There’s plenty of terrible television out there nowadays. While many of these shows fizzle out after only a season or two, others manage to stay on the air for an unexplainable amount of time. What’s worse for many fans is when their favourite show takes a wrong turn.
In some instances, the series’ conclusion doesn’t live up to the seasons leading up to it. In others, the show may experience a shift in tone partway through its lifespan, alienating former viewers in an attempt to gain new ones. Changes in a show’s cast or writing staff can sometimes be the cause of a show’s declining quality. For some shows, however, there seems to be no reason for their starting to go down hill.
For the binge-watchers out there, you can try and skip out on a reportedly bad season of a show, but good luck with that. If that season falls in the middle, you’re left missing out on a good amount of plot points. If it’s a final season, you’re left without any sort of conclusion.
Sometimes, a season is so bad that it can taint a person’s view of the entire series. Here are 15 great shows ruined by one terrible season.
15 Prison Break (Season 2)
Prison Break brought in fans almost immediately with its unique take on the crime drama genre, following a man falsely imprisoned for murder and his brother who plans to break him out.
The first season on the show was praised for its compelling character development. The show simply made you care about Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield. By season 2, however, the team behind the show was ready for a change.
Season 2 began shortly after Lincoln is broken out of the Fox River State Penitentiary. What followed was a season of absurd events that lead the show far outside of what people had come to expect. While we can certainly appreciate the show runners wanted to do something different, they didn’t exactly stick the landing.
14 Dexter (Season 9)
Dexter followed everyone’s favourite serial killer for 8 seasons on CBS. Michael C. Hall’s Dexter Morgan was a Miami forensic technician who struggled with his own bloodlust. The series was praised for its character development and its ability to get audiences on the side of a murderer.
The series had a pretty good run, but Dexter’s final few seasons saw a major decline in quality. After a weird will they/won’t they between Dexter and his adopted sister Debra, the final season went completely off the rails.
The series’ open-ended conclusion left people scratching their heads, and not in a good way.
13 Sons of Anarchy (Season 3)
Dubbed “Hamlet on Harleys” by many viewers, Sons of Anarchy was a crime drama that centered around the titular motorcycle club. Throughout the series, Jax Teller, played by Charlie Hunnam, struggles with his own loyalty to the club. This struggle kept viewers coming back to FX week after week too see which way Jax’s devotion would swing.
Season 2 ended with the kidnapping of Jax’s son Abel, keeping viewers guessing until the season 3 premiere 9 months later. When it was finally time for some sort of resolution, many felt let down. A good chunk of the cast spent most of season 3 running around Ireland trying to find Abel while the audience already knew where he was. Not exactly gripping television.
The show ran for a total of 7 seasons, but many viewers couldn’t get back into things following the third.
12 Orange is the New Black (Season 3)
Orange is the New Black is one of Netflix’s most celebrated originals. Set in Lichfield Women’s Correctional Facility, the comedy-drama has been a favourite amongst many binge watchers. The show’s first two seasons were praised by many for its humanistic portrayal of the United States prison system, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats throughout.
The show’s third season, however, toned down the drama severely, leading the show to take on the role of a sitcom. The sense of risk that the first two seasons had seemingly disappeared and throwaway character Stella Carlin dominated the screen for no real reason. Quite simply, the show didn’t feel like itself anymore.
The following two seasons saw somewhat of a return to form for the show. The anything-can-happen feeling of danger that made Orange is the New Black so great in the first place seems to be on the rise. For some viewers, however, it’s too little, too late.
11 The O.C. (Season 3)
For young adults of today, The O.C. is the quintessential teen drama. Following troubled teenager Ryan Atwood, played by Ben McKenzie, and his tight-knit group of friends, the show was beloved for its approach in dealing with uncomfortable sources of adolescent conflict, including addiction and mental illness.
The third season of The O.C. saw some characters go through wild transformations, while others seemingly did nothing all season. Perhaps most upsetting was the death of Misha Barton’s Marissa Cooper. While the way in which the show killed off Marissa was decent, the attempt at a twist ending for the season finale was not well received by viewers.
10 The X-Files (Season 8)
Some shows have managed the loss of a main cast member gracefully. Cheers and Spin City were able to continue without too much backlash and even some amount of praise. The X-Files was not so lucky.
Season 7 of the critically acclaimed science-fiction series saw the departure of David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder. Trying to replace one of only two main characters sounds crazy to most, but that’s just what The X-Files did. Following Mulder’s alien abduction at the end of season 7, the show introduced Robert Patrick’s John Doggett to fill the void. Mulder did appear intermittently throughout seasons 8 and 9, but many fans felt that the change in dynamic simply didn’t work.
Seasons 10 and 11 saw a return to form for the show, with Mulder and Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, back as the show’s leads. Despite this, The X-Files still hasn’t managed to recapture the magic of its first 7 seasons.
9 Friday Night Lights (Season 2)
Friday Night Lights was a drama centred around the Dillon, Texas high school football team. The first season of the show focused largely on Coach Taylor’s struggle to get his team into the state championship. This is made extremely difficult following the paralysis-causing injury of former quarterback Jason Street. The show was surprising in its emotional complexity and drew in a wide variety of viewers.
Season 2, on the other hand, saw Coach Taylor leave town for another job and lacked the character development that made the show what is was. Many chalked season 2’s flop up to the writer’s strike of 2007, but the seasons that followed still never managed to live up to the debut.
8 Community (Season 4)
Community had some major shakeups throughout its 6 seasons. Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown all left the series, to one extent or the other, before the show’s conclusion. The biggest hurdle that the show faced, however, was the replacement of creator and show runner Dan Harmon at the end of the third season.
