There’s no such thing as a perfect TV show. There’s no such thing as a perfect anything for that matter, but the point is that the best series are sometimes referred to as perfect because they come as close as any show will ever come to achieving what is really just an impossible mark of excellence. Every show suffers through bad episodes, bad plotlines, and bad characters. That’s just a fact of life.
However, there is nothing quite as bad as a bad storyline in the middle of a great show. Unlike a bad episode, which is finished in an hour or thirty minutes, bad storylines often last for multiple episodes and typically bring out the worst in any otherwise great program. There’s no one thing that defines a bad storyline except that feeling of dread that consumes you when you realize that you’re hopelessly trapped in the middle of one. You may deny that your favorite show could ever sink to such an unfathomable new low, but ultimately, you are just left with the knowledge that you are going to have to endure a truly bad storyline if you’re going to ever make it see this once perfect program through to the end.
These are the 15 Worst Storylines In Amazing TV Shows.
15 The Wire - The Fake Serial Killer
The Wire’s fifth season is generally agreed to be the show’s weakest hour. While the final season of The Wire does contain one of the best series finales ever produced, it’s also the source of some of the show’s lowest moments. Of course, most of what is wrong with The Wire’s fifth season can be traced back to the famous fake serial killer storyline.
In an effort to encourage the city to give the police department more money, a few members of the Baltimore P.D. invent a serial killer. They fake crime scenes, phone calls, and even send some homeless people upstate to make it look like they’ve been murdered. It’s bad enough that this one plotline dominates the final season of such a thematically complex show, but at no point does it become any easier to buy into the idea that any of the characters who participate in this scheme would actually take things as far as they ultimately do.
14 Prison Break - The Manhunt
Even though Prison Break’s first season was a surprisingly great piece of entertainment, those who watched the show couldn’t help but wonder just what was going to happen when the boys actually escaped prison. The elaborate escape and the problems it resulted in were the things that drew most people to Prison Break in the first place. Even the show’s title no longer makes sense if that central element isn’t in place.
As we all found out during season two of Prison Break, the writers apparently also didn’t know what to do with Prison Break when breaking out of a prison was no longer part of the equation. The show’s second season revolved around our escapees becoming fugitives, but apparently, Michael Scofield didn’t really plan to actually escape, as this part of the breakout was devoid of many of the clever little schemes that made the first season so compelling. In their place was an aimless run through the woods occasionally spiced with a mostly uninteresting conspiracy subplot.
13 Game of Thrones - Daenerys’ Trip to Qarth
There are actually quite a few storylines in Game of Thrones which don’t quite match up to the quality of the rest of the show. The odd characterization of the Sand Snakes, for instance, was an unnecessary departure from the books, as were the rapes of Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister. Of course, the less said about Bran’s mythical adventures among the tree people, the better.
In the end, however, the worst storyline nod goes to Daenerys’ trip to Qarth. Despite the writers' attempts at altering this plotline in several key ways, it ultimately suffered from the same issues that dragged down nearly every Daenerys chapter in the Clash of Kings novel. The Qarth storyline is ultimately too far removed from the events of the rest of the show and far too long to actually be enjoyable or impactful in the long-term. It was season-long filler for one of the show’s greatest characters.
12 Buffy The Vampire Slayer - The Initiative
The first three seasons of Buffy are far from perfect - the first season is particularly rough - but most of the early Buffy episodes benefited from the fascinating universe Joss Whedon and his creative team were building. There’s something universally entertaining about high schoolers fighting supernatural entities. When season 3 ended and it was revealed that our favorite characters were going to abandon their familiar high school surroundings, nobody was quite sure if the show would find its feet again.
Unfortunately, Buffy’s fourth season did little to quell those fears. The fourth season of Buffy primarily focuses on a government branch of monster hunting military types known as The Initiative. While Whedon clearly intended for this cold and calculated military division to clash with the intimate nature of the Scooby gang; the problem was that The Initiative was never that interesting. This storyline introduced a host of boring characters (hi Riley), half-baked plot twists (a Frankenstein’s monster named Adam), and was generally devoid of charm. Fortunately, the rest of the series rarely ever brought up The Initiative again.
11 Mad Men - The Awkward Introduction of Bob Benson
For the most part, Mad Men is a remarkably tight show devoid of fluff. It’s fairly easy to trace many of the principal characters’ arcs and cite the pivotal moments of their on-screen lives. Most of the show’s storylines paid off in some way or otherwise helped bring another angle to a close. Towards the end of Mad Men, however, a few plot points appeared which felt slightly desperate in comparison to the excellent stories of the first few seasons.
