The CW, a network with a reputation for aiming its shows at a slightly younger audience, has not been without its share of controversy over the years. That same tendency causes it to aim for a sort of heightened soapiness that sometimes necessitates outrages choices.
Between its many shows and characters, it makes sense that the network would cross a line or two, whether it be by killing off a beloved character in a way that fans find objectionable, making a tone-deaf episode about racism, or breaking a beloved character by having them behave in ways that go against everything established over the previous episodes.
This is a list of times that shows aired on The CW went too far, in one way or another. Obviously “Too Far” means different things to different people, and while some of these shows recovered, but some didn’t. You could also argue that some of these choices were ultimately in the best interest of the shows if they wanted to be daring and unexpected, but each of them made a choice (or several choices) that either left a poor taste in fan’s mouths, or ignited a controversy of some kind.
These are 15 CW Shows That Went Too Far.
15. Melrose Place goes Targaryen
Despite being canceled after only one season, The CW’s Melrose Place reboot managed to squeeze a lot of bad behavior into a short period of time.
A decent chunk of this bad behavior was carried out by Ashlee Simpson’s Violet, who begins an affair with her mother’s former lover, kills her mother’s killer, and then, as if that wasn’t enough, is eventually revealed to have been carrying on affair with her adopted brother as well.
Regardless of blood relations, sleeping with your adopted brother is still super weird and creepy, though it’s something that seems to happen a lot on The CW. Not even those sorts of outlandish twists – or the return of original MP star Heather Locklear – prevented Melrose Place‘s swift cancellation.
14. Riverdale – Grundy and Archie
Unlike many of the other shows on this list, which took some time to eventually go too far, The CW’s Riverdale swung for the fences from the very beginning, starting off with the reveal that lead character Archie, a fifteen year-old high-school sophomore, was in a secret relationship with his thirty-something teacher Ms. Grundy. The show treats their relationship as a sexy forbidden romance at first, despite its illegal nature.
Ms. Grundy is eventually revealed to have changed her name and moved to Riverdale to escape an abusive relationship, and when her affair with Archie threatens to be revealed, she agrees to leave town, with the show seeming very eager to move on from her story-line.
13. Supernatural – Charlie’s death
Sometimes a character is so beloved by fans that their death will turn them against you no matter how it happens. It certainly doesn’t help, however, when you kill one of the most well-liked characters on the show in a brutal and horrific way.
Despite being introduced later on in the (extremely long) run of Supernatural, it took no time at all for Charlie to go from supporting character to being the heart of the show, which is why some fans took it so personally when she was brutally stabbed to death in a motel bathroom. Not to mention that she was the lone gay representation still on the show and one of the few female characters still kicking.
12. Arrow – Olicity drags on
Sometimes going too far comes from a place of good intentions, such as trying to please fans or doing something unexpected. This was the case on Arrow, when the show sidelined the Laurel/Black Canary romance from the comics in order to focus on Oliver’s doomed love story with his trusty hacker Felicity, a new character created for the show who had become unexpectedly beloved by fans.
While there’s nothing overtly offensive about the romance between these two characters, the show spent several seasons trying to dig itself out of the on-again/off-again hole it had dug itself into.
The biggest casualty of this story-line was Felicity herself, who was forced into role that didn’t suit her character, always either betrayed and hurt by Oliver’s actions, or pining for him in a way that denied her of her own agency.
11. One Tree Hill’s school shooting
Teen drama One Tree Hill decided to tackle the controversial topic of school shootings, in an episode that is dramatically titled “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept”.
Despite being fairly well-received at the time for having avoided the usual “after-school special” comparisons that an episode like this might normally draw, One Tree Hill persisted in being One Tree Hill, using the school shooting as a catalyst for many of its teen-soap storylines.
With characters confessing their love for each other and using the cover of the shooting to settle old scores, it’s easy to see why some people would be upset by this episode, though the show certainly crossed more lines (with less sensitivity) later in its run.
10. 90210 – Annie kills a man & dates his psychotic nephew
At times, The CW’s 90210 feels like it was dared to see how many ridiculous soap opera twists and turns it can squeeze into its run. No character is a better embodiment of that than Annie, whose drunk driving results in a hit and run accident that sends her on a seasons-long spiral culminating in her becoming an escort.
Its not enough that she killed someone with her car – she then dates the nephew of the man she killed, and goes to great lengths to keep her secrets from coming out, dealing with blackmail in the process – because this is a teen soap, after all.
A hit-and-run is a reasonable event to build drama around for one of your major characters, but 90210 wrung so much ridiculous drama from it that it crossed the line of believability several times over.
9. Gossip Girl – Chuck trades Blair for a hotel
A lot of characters undergo major transformations over the course of Gossip Girl’s run, but none as many as Chuck. A sometimes-villain who starts and stops his path to redemption any number of times, he seems to finally have something in his life worth fighting for in his relationship with Blair.
Which makes it even more disgusting when he uses her as a bargaining chip by arranging to have her sleep with his uncle in order help a business deal go through.
It wasn’t the first or last disappointing and vile thing that Chuck would do, or even that he would do to Blair, but it was gross in a way that made it hard to root for the character going forward, no matter what he tried to do to make things right.
8. Smallville – Lana marries Lex
Over the course of its ten season run, Smallville put its main characters through an insane amount of drama, both interpersonal and sci-fi driven.
