1. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Why we were excited: Geek god Joss Whedon returned to TV with a series that expands on the Marvel universe he helped bring to life in The Avengers. The show focuses on covert law-enforcement organization S.H.I.E.L.D., which has been around since 1965 but rarely given its own spotlight.
Why we were disappointed: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is not. It’s not even Dollhouse. The characters are flat, the plots forgettable, and the budgetary constraints make the Marvel universe feel more limited than ever. Even Samuel L. Jackson looked bored doing his cameo as Nick Fury.
What the critics said: “The shame is that a series about a band of heroes trying to hunt down more potential heroes could be the perfect antidote to TV’s own overly dark cliché: the anti-hero. But instead it resists the call, too self-serious to be really goofy, and yet too fan-boyish to rescue even one hour of television from mediocrity.” - Willa Paskin, Slate
2. The Great Gatsby
Why we were excited: Visionary director Baz Luhrmann applied his unique style to an adaptation of what’s widely considered the greatest novel of all time. The always-great Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan starred as ill-fated lovers Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.
Why we were disappointed: Instead of condemning excess, the film was an exercise in overindulgence. The 3D added nothing but headaches and only served to distract from a story that never really needed this opulent a production. And somehow, it was also really boring.
What the critics said: “There may be worse movies this summer than The Great Gatsby, but there won’t be a more crushing disappointment.” - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
3. Star Trek Into Darkness
Why we were excited: The 2009 Star Trek was one of the rare reboots that managed to incorporate the original franchise. In doing so, it appealed to hardcore Trekkies and new fans, geeks and otherwise. The sequel promised much of the same — plus Benedict Cumberbatch!
Why we were disappointed: You know that iconic Star Trek character Benedict Cumberbatch supposedly wasn’t playing? Turns out he was. The big reveal caused massive eye rolls, proving both clunky and unnecessary. Also, why was Alice Eve in a bikini? No wonder diehard fans hated it.
What the critics said: “It’s hard to emerge from Into Darkness without a feeling of disappointment, even betrayal. Maybe it is too late to lament the militarization of Star Trek, but in his pursuit of blockbuster currency, Mr. Abrams has sacrificed a lot of its idiosyncrasy and, worse, the large-spirited humanism that sustained it.” - A.O. Scott, The New York Times
4. Under the Dome
Why we were excited: An underrated Stephen King novel got the small-screen treatment — with King’s approval! Brian K. Vaughan set out to bring his Lost sensibility to the mysteries of the Dome, dreaming up an ending that King said he wished he’d thought of himself.
Why we were disappointed: Everything that made Lost an occasional slog was on display in the first season of Under the Dome, including silly reveals that only asked more questions, none of which felt worth answering. And despite a solid cast, the acting was weak.
What the critics said: “Vaughan, writing and directing these lines, is hauling the Stephen King brand into risky territory. The risk is boredom — the half-puzzled, half-irritated sort of boredom elicited by later seasons of Lost.” - Troy Patterson, Slate
Why we were excited: Writer-director Neill Blomkamp proved himself to be adept at socially-conscious sci-fi with 2009’s District 9. Elysium was another film in the same vein, this time looking at the class struggle between the elites on Elysium and the suffering poor on an overpopulated Earth.
Why we were disappointed: A great idea suffered from terrible execution, with a particularly miserable third act. The social message, however admirable, was heavy-handed in the worst way. Also, um, what the hell was going on with Jodie Foster’s accent?
What the critics said: “District 9 managed a graceful, entertaining fusion of political satire, some sensational monster CGI and a wry narrative take on interspecies friendship. Elysium, for all its visual and allegorical density, could use the input of that gifted filmmaker. Somebody, get Neill Blomkamp to save Neill Blomkamp.” - Richard Corliss, Time
6. The Following
Why we were excited: Kevin Bacon made the jump to small-screen with a serial killer drama that looked sharp, twisted, and genuinely frightening. The series swore not to hold back in terms of violence, making it a heavy show that felt like an impressive choice for network television.
