The Most Polarizing TV Shows of the Past 10 Years
There are some shows that the vast majority agrees are great and only a small minority seems to dislike, like Breaking Bad. Then, there are shows that the vast majority agrees are awful, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any defenders of, like Cavemen.
But then there are also series where the audience is completely divided. A vocal percentage of viewers absolutely loves the series, while an equally vocal percentage thinks it’s horrible. This isn’t a situation where the series has a small fanbase, and everyone else just isn’t interested in it. Instead, these are all shows where the mere mention of their name will instantly draw a passionate reaction, whether positive or negative.
Here’s a look at those series that were on the air in the past 10 years and that, for whatever reason, were incredibly polarizing. We’ll be focusing only on scripted content, not counting late-night talk shows or reality television.
Arrow is one of the most hilarious examples in recent years of a show that completely drove fans crazy. The reason comes down to two words: Felicity Smoak. Felicity was introduced in the third episode of Arrow‘s first season, and her appearance was originally just going to be a one-time thing. But she stuck around, joining the main cast in Season 2.
As Arrow progressed, Felicity became an increasingly large part of the plot and, eventually, Oliver’s love interest. This added focus on Felicity was not welcomed by everyone; it got to the point where fans started dismissively referring to the show as “Felicity and Friends.”
There are some fans, especially those on Tumblr, who are all about Felicity and the “Olicity” ship. And then there are some fans that loathe her character so intensely that they feel she has destroyed the series.
On the Arrow subreddit, it got to the point in 2017 where some fans were so fed up with the show that they converted the entire subreddit to being about The Punisher instead. But on other corners of the internet, the Arrow fandom is still going strong.
Next: The final season of this show earned an exact 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.
14. True Blood
Based on both critics’ and audiences’ reviews, HBO’s True Blood was basically the very definition of polarizing. The final season earned a score of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes; this means that half of the critics gave it a positive review and half gave it a negative review. The audience score was about the same: 46%. It’s not just that the last season was particularly divisive; the first season earned a 58%.
The vampire drama was pretty over-the-top and soapy right from the beginning, something some audiences were on board for and others just weren’t. When True Blood was on, though, you could encounter people who said it was their favorite show, and you could encounter as many people who thought it was downright cringe-worthy. Opinions went either way, though they definitely started to drift more negative as the show progressed and began to decline in quality.
Next: This show was polarizing mainly because of its politics.
13. Last Man Standing
Shows can sometimes become divisive for political reasons, and that was the case with ABC’s Last Man Standing. The Tim Allen sitcom was one of the only ones on TV with a conservative point of view; Allen’s character was a Republican who ran a blog focusing on right-wing politics.
The show, therefore, became much more than just a typical ABC sitcom. Conservatives rallied behind it and liberals got upset at the many, many anti-Hillary Clinton jokes. It was because the show was so divisive that there was such a stir when ABC canceled it; fans accused the network of doing so because of the show’s politics.
Next: This recent entry in a long-running franchise left fans divided.
12. Star Trek: Discovery
With a franchise as popular as Star Trek, opinions on every installment are always going to be quite diverse. But with Star Trek: Discovery, a lot of critics who loved the show and gave it glowing reviews were surprised at the reception among some fans.
Just take a look at IMDB, for instance, where just about every single one of the highest rated views is negative, with the top-rated one declaring that Discovery has killed the franchise. On Rotten Tomatoes, viewers are split almost right down the middle; the show has an audience score of 56%. A common complaint is that the new series lacks the heart and the optimism that characterized the original.
At the same time, many old-school Star Trek fans, including those on the show’s subreddit, adore it. So Discovery definitely hasn’t been universally panned. It’s just not everyone’s cup of tea.
Next: This show wasn’t really divisive early on, but things recently changed.
11. Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty wasn’t really that polarizing for the first two seasons. But in Season 3, it suddenly became the type of series that fans are hesitant to declare their love for. To be fair, that’s not entirely the show’s fault.