The introduction of Bob Benson will always stand as the series’ biggest misstep. Actually, "introduction" isn’t really the right word here. Bob just kind of appeared during the show’s sixth season and we were all supposed to just buy into him being an integral part of the cast despite the fact that we had no emotional investment in him whatsoever. The writers eventually forced Benson into the spotlight by ensuring he was involved with all the major stories going on at the moment - and even wrote a painfully bad story involving Pete's mother that centered around him - but at the end of it all, Bob was merely a collage of spare character ideas that just didn’t work.
10 Breaking Bad - Marie’s Kleptomania
Speaking of shows which are largely devoid of unnecessary fluff, let’s talk about Breaking Bad. One of the best things about Breaking Bad is the show’s breakneck pace. Sure, there are a couple of plotlines which drag down the occasional episode, but most Breaking Bad episodes continue a wickedly fast-paced story that you simply have to see the conclusion to.
Then you have the “Marie the Thief” plot point. During Breaking Bad’s first season, Skyler got in a spot of trouble when it turned out that a tiara her sister Marie had given her was stolen. Soon thereafter, we learn that Marie is a kleptomaniac. Marie’s kleptomania would resurface later on in Breaking Bad after her husband is shot, but no matter how the writers tried to work her habitual stealing into the show, it just never seemed to fit. Marie’s stealing was the kind of thing you expected to see on a show like Saved By the Bell. The storyline was made that much worse by the way the writers refused to just let it go.
9 The West Wing - Toby's Treason
The West Wing is one of the greatest shows of all-time, but few fans will hesitate to tell you that the series endured a harsh nosedive in quality the moment that writer Aaron Sorkin left. Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialog and complex political views helped separate The West Wing from anything else on network TV. Without Sorkin at the helm, The West Wing often steered into rocky waters in search of a purpose.
While this led to quite a few bad storylines during the show’s later seasons, none were as bizarre or detrimental as the reveal that series mainstay Toby was guilty of treason. See, there were these astronauts trapped in space who the U.S. could save, but doing so would require them to reveal that they had access to a top-secret military device. Someone leaked the existence of this device to the press in order to encourage the government to save the astronauts, and that someone ended up being Toby. The writers tried to explain that Toby’s love for his deceased astronaut brother compelled him to leak the information, but the connection never felt strong enough to justify such an extreme action that essentially removed one of the best characters from the show.
8 Lost - The Adventures of Nikki and Paulo
Lost’s third year is really a tale of two seasons. The second half of the show’s third year is an incredible adventure that pays off several plotlines that had been developing up until that point and introduces new stories that would serve as the basis of the show’s grand mythology. The first half of that season...well, the first half of that season gave us Nikki and Paulo.
Nikki and Paulo are hastily introduced in the third season and start to receive an unusual amount of screen time for two characters that don’t really serve any purpose or have any ties to the show’s main plot lines. It all leads to an episode where the Nikki and Paulo are revealed to be thieves who are eventually accidentally buried alive. While the payoff is admittedly amusing, we still can’t help but feel just a bit bitter that Lost’s writers spent so much time focusing on these two ultimately meaningless characters just so they could produce a Tales From the Crypt-esque story about justice.
7 Dexter - Debra Is In Love With Dexter
While Dexter is a pretty incredible show at its best (most of the first four seasons), it’s hard to deny that the writers eventually ran out of ways to get mileage out of the idea of a serial killer living amongst us. At some point, Dexter being a serial killer stops being shocking, and viewers were left with a soap opera take on a horror movie that just dragged on for too long.
Sitting atop of the pile of bad late season Dexter storylines is the revelation that Debra had romantic feelings for her step-brother, Dexter. Even though there is certainly an “Ew” factor in play, as Game of Thrones proved, such storylines can be handled in a compelling way. In this context, however, the revelation of Debra’s romantic feelings just felt out of place. There were very few hints that such a thing was even possible prior to the reveal, and the show never really did anything interesting with this concept.
6 Weeds - The Botwins Moves to Mexico
Ask anyone who watched Weeds during the show’s first few seasons what the show was about, and they would likely tell you that it’s about a suburban mom who decided to start selling pot in order to maintain her lifestyle and support her family after her husband dies. While Weeds occasionally dealt with other subject matter, its best moments can be traced to the way it looked at suburban American culture through a haze of smoke.
The show’s fourth season abandoned all of that by sending the family down to Mexico and essentially rewriting the premise of the series. While these events fit the show’s narrative up until that point, the move to Mexico is also responsible for essentially killing the beloved series. Weeds was never nearly as interesting when it wasn’t sarcastically addressing the hypocrisy of modern culture. The move to Mexico turned the show into a watered down crime saga devoid of charm and laughs.
