The Worst TV Storylines on Good Shows to Make Fans Cringe

Worst TV Storylines

In the vast world of television, not every storyline will be a winner. Even the finest shows can falter. These stories range from laughably bad to the worst TV storylines ever.

While viewers still love their favorite shows, even the most devoted fans will admit there’ve been times when an episode, a relationship, or a character's death (amongst other things) elicited disappointment, frustration, or anger.

1. Barney and Robin Divorce and the Mother Dies (How I Met Your Mother)

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Image Credit: Ron P. Jaffe and Fox Television.

The worst offender in the worst TV storylines category will always go to the finale of How I Met Your Mother. Building the entire last season around Barney and Robin’s wedding may feel like overkill. Still, it serves as a lovely showcase of the positive evolution of their characters and relationships. But the finale (the episode after their wedding) erases all of that development for the sake of a story that makes audiences equally angry.

For eight seasons, viewers follow Ted Mosby as he tells his kids the long and drawn-out story of how he met their mother. When he finally meets this warm, funny woman, the reason why Ted loves her becomes apparent. So naturally, the next step would be to kill her character off, right? Only according to the series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who should have “What was I thinking” tattooed on their foreheads.

The show’s final moments elicit even more rage when Ted shows up at Robin’s window with the infamous blue French horn he’d stolen for her in season one. Therefore, Barney and Robin’s relationship and the mother become mere plot devices to end the series with a relationship they so vehemently show viewers does not work. Overall, How I Met Your Mother delights, but sadly, the finale sours the show’s legacy for most fans.

2. Joey and Rachel Date (Friends)

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Friends continues to find new viewers and retains their longtime fans. But even a show as beloved as Friends has a few poor choices…including one of the worst TV storylines ever.

For many, the most egregious example would be Joey and Rachel’s brief relationship. Joey fell in love with Rachel, who did not return his feelings. Then, she develops romantic feelings for him, culminating in the finale, where the gang heads to Barbados. But the couple only dated for three episodes at the beginning of the last season. And thank goodness.

After some significant awkwardness, as they try to be intimate, Rachel and Joey discover they’re much better friends. While some viewers enjoy the pairing, most dislike it, including the actors. It felt so wrong on multiple levels, primarily because of the “he’s her lobster” nature of Ross and Rachel’s relationship. Thankfully for Friends, the show course corrected, and swiftly.

3. Eleven Meets Her “Sister” (Stranger Things)

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Image Credit: Netflix.

It’s safe to assume that most fans of the Netflix phenomenon, Stranger Things, feel the same way about one particular season two episode. This entry embodies such a departure from the rest of the series because it takes the viewers out of the main settings and narrative to follow an offshoot story. Eleven runs away to Chicago and meets her “sister” Kali, a girl she knew as a child who was also a part of the Hawkins Lab experiments.

Eleven briefly joins Kali and her gang in their delinquent, violent behavior before she wakes up and returns home to help her friends. While not one of the worst TV storylines quality-wise, the episode feels forced, out of place, and pointless because of the irritating characters and odd shift in focus away from the cliffhanger from the previous episode. 

4. The Origin of Jack’s Tattoo/Nicki and Paolo (Lost)

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Image Credit: Bad Robot and Touchstone Productions.

Many Lost fans agree that this groundbreaking and extraordinary series still floundered at times, especially in season three. The first bizarre idea sees the introduction of two random characters named Nicki and Paolo, acting as if they’d always been in the center of the action. Fans did not warm to the strange idea and rejoiced at the episode where the two got buried alive.

An even worse storyline has to be the ridiculous episode that explains the origin of one of Jack’s tattoos. In a backstory, the audience sees Jack on the island of Phuket and his short-lived relationship with a woman who gives him a tattoo that reads, “He walks among us, but he is not one of us.” But doing so has nonsensical consequences. Her brothers ambush him and then order him to leave the island. Overall, this misguided attempt to create some grand metaphor for Jack’s feelings of isolation instead comes across as senseless; one of the worst TV storylines in a show full of lackluster payoffs.

5. Ann and Tom Date (Parks and Recreation)

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Image Credit: NBC Universal Media, LLC.

Ann and Tom’s relationship feels like a weird fever dream among all the heartfelt and hilarious storylines on Parks and Recreation. Tom continuously and annoyingly flirted with her, but she never reciprocated. And just because Ann could see him in a more positive light later on does not mean romance should happen. These two have nothing in common, have zero chemistry, and she only agrees to go out with him because he wore her down. They have to be one of the most mismatched couples in television history.

