It feels like we’re treated to new episodes of great television series every week – but even our favourite shows sometimes get it wrong.
Remember the episode of Stranger Things when Eleven went AWOL to team up with a gang of runaways? Or the episode of Friends that lazily told the story of Ross and Rachel’s romance entirely through a clip show?
These are the episodes we’ve come to hate and, below, we run through the worst (and most polarising) episodes of your favourite shows, including Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and even The Wire.
Barely any TV show has escaped at least one poor episode.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Frank’s Brother” – season seven, episode five
Considering the show is currently on its 15th season, it was always inevitable that a weak episode would appear and fans think this season seven offering falls into that category. It documents a visit from Frank’s brother, Gino, that triggers a series of flashback sequences to the Seventies. The absence of the show’s main character group felt pronounced, but more than that, the sequence was simply lacking in the gags that other episodes had in abundance. An experimental episode that, sadly, didn’t work.
The X Files, “Teso Dos Bichos” – season three, episode 18
One of the lowest-rated episodes of the show, “Teso Dos Bichos” sees Mulder and Scully chased by a pack of feral cats. The director of the episode, Kim Manners, said the final part of the episode was “a disaster” and later admitted making t-shirts for the cast and crew, emblazoned with the phrase “Teso Dos Bichos Survivor” by way of apology. The episode was panned by critics, too, with one reviewer describing it as “a terrible, terrible episode of television”.
Black Mirror, “The Waldo Moment” – season two, episode three
In a show full of wildly inventive and gripping moments, this episode stood out for all the wrong reasons. The episode was frustratingly unfocussed: while it took shots at various political targets, none landed and few said anything particularly meaningful. Even creator Charlie Brooker himself later admitted he’d go back and do things differently if he got a second chance at writing the episode. Fans agreed: it’s routinely at the bottom of Black Mirror’s fan rankings.
Stranger Things, “The Lost Sister” – season two, episode seven
This was perhaps the strangest episode of Stranger Things – and not strange in a good way, but strange as in plain odd. Its placement in the series feels out of sorts: it’s a one-off episode that jarringly breaks away from all the action of season two at a crucial plot point. It sees Eleven leaving home and teaming up with a gang of emo misfits – including Kali, a fellow victim of Dr Brenner. Kali’s ruthless streak terrifies Eleven (something that feels at odds with the tone of the show) and sends her running quickly home to surrogate dad Hopper. Sadly, the episode doesn’t make any sense in the context of season two.
Arrested Development, “Saving for Arraignment Day” – season five, episode 14
There were many episodes in season five that jumped the shark, but this was the worst. Another court scene, another difficult plot to follow, and a serious lack of the jokes that made Arrested Development one of the funniest shows of all time; it’s about as far away from the show’s iconic early episodes as you can imagine. Bring back the Banana Stand.
Friends, “The One with the Invitation” – season four, episode 21
Viewers hate clip reel episodes and Friends’ attempt was no different: a series of Ross and Rachel flashbacks charting their relationship from that Central Perk kiss to Ross’ infamous “we were on a break” zinger. The trigger for the flashback reel is Ross sending Rachel an invite to his forthcoming wedding as both reflect on where it all went wrong. However, fans felt the flashbacks didn’t work and were a lazy way to explore Ross and Rachel’s complex past. They deserved better.
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The Simpsons, “Lisa Goes Gaga” – season 23, episode 22
One of the greatest animated television shows of all time jumped the shark after season 10, and this episode is a very good example of how. It sees Lady Gaga travel to Springfield to cheer up Lisa, who is in a state of depression after being bullied at school. When you think back to the feminist Lisa of the “Malibu Stacey” era, this episode feels about as far away from her true character as you can gets. It also feels like a huge promo operation for Lady Gaga. When you compare it to cameos from other musical guests (for example, when The Smashing Pumpkins appeared in the brilliant “Homerpalooza”), it emphasises just how far The Simpsons had fallen from those glorious early seasons. D’oh!
The Walking Dead, “Start to Finish” – season six, episode eight
Fans were unimpressed with this mid-season finale, which is one of the lowest rated episodes on Rotten Tomatoes (with a low score of just 35 per cent). The episode was monotonous, frustrating and failed to offer any real resolution to the many questions fans wanted answered at this important mid-season point. One critic described it as a “bore fest” while another bluntly said: “This whole hour felt like a mess.” Ouch.