Why we were disappointed: Yes, it was violent, but it was also really, really dumb. Everyone on the show — particularly absurdly incompetent FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Bacon) — made consistently awful choices that had viewers screaming at their TVs. Or just changing the channel to something that made sense.
What the critics said: “The Following’s fundamental problem is neither its gore nor its brutality; it’s the display of arrogance. Tangled up in easily avoidable clichés of the genre, this is a show that is entirely too pleased with itself and its pretentious concept.” - Hank Stuever, Washington Post
7. Only God Forgives
Why we were excited: Ryan Gosling! And not just Ryan Gosling, but Ryan Gosling paired with director Nicolas Winding Refn, who made 2011’s indie hit Drive. The actor and director’s second collaboration was supposed to be as stylized and affecting as the first.
Why we were disappointed: Stylized, yes, but to what effect? While Only God Forgives was definitely in line with the director’s aesthetic, there was no method to the madness. And in a film that gratuitously violent, audiences needed something more to latch onto.
What the critics said: “The Danish filmmaker’s latest theater of the macabre is brutal, bloody, saturated with revenge, sex and death, yet stunningly devoid of meaning, purpose, emotion or decent lighting.” - Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
Why we were excited: Dexter had its ups and downs, but Season 7 was a major step in the right direction and ended on a high note. With enough time to plan a great final arc for the serial killer antihero, the writers would be able to give Dexter the ending it deserved.
Why we were disappointed: Instead they turned him into a lumberjack. Seriously. The series finale was shockingly bad — Deb deserved so much better, and so did we — but the season as a whole was a sloppy mess. Did I mention he became a lumberjack?
What the critics said: “Dexter had been running on creative fumes the past few seasons, and Sunday night’s series finale — despite its emotional flourishes — merely underscored that this was a series well past its expiration date.” - Brian Lowry, Variety
9. The World’s End
Why we were excited: Following the hilarious Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), Edgar Wright completed his Cornetto trilogy with yet another tale of normal blokes against unspeakable odds, which is what he does best. (In this case, evil robots from outer space.)
Why we were disappointed: It wasn’t a disaster, by any means, but compared to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End felt watered-down. The characters weren’t engaging enough to care about, and the pacing was all off, lacking the excitement of the preceding films.
What the critics said: “As a film whose central theme emphasizes the dangers of living in the past, Wright, Pegg and Frost become fatally distracted by nostalgia, eventually paying too much homage to previous classics — especially their own — to create another film that deserves to stand alongside them.” - Todd Gilchrist, The Playlist
Why we were excited: In its first season, Homeland was easily TV’s most exciting new drama, combining thrills with social commentary and dynamic performances. Even with a shaky second season, there was too much goodwill to approach Season 3 with anything less than an open mind.
Why we were disappointed: That turned out to be a huge mistake. Season 3 has been a mess from start to finish, with occasional moments of quality only serving to underline how shoddy everything else is. Carrie is worse at her job than ever, Saul is insufferable, and Brody’s finally doing something long after we stopped caring.
What the critics said: “This season of Homeland has kind of been a drag thus far. The bounty of tortured characters has removed the initial thrill of the show’s radical dramatization of conflicts within the CIA.” - Youyoung Lee and Aaron Timms, Huffington Post
11. Monsters University
Why we were excited: Because it was Pixar, and when has Pixar let us down? Not to mention the fact that the characters were familiar — after 12 years without Monsters, Inc.’s Mike and Sulley, audiences would finally be reunited with cinema’s snuggliest monsters in this college-set prequel.
Why we were disappointed: Meh. Turns out Pixar can be just OK. (See also: Cars 2.) While Monsters University had its moments, it just wasn’t the kind of instant classic you hope for when you go to see a Pixar film. And despite the college atmosphere, it didn’t offer much for grown-ups.
What the critics said: “A humdrum straight line of a film, Monsters University never surprises, goes off in unexpected directions or throws you for a loop in the manner of the best Pixar stories.” - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
12. The Fifth Estate
Why we were excited: The story of WikiLeaks and its controversial founder Julian Assange was long overdue for the film treatment, which is why The Fifth Estate generated so much buzz from the get-go. Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic subject was an inspired choice.
