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Critical Dissonance / Live-Action TV

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  • A Little Late With Lilly Singh has a perfect 100% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes - and a pitiful 21% audience score, with a similar 2.0/10 on IMDB.
  • The third season of American Horror Story, Coven, is usually ranked among the worst by most professional critics and reviewers. However, the season has easily the most vocal and passionate fanbase of any season (if not necessarily the biggest), as a quick perusal of places like Tumblr and Vine will indicate.
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  • Big Brother is one of the biggest TV phenomena and most successful formats in the world, yet you won’t find any critic who’ll say anything good about it. It’s the show that makes George Orwell turn in his grave and turned voyeurism and reality TV into a leading genre.
  • Bill Nye Saves the World was well received by critics with a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, but audience reception has been more negative due to content perceived as politicized and preachy, with a 26% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 3.4 rating on IMDB.
  • Chuck was a critical darling and perennial contender in many viewers’ choice awards categories. Unfortunately, it received only a cult following and ratings dwindled throughout its five-season run in what many fans viewed as a bizarre combination of Saved By The Network and Screwed by the Network.
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  • dads received almost universally negative reviews from critics (15 on Metacritic), though audiences responded more positively (5.4 rating on IMDb). That did not keep it from dying after its first season ended.
  • Disjointed: Critics were at best neutral to the show, and a lot thought of it negatively. The audiences, however found it a bit better, but it was still not enough and the series as cancelled within its sole season.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The series is a very Long Runner (since the 1960s and still going!), and for a very long time (home video not having been invented) there was simply no way to find out the quality of stories you had missed (due to not having been born when they aired) save for: (1) buying one of the heavily altered and variable-in-quality Target novelisations, or (2) buying a book written by someone who had seen the episode in question summarising what it was about and, more importantly, saying whether or not it was good. Both these methods led to serious distortions of truth in the fandom.
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    • 1983's Milestone Celebration tome Doctor Who: A Celebration contained reviews of every story, which in some cases had to be based on guesswork (looking at the general quality of actors playing guest stars, etc.). These were taken as gospel by people who had never actually seen the stories, hence "The Gunfighters"’ reputation as an absolute disaster and "The Celestial Toymaker"’s reputation as a classic — there is an anecdote about a woman who stood up at a Who-con to announce that the two aliens she definitely didn’t want to see return were the Zarbi and the Gunfighters! Now that all the surviving footage is widely available thanks to the Internet and DVDs, fans nowadays (such as Expanded Universe and new series writer Paul Cornell) tend to find that “The Gunfighters” is a clever, self-referential, funny comedy episode and “The Celestial Toymaker” is slow-paced, badly plotted, racist garbage — but “The Celestial Toymaker” had the benefit of a quality actor (Michael Gough) playing the villain and a quirky premise, while “The Gunfighters” had no-names and a very straightforward "the Doctor in the Wild West" premise.
    • The book also panned comedy episodes simply because they were comedic and the author felt they had no place in a serious science-fiction show, causing comedy episodes to fall out of fashion amongst the fanbase for a while. Many of these are now extremely popular with the modern fandom, in part because the highly popular revival series incorporates strong elements of a sitcom.
    • “The Deadly Assassin” (today placed somewhere between "really good" and "best Tom Baker story ever") got a negative contemporary review in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s fanzine, which focused overwhelmingly on They Changed It, Now It Sucks! outrage about Robert Holmes’ depictions of Time Lord society and the continuity problems, only mentioning that the plot, acting, costuming, storytelling and set design were all good as a casual aside. To this day, the review is mocked by Who fans who share it around as a reminder that fanboy criticism is usually garbage and that fandom is always terrible.
    • Professional reviewers loved Series 2's Lower-Deck Episode “Love & Monsters”, but the fanbase does not — it's probably the least-popular episode of the revival to date.
    • The Twelfth Doctor era (Series 8-10) is this for the revival. The bulk of professional critics, as well as hardcore fans (especially those well-versed in the classic series), are favorably disposed to Peter Capaldi's tenure as the Doctor. But it wasn't nearly as popular with mainstream viewers as Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven’s (Matt Smith) tenures were, with the revival's ratings bottoming out in the U.K. as Series 10 was wrapping up. Much of this stemmed from Twelve being a Creepy Good/Dark Is Not Evil protagonist with No Social Skills and a grumpy streak played by a noticeably older actor; audiences weren't patient enough to follow his gradual, positive Character Development. Ten and Eleven were youthful, amiable, and Official Cosplay Gear and T-shirt Catchphrase-ready from the start; merchandise sales plunged with Twelve's first season because he wasn't any of those things and never became such (he became empathetic and courageous, rather). On an episode by episode basis, “Kill the Moon” seems to be a Broken Base for fans, but critics loved it.