6. The Entirety of Season Seven and Regina Splits Her Soul (Once Upon a Time)

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Image Credit: Jack Rowland and American Broadcasting Companies.

Throughout the first five seasons of Once Upon a Time, fans witnessed creative, fanciful, heartwarming, and romantic stories that put modern twists on classic fairy tales. But as the series went on, some tales landed among the worst TV storylines. One such storyline saw Regina split herself in half, separating her Evil Queen persona from the good parts of herself. She thinks she destroyed this separate person, but the Evil Queen lives on and wreaks havoc on the characters in season six.

Her storyline stemmed from the writers wanting to have their cake and eat it, too. By that point in the series, Regina had changed her evil ways, but the creators did not want to abandon that side of her character. But their solution proved misguided because it sends a horrible message. If someone has to cut out the darkness inside her to maintain her morality, how redeemed can she be? An attempt to correct the plotline helped somewhat, but the initial attempt failed in execution.

However, a far worse choice came in season seven of the series. While a handful of fans still enjoyed it, the majority felt the show's quality go downhill. But that’s to be expected when half the cast departs, the storylines feel like poor rehashes of season one, and fans must do mental gymnastics for the plot to make sense. This soft reboot makes the show feel like a shell of its former self, with the only exception being the series finale, which brings all the characters back and gives them a proper goodbye.

7. Leo Cheats on Grace (Will & Grace)

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Image Credit: NBC Studios.

When viewers think about entirely out-of-character moments, many will point to one of the worst TV storylines in Will & Grace. Much of the series saw Grace’s turbulent dating life. She never seemed to find a keeper until she met the charming doctor Leo, played by Harry Connick Jr. While one can understand why this relationship changes the series dynamic, it felt cruel to have Grace find her happily ever after only for her husband to cheat on her. Leo’s infidelity felt lazy and utterly uncharacteristic for his character.

While the original series finale saw Grace and Leo reconcile, it also led to an estrangement with her best friend, Will. The reboot completely erases the plot of that finale, saving their friendship but not Grace and Leo’s relationship. To say many fans (including this writer) experienced disappointment would be an understatement.

8. Lorelai and Christopher Get Married (Gilmore Girls)

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Despite still adoring the series, Gilmore Girls features several questionable storylines that fans detest: Rory dropping out of Yale and Luke’s long-lost daughter, to name a few. The worst for many would be Lorelai and Christopher marrying in Paris. Their marriage happened suddenly and felt like a punch to the gut. One could argue that Lorelai needed to go through this to realize they don’t truly work. She could never love him the way she loves Luke. But did fans have to sit through so many tortuous episodes of them together?

9. Logan’s Death (Veronica Mars)

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

It boggles the mind why some writers believe characters need pain, trauma, and instability to be interesting. That thought process explains the end of the rebooted season four of the neo-noir mystery Veronica Mars. When the series began, Veronica and Logan’s adversarial relationship provided terrific entertainment, but romance did not seem on the horizon. But then things shifted, and it felt like waves crashing down- and it worked spectacularly.

Veronica and Logan went through many dark times, break-ups, and reconciliations throughout the series and movie from 2014. At the end of season four, they finally get married. But their happiness turns to tragedy when, moments after the ceremony, Logan dies in a car explosion. Apparently, creator Rob Thomas thinks Veronica can’t be an exciting detective and have a happy marriage. Can producers and writers please stop this kind of storytelling?

10. Hayley and Dylan Get Back Together (Modern Family)

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Image Credit: Tony Rivetti and American Broadcasting Companies.

In the early seasons of Modern Family, Hayley and Dylan have a cute relationship that gives viewers sweet moments and plenty of comedy. But nothing about it felt like an everlasting kind of love. As the series progresses, Hayley grows a great deal. That’s what makes her ending so painful. Instead of going on to bigger and better things and finding an incredible person, she gets back together with her high school boyfriend and has twins immediately. No slight to Dylan’s character intended, but she honestly deserved better.

11. Lord Grantham and the Maid (Downton Abbey)

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Image Credit: Carnival Films.

A nearly flawless show, Downton Abbey rarely featured poorly written or executed storylines. While some character deaths broke hearts, they did not taint or ruin the series. And audiences rarely saw any out-of-character moments except for one of the worst TV storylines in season two. Feeling useless and neglected, Lord Grantham finds himself attracted to a new maid and valuable in helping her son’s education. Her gratitude and attraction draw him to her as well. And in a moment of weakness, they share a passionate kiss. It does not go beyond that, and the maid soon departs. But such a plot did not need to happen.