Why we were disappointed: It refused to take a side at all, instead opting to be aggressively neutral. The film ended up being merely perfunctory because it never really had a point to make. With such a contentious real-life focus, why strive so hard to be inoffensive?
What the critics said: “What a letdown it is to see this spellbinding, era-defining story tamed into such stodgy submission.” - Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
13. New Girl
Why we were excited: In its first two seasons, New Girl was a fairly consistent delight, getting better as it went along. Season 2 brought Nick and Jess together — fairly soon for a will-they-or-won’t-they sitcom romance! — and suggested new storylines exploring their relationship.
Why we were disappointed: Something happened between seasons, because Season 3 has seen a major drop in quality, with weak storytelling and writing. Bringing back Coach felt like a good thing (everyone loves Damon Wayans, Jr.), but none of the pieces are coming together.
What the critics said: “Something just feels off about this season and it’s not bad, but it’s not the shiny gem that I look forward to every week, either. I think this might be what mediocrity feels like and I don’t like it.” - MaryAnn Sleasman, TV.com
14. Man of Steel
Why we were excited: That trailer. After the success of The Dark Knight trilogy — and 2006’s much maligned Superman Returns — an exciting new take on the Superman story felt necessary. And director Zack Snyder, who brought us the expansive Watchmen, definitely had a vision.
Why we were disappointed: Unfortunately, that vision was not a good one. Man of Steel tried to be gritty, something that hardly meshes with the character of Superman. The wanton destruction of Metropolis made the movie something of a bummer — not to mention Superman’s choice to (spoiler alert) kill.
What the critics said: “Working from a wooden script by Batman-franchise freeloader David S. Goyer, Snyder somehow makes it even stiffer. Every opportunity for humor, compassion or plausible responses to otherworldly phenomena is buried beneath product placements and CGI special effects.” - Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
15. Low Winter Sun
Why we were excited: With Breaking Bad ending, we needed a new AMC series to latch onto. Low Winter Sun felt like a safe bet: It had complicated characters in morally compromising situations, the kind of thing the channel has come to be known for.
Why we were disappointed: It wasn’t Breaking Bad — not by a long-shot. In fact, many viewers abandoned ship halfway through the drab pilot episode. AMC’s incessant attempts to promote the show only made matters worse, turning a forgettable drama into a punch line.
What the critics said: “If the show were badly directed, photographed, edited, and acted, at least you could have fun laughing at it, but everyone’s working so hard to put across unremarkable material that the best one can manage is a kind of exhausted empathy.” - Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Magazine
16. The Counselor
Why we were excited: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz in a film directed by Ridley Scott and written by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy. How could anyone not be excited for The Counselor, which looked like a slick, darkly comedic thriller?
Why we were disappointed: It was really, really overwritten, and while that might sometimes work on the page, it didn’t quite translate to screen. Michael Fassbender spoke with an unspeakably bad Texas accent, and Cameron Diaz had sex with a car. The whole thing was a head-scratching disaster.
What the critics said: “If it’s not objectively the worst film ever made — because that’s an impossible standard — it might be the worst of all devil’s-candy films, the worst ever made by people this talented.” - Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
17. Upstream Color
Why we were excited: Writer-director Shane Carruth has a knack for complicated, challenging films. Primer, his highly realistic take on time travel, was often very difficult to follow but ultimately rewarding. Upstream Color’s mysterious premise suggested much of the same.
Why we were disappointed: It wasn’t just challenging — it was nearly indecipherable. To be fair, many critics adored Upstream Color, and good on them for making sense of it all. For the rest of us, it was a nonsensical journey with a few interesting moments that never came together.
What the critics said: “No one is going to explain any of this for you — and the slightly snobby implication of Upstream Color is that explanations are for suckers.” - Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
18. Super Fun Night
Why we were excited: Rebel Wilson is a comic gem, and everyone loves her. It’s no wonder why — she shone in films like Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, stealing scene after scene from more established stars. The news that she was getting her own starring vehicle was greeted with cheers.