As the Adult Swim cartoon grew increasingly popular, it began to attract an audience of pompous jerks who wrongly identified with lead character Rick Sanchez, feeling like they, too, are misunderstood geniuses far too smart for anyone around them to understand — when, in fact, Rick is simply an abusive narcissist whose behavior should never be emulated. Unfortunately, Season 3 didn’t entirely disabuse fans of the notion that being smart inevitably makes a person cynical and superior to everyone around them.
There were also a variety of real-world incidents during Season 3 that gave Rick and Morty fans a bad name. Most notable was when fans freaked out at McDonald’s employees for running out of tie-in sauce. The creators have distanced themselves from these people. But regardless, it’s hard to deny that the show has certainly become divisive online as a result of all of this.
Next: This classic cartoon series seems to draw ire every few years.
10. South Park
Over the course of more than 20 seasons, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made it their mission on South Park to make fun of basically everything and everyone. Naturally, that’s going to lead to some strong reactions.
On the one hand, many critics and fans have praised South Park as one of the most brilliant and incisive satires in television history. On the other hand, others have accused the show of often being offensive for its own sake. In terms of the political commentary, South Park has also been criticized for promulgating the idea that both sides of an issue are usually equally bad, even during the 2016 election.
Plus, even those who don’t get easily offended have argued that the show has declined in quality in recent years and is no longer as clever as it once was. Still, South Park is going strong with a loyal fanbase after 21 seasons.
Next: This show is controversial in part just because of the final season.
9. How I Met Your Mother
Even before the series finale, How I Met Your Mother wasn’t universally loved. Around Season 5 or so, many viewers started to feel that the series had lost its way. But it’s the final episode that split viewers right down the middle.
On one side, you have those who felt that the ending was cheap, unearned, and unsatisfying. On the other side, you have those who felt it was a natural conclusion and the way the show always should have ended. Part of the reason the ending was so divisive was that viewers’ reaction to it relied completely on whether they shipped Ted and Robin. If they did, they were going to love the ending; if they didn’t, they were going to hate it.
Because the show was always building up to the ending from the very start, it’s difficult to divorce your opinion of the series finale from your opinion of the show as a whole.
Next: This is another show where the ending received a lot of different reactions.
Lost would hardly be considered polarizing for the first several seasons. During Season 1, it was one of the most popular shows on TV, and it even won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. As the show progressed and the mysteries grew and grew, some viewers saw no answers in sight and jumped ship. Meanwhile, a dedicated fanbase of viewers who analyzed every episode grew and grew.
But the final season cemented the show as one of the most divisive in modern times, and reactions to it were all over the place. Some found the ending to be massively disappointing and one of the worst series finales in history, while others found it to be tremendously emotionally impactful and one of the best series finales in history. There seemed to be no in between.
For years afterward, “the finale of Lost” became a phrase with as much of a negative connotation as “the prequels,” and one that immediately caused the die-hard fans to leap to the show’s defense and explain that the characters were not, in fact, dead the whole time.
Next: This show was fairly political, though that wasn’t the only reason it was polarizing.
7. The Newsroom
The Newsroom was pretty overtly political, and so it alienated a chunk of its possible audience early on. It’s hard to really blame someone with conservative views for not wanting to watch a show where nearly every episode involved Jeff Daniels’ character going on a rant against Republicans.
The show was even divisive among those on the left. It came from Aaron Sorkin, one of the most gifted screenwriters working today. So many loved the series for its typical Sorkin-esque monologues, turns of phrase, and its general optimism.
But others felt the series had an air of arrogance to it. Some thought the whole thing seemed to essentially be an excuse for Sorkin to grandstand about political issues and lecture the general public about how news stories from the recent past should have been talked about.
Critic James Poniewozik described it as “just Aaron Sorkin writing one argument after another for himself to win.” At the same time, others will tell you The Newsroom is one of the best shows to air in this decade.
Next: Critics panned this 2017 show, but it found an audience that loves it.
6. The Orville
Ahead of its premiere, Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville received fairly negative reviews from critics; it ended up with a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. The general consensus was that the show was sort of a weird mishmash of comedy and drama, and it didn’t do either one particularly well. So based on those reviews, the series seemed destined for failure.
