When good shows go bad: Terrible episodes of great TV dramas

Senior Television Writer
10.16.13 149 Comments


Monday was Columbus Day – or, as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it on Twitter, “a day when many Americans soberly reflect on the worst ever episode of ‘The Sopranos.'”
Tapper was referring, of course, to the Michael Imperioli-scripted “Christopher,” the fourth season where the actor/writer addressed one of his favorite “Sopranos” themes: the complaints by Italian-Americans that “The Sopranos” was defaming their entire culture. Imperioli had responded to the complaints in previous scripts, but this was an entire episode about it, with Native American protests against Columbus Day leading to scene after scene of characters discussing how Italians are portrayed in the media and what, if any, impact that has on the real world. It’s an incredibly self-conscious episode, and while it was easy to understand the frustration Imperioli, David Chase and the rest of “The Sopranos” writers had about the protests at that stage of the series, “Christopher” feels less like an episode of “The Sopranos” than like a very expensive op-ed piece with occasional jokes.

“The Sopranos” is one of the greatest drama series ever made, but it was not immune from clunkers. (When Tapper made that joke, several followers protested that episodes featuring dreams, Vito in New Hampshire and/or Janice’s love life all were more deserving of the Comic Book Guy-esque scorn.) “Breaking Bad” managed to make it through 62 episodes without a bad one (though your mileage will vary on that depending on your feelings about “Fly”), but that’s the exception more than the rule. Sometimes you get the stinkers early on, when a show is still figuring itself out (say, during “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” season 1). Sometimes, they come much later in the run, when the writers are starting to run out of ideas (say, a certain “ER” helicopter crash). Comedies tend to have a much higher variance than dramas – I could very easily come up with a list of 10 terrible episodes of “The Office” while sticking only to the Steve Carell years, and I loved “The Office” – so it stands out more when a great drama has a bad outing (whether at the time you’re watching or in hindsight) than when a comedy stumbles.

So before Columbus Day is too far in our rearview mirrors, I thought I’d take a look at some of the weakest episodes of some of the best dramas over the last few decades.

Around The Web