Unlike a two-hour movie, a TV series supplies hours upon hours of storytelling. The added freedom of the format helps to give writers and actors time to flesh out their characters and give more depth to what's happening on the screen. The drawback of this extended screen time also means that even the best shows may have the occasional subpar episode. The longer a show goes, the higher the chance of there being a clunker that audiences want to forget. The time has come to recount the worst episodes of the best TV shows in the history of the medium.
1. The Sopranos: “Christopher” (Season 4, Episode 3)
The Sopranos creator David Chase not only had so many things to say about society, but he almost always had a way to assert those opinions in the show. On the other hand, he should have steered clear of the topic of Italians being disrespected on Columbus Day. The episode focuses way too much on Silvio, a character who works best in the background and therefore seemed heightened in importance here.
2. Stranger Things: “The Lost Sister” (Season 2, Episode 7)
The season two finale of Stranger Things offered one of the wildest rides in television history. With Will Byers possessed by the Mind Flayer and the rest of the Hawkins crew left to scrounge up a solution, the Duffers decided to take up an entire hour of our time to explore a potential spin-off to the show. Eleven meets other people seemingly like her, replete with odd powers and personal identity issues. If the episode had inspired another show in the future, this decision could have been redeemed. Without the spinoff, the episode just feels like a dud.
3. Better Call Saul: “Nippy” (Season 6, Episode 10)
Better Call Saul never stops trying to innovate or think outside of the box. No wonder the producers decided to split the final six episodes of the series between Jimmy McGill's past in New Mexico and his pseudonym's future in Nebraska. Still, they could have rounded out the first part of the show's final act a little better by not encompassing an entire hour of time with Gene scamming a mall cop with Cinnabons and college football discussions. Artful, but a little drawn out.
4. The Walking Dead: “Diverged” (Season 10, Episode 21)
Trying to identify the worst episode at the end of The Walking Dead poses a bigger challenge than it seems. The zombie show had run out of steam by about season seven or eight, and the last several seasons mark a steep drop in quality. This late season hour in season 10 is the epitome of pointlessness as Daryl and Carol wander around the post-apocalyptic wasteland with nothing to show for it.
5. Friends: “The One With Chandler's Dad” (Season 7, Episode 22)
Friends has a poor reputation in the decades after its inception for forcing toxic humor into its writing and characters. “The One With Chandler's Dad” does everything it can to make fun of cross-dressing, transgender people, and gender identity when Chandler and his father meet up again after years of separation. The jokes in this half-hour seem outdated even in the 1990s and 2000s.
6. The Simpsons: “What to Expect When Bart's Expecting” (Season 25, Episode 19)
After 700 episodes in a series, writers will have a hard time conjuring up creative ideas that aren't asinine. The Simpsons showed again how little they have left in the tank with this episode about Bart magically impregnating people in Springfield. This idea seems like it would come from the minds of a much less acclaimed sitcom.
7. The Big Bang Theory: “The Matrimonial Momentum” (Season 9, Episode 1)
The on-again-off-again romance between Leonard and Penny is actually one of the high points of the series. It allows the characters to grow outside of the typical science realm the show likes to focus on. Showing the couple finally get married in a lackluster, online wedding from Las Vegas was an underwhelming way to put a ring on the relationship.
8. Dexter: “Remember the Monsters?” (Season 8, Episode 12)
Showtime's most famous series deserved a better ending than this. The series finale of Dexter melds a bunch of different ideas, between Dexter dumping his dead sister off a boat to driving said boat through the eye of a hurricane and randomly coming out alive. The show clearly didn't have a solid grasp of how to end the beloved protagonist's story arc. Even the extra reboot season couldn't make up for this episode's sins.
9. Breaking Bad: “Open House” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Impatient viewers don't seem to understand the nuance and attention to detail that goes into the beginning of each season of Breaking Bad. The show likes to play things slow and craft a compelling thesis for the ensuing episodes, but this episode early in season four doesn't seem to serve all that much purpose. The plotline of watching Marie lose herself in the midst of her thievery compulsion doesn't ever really come up again in any tangible way later in the series, therefore making it serve no purpose here.
10. Seinfeld: “Puerto Rican Day Parade” (Season 9, Episode 20)
Much like the transphobia exhibited by Friends, Seinfeld's worst episode plays full of insensitivity. The four main characters get caught up in the local Puerto Rican Day parade, and the jokes making fun of Puerto Rican culture led to even NBC realizing it shouldn't air on their network.