The central romance between a young Clark Kent and his childhood friend Lana Lang went through a number of permutations, but fans were most put off by her relationship with the young Superman‘s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, which took some truly twisted turns.
Lex not only manipulated Lana into a relationship and eventual marriage with him, but was also revealed to have tricked her into thinking she was pregnant with his child when she actually wasn’t.
This was the icing on the cake of a consistently abusive relationship that also involved filming her without her permission. Lana went through a lot over the run of the show, but her relationship with Lex was when the show truly took things too far.
7. Vampire Diaries – Damon compels Caroline
Another CW show that wasted no time in crossing boundaries, The Vampire Diaries introduced the character of Damon as its primary villain in season one, before eventually morphing him into a normal member of the ensemble, and then its leading man by the end of the show’s run. But not before having him torment and manipulate the vulnerable Caroline in season one.
With his vampire abilities forcing Caroline to “consent”, Damon used her as a source of both sex and blood. It was a betrayal that she justifiably hated him for, even through his efforts at redemption.
The show never quite held Damon accountable for the level of abuse he inflicted upon her, however, and while many more of the characters carried out twisted acts over the course of its run, the tone was irrevocably set by Damon’s treatment of Caroline.
6. Reign – Mary’s violation
Reign, the CW’s heavily fictionalized telling of the life and rule of Mary, Queen of Scots, packed its four seasons with lascivious twists and turns, but none left as bad of an impression as Mary’s rape at the hands of a Protestant assassin in the ninth episode of season two, when she is assaulted after a failed assassination attempt.
The CW has a spotty track record when it comes to dealing with things like sexual assault in a thoughtful and nuanced way, and Mary’s rape is treated largely as a plot device at the mid-point of the season, used to spur on the various conflicts and mark a downturn in her relationship with her husband Francis.
5. 7th Heaven – White Hate Crime
Not exactly a show known for its subtlety or nuance, 7th Heaven continued that streak in its tenth season when it attempted to tackle racism in an episode that was unfortunately titled “Got MLK?” In addition to its unnecessarily punny title, 7th Heaven also made the dubious choice of having white character Martin be the target of a hate crime.
When a black student chafes at being told that he can’t write a report about Martin Luther King, Martin inadvertently intervenes, which results in all of the students having to write reports about African-American figures from history, which angers some of the other students.
While it’s admirable that the show wanted to tackle racial issues, it did so by focusing on its white characters, and approached the issue in an overall tactless way. That’s apparent even just from reading the episode’s title.
In the limited CW series Containment, a virus breaks out in the city of Atlanta, necessitating a quarantine, with many of the show’s main characters stuck inside the infected zone, while others are outside working to find out what’s happening to their loved ones still trapped within the city. While it’s expected that a show about a disease would get kind of gross, Containment luxuriated in the symptoms of its deadly virus.
There are only so many times you can see someone bleed from the eyes before it loses its impact, but Containment returned to that well over and over.
Unlike many of the CW’s other shows, where death is quick and violent, a death on Containment was a slow and protracted affair, and its no surprise that many people didn’t want to watch a show about slowly dying from a deadly, super-gross virus.
3. Ringer – Juliet’s fake allegations
A sultry crime drama, Ringer crossed the line during its one season run when it had high schooler Juliet falsely accuse her teacher, who she’d been engaging in a dangerous flirtation with, of raping her. This sparks a several episode long trial subplot that begins gross and only gets grosser when the allegations turn out to have been part of a larger money-making plot by Juliet, the teacher, and others.
Dealing with a false rape allegation is already tricky territory, but Ringer was not the best platform for it. As a twisty thriller/soap opera, it was more interested in playing the storyline for shocking twists than anything else. Having one of its major characters use such allegations in one of their schemes was definitely crossing a line, spreading the false idea that teen girls regularly “cry rape”.
2. The Originals – Hayley’s death
Much like The Vampire Diaries, the show that it spun out of, The Originals is no stranger to shocking vampire violence. However, no moment has been more disturbing to fans than the graphic slitting of Hayley’s throat immediately after giving birth to her child, which her attackers then attempt to sacrifice, because killing a woman right after giving birth just isn’t brutal enough.
Though Hayley survived the attack (because vampires!), the graphic nature of the scene was certainly disturbing, even by the show’s own violent standards. Placing it in the context of childbirth, an event that already carries its own wonderful and horrible emotions and implications, made it even more emotionally and visually disturbing, with some fans claiming it as the first moment in the show that went too far.
1. The 100 – Bellamy’s genocide & Lexa’s death
The 100, a show so well-known for going to extremes that it had two of its lead characters kill hundreds of innocent people towards the end of the second season, managed to one-up itself in season three, finding a whole new series of lines to cross.
In addition to sparking major fan outrage with the death of Lexa, the noble commander of the grounders and love-interest to main character Clarke, the show also had the character of Lincoln killed off by third-rate villain Pike, and turned the fan-favorite Bellamy into an unrepentant mass murderer… for a second time.
While Alycia Debnam-Carey and Ricky Whittle had been cast in other roles (on Fear the Walking Dead and American Gods, respectively), necessitating some sort of exit, fans were outraged by the carelessness with which these pivotal characters were killed off, especially given the rarity of complex queer romances on network television.
While the show managed to give Lexa a slightly more fitting send-off in the season finale, several episodes after she’d caught a stray bullet, it had a much harder time recovering from Bellamy’s character assassination, even in a generally-improved fourth season.
What other CW shows went too far? Let us know in the comments!
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