Superhero TV shows are enjoyable to a wide range of audiences, from young kids to hardcore adult fans. And why wouldn’t they be? Be it a comic book adaptation or original superhero series, we get an opportunity to suspend disbelief and enjoy the wonders of a universe with superheroes, supervillains, and the action-packed drama that ensues. We can join fanbases that fawn over new episodes and become captivated by the possibilities of the next. If anything, superhero television doesn’t just provide entertainment, but it can also provide a sense of fan community.
Unfortunately, like any television series, superhero adaptations are definitely not exempt from a cringe-inducing episode or two. We have to give them a break, honestly. Keeping up the pace of a show with 100% good writing every episode, filler or not, is quite a task. That doesn’t mean we won’t poke a bit of fun at them, though.
From the archaic Wonder Woman to modern-day Flash to the iconic Buffy the Vampire Slayer and some of its spinoffs, superhero television has suffered from a few episodes of poor writing that can be hard to watch– unless you need a good cringe.
Check out The 15 Most Cringe-Inducing Moments In Superhero Television History.
15. Wonder Woman – The beauty pageant episode
The late seventies television show Wonder Woman actually spent all of its first season set during World War II. In the episode “Beauty on Pageant”, Diana goes undercover with the incredibly creative alias Diana Paradise and enters the Miss GI Dream Girl 1942 competition with the intention of exposing the pageant’s director as a war criminal.
There’s a ton of cattiness, aggressive sexism, body-shaming, jazz hands, and general cringeworthy sleazeball behavior. Maybe the episode was particularly entertaining in the seventies, but anyone watching today may find it hard to get through. Especially the scene where good old Steve Trevor calls Wonder Woman “frumpy” and asks if she’s good in the kitchen. It’s really painful to watch, but of course, Diana wins the pageant and saves the day!
14. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Buffy gets booted
Poor Buffy. In this season seven episode, Sunnydale’s residents flee the impending apocalypse. Buffy becomes a bit controlling over the Potentials and her friends, making some less than savory decisions without much help from anyone else. The group doesn’t like this– especially after Buffy confronts them for not following her orders– and everyone, including Dawn, Willow, Xander (who is now one-eyed due to Buffy’s negligence), and Giles, promptly kick her out of her own house and revoke her leadership in favor of Faith.
The scene was unbelievably awkward, probably due to the out-of-character behavior of the Scooby Gang and involvement of a bunch of throwaway side characters. The scene felt more like a house full of roommates having a passive-aggressive argument mixed with a bitter family intervention. Even Xander sprinkling in missing-eye puns to soften the seriousness of the scene couldn’t make it watchable.
13. Supergirl – Kara’s damsel in distress moment with Mon-El
Ah, good ol’ cringey fan service scenes. Comic book adaptations and shows like Supergirl are full of them. In the season two episode “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk”, we get the cringiest of them all– the famous “I am NOT some damsel in distress!” scene.
We know Supergirl isn’t a damsel in distress, what with Super surname, but that line isn’t the worst part of this entire scene. No, the awkward back and forth between Kara and Mon-El is full of Emmy-worthy lines, including:
“I’m… That is ridiculous.”
“He’s a Daxamite!”
“Oh… I’m sorry that I was busy, uh, defending your honor.”
12. Iron Fist – Orientalist tropes
A few of Netflix’s original series, much like any network’s creations, have found some controversy. Iron Fist seems to have really taken the cake in that sense, and it makes sense why– the show bases its premise around a white male Buddhist martial arts expert. If the adverse Orientalist tropes aren’t cringey enough, the acting and storyline are generally considered some of the most boring of any Netflix series.
Even more cringe-worthy was the attempt to argue with fans who were a little frustrated with the lack of Asian-heritage leads by Iron Fist‘s star Finn Jones on Twitter. The tweets– and Jones’ account– were deleted shortly afterward.
Things got even more cringey as the bad reviews started piling up and Jones tried to further defend his character in an interview where he laughed, “The character is a virgin. That’s definitely something that I don’t share with him, just to put that out there.” Oh, man.