Some may find the story realistic. But nothing about it felt believable for a character who loves his wife. The writers did not know what to do with his character.

12. Izzie’s Relationship With Denny’s “Ghost” (Grey’s Anatomy)

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Image Credit: Shondaland Entertainment One.

The death of Denny in the early days of Grey’s Anatomy remains one of the show’s most heartbreaking moments. But at least viewers did not feel icky or tricked in any way. That all changes when Izzie begins seeing and being intimate with Denny’s “ghost” in season five. In truth, Izzie has melanoma that spreads to her brain, causing her to hallucinate her lost love. Denny’s ghost does not come to her. She imagines him as a result of her cancer, making everything that happens between them feel off-putting instead of sweet and beautiful.

13. Schmidt Cheats on Cece (New Girl)

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

From the very beginning of New Girl, Schmidt falls hard for Cece. Surprising to herself, she eventually falls for him as well. However, after breaking up and getting back together, Schmidt does the unthinkable and cheats on her with his old girlfriend from college. While Schmidt does not always make the best decisions, this storyline felt like unnecessary and unbelievable drama. She forgives him, and they get married, but that plot point adds one of the worst TV storylines to an otherwise excellent journey.

14. Andy’s Absence and Break-up With Erin (The Office)

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Image Credit: NBC Universal Media, LLC.

In the final two seasons of The Office, lovable dork Andy and sweetly dim Erin finally get together. Their personalities matched so well that they seemed like an endgame couple. But in the show’s final season, writers needed a way to briefly write off Andy’s character so actor Ed Helms could film The Hangover Part III. So, the writers had Andy leave for an extended period to deal with his father’s crimes, bond with his brother, and find himself. And he leaves poor Erin behind, seemingly clueless about how it makes her feel. When he returns, so too does much of his jerkiness, and the two split up.

While technically necessary, Andy’s absence did not have to cause such retrograde in his character development nor spoil his love story with Erin. Thankfully, Andy ends the series closer to the lovable goof fans grew to love, and he and Erin, at least, remain friends.

15. Jim’s “Death” (Ghost Whisperer)

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Image Credit: CBS Television Studios.

The death of Melinda’s husband, Jim, in the supernatural heart-wrenching series Ghost Whisperer felt like a case of regret on the writer's part. Jim provides Melinda with steadfast support, and their relationship anchors the show. So, the idea of killing him off felt cruel and misguided. The writer’s decision resulted in instant regret because Jim’s spirit goes into a man’s body just as that soul departs. He wakes up with no memory and a new body. That man’s family rejoices, but only Melinda knows the truth.

The resulting storyline does produce some poignant moments. But why not simply have Jim lose his memory without all that death nonsense? The most humorous result of the storyline comes in the show’s final season when the timeline jumps ahead five years. Audiences see Jim back working in the medical field as if they don’t remember what happened the previous year. But hey, at least they’re happy.

16. Jackie and Fez Get Together (That '70s Show)

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Image Credit: The Carsey-Werner Company.

Of all the relationships in TV history, one of the most famous head-scratchers comes in the series finale of That '70s Show. During the series run, Jackie dates Kelso and Hyde, both of whom she could’ve potentially paired with.

So why do she and Fez get together? No reasonable answer exists, and fans hate the ridiculous pairing. The series creators took note of the fan outcry. They rectified this problem in the spin-off That '90s Show, which features Jackie and Kelso happily married and with a son. Call it an antidote to one of the worst TV storylines.

17. Mulder's Absence (The X-Files)

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

As unique and groundbreaking as The X-Files became, no one would deny the iconic pairing of Mulder and Scully made the show remarkable. Seemingly, the show could only exist with the duo. But David Duchovny didn't feel that way. A season exists without Mulder, pairing Scully with a character named John Doggett in one of the worst TV storylines of the era. And while the series still has merit, things didn’t feel right. Thankfully, years later, the reboot brings Mulder back. But once again, it begs the question of why they thought a show without Mulder and Scully together could work.

18. Dan Is Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl)

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Image Credit: David Geisbrecht and The CW Network.