11. The Golden Girls: “Empty Nests” (Season 2, Episode 26)
The four older ladies who make up this classic NBC sitcom are incredibly witty and likable, so why would anyone want to watch other characters when tuning into the series? The creators decided to make an entire half-hour about the neighbors of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia, hoping it would inspire a different series. Empty Nest eventually got the go-ahead and did run for seven seasons, but never achieved the popularity of The Golden Girls.
12. The Wire: “Ebb Tide” (Season 2, Episode 1)
The literary greatness of The Wire comes from the fascinating characters that make up this version of Baltimore. David Simon's attempt to quickly change course and explore a different sector of the city at the start of the second season was flat-out boring and ill-conceived. The dock workers who we learn about here become good characters, but their starts fall flat.
13. SpongeBob SquarePants: “The Splinter” (Season 6, Episode 5)
SpongeBob SquarePants built its reputation on strong interpersonal jokes between characters and quirky situations. This sixth season episode marked a change that the stories would lean more into slapstick and physical humor to garner laughs, and it's grotesque. Nobody asked to watch SpongeBob try and get a splinter out of his finger for over 10 minutes.
14. Full House: “My Left and Right Foot” (Season 8, Episode 15)
ABC's long-running family sitcom Full House didn't win over everyone. It's corny, trite, and cringe-worthy even at its best. Seeing an entire episode with Michelle Tanner struggling with her self-esteem through a dream in which she grows big feet pushes the boundaries of this family sitcom full of cartoonish outcomes.
15. The Office: “Get The Girl” (Season 8, Episode 19)
The Office really ended when Michael Scott exited the proceedings. The varied attempts to re-create his riotous presence didn't work and climaxed in “Get the Girl”. Between Andy's crazed actions to win over Erin and Emmy-winner James Spader trying his best to fill Steve Carrell's big shoes, the episode is a mess of unfunny proportions.
16. Modern Family: “I Love A Parade” (Season 10, Episode 1)
The tenth season premiere of Modern Family doesn't suffer because of some obnoxious moment or silly plot idea. Rather, “I Love A Parade” reiterates how tired this once-loved sitcom had become. The Fourth of July festivities around the Pritchett clan are drab and uninteresting, with nothing to add in the way of character development.
17. Sons of Anarchy: “Albification” (Season 2, Episode 1)
While this episode of the complicated biker gang drama on FX isn't bad in the general sense of the word, the final scene that shows Gemma get sexually assaulted crosses the line of good taste. Creator Kurt Sutter loved graphic violence, but he went too far. The storyline continued on for almost the entire second season, and the fallout plot isn't able to salvage the decision to manifest this type of savagery.
18. The Mandalorian: “Apostate” (Season 3, Episode 1)
The show that proved Star Wars might just be better suited to the small screen got off to a poor start in the third season. With many of the second season's cliffhangers addressed in The Book of Boba Fett, this episode didn't add much to Mando and Grogu's story.
19. Succession: “Celebration” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Pilot episodes always run below the quality we come to expect from our favorite shows, but Succession's first run is especially hard to get into. The unlikable Roy family already shows no promise for improvement when first introduced to the audience, with Roman's stunt at the end of the hour with the kid playing baseball serving as a repugnant character moment.
20. Ozark: “Kaleidoscope” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Ozark uses the third-to-last episode of its first season to explain how Wendy and Marty Bryde get into the money laundering business, and it could have come at a later time or with better storytelling. A better example of this call-back style happened in The Leftovers' penultimate first-season affair, “The Garveys at Their Best.”
21. The Bear: “System” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Like Succession, The Bear has a pilot that isn't bad, per-say, just a little hard to grasp. Seeing Carmy and the rest of the cooks at The Original Beef of Chicago yell, scream, and rip each other apart for every mistake for a half-hour is fun, but seeing it for the first time is, well, a lot to handle.
22. Abbott Elementary: “Story Samurai” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Jacob Hill is one of the corniest characters on TV. He thinks his students are laughing with him when they are often laughing at him. We still love him to death, but seeing him dress up and embarrass himself as part of the cringe-worthy Story Samurais was not one of Abbott Elementary's best storylines at the beginning of season two.