There are moments that will go down in television history as the worst storytelling choices ever. Fonzie jumping over a shark while waterskiing on Happy Days. It was all just a dream on Dallas. The worst episodes of the best TV shows can ruin the whole series—or at least leave fans frustrated and disappointed.
Check out our list of the 21 worst TV blunders, and then tell us what you’d pick in the comments!
21. The X-Files, “Teso dos Bichos”
To be honest—and I write this with love—I probably could have filled half of this list with X-Files episodes. For every brilliant moment on that show, there was a huge disappointment, but “Teso dos Bichos” features what may be one of the most embarrassing scenes in the series. Mulder and Scully are attacked by possessed cats that are really obviously just puppets.
It’s so weird, it edged out “Space,” “Ghost in the Machine,” and “First Person Shooter” for a spot on this list.
20. Downton Abbey, the Season 3 Christmas Special
When actors want to move on from the shows that made them stars, there isn’t much anyone can do. But the way that the Downton writers handled Dan Stevens’ exit left many fans feeling cold. After finally getting together with Mary, Matthew is suddenly killed in a random car accident.
Sure, the show was basically a soap opera with fancier clothes, but the twist made the will-they-or-won’t-they drama leading up to Mary and Matthew’s marriage feel like a waste.
19. Roseanne, “Into that Good Night”
Even before Roseanne Barr was fired from her own show’s popular revival, Roseanne was no stranger to outraged fans. The 9th season of the show begins with the Connor family winning the lottery and quickly goes off the rails, but the worst was still to come. In the original series finale, it’s revealed that the it was all a fantasy Roseanne created to help her deal with Dan’s death.
At least Dan and the rest of the gang live on in the planned spin-off of the revival, tentatively called The Connors—and in the new show, it’s Roseanne who has passed away.
18. How I Met Your Mother, “Last Forever”
This show is the epitome of ruining an entire series with one episode. We spent years waiting to finally meet Ted Mosby’s wife…only for her to die almost immediately. Even worse, the show tossed out several seasons of character development by having present-day Ted get back together with Robin, who turned out to be the love of his life after all.
Maybe the finale would have worked if the show had been cancelled a few seasons earlier, but as it stands, it’s one of the most hated episodes of TV ever!
17. Seinfeld, “The Puerto Rican Day”
Although it was the second-highest rated episode of the series, this episode was hugely controversial at the time. (If you want to feel old, I’ll just point out that it aired in 1998…which was 20 years ago. Check out these other signs that you’re over the hill!) Kramer steps on and then burns the Puerto Rican flag in this episode, which angered viewers, but it also portrayed Puerto Ricans as violent stereotypes. After a slew of complaints and protests, NBC issued an apology.
16. The Simpsons, “The Principal and the Pauper”
Hey, remember that time when Principal Skinner was revealed to have been an imposter, and the real Skinner came to Springfield, but then everyone decided they liked the OG Skinner better instead? Yeah, that was weird.
Matt Groening has gone on the record that this is one of his least favorite episodes. Even he doesn’t consider it canon.
15. Stranger Things, “The Lost Sister”
In some ways, Stranger Things is a victim of its own success. After blowing our collective minds with a near-perfect first season, the expectations for season 2 were through the roof. The Duffer Brothers mostly delivered, but the episode “The Lost Sister,” which focuses on Eleven and her tribe of punks, was kind of a drag. Fans ratings hit a series low for this one.
14. Friday Night Lights, “Last Days of Summer”
Speaking of shows that made one perfect season, Friday Night Lights had a major stumble with the first episode of its second season, which saw two beloved characters caught up in a weird murder plotline. It wasn’t at all what fans expected from the show, but unfortunately it was a sign of uneven storytelling to come.
13. Battlestar Galactica, “Black Market”
After a few episodes of a series, you start to get a sense of the tone, and that sets your expectations for the rest of the show. With Battlestar, you expected a sweeping, action-packed space opera centered on bold characters. Which is why “Black Market” was such a weird choice. It follows Lee Adama in a plotline better suited to a gritty crime procedural. Worst of all, Starbuck doesn’t get any screen time!
12. Charmed, “She’s a Man, Baby, a Man!”
In case you couldn’t tell from the Austin Powers reference in the title, this episode of Charmed deals with gender in the most tone-deaf way possible. If you ever wanted to see Shannen Doherty in drag, here’s your chance. Be warned that it’s a terrible episode full of stereotypes and bad jokes.