The mystery of Gossip Girl’s identity served as a cornerstone of the teenage drama for the entire series run. Fans had suspicions and guesses. But when the show finally reveals Dan as the one in question, many longtime viewers felt confusion and outrage. Never mind that “gossip girl” turns out to be a man. But numerous viewers point out how it feels like one of the worst TV storylines instead of a well-thought-out plot where clues and hints always exist. Instead, as the title character, Dan makes zero sense, raises many questions, creates massive plot holes, and some disturbing scenarios.

19. A Wedding Fake Out (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman)

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Because Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman focuses so much on the romantic pairing of the two leads, fans waited for their wedding with anticipation. So imagine the disappointment when writers decide to ruin this special occasion with one of the worst TV storylines.

This story reveals a clone of Lois marrying Clark, with the real Lois kidnapped by Lex Luthor. The outlandish story naturally gets resolved, but it puts a damper on something viewers look forward to. Understanding the backlash, creators gave the episode where Lois and Clark get married in season four a humorous title: “Sweat to God, This Time We’re Not Kidding.”

20. Everyone Turns on Rick (The Walking Dead)

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Image Credit: Jackson Lee Davis and AMC Film Holdings.

A dark show like The Walking Dead needs a heroic figure- someone the characters look to for leadership and camaraderie. Rick Grimes fills that role, making the storyline where most characters turn on him one of the worst TV storylines on the show. When Rick decides to spare the life of Glen’s gruesome killer, Negan, Glen’s wife Maggie, and others plot to undermine Rick. It felt ridiculous and unwarranted for many viewers because of how much Rick had done for everyone. Showing mercy somehow negates everything, making for a disturbing change in the characters.

21. Kim Is Hunted by a Cougar (24)

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

Regarding disliked characters, the daughter of 24’s protagonist, Jack Bauer, ranks high. The character often gets into precarious situations, but she garners little sympathy from fans. Consequently, one episode where Kim gets caught in an animal trap and must escape through the mountains while a cougar hunts her now lives infamously as one of the dumbest moments of the series, and one of the worst TV storylines ever. Because of her poor decisions and constant peril, what should be an intense and sympathetic story sees viewers rooting for the mountain lion to catch her.

22. George’s Fiancé Dies (Seinfeld)

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Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment.

The sitcom about nothing did not exactly follow upstanding characters with good hearts. Despite being the point of the series, the fate of George’s fiancé Susan, and his reaction go into dark territory for a comedy. After licking the envelopes for their wedding invitations, she dies as a result of the toxic glue. Her death plays as a joke, and George shows no grief. He almost seems relieved. Seinfeld may be a revered show that frequently visits the concept of death, but this storyline goes a little over the line and deserves no praise. Especially since it was simply to get rid of Heidi Swedberg, whom cast members had frequent issues acting alongside.

23. Cordelia and Fred’s Deaths (Angel)

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

The deaths of Cordelia and Fred on the supernatural spin-off Angel provided a lot of drama but also felt like mean-spirited, unnecessary storytelling for two of the show’s finest characters. Backstage drama undoubtedly led to Cordelia’s departure. Still, her fate left viewers with a bad taste in their mouths. She had grown from a spoiled girl to a mature, unselfish woman who shared profound love with Angel. But in season four an evil demon possesses her body. She then sleeps with Angel’s son, falls into a coma, and dies off-screen. Her fate stands as one of the cruelest ends for a heroic character.

While no behind-the-scenes drama led to Fred’s death, her story still stings. In an episode after Fred and her longtime friend Wesley confess their love for each other, she inhales ancient dust that essentially destroys her soul. The demon Illyria then possesses her body. And while it gave Amy Acker some great material, it makes Fred’s death no less painful. Her final words to Wesley, “Why can’t I stay?” still haunt viewers today.

24. Kevin and Winnie Don’t End up Together (The Wonder Years)

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Image Credit: New World Television.

Although not the main character, in many ways, Winnie Cooper represented the heart of The Wonder Years. So, her absence in later seasons always left a tremendous hole in the show. After all, how many shows feature such a grounded but sweet depiction of young love?

Moreover, in the series finale, audiences hear that the two marry other people. And while viewers know in reality that childhood sweethearts do not always end up together, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept as a longtime viewer rooting for the couple for six seasons.

Author: Marianne Paluso

Title: Writer

Expertise: Entertainment, Travel, Books

Bio:

Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture and geek related, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency, Christianity Today, and The La Jolla Light. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disney bound, cosplay, and YouTube video. She resides in San Diego, California.