      • That said, this can be considered a Downplayed Trope, as even on nights when the Capaldi era was hitting record lows, it was still the most watched programme of the day across all channels, suggesting that it was less of a decline in the popularity of Doctor Who, but rather a decline in British television as a whole.
    • Series 11 is probably the biggest example so far. While the amount of fans (especially those of the alt-right) unhappy about the Doctor's regeneration into a woman was pretty much inevitable, even a large portion of the fanbase who were fine about the gender change were not happy about the resulting episodes. This was mainly due to accusations of it being turned into a PC moral-over-story premise with shots at political targets which were viewed as clichénote , as well as complaints about the villains getting the Karma Houdini treatment as well as the finale being viewed as underwhelming. As for professional reviewers? They loved it just as much as the earlier series (due to its accuracy on historical events, Bradley Walsh's emotional performance as Graham, and an overall feel reminiscent of the classic series), and the first episode of the series attracted some of the highest ratings the revival ever had. This is best demonstrated by its Rotten Tomatoes rating, which has a 91% approval rating from critic ratings but 21% (a 70% difference) from user ratings. Of course this isn't helped by the fact that analysis of the numbers involved in the reviews suggest that a lot of people created accounts simply to swamp Series 11 with negative reviews, similar to what happened to the film "Captain Marvel" the following year.
  • When ER premiered, reviews, while not poor, were not particularly flattering, deeming its storylines hackneyed. Most critics deemed its competitor Chicago Hope the better show and predicted that it would win the ratings battle. But ER was a smash hit, forcing Hope to change its time slot very quickly in the hopes of surviving. Today, ER is the one more people remember, for better or worse.
  • Joss Whedon’s Firefly was met with generally positive reviews, but (1) the professionals didn’t write nearly as glowingly about it as fans did, and (2) thanks to heavy doses of Executive Meddling and Screwed by the Network, it couldn’t find an audience until after its cancellation.
  • Hard though it may be to believe now, Friends wasn’t exactly a critical darling during its run. While the show got generally good reviews, it never garnered the acclaim of other ’90s NBC sitcoms like Seinfeld, Frasier, or even NewsRadio. Fans of Seinfeld in particular hated it, dismissing it as lightweight fluff versus Seinfeld's more cynical and experimental humor, with a bitter Fandom Rivalry developing between the two shows. Nevertheless, it was a pop-culture phenomenon and is, to this day, still one of the most fondly remembered shows of its era. Even many of the critics who dismissed the show during its run now rank it as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, simply for its enormous popularity, cultural impact, and a great cast.
  • Full House and many other “T.G.I.F.” family sitcoms had a large amount of this. Critics despised Full House, yet it was a ratings smash, and kicked off the Olsen twins’ career (which also had Critical Dissonance — Roger Ebert once stated that they had no talents any normal person could have).
    • Its Sequel Series Fuller House got the same reaction. Critics hated it, while the audience loved it. It was popular enough that a second season was announced a few days after the show premiered on Netflix.
  • Game of Thrones Season 5 had high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, along with winning numerous Emmy Awards. However it was widely hated by the fandom, largely due to massive changes from the source material. These include a very controversial scene where Sansa is raped by Ramsay which happens to another character in the books, Stannis' Northern storyline from the books getting completely derailed by contrived writing and Stannis' army getting defeated then him being ignominiously killed off-screen by Brienne in a way that made her The Scrappy to a lot of viewers, and the widely hated Dorne storyline, which was hated due to poor dialogue and contrived writing, and as Myrcella dies anyway it ends up feeling basically pointless.
  • Game shows have long been anethema to TV critics. The Price Is Right has been at the top of critical hated lists since it first premiered in 1956, as they saw it as the end of civilization as we know it. The CBS edition, described by Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker as "a vulgar orgy of crass consumerism," continues its merry way to this day. Its myriad Emmy wins certainly don't hurt.
  • Critics like HBO’s Girls, but it polarizes Jim and Jane Public. The show receives extensive coverage with lengthy reviews and feature articles on many TV review websites, such as The AV Club, to the point where they often cite Girls in reviews for other shows. Despite this, the highest-rated episode got just upwards of one million viewers, which is fewer than even NBC’s lowest-rated show. It doesn’t help that many Americans don’t subscribe to its host channel.