For many fans, Harmon’s writing was the heart and soul of Community. And those fans might have been right. The fourth season was criticized for lacking the clever humour of past seasons, serving as the exit for many long-time fans. Dan Harmon himself criticized the fourth season as an unflattering impression of what it once was.
Community ran for two additional seasons, with Dan Harmon returning to the series for the last two. Despite Harmon’s return, Community just never managed to bounce back.
7 How I Met Your Mother (Season 9)
After 8 long seasons, it was finally time to find out just how Ted Mosby met the mother of his children. How I Met Your Mother’s ninth and final season kept current audiences intrigued and even brought back some of those who had left the show during previous seasons.
Despite the fairly diverse viewership, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people satisfied with how the series concluded. The entire season took place during the weekend before Barney and Robin’s wedding, with flashbacks and flashforwards meant to tie up any loose ends with the recently revealed “mother” character.
What fans got, however, was a messy attempt at character development, the surprising, and not in a good way, death of the mother, and an ending that many viewers were afraid was coming. Audiences are told over and over throughout the show’s 8 seasons that Robin and Ted are not meant for one another. Killing off the mother in such an abrupt fashion and having Robin and Ted end up together just felt like the show was ignoring itself.
6 Scrubs (Season 9)
The final season of Scrubs is an issue for a few reasons. Not only did the show’s ninth season feel like a slap in the face to long-time viewers, but for some, it also undid the show’s original series finale.
After seven seasons on NBC, Scrubs was picked up for, what was meant to be, its final season by ABC. This allowed for the medical dramedy to properly wrap itself up. The season 8 finale was a heartfelt conclusion to the beloved show that saw J.D. move on from Sacred Heart Hospital to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, the warm reception to the season seems to have been a double-edged sword.
ABC called for more Scrubs, leading to the painfully dull season 9. Occasionally appearing on TV with the title Scrubs: Med School, the season brought in a new main cast, with fan favourites like Chris Turk and Dr. Cox appearing sporadically throughout. The new cast lacked the chemistry of the original and the whole season was looked at by many as a simple cash grab.
5 Dallas (Season 9)
It’s hard to count on two hands the number of shows that have parodied the 9th season of Dallas. The 1978 soap opera was already known for its cliff hangers, but season 9 was too much for many viewers. The season 8 death of series regular Bobby Ewing ensured for an emotionally complex follow-up. But, the show basically undid all of its development when it revealed that the whole season was just a dream. Bobby’s death was just a figment of Pamela’s imagination.
Dallas went on to air for 14 seasons, though many saw the dream season as the point in which the show’s quality began to decline.
4 Roseanne (Season 9)
Roseanne was a unique entry into the family sitcom genre for a few reasons. The Connor family were true working-class people, who held down jobs with long hours and lived paycheck to paycheck. Roseanne and Dan had to look out for Jackie throughout an abusive relationship. The family’s all-too relatable struggles would have had viewers tearing up if it weren’t for the comedic chemistry of the show’s cast.
What made the first 8 seasons of Roseanne so great was exactly what made the show’s final season such a dud. After years of being portrayed as a simple, down to earth family, the Connor’s win the lottery. With $100 million at their disposal, the family gets into any number of strange adventures, including an appearance on The Jerry Springer Show.
After 22 completely bizarre episodes, Roseanne concludes with the audience learning that the whole season took place inside its title character’s imagination. Didn’t they learn anything from Dallas?
3 Lost (Season 3)
It’s time for J.J. Abrams’ unfortunate second appearance on this list. Lost centered around a group of plane crash survivors stranded on a deserted island. The show had viewers talking symbolism and fan theories throughout its 6-season run. The longer the series was on, however, the less viewers had to go off of.
Season 3 took the show’s habit of using flashbacks and flashforwards and beat it to death. It seems characters couldn’t do anything without an unrelated flashback turning whatever task they were in the middle of into some sort of mystery. And let’s not forget Nikki and Paulo. Nearly every viewer despised the couple and, thankfully, they were killed off shortly after their on-screen debut.
After 6 episodes, the third season of Lost was halted. The remaining 16 episodes aired after a 12 week break and tried to undo some of the damage.
2 Felicity (Season 4)
Felicity was subject to rave reviews for its first 3 seasons. Created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, the show followed Felicity Porter as she attended university in New York City. Dramatic and relatable to many young adults, Felicity brought in viewers week after week.
Following a fairly simple, but satisfying, series finale, the network called for an additional 5 episodes. The show’s answer to this was a time travel story arc in which Felicity choses to be with Noel over Ben as her romantic partner. By the time of the true series finale, the audience learns that Felicity was right the first time around and that Ben is who she’s meant to be with.
The additional episodes answered a lot of “what if” questions that fans may have had, but is that a good thing? The debate between what is best for Felicity was a favourite amongst viewers and these last 5 episodes effectively squashed that.
1 The '70s Show (Season 8)
Did they really think That ‘70s Show would work without Eric Foreman?
After 7 hilarious seasons, Topher Grace, the actor behind the Wisconsin teenager, seemed ready to move on from the sitcom. On top of that, Ashton Kutcher, who played loveable dimwit Michael Kelso, also chose the end of season 7 to make his exit, though he appeared in 5 episodes of, what would become, the show’s final season.
The show’s production team seemed to try and combat the loss of both Eric and Kelso with Randy Pearson, played by Josh Meyers. The light-hearted Randy was meant to fill the comic relief of Kelso and provide a new love interest for Donna. What came about, however, was a series of jokes that didn’t land and a total lack of chemistry.
While Grace and Kutcher would return for the series finale, many viewers had already tuned out.
Have any of your favourite shows taken a wrong turn? Which finales do you think missed the mark? Let's talk about it in the comments.
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