Seinfeld, “The Puerto Rican Day Parade” – season nine, episode 20
One of the greatest shows of all time was due a bad episode– and it had one in the final season. This particular outing was so racially offensive to Puerto Ricans that broadcasters NBC had to issue an apology after it aired. On top of that, it’s also just a dull and unfunny episode that failed to connect with longtime fans of the show.
Mad Men, “New Amsterdam” – season one, episode four
There are some good moments in this episode, like the thrilling confrontation between Don and Pete at the end, but it spends too much time focused on Betty babysitting oddball Glen. His weird fascination with her reaches a peak when he asks Betty for a lock of her hair – and she dually obliges. It’s bizarre, unsettling but mainly a bit of a slog to watch. The duo were revisited in many more episodes of the show, and their scenes never got any more interesting or relevant. What was the point?
The West Wing, “Access” – season five, episode 18
A rare miss in a show with so many great episode. This one was a departure from form and saw CJ followed around by a camera crew for a day. The fly-on-the-wall structure didn’t work, nor did the fact it interspersed CJ with clips from real-life press secretaries from over the years in the White House. The blend of fact and fiction was messy and resulted in a confusing watch for viewers.
Lost, “Fire + Water” – season two, episode 12
When talking about the worst episode of Lost, the majority of fans would opt for “Stranger in a Strange Land” AKA the one about Jack’s tattoos. However, “Fire + Water” is up there as the show’s weakest hour, focusing on Charlie’s obsession with “saving” Claire’s baby Aaron. The plot line itself kind of make sense – Charlie’s desperation is fuelled by being on the outs with practically everyone in the camp – but the scene in which the typically measured (at that stage, anyway) Locke brutally beats him up is so out of character, it’s hard to imagine what the episode’s writers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, were thinking.
Dexter, “Remember the Monsters?” – Season eight, episode 12
Since the beginning, Dexter was a show of extreme highs and lows – and the show’s finale fell firmly into the latter category. The question everyone wanted answered: will Dexter Morgan be outed as the infamous “Bay Harbour Butcher” or will he confess? What nobody at all expected was that Dexter went off to Oregon to become – of all things – a lumberjack. As well as being the worst episode of the show, it’s also a strong candidate for the worst television show finale ever.
The Wire, “Ebb Tide” – season two, episode one
The first episode of season two divided fans of this much-loved show. Many wanted it to continue directly on from where season one ended – in the projects with Avon, Stringer and Omar et al: what they got instead was a journey into a whole new world of the stevedores at the Port of Baltimore. Season two abruptly switched its focus to an organised crime racket at the docks and, initially, the change proved too much for some. As the characters from season one were gradually re-introduced in the background of season two, fans slowly returned to watch one of the greatest television shows of all time.
The Sopranos, “Christopher” – Season four, episode three
Let’s face it: there aren’t really any terrible Sopranos episodes. This outing, though, is one that viewers still have mixed feelings about. It sees Silvio scuffle with a group of Columbus Day protestors and, what was meant as an exploration on identity politics and race relations, was at best confused and, at worst, offensive. It was a lesson that writers shouldn’t reduce complex themes to a single episode.
Breaking Bad, “Fly” – Season three, episode ten
For the record, “Fly” is not a bad episode of television – but it was one of the most polarising episodes of Breaking Bad. Fans either declared it either an artistic triumph or the worst episode in the show’s history. The Rian Johnson-directed episode was certainly audacious: it’s centred around the show’s two main characters trying to swat a fly. Crystal blue meth kingpin Walter White and his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman, are pulling an all nighter in Gus Fring’s drug lab when the fly starts to torment the pair with Walt trying (and failing) to catch it. In the process, both open up about recent difficult moments in their lives. Walt discusses his cancer diagnosis while Jesse discusses the death of his girlfriend, Jane, which brings with it a brutal sense of dramatic irony: at at this point, Jesse has no idea he’s working alongside the man who let Jane die.
Game of Thrones, “Breaker of Chains” – season four, episode three
This feels like the most poory-judged episode in Game of Thrones’ history. It’s the episode where (trigger warning), Jaime Lannister appears to rape his sister Ceresi in a move that shocked viewers of the show. Not only was it wildly different from the books, and completely out of character for Jaime, it also gratuitously exploited sexual assault. Reviews were damning, calling the scene “unacceptable” and “outrageous” – worse still was the fact all this all happened next to the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey. What on earth were they thinking?