  • Critics adored Happy Endings, but that didn’t translate into a ratings success. ABC started their own “Save the Show” campaign; that may or not be a good thing.
  • The fifth-season How I Met Your Mother episode “The Rough Patch” exemplifies this on a single-episode scale. It was the culmination of the writers’ attempts to break up Robin and Barney throughout the entire season after the entire fourth season had been spent getting them together. Critics lauded the episode for the exaggeration by future Ted’s narration in the form of Barney’s fat suit and Robin’s haggard appearance. This undid over a season’s worth of Character Development for Barney and broke up what many fans considered the Fan-Preferred Couple because the writers wanted to prove that the relationship wouldn’t work, despite the chemistry Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris displayed.
  • I’ll Fly Away was a massive critical darling, winning two 1992 Emmy Awardsnote  and 23 nominations in total, three Humanitas Prizes, two Golden Globe Awards, two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, and a Peabody Award. However, it had terrible ratings, and it was canceled by NBC in 1993, despite widespread protests by critics and viewer organizations. Most seem to blame it on its Audience-Alienating Premise — it was about a small Southern town in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was also treated poorly by NBC during its run; writer and executive producer David Chase (who went on to create The Sopranos) noted that the network advertised the show using Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. After the program’s cancellation, a two-hour movie, I’ll Fly Away: Then and Now, was produced, in order to resolve dangling storylines from Season 2 and provide the series with a true finale. The movie aired on October 11, 1993 … on PBS.
    David Chase: “If I’d had a gun, I would have killed somebody. What fucking wonderful world? Ku Klux Klan, Mississippi civil rights workers being murdered, housewives from Detroit being gunned down in their car, black kids being lynched? They were trying to sell a series about human pain as a cute story about some cute little boy and his nanny. And it fucking made me want to puke.”
  • Important Things with Demetri Martin got poor ratings and was cancelled after two very short seasons, yet critics were very fond of it.
  • The Jerry Springer Show had very high ratings in the 1990s, but only among people who liked trash television, which happened to be the majority of daytime-TV viewers. Critics have frequently ranked it among the worst TV shows ever put on air.
  • Jessie on Disney Channel is almost universally panned by critics as not just being one of the worst TV shows in Disney Channel’s history, but also one of the worst tween/teen-marketed shows in history period. It’s gotten to the point where it’s become almost a go-to punching bag for critics looking to highlight the awful state of tween/teen sitcoms or how far Disney Channel has fallen from its golden days. Yet it was one of the highest-rated and most renewed shows on the network when it ran.
  • Last Man Standing got mostly negative reviews: critics argued the show didn’t bring anything new to the table and had too much of a nineties feel compared to modern sitcoms. However, the show has maintained a steady audience, with its fans feeling the show is a great throwback to the old sitcom format.
  • The final episode of Lost received mixed, but mostly positive, reviews from critics, and various polls on fandom sites suggest most hardcore fans were at least satisfied with the conclusion. Mainstream/casual audiences loathed the episode, though, and within three years, Lost’s "confusing" ending became a pop-cultural punchline. Mere mention of the show or its co-creators, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, in an Internet article attracts hordes of hateful ex-fans in the comments section.
  • The Netflix original series Marco Polo was trashed by critics, but nearly the entire audience loved it (past the first few episodes at least). Respectively, they gave the show scores of 30% and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 63% difference.
  • From the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Fist (2017) was absolutely mauled by critics before its general release. The critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is 17%, while Metacritic lists nine negative reviews, ten mixed reviews, and zero positive reviews. Yet the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 87%, and the IMDB rating is 8.2. Part of the reason for this is that the show has a Slow-Paced Beginning that lasts the first six episodes, and those were the only ones critics had access to when they wrote their reviews.
    • The Punisher (2017) had a polarizing reaction from critics, with some liking it and others hating it, with the biggest points of contention being its pacing, particularly in the first half of the season, and the way it tackles issues like gun control which came off as Anvilicious to many reviewers, with the show just barely received a "Fresh" certification at a low 62% on Rotten Tomatoes. Casual viewers have received the show much more warmly and have found it to be one of Marvel's best TV shows yet, with the Audience Score getting a 94%.
  • The Masked Singer is a downplayed example, as audience reactions tended to be rather split on whether it was enjoyable or not; critics, of course, were generally negative about it. Either way, it proved to be an unexpected hit in the ratings, indicating that it has a significant viewer base.
  • The comedy Mrs. Brown's Boys was slated by critics, who hate its bawdy humour, yet is very popular with the viewing public.