But to the surprise of critics, when The Orville premiered, it immediately found an audience that adored it. Although the critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes is 21%, the audience score is currently 93%. The Orville was especially beloved on Reddit; it may have helped that it was seen as an alternative to Star Trek: Discovery, which a lot of people either didn’t like or didn’t watch, not wanting to subscribe to CBS All Access.
Ratings were solid enough that The Orville ended up getting a second season, too. That makes this one of the clearest examples in years of a show where critics and audiences weren’t in sync.
Next: Those who didn’t like this show actually felt that it could be dangerous.
5. 13 Reasons Why
You know a show is polarizing when it actually sparks a debate about whether it is endangering children. The first season of 13 Reasons Why got fairly solid reviews, and the target audience went crazy for it. But it also became one of the most controversial shows of 2017 due to the way it depicted suicide.
The argument was that the show was glamorizing it, teaching kids that if they kill themselves, all of their friends will suddenly understand how misunderstood they were all along; suicide in the series is essentially a way for Hannah to get back at those who wronged her.
There was also the actual depiction of the suicide itself. The season finale shows Hannah’s suicide in graphic detail, which experts feared could lead to copycat attempts. Few shows in 2017 sparked as intense a debate as this one.
Next: This show was one of the biggest things on TV at the time, and everyone had a strong opinion about it.
These days, people don’t talk about Glee that much, so it’s easy to forget how big a deal it was. But during Season 2, the show was regularly drawing over 10 million viewers, something few scripted Fox shows manage to do these days. It was so popular that there was even an entire episode of The Office where all of the characters have a Glee viewing party.
Over time, the popularity sparked a strong backlash. It got to the point that other shows on TV, like NBC’s Community, were actively criticizing it. That backlash continued to grow, and it seemed that everyone had a point at which they stopped watching, whether it was the awful Rocky Horror Picture Show episode or the questionable school shooting storyline. Yet not everyone jumped ship, and there were fans that stuck around to defend the show all the way through.
Whether you loved it or hated it, Glee was a show that just about everyone had an opinion about.
Next: This comedy constantly stirred up controversy during its run, and not all fans loved the ending.
Though it generally received positive reviews from critics, HBO’s Girls was hardly a widely beloved comedy. Part of the hate had to do with Lena Dunham herself, who seemed to constantly upset people for a variety of reasons. The characters on the show itself were fairly unlikable, too, though this was often intentionally the case.
The series also stirred up a number of controversies over the years. There was, for instance, the complaint in Season 1 that basically the entire cast was white, despite the show taking place in the diverse New York City. This resulted in Donald Glover being cast in Season 2, only for Glover to later suggest that Dunham had tokenized him.
Plus, there was an episode that sparked a debate about whether a character’s actions constituted rape; this was just one of many episodes that were quite controversial. The finale itself was also fairly polarizing. But like everything else on Girls, it certainly did get people talking.
Next: This is one of the most popular shows on TV, but also one of the most divisive.
2. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead still pulls in solid ratings, and it has a dedicated fanbase. Yet pretty much every single week, the internet is flooded with complaints from viewers saying that it should be canceled. The show wasn’t polarizing from the start, and the pilot episode was pretty widely beloved. But the quality of subsequent seasons is up for debate.
Clearly, many millions of people still love The Walking Dead. Yet others continue to complain that it’s meandering, that it has killed off far too many characters, that Negan is a terrible villain, and much more. With the most recent season, all of this may have finally caught up with the show, which saw its lowest ratings since Season 1.
Next: We think this show qualifies as the absolute most divisive series on the air right now.
1. The Big Bang Theory
There’s no better example in the past 10 years of a TV show that millions of people passionately love but millions of more people passionately hate than The Big Bang Theory.
The long-running CBS sitcom has an audience of diehard fans, who have helped it become of the most successful comedies of the 21st century. At the same time, among many professional TV critics and others all over the internet, The Big Bang Theory is practically a synonym for lowest common denominator garbage, a mindlessly written piece of schlock that considers the mere mention of the title of a video game to be the equivalent of a joke.
Whether you love it or you hate it, there’s no denying that The Big Bang Theory has made an impact. The sentence “do you watch The Big Bang Theory?” is enough to make almost anyone either light up with excitement or roll their eyes in disgust.
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