11. Friends, “The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss”
The will-they-or-won’t-they problem has tanked many a great TV show. Ross and Rachel were supposed to be the great love story of Friends, but their romance had too many twists and turns, breakups and makeups. The worst of them might just be the contrived, chemistry-free hookup between Rachel and Joey.
10. Game of Thrones, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
Game of Thrones is often brutal and violent, but this 4th season episode took things too far for many fans. The rape of Sansa seemed like an unnecessarily cruel plot device, even for a series that has had other issues with the treatment of female characters.
A thousand think-pieces flooded the internet after this episode, but in the long run, it didn’t do much to damage GoT’s popularity.
9. Grey’s Anatomy, “Song Beneath the Song”
Musical episodes are tricky. If a show is lucky, they have a cast of strong singers who can handle the challenge, like the Buffy episode “Once More with Feeling.” But on Grey’s, they really only had one vocal star in Sara Ramirez. The rest of the ensemble was an embarrassing mess—and after 14 seasons, it felt less like a bold storytelling choice and more like the writers had completely run out of ideas.
8. Dexter, “Remember the Monsters”
Along with How I Met Your Mother, the series finale of Dexter is one of the most hated in television history. The show had been going downhill for a while, but the bizarre choices in the final episode—Dexter runs off to become a lumberjack, really?—disappointed the fans who stuck with the show until the end.
7. Star Trek, “Spock’s Brain”
Oh no, aliens have stolen Spock’s brain! I sure hope the crew of the Enterprise can get it back before his body dies! Yep, that’s the plot of the OG Star Trek episode that most fans point to as the worst of the series. The show explored bold new worlds in so many different ways, but this episode feels like a cheesy B-movie.
6. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Shades of Gray”
Unfortunately for TNG, this episode makes “Spock’s Brain” look like a masterpiece. This time, aliens capture Riker and make him relieve his memories…in essence, turning the whole episode into a clip show. They must have blown their budget that year, because there’s no other excuse for such a lazy piece of television.
5. Lost, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Lost might be the most frustrating show ever to have aired on television. So much promise! So many great episodes! But also so much disappointment. One of the worst episodes was this one from season 3, which for some bizarre reason felt the need to show a loooong flashback about how Jack got his tattoos.
According to the producers, they decided not to bother covering Matthew Fox’s real-life tats with makeup, and then also decided that what viewers really needed to know what how Jack got his ink.
4. Doctor Who, “Love and Monsters”
If you ask a group of Whovians to name the worst episode of the revival, the majority of them will point to this stinker right here. First off, the Doctor and Rose are barely in it. Big mistake–huge!
The episode follows a man named Elton who had a chance encounter with our favorite Time Lord and ends up joining a group with other conspiracy theorists…who then get absorbed by this weird, gross alien. The Doctor manages to sort-of save Elton’s girlfriend, who ends up as a talking face embedded in a slab of concrete. And the show strongly implies that Elton has sex with said slab. It’s so terrible that it makes the farting aliens from season 1 seem charming in comparison.
3. Mad Men, “Tea Leaves”
When an actress gets pregnant, her show has a few options for dealing with it. They can write the pregnancy into her character arc, have her wear oversized coats, or let her disappear for a couple of episodes.
Or they can do what Mad Men did with “Fat Betty” during January Jones’s pregnancy. The episode “Tea Leaves” spends way too much time dealing with Betty’s weight gain and depression, and it dragged the storyline down for the whole season.
2. Saved by the Bell, “Running Zack”
I’m sure that 30 years from now, viewers will look back at our TV with the same mix of nostalgia and disbelief that we were ever so backwards. But the 80s produced a LOT of questionable entertainment, including this episode of Saved by the Bell, which shows the super white Zack Morris deciding that he has Native American heritage and dressing up in a full ceremonial headdress and face paint.
Just…don’t do that, show. Bad show.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Beer Bad”
Personally, I love season 4 of Buffy. Sure, it’s goofier than the others, and Riley is kind of a snooze, but it features some of the best episodes of the series. And then there’s also “Beer Bad,” which sees the Slayer and a group of pretentious college boys getting drunk on cursed beer and turning into literal cavemen. Beer bad…and so is this episode.