  • Mulaney was at one point the “#1 Comedy” despite ratings for the show ranging at 3 out of 10 on average.
  • Entertainment journalists really seem to hate My Kitchen Rules, and the episode recap articles posted on the Sydney Morning Herald almost invariably contain scathing jibes at the show’s format, throwing around unpleasant terms to describe the judges and contestants’ words and actions. Despite these critiques, the show continues to rank #1 in Australia in terms of viewing numbers.
    • The trope also occurs in-universe during the Fifth Redemption round of Season 6, with Kat and Andre’s ile flottante dessert. Both Pete and Manu adore the dish, but none of the other teams liked it, as they claim that it was too sweet and sugary.
  • The Orville met a chilly critical reception during its first season, largely because many critics expecting a parody of Star Trek (as one might expect from the show's creator and star Seth MacFarlane) instead got a mostly affectionate Genre Throwback, albeit with a humorous streak... something that caused Trekkers, by and large, to embrace the show, with many finding it more faithful to the spirit of The Original Series than many modern, Darker and Edgier Star Trek shows like Voyager, Enterprise, and the concurrently running Discovery (itself mentioned below). To wit, while The Orville's season one critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes is only 21%, its average audience score is 93%, and it became one of Fox's biggest hits when it debuted (no small feat given its large budget). Critics warmed up to it by the second season, fortunately, having by that point recognized it for the more character-driven sci-fi dramedy that it actually was.
  • Critics absolutely hated Punky Brewster, which ostensibly was created for kids. But that didn’t stop it from getting a loyal young fanbase, a four-season run (two on NBC, two in first-run syndication), a Saturday-morning cartoon edition, and a 2013 webcomic.
  • The Netflix series Richie Rich has been called the worst show in history with its super-low production values and sometimes blatantly unpolished final release (the ninth episode of the first season has audio sync issues). Yet it maintained stable ratings and was able to win a second season (though it may have been planned from the start).
  • Sam & Cat was panned by critics, even those friendlier towards this type of genre, calling it a pale imitation of iCarly and Victorious from which it was spun off. Yet it also gained very high ratings, in some cases higher ratings than its parent shows. Even though it was canceled after only one season, this was due less to failing ratings/reviews than to still-not-fully-disclosed backstage issues.
  • Saved by the Bell was mostly trashed by critics during its heyday, yet went on to become one of the most popular kid shows of the early ’90s. The show’s success was largely because, until then, Saturday-morning television was dominated mostly by cartoons and other shows aimed at young children, and many families didn’t yet have cable. Nonetheless, the series is fondly remembered by those who watched it in the early ’90s, albeit mostly for its Narm Charm.
  • Single Ladies on VH1 is generally critically reviled, but is generally well-received by female audiences. It also has some appeal to male viewers thanks to the cast of Lisa Raye, Denise Vasi, Charity Shea, and formerly Stacy Dash.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Discovery was embraced by critics, but among longtime Trek fans it met a bitterly polarized reception due to its Darker and Edgier tone and many don't even consider it a real part of the Star Trek canon.
    • This same treatment was given to Star Trek: Picard, which was also praised by critics, but polarized among the fans, many of which did not care for the portrayal of the Federation, or the handling of Picard as a character.
  • Dave Chappelle's Netflix special Sticks & Stones scored 17% from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but 99% from viewers there and 8.4 on iMDB.
  • BBC's 2018 miniseries Troy: Fall of a City got a 71% from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but 24% from viewers, as well as a 3.8 on IMDB.
  • Even Chuck Lorre has acknowledged the extent of Two and a Half Men’s haters, yet it’s one of the highest-rated shows in its era.
  • Undateable was thrashed by critics, but viewers who watched it fell in love with it. It has a critics’ rating of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes while the audience rating is currently at 91%.
  • The Witcher (2019) met mixed reviews from critics, with many comparing it unfavorably to the early seasons of Game of Thrones and saying that it didn't do much to keep viewers unfamiliar with the source material from getting confused — a problem that didn't affect fans of the books or the games, who made it Netflix's highest-rated show on IMDb and gave it an audience Tomatometer of 93%. This article by Kaila Hale-Stern for The Mary Sue points to another possible reason for the dissonance, which is how unashamed it is of its High Fantasy trappings even at risk of sliding into camp, often feeling like a big-budget version of the fantasy adventure shows of The '90s like Xena: Warrior Princess — something that would rub professional critics the wrong way, but which the average viewer would have a blast with.


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