We’ve made it! This is it people: the Final Five. The grand finale. The five shittiest episodes ever spawned by good shows (as far as I’ve seen). Grab a glass of whiskey and a revolver, and get ready.
5. Veronica Mars 1×02 “Credit Where Credit’s Due”
I suppose I might be breaking some kind of heresy law for saying that the dearly departed and miraculously resurrected little blonde messiah called Veronica Mars might have a few terrible episodes under her belt, but it’s the Rob’s Thomas truth.
After a really fabulous pilot (which had the misfortune of airing the same night as Lost‘s pilot), Veronica Mars returned with “Credit Where Credit’s Due,” an absolute stinker of a follow up. Why is it so bad?
Most of the blame, for once, doesn’t lie with the writing staff, but rather with UPN. Creator Rob Thomas envisioned a noir-sh mystery series with high school elements. UPN, being UPN, wanted it to be a high school series with mystery elements. It’s clear throughout the early part of season one that Veronica Mars was still trying to find a balance between the two, at least until the network gave up and just let Rob Thomas do his thing.
This particular episode sinks lower than some of the others might because of an awful little piece of stunt casting. UPN thought it would be a great idea to give Paris Hilton a guest role as the world’s oldest and most vapid teenager. That alone might leave you scratching your head, but don’t forget, this is the same network that wanted to have hot young bands come play the Enterprise cafeteria.
In a nutshell, the plot of this episode is that local biker gang leader Weevil’s grandmother is being investigated for credit fraud. Veronica and her new-found sidekick Wallace assume that Weevil was the one ripping off credit card companies and is now letting his own grandmother take the fall.
Turns out, it’s actually the 09ers, a gang of spoiled li’l rich kids who are behind it, and they’re pinning it all on Weevil’s grandmother because A) They’re a poor family and B) Grandma Weevil once worked as a cleaning lady for Paris Hilton and cheezed her off with some small infraction.
That might not be so bad if the guest actress at the heart of it weren’t so terrible. I know it’s passe at this point to hate on Paris, but I’d have given her credit (hurr hurr) if she had done a good job with the material. But she didn’t. I honestly wonder if there’s something not right with that girl, because every time she’s on screen, she’s got this…look on her face. Like the lights are on but no one’s home, and she performs the dialogue in a flat mumble imbued with no heart or emotion whatsoever. Kirsten Bell can and does act circles around her. I can’t think of any reason beyond stunt casting that Paris was given this part, because it sure as hell wasn’t because of her talent as a thespian.
None of the interesting story arcs from the pilot are given much, if any, advancement, and beyond the introduction of a recurring character or two, it’s entirely disposable. As this was so early in the first season, Veronica Mars‘ trademark wit and darkness hadn’t yet been freed from UPN’s shackles, and we get a script that is quite obviously biting its own tongue in favor of delivering a story that might not be out of place on The OC.
It’s hard to take anything that happens in this episode seriously when you’ve got the luminary that is Ms Hilton supposedly pulling off a rather complicated credit fraud scheme and subsequent frame job.
Without that, “Credit” as a whole would be just bleh, but when you couple a mediocre story with one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen outside of a second grade play, you end up with an episode that’s pure torture to sit through.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 4×05 “Beer Bad”
Jesus Christ. Witty blonde #2. I don’t know if I even want to talk about this one. Deep breath….
I love Buffy. Together with Angel it’s my favorite TV series of all time. Season 4 was what you’d call a rough patch, and certainly a transitional phase in the life of the show. We’d left behind the familiar high school setting of the first three seasons in favor of the first and only season set at college. The main cast became smaller, in part due to a few characters leaving to launch the Angel spinoff, and it’d grow smaller still by season’s end.
Furthermore, the fourth season lacked a strong plot arc for much of its run; the story wouldn’t really start until after this episode, and it never really became a strong, central core for the year. Joss Whedon and other members of the writing staff have indicated that Season 4 was meant to mimic the upheaval of the transition between high school student and young adult. It’s fair to say that they achieved that, but I don’t think they really got a handle on how to write for these characters as adults until leaving college behind in Season 5.
See, Buffy’s still not over the departure of Angel, and she’d previously had a one-night stand with some college dick who neglected to tell her it was a one-night stand up front, so now there’s that to deal with, too. Buffy takes to hanging out in the bar with snooty college kids who read a book this one time, and thus have great understanding of how the world works. Together, they’ve been getting shitfaced every night, much to Willow’s concern. Buffy begins to act more feral and aggressive and ignores everyone’s protests. Which sucks, because Alyson Hannigan is as cute as a bug’s nose. Why wouldn’t you listen to her?
Well, this being Sunnydale, Buffy couldn’t possibly just be succumbing to alcoholism on her own, no, there’s bullshit afoot. She and her stupid buddies become full-on cave people, complete with awful brows and clubs and grunts and everything. The local barman is actually a wizard who’d grown tired of the know-it-all attitude of his college student patrons and mixed magic stuff into the brew to teach them a lesson. And yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds.
I hate cavemen to begin with, but even without that issue, sitting through the “comedy” portions of this episode with cave people running amok isn’t easy. It’s cliched, unfunny Me Am Caveman I Not Know How Things bullfuckery that anyone could have written in about half an hour, and it goes on forever.
Oh, they don’t know what a car is. Haha, they’re acting all primitive with the tree climbing and club thumping and jumping up and down. WHAT THEY’RE MAKING ANNOYING SCREECHES AND GRUNTS HOLY SHIT HOW UNEXPECTED. I am positively seething with hatred, here, people.
Willow gets the one good moment of the episode, a positively epic verbal smackdown layeth-ed upon the Shitty One Night Stand Guy. Then the cave people come in and start a fire and burn the building to the ground. For a moment, I thought I was psychic and that all the cave-students including Buffy would die horribly in a fire, just like I’d clapped my hands and wished for.
Unfortunately, even as a cave-lady Buffy saves the day, and everything will be fine and we all learned something blah blah blah.
“Beer Bad” tries its hand at dispensing Valuable Lessons to the audience, but it’s so ham handed and uncharacteristically out of touch it’s aggravating bordering on farce. See, cuz drinking alcohol makes you act stupid, and cavemen are stupid, so in our world of magic and wonder, drinking this alcohol turns you into one.
One of the reasons this episode was written in the first fuckin’ place was in the hopes of securing some funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. And to their credit, NDCP laughed right in Mutant Enemy’s faces and rejected the application on the grounds that this episode is a pile of shitty nonsense.
Having Sex Is Bad coupled with Drinking Alcohol is Also Bad is clumsily beaten into our heads for the full hour. This kind of puritanical baloney coming from a show that dealt with both sex and alcohol with maturity and fairness both before and since, it’s even harder to swallow. “Beer Bad” is a complete and utter embarrassment.
3. Star Trek: The Next Generation 1×04 “Code of Honor”
There’s a lot of Next Generation nostalgia going around right now, no doubt because of the excellent BluRay sets that began trickling out last summer. Now we can all enjoy this landmark series in crystal clarity, warts and all.
Unfortunately for TNG, its warts are mostly front-loaded, with the first season especially being home to awful episode after awful episode with nary a true classic to be seen. It’s tough going, and as much as I love Star Trek, asking me to pay $119.99 MSRP for twenty-six terrible episodes is a tough sell.
Of course, I’ll buy it anyway.
TNG‘s first season is so full of crap it’s hard to choose just one, but upon reviewing the evidence, it looks like “Code of Honor” is the worst of the lot.
So, the Enterprise is sent off to this backwater planet, which is the only place they can obtain the vaccine for a terrible plague that’s infected a Federation colony. Unfortunately, the planet is populated by stubborn, stereotypical tribal black folks you might have found in one of those racist Looney Tunes shorts they don’t show anymore. Their chief wants him some white pussy, and won’t give up the goods until Tasha Yar agrees to marry him. Because black men take any opportunity they can to steal our white women away. They’re tricky like that.
There’s some tiresome attempts at further negotiation, Troi is annoying, there’s some creepy force-flirting, and then Tasha has to fight a black lady in a shiny disco outfit. If that sounds at all amusing in a Mystery Science Theatre kind of way, trust me: it’s not. It’s really only one single plot point stretched to cover the full hour. It’s boring, it’s racist, and it ought to be buried in concrete somewhere in New Mexico alongside all those ET cartridges. Actually, no. That’s a disservice to ET.
There’s an anemic little attempt at a B-story with LaForge helping Data learn about humor, but it never really goes anywhere. Besides, if Data suddenly gained human emotion during this episode, he’d likely have snapped and killed everyone on board.
I cannot stress enough how much I loathe this episode. Like a couple of others on this list, it’s not just dislike or boredom. I feel genuine anger and animosity towards this piece of shit. The rest of the season might suck, but this is the only one that makes me want to turn in my Trekkie badge and clasp hands with Rick Berman as we drive, laughing, over the edge of the Grand Canyon.
These people are portrayed as nothing more than primitive, bone-through-the-nose stereotypes without an ounce of mercy or goodwill in their wretched bodies. One might argue that it’s not racist because they’re meant to be aliens, but there’s not a single fairer-skinned person among them. Every single one of them is black, portrayed by actors no doubt wishing they hadn’t said yes when they heard “Star Trek.”
I don’t know how this episode ever got made, especially from a franchise that was known for tolerance. Gene Roddenberry was many things, a lot of them bad, but he was not a racist, and he was known for micromanaging the TNG production until he became to ill to do so. How a script like this ever made it this far without being dissolved in acid and never spoken of again will remain a mystery. I’d hazard a guess that “Code of Honor” was Maurice Hurley’s doing. He was the day-to-day producer of the first two seasons, and by all accounts a thoroughly horrible man who mainly produced thoroughly horrible episodes.
2. Angel 1×13 “She”
Angel‘s first season was not without its growing pains. Sure, everyone’s favorite vampire with a soul had ditched the blonde and moved to Los Angeles, but things didn’t really go smoothly right away. In an effort to distinguish itself as more “adult” than its parent, the first year was littered with stories that are pretty fuckin’ bizarre and not in a good way.
Proving that she ruins pretty much anything she’s in, everyone’s very favorite Chinese actress Bai Ling stumbles dazedly onto our screens and back onto this list as a demon princess from another dimension who’s come to LA to set up what pretty much amounts to an underground railroad. See, in her dimension, the males treat the females as little more than slaves. One of the ways they keep ’em in line is to cut out their ko, which is Demonese for “Sexy Cylon Glowy-Spine,” the source of their “physical and sexual power.” This renders them more or less lobotomized. Meanwhile, a bunch of males have come after Bai Ling to stop her crazy suffragette movement, and also to unimpressively brandish knives at Angel and pals.
So what we’ve got here with the ko-cutting is basically a female circumcision metaphor, what with the mutilation of the ladies’ pleasure centers. Joss Whedon & company have always had a penchant for writing powerful women and for having no patience at all for male chauvinism. That’s all well and good, and sure, circumcision, girl or boy isn’t something I support, but the metaphor here is clumsy and the drama is pretty thin.
“She” is one of the monster-of-the-week episodes, which means its success hinges at least in part on the guest star, and Bai Ling just isn’t a good enough actress to pull it off. It’s certainly not within her ability to actually elevate a subpar script or utilize even a tiny smidge of charisma. She seems half-asleep through most of the episode and you know what? So was I.
The episode offers no real surprises. Of course Angel agrees to help her smuggle females to safety. They make some halfhearted stabs at levity when we find that the demon women are hiding out at a spa run by hippies, but it falls rather flat indeed. There’s some fighting that by now is rather run-of-the-mill for the Buffy-verse, and Bai Ling tries her “charms” on Angel. She thinks he’s a worthy mate, the last time he got laid he lost his soul and killed a bunch of people, there’s awkwardness, and there’s no chemistry, and they leave, I’m just glad it’s finally over.
“She” is truly terrible but there is one absolutely glorious moment; one of the funniest in the entire series. Before Bai Ling shows up to ruin the day, Angel and Wesley are at Cordelia’s house party just standing around and feeling awkward, and we get a truly wonderful little cutaway of Angel imagining what it would be like if he just cut loose for once and danced.
This is just the best thing in the whole world.
1. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 5×07 “Let He Who is Without Sin”
As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, Star Trek has always been a hit-and-miss franchise. The general rule of thumb is that a third of it is great, a third of it is middling, and a third of it’s shit. For such a beloved franchise, some of the lows it’s sunk to are positively subterranean. Hell, both Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the Voyager episode “Threshold” are so goddamn awful they’ve been more or less removed from canon entirely.
Despite that, I still love Star Trek, and I love Deep Space Nine the most. It offers a darker take on the usually upbeat Trek verse, weaving a tale of politics, warfare, faith, loss, redemption, and holographic lounge singers. It really pushed the Federation and its much-touted TNG morals to see just how far they could bend before everything broke.
This particular episode nearly broke me, let me tell you. Since DS9 was far more serialized than any of its cousins (well, except perhaps later Enterprise), some explanation is required. At this point in the series, the Federation was engaged in a cold war with the Dominion, who were hell-bent on conquering the Alpha Quadrant. They could come through the Bajoran wormhole at any time now and begin the war in earnest. Deep Space 9 would become the front lines. On top of that, a group of terrorists known as the Maquis are continuing to attack the Cardassians, jeopardizing an already-shaky truce with the Federation. Which, by the by, was also currently tied up in a costly ground war against the Klingon Empire, which had been infiltrated by the Dominion’s shape-shifting leaders and made into little more than puppets. Their agents could be anywhere and anyone. So, what does Worf do in the face of all this?
He goes on vacation with his girlfriend!
He and Dax bugger off to the pleasure planet Risa, where they spend the episode wearing too little clothing and doing not much of anything. Risa’s always bad news; I don’t think there’s a single solitary good episode from any of the series set there. Worf is grumpy because he doesn’t approve of the decadence and frivolity on display in the face of impending doom on at least three fronts. Which is, you know, all well and good, but YOU ARE ON A PLEASURE PLANET THAT SPECIFICALLY PROVIDES DECADENCE AND FRIVOLITY.
He’s not alone in being a total sourpuss, because there’s a fundamentalist group there protesting…..well, the entire planet I suppose. This appeals to Worf because he likes unhappiness. He joins up with them, and helps them to switch off Risa’s weather control system. Even that isn’t terribly entertaining, because all it does is start a rainstorm and our beach party is ruined. Ho hum.
It’s kind of a pity that it’s so awful since there’s a couple of good ideas here. Worf’s right, in a way. The Alpha Quadrant as we know it is about to fall apart at the seams and here we are spending a week dicking around. Unfortunately, this idea wasn’t really explored beyond hey guys Worf is kinda grumpy.
Another decent idea is that this episode reveals why Worf is so miserable all the time. It’s not just because he’s a Klingon; it’s because he’s a Klingon who grew up among humans with inferior physical prowess. Worf tells Dax a story about how when he was a young whelp, he lost control while playing soccer with some of the other children, and accidentally killed a boy. That’s good stuff! Or at least it should be. The episode raises these two interesting points about Worf’s character but doesn’t really explore them at all. No, it’s much more important to listen to him and Dax snipe at each other in their bathing suits.
This is one of those bad episodes that doesn’t have a series of specific groaner moments, it’s this kind of sickly feeling of afwulness that permeates the whole production. The script is terrible, the actors look thoroughly miserable, and even the direction is composed of mostly static shots of people bickering with one another. It may be only forty-five minutes, but watching it is utter torture and by the end of it you’ll feel like you’ve aged ten years. It is hands-down the worst hour of television DS9 ever produced, and one of the worst ever made.
And with that, our journey through the dark recesses of television comes to an end. Did your favorite show do something awful? Let us know in the comments.