11. Flash – Flash yelling at the sky
What can you do to express your emotions when you’re a manly superhero with the gift of superhuman speed? Run far away from other people and scream into the abyss, of course!
In The Flash‘s season two episode “Trajectory”, the eponymous character arrives to create chaos throughout the town– only everyone believes The Flash himself is behind it. Barry is tasked with finding out exactly who Trajectory is and why she is so obsessed with fast-paced demolition.
The episode ends with some different kind of drama– The Flash finds out that Jay Garrick is actually Zoom. Betrayed, angry, and distrustful of yet another loved one in his life, he decides to express his anger is the most sensible way possible– by running to a crevasse and screaming. The moment was almost more laughable than cringey, despite the intended emotion and drama.
10. Arrow – Felicity getting out of her wheelchair
If you think your most recent breakup was bad, we’re betting your ex didn’t get so fed up with your crap that she gained the ability to walk out of spite. While that’s not exactly what happened at the end of Arrow‘s season four episode “Taken”, it comes pretty close.
After making a heartfelt video message to his estranged son, Green Arrow looks up to find his wheelchair-bound fiancee Felicity looking shocked. She proceeds to give back her engagement ring, citing his dishonestly and lack of communication with her as the reason she’s breaking the engagement.
Then, out of nowhere, Felicity discovers that she can stand up. Oliver can’t even summon the energy to look excited for her, and she walks out of the room and closes the door behind her– closing the episode in the briefest and most awkward way possible.
9. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Skye’s sexy scene
While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is definitely entertaining, it has no shortage of cringeworthy moments. Everything that comes out of Coulson’s mouth in the season two trailer is cheesy, the acting can be less than savory at times, plus the whole plugging the plane hole with a raft scene (which we’ll be covering momentarily). However, there’s nothing quite like Skye’s “sexy” scene in the fifth episode of the first season.
We understand that some sex appeal was probably encouraged in the series, but Chloe Bennet seemed so awkward and uncomfortable through the scene’s dialogue in her underwear that it was hard not cringe. No chemistry, no sensuality, just a girl in her underwear for about two minutes having a casual conversation because that’s what the viewers want, right?
8. Smallville – Amy Adam’s fat-sucking villainy
Smallville is no stranger to interesting celebrity guests, from Evangeline Lilly as an extra to Tori Spelling as Linda Lake. Amy Adams’ character Jodi Melville, however, really takes the cake.
In the season one episode “Craving”, Jodi is a weight-obsessed high schooler who develops the urge to suck fat out of people’s bodies after drinking weight loss supplements laced with green kryptonite. She also gains the ability to lose fat at an accelerated rate, only this makes her more desperately hungry for more.
The episode starts as an eating disorder PSA and takes a turn in the B-movie body horror direction when Jodi unhinges her jaw with grade-A special effects and devours a full deer. Laughable or cringe-worthy? Probably a bit of both.
7. Angel – Cordelia sleeps with Angel’s son
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff Angel was one of those rare spinoffs that was actually watchable, sans a few pretty cringey moments. One such moment was in the season four episode “Apocalypse, Nowish”.
In the episode, Angel (David Boreanaz) and his detective agency Angel Investigations look into an abrupt eruption of paranormal activity around the City of Angels (ha!) and discover the awakening of an end-times monster.
The cringey and surprising part of the episode is definitely when the suddenly cougar Cordelia decides to sleep with Angel’s barely legal (and generally annoying) son Connor to comfort him as the episode climaxes (ha ha!). Even if you lack any and all chemistry, the impending apocalypse is apparently a great time to get it on.
6. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Skype plugs the plane with a life raft
When it comes to cringeworthy moments from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we just couldn’t leave this gem out. This scene was so unbelievable with a problem solution so unrealistic that it was difficult to focus on much else for the rest of the episode.
In the episode “0-8-4”, the Bus is in midair when a hole is blown into the side of the aircraft. Agent Coulson and Reyes are barely hanging on, threatened with falling to his death while Agent Ward and Agent May take out numerous enemies onboard. The ever-inventive Skye decides to grab a life raft, inflate it, and plug the hole in the plane with it to save everyone from getting sucked out.
