The Best and Worst of Summer TV

From the addictive ("Stranger Things") to the idiotic (Ryan Lochte), the summer of '16 has certainly left an impression

With the official start of the fall TV season arriving on September 19, now is the time for a recap of summer’s biggest hits and misses. 

Naturally, the top draw in the ratings—by a landslide—was The 2016 Rio Olympics. Airing the games across NBCUniversal, and the NBC Sports app was a respectable step forward for NBCU. But what should have been a bona fide winner was marred by Ryan Lochte’s "over-exaggeration" of being robbed at gunpoint in Rio. Lochte’s insult to the host country did little, if anything, to damper the ratings. But it remains to be seen whether audiences will vote to keep him on "Dancing with the Stars" this fall. Judging by this week’s premiere episode, in which the heckling was loud and two protestors stormed the stage, ABC may be in for more controversy than it bargained for.

Sorry – where was I? Right. Summer. Here are my picks for the four best and the four worst shows (or personalities) this summer. It was hard to narrow down such a wide field, particularly among the clunkers. So please chime in below with your own picks.


"Stranger Things" (Netflix)
Set in the 1980s in a small Indiana town, this combination of science fiction and pure old-fashioned horror, complete with Wynona Ryder in her first regularly scheduled TV role, followed the disappearance of a young boy and the telekinetic girl who helps his friends search for him. Fascinating and bizarre, coupled with a "Lost" feel, "Stranger Things" was the most satisfying and addictive scripted drama both all summer and all year. 

"America’s Got Talent" (NBC)
It is no surprise that "America’s Got Talent" once again topped the summer in the traditional ratings among all regularly scheduled series. It has done that every season since debuting on NBC in 2006. But what really set this season apart was the arrival of a kinder and gentler Simon Cowell, who had better chemistry with co-judges Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel than the man he replaced, Howard Stern. Sorry Mr. Stern. Maybe you are not the "king" of this media.

"Orange is the New Black" (Netflix)
This show has always been about the diverse characters populating Litchfield Penitentiary. So when fan-favorite Poussey Washington (Samira Denise Wiley) was accidentally suffocated by a prison guard (Alan Aisenberg) at the end of season four, after she’d finally found love with Soso (Kimiko Glenn), it felt like losing a true friend. The image of fellow inmate Taystee (Tasha Jefferson) dropping to the ground beside her corpse still makes me teary-eyed.

ABC Game Show Revivals
Just the thought of Alec Baldwin stepping in for Gene Rayburn as host of the "Match Game" revival was initially revolting. But this version of the show is actually not half bad, and the same could be said for revivals of "The $100,000 Pyramid" and "To Tell the Truth." Coupled with the return of "Celebrity Family Feud," these unlikely winners helped ABC break through the typical summer monotony. Even so, I still fear that ABC (or anyone else) will decide to tackle a new version of "The Hollywood Squares." Sometimes it is still better to leave well enough alone.


"Big Brother" (CBS)
The ultimate summer guilty pleasure, CBS’ "Big Brother" attracted no shortage of demo-friendly viewers eager to see who would be evicted next. But giving the jury members two chances to return to the show (in an obvious attempt to get bad-boy Paulie Calafiore back into the house a second time) felt just plain desperate. And it only made this diehard fan feel like he wasted the entire season watching. 

As for this fall’s digital edition of "Big Brother" on CBS All Access, honestly—we need a break!

Every New Scripted Series on Network and Cable
It’s easy to blame the Olympics for the dismal ratings, not to mention total lack of buzz, that greeted the new crop of scripted series on TV this summer. But the truth is that the games did not start until August 5, long after many of these shows started to stink. So maybe we should blame the glut of original content now competing for eyeballs across all platforms. : Among the flood of June starters—"BrainDead" and "American Gothic" on CBS, "Animal Kingdom" on TNT, "Queen of the South" on USA, and "Guilt" and "Dead of Summer" on Freeform—not one was of interest to me (or anyone else, judging by the numbers).

Chad Johnson of "The Bachelorette"
Let me guess. You are not sure who Chad Johnson is. Maybe that’s why this reality contestant, who bullied his way through the summer season of ABC’s "The Bachelorette," is on this list. Even on reality TV, acting like a complete schmuck a la Survivor’s Jon Dalton ("Jonny Fairplay") to get attention does not always extend your proverbial 15 minutes.

"So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox)
Once a summer staple, chances are the average TV viewer does not even know Fox’s "So You Think You Can Dance" is still on the air. And theming it "The Next Generation," featuring contestants ages 8 to 13, seemed like a desperate attempt to keep it alive. After 13 seasons, it is time for "So You Think You Can Dance" to take a much-needed rest.


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