Even the greatest shows on television can sometimes fall flat in the middle of a great season. From clip shows to 'bottle episodes' to plain old stinkers, here are some of the worst of the best. Is your favorite show on this list?
"How I Met Your Mother," Last Forever
There are few finales that get the hate that "Last Forever" does. The finale undid all the good the show had done. Without giving away too much, the twist seemed to undermine the very premise of the show. Fans felt especially cheated after this finale aired.
"The Simpsons," Lisa Goes Gaga
After 666 episodes of "The Simpsons", it's no surprise that not every episode knocks it out of the park. For many diehard fans, the show stopped being good a long time ago. But there's something about 'Lisa Goes Gaga' that is particularly disappointing. To many, it felt simply like an attempt to capitalize on Lady Gaga's popularity, and lacked the humor of a regular "Simpsons" episode.
"Breaking Bad," The Fly
Almost as bad as clip shows are bottle episodes. Bottle episodes take place in one location, and are mostly done for budget reasons. 'The Fly' was no exception. As Vince Gilligan described it, "We were hopelessly over budget and we needed to come up with what is called a bottle episode, set in one location." Enter 'The Fly,' in which Walter spends much of the episode trying to kill a fly in his lab. Some fans love it, but when an episode only exists because the creators ran out of money to do something better, it likely isn't their best.
"Community," Advanced Introduction to Finality
You know an episode is bad if the writer says so. You know it's really bad when that happens before the show even airs. Megan Ganz said of the episode, "Finales are generally terrible, and I am expecting that people will say this one is trying to hard, because it is." In fairness to Ganz, after creator Dan Harmon's departure, the show struggled to find its feet and this episode is more of a reflection of that turmoil than it is of Ganz's talents, since Ganz also helmed some of the show's classics.
"Star Trek," Sub Rosa
In this episode, Beverly Crusher sleeps with a ghost. Not only that, she sleeps with a ghost who slept with her grandmother before her. If that sounds creepy, it's because it is. It's hard to believe the same team that gave us such beautiful episodes as "The Inner Light" could also do this, but they did.
"The Office," The Farm
It's no surprise that a successful show with an ensemble cast would try to create a spinoff based on one of the characters. "The Farm" acted as a pilot episode for what would have been a spinoff based on Dwight Schrute and his wacky family. Unfortunately, since it tried to be a different show, it didn't make for a good episode of "The Office." "The Farm" did not get picked up.
"Parks and Rec," Sister City
If you haven't re-watched the show in a while, the cringe factor of this episode is pretty high. The story is about Pawnee meeting delegates from its sister city in Venezuela. Its depiction of Venezuelans is particularly unkind, even without the subsequent political upheavals that have happened in the real world that have made it age poorly. There are also some sexist and classist jokes that haven't stood the test of time.
"Battlestar Galactica," Black Market
With this episode, the show went from exploring humanity in a struggle to survive extinction as a species to a bad episode of "Law and Order." The show struggled to maintain its high stakes since, in a 22-episode season, the fate of humanity can only be jeopardized so many times before it starts to feel repetitive. To combat this problem, the show occasionally took breaks to focus on smaller issues, like the problems people might face if stuck on a starship with no home planet. Unfortunately, to do that, they had to introduce issues out of nowhere, like in this episode, where a thriving black market for supplies is not only operating unchecked, but at a massive scale, even though it had never been so much as hinted at previously. The episode features cartoonish gangsters and a hooker with a heart of gold... enough said.
"Seinfeld," The Highlights of 100
Speaking of bad clip shows, there is "Seinfeld's" hour-long special celebrating its 100th episode. While the clip show of "Friends" was bad, it at least made an attempt to weave in some story. This clip show of "Seinfeld" however, was made entirely of clips, with no story at all. Instead, Jerry Seinfeld acted as host, introducing the clips, which is especially odd when you're dealing with a show that doesn't break the fourth wall and he refers to himself in character.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Beer Bad
The Office of National Drug Control Policy had money available for shows who could put anti-drug and alcohol messaging in their storylines. "Buffy" took advantage of that, and that's how 'Beer Bad' got made. Everyone drank beer and turned into a neanderthal. It sounds like a sketch premise, but sadly, it's the premise for a full hour of "Buffy".
"The West Wing," Isaac and Ishmael
When 9/11 happened, the fall season of "The West Wing" had already been written and shot. Aaron Sorkin, however, felt that his political show about America should have something to say about the country's greatest national tragedy. He created 'Isaac and Ishmael' as a response. It was quickly written and shot as a standalone episode, and it feels that way. Not only does it not track with any of the other stories in the season, but the characters do things that seem wildly out-of-character, like Toby suddenly being racist. Instead of adding compelling drama, the hour feels like Sorkin's personal musings on what happened, spoken through his characters, and feels much more suited to an op-ed than an hour of television.
"Lost," Strangers in a Strange Land
"Lost" was a show whose creators famously did not know where it was going. 'Strangers in a Strange Land' is the episode that shows it. This episode explores the history of Jack's tattoos and it feels as if it was treading water. Rumor is that the creators of the show felt so negatively about this episode that they went to the network to demand an end date to write towards, so they didn't have to meander like this again.