5 Friends - Joey and Rachel Start Dating
While most of Friends focused on the trivial problems of a group of people who have a little too much going for them in life to ever truly be "stuck in second gear", the show’s worst moments are typically reserved for the times the writers decided to devote too many episodes to a particular relationship nobody really wanted to see in the first place. The prime example of this unfortunate dip in creativity will always be the Joey/Rachel relationship angle.
The Friends writers occasionally dipped into the “they hook up with each other” well, but this is certainly the dryest return they ever got from that effort. Simply put, nobody asked for Joey and Rachel to be a couple. Jennifer Aniston and Matt Leblanc never had much on-screen sexual chemistry, and the Rachel and Joey characters were never really written to be compatible beyond the fact that they were both attractive. Then again, considering that was the basis for 90% of the show’s relationships, perhaps this misstep should be forgiven.
4 The Sopranos - Tony's Prolonged Coma
The Sopranos' long-awaited sixth season began with a literal bang as Junior shockingly shot Tony in the stomach during a particularly bad bout with dementia. Millions watched in horror as the show’s centerpiece crawled desperately towards the phone, clinging to life. Would Tony live? Would he ever be the same? What was going to happen?
What happened were a series of episodes that forever divided the Sopranos' fanbase. Tony would spend the next couple of episodes in a deep coma, and the follow-up eps in the hospital. While the Sopranos’ impossibly deep roster of compelling characters kept things moving, the whole comma angle felt like a cheap ratings ploy from a lesser show. Worse yet, this coma storyline didn’t really contribute to anything especially interesting aside from yet another line of dreams with deeper meanings and some shenanigans involving the Soprano crew.
3 Roseanne - Roseanne Wins the Lottery
As many of you may know, television comedies don’t typically enjoy an extended period of glory years. At some point, the jokes run dry and the show’s writers begin to experiment with new ways to recapture the creative spark that once helped make the series so funny. These attempts are rarely successful. At worst, they can be downright awful.
However, no attempt at freshening up a dying show has ever been more detrimental to the legacy of a great comedy than Roseanne’s lottery storyline. Roseanne initially set itself apart as a blue collar show about a working class family whose lives mirrored the lives of many viewers. In the show’s final season, however, the family’s financial situation changed drastically when they won a state lottery drawing worth $108 million. This sudden revelation robbed the show of much of its comedic heart and many of the reasons people bothered to watch Roseanne at all. Even worse, it’s later revealed that the entire lottery storyline was just an elaborate fantasy that Roseanne’s character dreamed up to cope with the loss of her husband. Yes, it was all just a dream. Because that's ever once ever been a good way to wrap up a story.
2 The Walking Dead - The Farm
The Walking Dead’s second year will forever remain one of the most controversial seasons in television history. After an incredible inaugural season which established The Walking Dead as one of the most exciting shows on television, The Walking Dead’s follow-up outing opted to focus on...a farm. After Carol’s daughter Sophia goes missing, our heroes end up attempting to settle down on a farm, where they remain for most of the series' second year.
Some defend the farm angle by pointing out that the show’s budget issues were responsible for the lack of varied settings and slower pace. They also say that it just makes sense for the survivors to want to settle down somewhere safe. Those are all fair points, but they do little to address the problem that the extended stay on the farm just didn’t make for exciting television - and that The Walking Dead, at its best, is supposed to be very exciting television.
1 Friday Night Lights - Landry the Murderer
This storyline is not nearly as detrimental as some of the others we’ve previously discussed on this list, but in terms of sheer “Wait, what?” factor, it certainly takes the prize. Friday Night Lights’ second season is generally considered to be the show’s worst. While many of the season’s issues can be traced back to the writer’s strike that plagued many small screen stalwarts around this time, some of the season’s worst moments were simply there from the start.
None of these moments are quite as bad as when Landry became a murderer, however. In season one, Landry was a lovable loser type who had an all too familiar crush on popular high school girl Tyra. Events transpired which eventually led to Landry and Tyra murdering a man who tried to assault Tyra. For reasons not adequately explained, the two decide that the best course of action is to hide the body. This leads an almost comical series of moments that are supposed to be tense but are ruined by the sheer ridiculousness of a murder plot being introduced in a show primarily about high school football. In case you’re wondering, the storyline is dropped rather quickly, without anyone suffering any real consequences. It was for the best.
What other great TV shows were subjected to terrible storylines? Let us know in the comments.