5. Luke Cage – Diamondback’s costume
Luke Cage, like many superhero films and series nowadays, made it a point to reject the typical visual tropes of a comic book adaptation and opt for a more modern edgy feel. However, the season finale decided to throw in a bit of camp when Willis “Diamondback” Stryker decided to battle Luke while sporting a Hammertech suit that would look more appropriate on a Ken doll than an adult human being.
Don’t get us wrong– the costume is very clearly a direct replica of the costume from the comics and we get that. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look kind of out of place and ridiculous. The stuffy olive coat, the canary turtleneck, the too-small, uncomfortable-looking helmet? Definitely retro, but we don’t recommend sporting this look at Comic-con or on Halloween. Poor Erik LaRay Harvey looks like a vaguely reptilian stuffed sausage in that thing.
4. Everything about Gotham
Despite three seasons and a possible fourth on the way, there’s little about Fox’s Batman drama Gotham that’s redeemable in the eyes of Batman fans. Despite its commercial success, it seems neither likeable or watchable. EW‘s Jeff Jensen criticized the show as “[not] a show for comic book fanboys, [but rather] post-fanboy, or fanboy-irrelevant.”
Gotham lacks mystery and storylines that progress– nobody cares who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents and everything seems gut-wrenchingly predictable. Where is the brooding drama of the Batman narrative in Gotham?
Not to mention the cringey roles of most of the show’s female actresses, who seem to be there to just encourage the boring antics of the men from episode to episode. Jada Pinkett Smith is the most vastly underutilized of all.
3. Wonder Woman – “My Teenage Idol Is Missing”
In this episode of the classic series Wonder Woman, dreamy teen music idol Lane Kincaid (is that name not cringey enough) played by Leif Garrett (of course) is kidnapped by a group of masked chloroform-wielding bandits. The intent? Lane’s twin brother wants to take the spotlight and assume his brother’s much-loved identity, and only Wonder Woman can stop the petty plot.
The whole episode is pretty ridiculous, but not quite as ridiculous as the ending. Wonder Woman saves the day of course– and rather than throw Lane’s brother in prison for identity theft and kidnapping, he’s allowed to perform a radical matching tight-pants performance on the big stage. At the big climax, Wonder Woman pulls some sick moves and arrives on a motorbike in a catsuit for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
2. Gotham – Nygma’s creepy crush on Kristen Kringle
There’s nothing quite as cringey as the Nice Guy. Perhaps Gotham wanted to torture us a bit every time Kristen Kringle and Edward Nygma shared a scene together– that creepy crush is hard to watch.
The whole budding love story was sympathetic towards Nygma, who would not chill with the numerous advances that Kristen had to constantly shoot down. Kristen went on to date other people, including officer Tom Dougherty. Apparently, Gotham has no shortage of resident douchebags, and Tom begins abusing Kristen. So what does her Nice Guy admirer do? Murder the crap out of Tom and then encode his confession in a love letter to Kristen, of course. Only after mulling in the aftermath of an abusive relationship does Kristen go out with Nygma.
Yet another on-screen relationship riddled with unhealthy tendencies and a cringeworthy lack of chemistry.
1. Smallville – Lizzie’s obsession with Lana
There’s nothing wrong with being a little envious of other people every once in a while. It happens to the best of us. However, nobody should be like Tina. Tina tries to steal people’s lives. And now Tina’s dead.
In Smallville, Tina Greer was a high school student with the ability to morph her physical appearance and voice to change her identity. She grew up as one of Lana Lang’s friends, spending much of that friendship feeling overshadowed and underloved. Her solution was to become obsessed with Lana, impersonating her, and trying to kill both Clark and Lana to take over her life.
The whole episode was your typical cheeseball dork-turned-shapeshifter identity theft PSA one can often find in shows like Smallville, Supernatural, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What scene in superhero TV made you cringe the most? Let us know in the comments!