"Game of Thrones," Breaker of Chains
"Game of Thrones" was often criticized for using rape as a plot point. Though not as violent as the rape in 'Winterfell', the rape in 'Breaker of Chains' was just as exploitative. It felt out-of-character for Jamie, and seemed to be placed in the episode purely for shock value. In a show whose characters felt so complex and deep, it felt particularly egregious.
"Westworld," Akane No Mai
This episode saw Maeve entering the Shogun World. Although it was visually spectacular, this detour felt like just that— a detour. Through introducing this whole other rich world, it suddenly became difficult to remember what, exactly, was happening before; where the characters were trying to go and what they were trying to do. Shogun World was abandoned as quickly as it was introduced, making you wonder why you spent so much time learning about the lives of the characters there, only to have them disappear after two episodes.
"The X-Files," Fight Club
To get a sense of how truly bad this episode featuring Kathy Griffin playing twins is, you need only to look to its many, many critics. Zach Handlen called it "dire stuff" and said the script was "lazy and repetitive." Christina Brzustoski called the episode disjointed and lame. Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson wrote that "'Fight Club' is a marker for a series that seems to want to die now, please." But none of those are as scathing as Tom Kessenich, who wrote, "If it is indeed true that somewhere out in this vast world we all have an identical twin, I have but one wish for mine. I sincerely hope he was spared the hour of torture that 'Fight Club' imposed upon me." Yikes.
"The Sopranos," Christopher
This episode feels more like an essay on the pros and cons of Columbus Day than an episode of television. While it's noble to bring to light Native Americans' issues with Columbus Day, the episode does so clumsily. Not only that, Native Americans aren't depicted sympathetically, and are either depicted as fanatics or corrupt. The opinions the regular characters of "The Sopranos" have on Columbus Day seemed forced and not true to their characters at all. No one comes out well.
"The Twilight Zone," I Dream of Genie
Even in a half-hour format, "The Twilight Zone" occasionally struggled. Since episodes were often about hitting a twist ending, the show could sometimes be repetitive in an effort to stretch out the time needed to get to that ending. In its fourth season, the show was extended to an hour, and that occasional misstep became a regular occurrence. The show's comedic episodes weren't Rod Serling's best. As an hourlong comedy, "I Dream of Genie" suffers both of the show's worst ills.
"Mad Men," Tea Leaves
Many would characterize this episode as out of place for "Mad Men." Things in Betty's storyline move at quicker pace than they normally do in the show. This made the plot feel overly melodramatic, instead of the quiet simmer it normally had. In fairness to the writers, however, the show was trying to write around actress January Jones's pregnancy. Being forced into a storyline rather than being able to move at their own pace made for some choices that felt uncharacteristic to "Mad Men."
"Dexter," Remember the Monster
The series finale for "Dexter" is another contender for most hated finales. "Dexter" is known for having both some of the best episodes of television, and some of the worst. The show's showrunner, Clyde Phillips, left after only four seasons, and the show's consistency suffered. Luckily for fans, Phillips has spoken about an alternate finale.
"Family Guy," Seahorse Seashell Party
One critic said the show "fell flat". "Fell flat" is actually a generous description for what the show did. Many felt that the show promoted acceptance of abuse, since the plot is about Meg retaliating after years of abuse only to eventually realize that the family needs to abuse her. Some critics felt that Meg didn't need to be humanized at all, and it was really only in doing so that they ran into the abuse issue. Abuse aside, many thought the storyline was generally uninteresting.
"Big Bang Theory," The Matrimonial Momentum
For a comedy, this episode is mostly unfunny subject matter. Its two major plotlines are the breakup of Amy and Sheldon, and Penny being upset about Leonard kissing another woman, even though it was years ago, and they're married now, and it shouldn't be an issue. Caroline Preece of Den of Geek said the episode was "devoid of any laughs at all". The episode was just too dramatic for what the show promised.
"Stranger Things," The Lost Sister
If there's anything that makes for a bad episode of television, it's when a character takes a detour to a totally unrelated place. "The Lost Sister" is much like when they ended up in Shogun World in "Westworld." It made you ask, "What? Huh? Why are we here?" Eleven ends up in the city with Kali, and while things happen to her while she's there, it makes little difference to the main engine of the show, and felt like an unnecessary left turn.
"Friends," The One with the Invitation
There are so many advantages to the streaming era. While being able to watch any show anytime is a big one, there's a smaller one we forget: no more clip shows. Clip shows, if you're too young to remember, are episodes that are made up of clips of old episodes. They were done either to recap important events (since old episodes weren't readily available) or for budget reasons, since they were cheap to make. But with binge watching and shorter television seasons that don't stretch the budget, neither of those are a factor any longer. If they sound boring, it's because they were, and "The One with the Invitation", which recaps Ross and Rachel's relationship, is no exception.
"The Walking Dead," The King, the Widow, and Rick
Much like "Dexter," "The Walking Dead" is a show with extreme highs and lows. 'The King, the Widow, and Rick' is definitely one of the lows. With only a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was mostly panned by critics. Most felt that the show repeated things that came before and offered nothing new.
"Black Mirror," Playtest
The modern day equivalent of the "it was all a dream" storyline is "it was all VR." The twist of 'Playtest' is that Cooper was in a VR simulation the entire time, and it is glaringly foreseeable given the nature of "Black Mirror." The show wasted a lot of time treading water to get to that twist. However, to up the ante, there's another twist. Spoiler alert: Cooper dies. Both twists feel like something a teenage sci-fi writer came up with.