Why we were disappointed: Those cheers were soon followed by jeers, because Super Fun Night just isn’t funny. It’s great that Wilson’s Kimmie doesn’t look like other women on TV, but so many of the jokes rely on her weight for cheap laughter. And why did she opt for a (bad) American accent?
What the critics said: “Super Fun Night isn’t just bad, it’s infuriatingly bad, given Wilson’s likability, game energy and overall potential as a TV personality. It’s as if the whole goal of the pilot is to get viewers to dislike every single character and want nothing to do with them ever again.” - Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post
Why we were excited: A documentary about a reclusive literary icon was an exciting prospect — we had so much to learn about him. And Salinger promised new revelations, including a twist that would leave audiences floored. It was so staggering, critics were advised not to spill the beans.
Why we were disappointed: The film didn’t really say much at all. It relied on bad clichés and reenactments to offer an ultimately limited and self-indulgent version of Salinger. Oh, and that big reveal? There were unpublished works out there. Which would be interesting if we could actually read them.
What the critics said: “[Salinger] would be similarly justified in seeing Salinger — both the cheap, chintzy film and the headlines it has provoked —as one more aggravation he didn’t need. Salinger thinks it’s big, important news, but it’s barely a footnote.” - Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve
Why we were excited: OK, Under the Dome left us cold, but maybe CBS’ next attempt at a limited series would be better. And Hostages looked like fun, if not high art, with an exciting premise and some serious talent, including Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott.
Why we were disappointed: After a decent start, Hostages quickly turned into an unwatchable bore, foregoing interesting twists for absurd developments. There’s little suspense left, because no matter how high the stakes are, the whole enterprise is too silly to be taken seriously.
What the critics said: “I do not care what happens to any of these people, so why do I want to watch them stuck in this claustrophobic tension dealing with contrived situations that will prolong it over a season?” - Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
21. Kick-Ass 2
Why we were excited: The first Kick-Ass was a pleasant surprise for fans of the comic book and newbies alike. Or perhaps “pleasant” is the wrong word — it was dark and violent, but also deeply ironic. The sequel turned off co-star Jim Carrey, which was actually kind of exciting.
Why we were disappointed: Jim Carrey was right. It was violent for the sake of being violent, full of sound and fury, signifying — well, signifying that the filmmakers were willing to do a complete rehash of the original film without any of the nuances that made Kick-Ass worthwhile.
What the critics said: “Kick-Ass 2 is an uninspired retread. All too often it plays like a Comic-Con gone insane, with costumed do-gooders taking on costumed criminals in gratuitously vicious battles.” - Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times
22. The Walking Dead
Why we were excited: For all its hits and misses, The Walking Dead is still trudging along, and Season 4 felt like a fresh start. We were done with Woodbury and ready to move forward with a new chapter in the saga, one that would explore the survivors’ attempt at normalcy.
Why we were disappointed: Wait, haven’t we been here before? The Walking Dead is possibly the most repetitive show on television. Yes, it can occasionally shock, but the same lessons are learned over and over again. This season has alternated between predictable surprises and a needlessly slow narrative.
What the critics said: “What is there to talk about anymore, besides which main character will be the next to go? Apocalyptic despair is a required element of all zombie narratives, I don’t argue with that. But momentum is necessary to all television dramas, and too often I find myself making wish lists for The Walking Dead instead of writing reviews of it.” - Hank Stuever, The Washington Post
23. Pacific Rim
Why we were excited: Colossal monsters! Giant robots! Guillermo del Toro! For those who grew up as fans of anime and Kaijus (those big-ass monsters), Pacific Rim seemed too good to be true. Finally an acclaimed genre director was poised to tackle a larger-than-life story.
Why we were disappointed: Yeah, yeah, monsters and robots — and not a whole lot else, save some really odd character moments that felt lazily cobbled together. And while the effects were often breathtaking, there was mostly just too much going on, to the extent that you rarely got a clear shot of who was fighting.
What the critics said: “If this is the best we can do in terms of movies — if something like this can speak to the soul of audiences — maybe we should just turn over the cameras and the equipment to the alien dinosaurs and see what they come up with.” - Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle