As those of you who have been following my Simpsons reviews (I see all six of you out there) will know, a little while back The Simpsons shat out pretty much the worst episode they’ve ever done. And when you’ve got a body of work spanning two and a half decades, that is saying something.
Not to be discouraged, my pain and suffering at the hands of FOX’s animation block reminded me that you can have the most talented production staff in the world working on the best series on television and sometimes things still go tits up.
So here it is. Twenty-two of the worst episodes from great series. That’s a full network TV season’s worth of crap, and today you all get the first three entries! Count your lucky……..ah, whatever just read it.
The Simpsons isn’t on this list because “Gorgeous Grampa” is just the worst and there’s already a full-length review thattaway. While I welcome discussion and other opinions, don’t tell me I “forgot” certain shows or episodes. I can only talk about what I’ve seen, after all.
Oh, and spoilers abound. You’ve been warned.
22. Family Guy 8×18 “Quagmire’s Dad”
I’m putting this one dead last even though it probably infuriates me more than anything else on this list. It’s a personal beef, since overall it was critically well-received. At least as far as Family Guy episodes go. It’s just me and folks like GLAAD and AfterElton who hate it with a burning passion.
Quagmire’s dad comes out as a trans woman, and undergoes sex reassignment surgery. Quagmire and the Griffins have to learn to adjust to the changes Ida (Quagmire’s father) has gone through.
It should come as no surprise that the episode is inaccurate and completely insensitive. I understand that you can only cram so much into 22 minutes, but there’s no mention of hormone therapy at all. It’s a one-and-done surgical procedure. Ida is little more than a stereotype, spouting the “woman trapped in a man’s body” cliche I am oh so sick of hearing from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, and the rest of the characters are really rather cruel towards her.
Sure, Quagmire sort of half-assedly sticks up for Ida in the end, but it really doesn’t make up for it. The icing on the cake is Brian sleeping with Ida without knowing she’s trans. After he finds out, he vomits on-screen for 30 seconds straight.
What did Seth MacFarlane say in response to outcry over this? Let’s have a quote, shall we?
He defends Brian by saying:
“If I found out that I had slept with a transsexual, I might throw up in the same way that a gay guy looks at a vagina and goes, ‘Oh, my God, that’s disgusting.”
Maybe you can write this off as me getting all offended by a show that takes pride in being offensive. It’s certainly a big factor. But here’s the thing, prior to the episode’s airing, MacFarlane talked up the episode about how groundbreaking and sympathetic it was going to be, and how he’s such an ally to the LGBT community. Here’s a quote from an interview with AfterElton.com prior to the episode’s airdate:
“It always distresses me when I hear that the gay community is upset with us, because that’s one group of people I hope would know we’re on their side. I can safely say that the transsexual community will be very, very happy with the ‘Quagmire’ episode that we have coming up in a couple of months. It’s probably the most sympathetic portrayal of a transexual [sic] character that has ever been on television, dare I say.”
And that is why I’m angry over this. It’s not that I’m offended because I’m a minority who will cry foul over any perceived slight. You’ll note that episodes like CSI’s “Ch-ch-changes,” or South Park‘s “Mr Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina,” while they make me kind of uncomfortable, are nowhere on this list. And I get that insensitive is just kind of what Family Guy does. Had Seth kept his mouth shut, I would have been annoyed, but ultimately let it be. But to talk it up under the guise of being an ally only to stab us in the back means he’s either a well-meaning ignoramus, or a liar. You decide.
21. The X-Files 7×13 “First Person Shooter”
This episode isn’t so much taken from the X-Files as it is taken from the Old White People Don’t Understand New Media Files. Which is odd, given that The X-Files was such a pioneer in using the internet to reach their fandom. Along with Babylon 5, this series had one of the most active and vocal early online communities for a television series. Even people on staff making the damn show would hang out and answer questions, drop titles for upcoming episodes and so forth. But video games? That shit is scary, man.
Basically, Mulder and Scully, along with conspiracy-nut pals The Lone Gunmen, investigate a virtual reality FPS game that is apparently killing its players for real. According to Scully, video games are a barbaric pastime devoid of merit, and she believes there’s no guarantee people who play video games won’t play out their virtual bloodlust in the real world. Mulder thinks it’s great fun, but the script does its very best, at every opportunity, to tell you that Scully’s disdain is the correct viewpoint.
Naturally, our heroes go into the game and shoot at things and it’s incredibly dull and predictable. It’s chock full of moments that will grind your last nerve if you know even the first thing about video games or computers. In the end, we’ve done nothing more than waste 45 minutes.
“First Person Shooter” went out in early 2000, and Columbine was still pretty fresh in peoples’ minds, as was the violent video game moral panic that came along with it.
And remember, video games are for kids, or stupid man-children! Oh, but please buy our video game, The X-Files: Resist or Serve, available now for the PlayStation 2 Computer Entertainment System.
20. The West Wing 3×16 “US Poet Laureate”
The plot for which this episode is actually named isn’t great, but not truly terrible either. White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler tries to convince a newly minted poet laureate, played by Laura Dern, not to speak publicly about her annoyance with the President’s apparent lack of support for a land mine treaty. So far, so slightly-below-average.
It’s the B plot that drags this thing down to the depths of awfuldom: Josh Lyman (Deputy Chief of Staff) discovers there’s an internet forum dedicated to discussing him. And as the mean old fans and forum posters post rumors and things that simply aren’t the case Josh leaps into ACTION and makes his own account to set them straight. Naturally, being the internet, everyone on there twists his words into whatever they want them to mean.
This episode might seem ill-advised simply on the grounds that not many people want to watch a man sitting at his computer, posting on some forum on a primetime, critically acclaimed television series. Not compelling drama.
But it’s more than that. This episode is the story of one man’s butthurt. And that man is Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is an incredibly intelligent, talented writer. He’s also staggeringly arrogant, and one day, an internet forum made him mad.
You can read the full sordid tale here, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that on occasion, Aaron Sorkin would descend from the heavens to grace the Television Without Pity West Wing forum with his presence. And lo, it was good.
Then, the series won five Emmys in its first season, including Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for the episode “In Excelsis Deo.” Sorkin had a writing credit on nearly every episode of the first four seasons, before turning the show over to John Wells for the final three. On this particular episode, Sorkin shared credit with Rick Cleveland. When the show won the Emmy, Cleveland stood awkwardly in the background as Sorkin took the glory (and the Emmy!) for himself.
Nearly a year later, Sorkin posts on TWoP about how shitty Cleveland (yeah, that’s totally why he was hired for Six Feet Under) was and that he’d nearly entirely rewritten “Deo” and ol’ Rick should be grateful he even got a co-credit. The forum was not impressed, and eventually things leaked out to the New York Times and blew up in Aaron’s face.
The vicious TWOP vs Sorkin battle would continue into later episodes. The forum yelled at him and pointed out that many of the internet dwellers shat upon during the show were based on actual, specific TWOP posters and Sorkin fired back in the form of snide comments written into the episodes. There’s scene from a fourth season episode where Josh harasses an employee wearing a Star Trek pin, basically saying that such dedicated fandom crosses the line from enjoyment to unhealthy obsession and fetish.
I chose “Laureate” in particular because it’s the worst offender, dramatically. No one wants to watch Bradley Whitford do nothing but type for the entire episode, and it’s paired up with a lackluster A-plot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another dramatic series dedicate so much airtime to one man working out his butthurt over the internet calling him on his shit.
Come back next time for entries 19-16!
Did your favorite show do something awful? Let us know in the comments.