of the plot (based on characters from Archie Comics) is simple and highly effective. Dark murder mysteries being solved by a group of teenagers who cannot keep themselves from putting their noses where it’s not supposed to be. How do you mess this up? Well, give the show to an unqualified show runner who could not tell a coherent story to save his life, and doesn’t respect the source material he is adapting in the slightest. As a result, you get the mythical disaster that is Riverdale.[6]

4 The I-Land

THE I-LAND Official Trailer (2019) Netflix Series

If you know The I-Land, then you know it is not only considered to be the worst Netflix series ever made, but it is also regarded as one of the worst TV shows of all time, period. The sci-fi series is so unbelievably horrible from its very first seconds, that many audience members believed it was meant to be a parody of what it was actually trying to be. But, the further the dive, the harder the truth: The I-Land is not a parody. It is just that bad.

That said, it is fair to admit that the idea behind it had a lot of merit. Ten seemingly random people wake up on a deserted island with no memories of who they are or where they came from. As they try to figure out how to survive as a group, we learn that they are actually all convicted criminals stuck inside of a simulation. The island was created to observe their behavior and see if they would rise above their past mistakes, or revert back to their worst selves. In other words, Prison Break and Lost meet Westworld.

But the concept is where the praise ends. Not a single thing about The I-Land works — the characters feel like they were written by 5 year-olds, and the acting bringing them to life is so profoundly bad that it turns the whole thing into an accidental comedy. The storytelling does not bother to have any sense of logic or structure whatsoever, but attempts a bunch of nonsensical twists to “surprise” the audience, all leading up to an absurd ending drowned in plot holes. Thankfully, it was announced soon after its release that The I-Land would not be returning for a second season.[7]

3 Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina | Teaser: Happy Birthday | Netflix

One of the most important aspects of any show or movie is the tone. A story can be great, but can still fall flat if the tone is not right. Such is the case for Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Netflix’s reinvention of the classic Archie Comics character, based on the graphic novel of the same name. The legendary witch was promised a grand return to form in this new adaptation, and the first look released in September 2018 confirmed an epic rebirth was coming.

The one minute teaser offered a particularly sinister take on Sabrina Spellman and her story. A dark horror ride diving into the satanic aspect of witchcraft in the town of Greendale. It was so brilliant that even the most skeptical fans immediately put their faith in the show. But, little did we know, the hype only reinforced the disappointment that ensued.

Instead of the terrifying witch story we were promised, what we got was a surprisingly dull teen drama with bland characters, awful dialog, and awkward writing with no real sense of direction. The confusing pacing creates a wonky tone that doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be campy and ridiculous or dark and gritty, making this disjointed incarnation of Sabrina feel like it was made for children, despite being way too violent to be made for children. And that is all without mentioning the boring subplots, random musical numbers and — oh, did we mention this show has the same show runner as Riverdale?

It is no surprise that Netflix cancelled Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina in July 2020, with producers announcing via Twitter that its fourth season (which started shooting prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) would be the show’s last.[8]

2 13 Reasons Why

13 REASONS WHY Trailer (2017)

It’s a very rare thing to see a show’s fall from grace come from its own arrogance. But Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has been a shining example when it comes to creators’ sense of self-importance becoming the drive behind a show with such heavy themes.

The first season had its merits. It wasn’t perfect, but there seemed to be a genuine attempt at telling a poignant story about a young girl who was in a great deal of pain. It deserved the benefit of the doubt. The narrative was also made engaging by a truly compelling plot device, in the form of tapes left behind by the deceased teenager. All the pieces were in place to make something great.

Mental health is obviously a very serious subject, and 13 Reasons Why has sadly become a spectacular demonstration on how not to address it. The show had no reason to exist beyond its first season, and the lengths it has gone to in an effort to capitalize on controversy (such as randomly turning itself into a who-done-it murder mystery in its third season) have shown its true colors. But despite the audience’s growing outrage, the people behind the show have repeatedly defended their sketchy antics. They seem to see themselves as white knights who bring the truth to the world, not realizing that they only offer a toxic vision of something that should be addressed with intelligence and delicacy.

13 Reasons Why finally ended its painful run in June 2020, at the close of a universally hated and criticized fourth season that threw any sense of values it had left out the window.[9]

1 Pretty Little Liars

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When Allison DiLaurentis mysteriously goes missing after a sleepover with her best friends, the small town of Rosewood is in a total state of shock. A year later, her friends Aria, Spencer, Emily and Hannah, suddenly start to receive strange messages from an unknown entity only known as “A”, who seems to know every single details about their lives.

As they race against the clock to find out who is now blackmailing them, the girls make shocking discoveries. Not only is the entire town of Rosewood full of people with something to hide, but it looks like Allison DiLaurentis was in reality a quite shady, manipulative, and even dangerous young woman. A young woman with a lot of secrets, a lot of power, and a lot of enemies.

The concept of Pretty Little Liars is simply perfect. It is almost impossible to figure out how such a flawless setup was turned into one of the most poorly written mysteries ever put to screen. Instead of focusing on the dark intrigue that could have been treated to the level of a Gone Girl or a True Detective, show runner Marlene King and her team of writers delivered a terribly thought out semi-thriller more interested in useless and never ending romantic storylines, within a gigantic cast of boring characters devoid of any sense of depth.

This stretched out mystery went on for seven seasons, thanks to a number of random subplots constantly taking over the story. The plot turned into an afterthought that only served as a cheap device to keep audiences watching for “answers” that would ultimately never come.

Pretty Little Liars is now infamous for its awful writing, especially after what is now considered to be one of the worst finales in television history. The backlash over the show’s botched ending was so vast that Marlene King herself had to do a 30-minute interview on Entertainment Tonight to attempt to tie up all of the plot holes and unanswered questions the finale miserably failed to address.

A sequel series titled Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists attempted to give new life to the franchise and regain the love of the fans in 2018. But it ultimately failed at doing so and was cancelled after its first season, effectively rendering the Pretty Little Liars universe dead.[10]

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About The Author: I write about the entertainment world.

fact checked by Jamie Frater