TV is often a tougher storytelling medium than film because instead of two hours to fill, you’ll have anywhere from ten to twenty, per year. Sometimes, this just means more of a good thing, and TV stories can be more compelling than their movie counterparts as a result. Other times? Plotlines go astray, or seasons are padded with less-than-useful filler.
Often, that means we find rather awful plotlines embedded inside otherwise great shows. Here are five examples that easily came to mind for me, though there are undoubtedly countless shows to choose from. I have a hard time believing that no matter how beloved a show is, it hasn’t dropped at least one plotline somewhere along the way. In this list, I’m trying to specifically include what many would consider to be some of the best TV shows of all time to illustrate what I mean.
Friday Night Lights – Landry and Tyra’s Secret
This is probably the quintessential example out of all of them, as this plotline is a scar on an otherwise nearly flawless series, so much so that even those involved with the show universally acknowledge its terribleness. In season two, Landry and Tyra are just starting to get close, when Tyra is attacked by a man who tries to rape her. Landry ends up braining the man with a pipe, killing him, and rather than simply report what happened to the police and being cleared via obvious self-defense, they decide to dump the body off a bridge. Later, when Landry’s father, the sheriff, realizes what he’s done, he helps his son cover it up and ends up torching his car full of DNA. It’s hard to believe this plotline existed in the same show as everything else FNL contained, as it’s something straight out of CSI and felt dramatically out of place.
Arrested Development – Mr. F
Arrested Development had a shaky third season, knowing it was on the ropes and likely going to be cancelled. The season had its share of good moments, but in my opinion, one of them was certainly not the long-running Mr. F plotline. The story centered on Michael falling for a new woman, Charlize Theron, but ultimately realizing the mysterious Mr. F she reported to actually stood for “Mentally Retarded Female.” What he interpreted as quirky British-isms, were really a woman with the literal IQ of a five year-old. Not the show’s proudest moment, even if some of the jokes did land.
24 – Kim the Babysitter
I suppose it’s debatable if 24 deserves to be called one of the “best TV shows of all-time,” but it’s one of my favorite series, even though I will admit that it had probably a solid half dozen or so absurd plotlines over the years, not even just subplots, but season-long stories as well. However, ne sub-plot in particular has always stayed with me. In season two, desperate to keep Elisah Cuthbert around looking hot, the show gave her a babysitting gig that ended up with the father of the child she was sitting killing the mother, then coming after her. The absurdity that followed had Kim roaming around the California countryside, running into a mountain lion, and ultimately shooting the offending father on Jack’s instructions. 24 often has crazy subplots, but this one had literally nothing to do with the central threat of the day, and felt horribly out of place as a result.
The Wire – McNulty the Serial Killer
I recently wrote a whole article about this one after finishing The Wire HD, so I’ll just quote from it.
“To me, there are a few problems with season five, namely that the central premise is just too far-fetched to be believable in the usually ultra-realistic world of The Wire. In it, Jimmy McNulty, fallen off the wagon and back to drinking, is sick of the new mayor cutting funding to the police department. After a few chance encounters with dead homeless, he takes it upon himself to stage the bodies to make it look like there’s a serial killer hunting down members of the group, later adding “signatures” like red ribbon tied around the wrist, and bite marks implying something “sexual.”
For as crazy and anti-authority as Jimmy McNulty has been in the series, it just seemed way, way out of bounds to take him this far. And past this, it’s hard to imagine he thought he’d never be caught or found out, and then what should have happened would be that all the cases he worked would fall apart, and not only that, but when cops are found of doing something that illegal, all their past cases become suspect. It could have undone all the work on the show he’s done to date.”
Still a great series, but a very, very bad plotline in my eyes.
Breaking Bad – The Plane Crash
This isn’t as much of a subplot in the traditional sense, but it was a whole lot of hype for a relatively odd payoff. Throughout the entire second season of Breaking Bad, we saw bits of burned, exploded things floating in Walter White’s pool, eventually a singed stuffed bear. We assumed this was all leading to some kind of assault on his casa, but as it turned out, it only tangentially had to do with Walt at all.
What happens is that Walt, realizing how much Jesse is being corrupted by Jane, sees her overdosing and opts to let her die. Her grieving father turns out to be an air traffic controller, and being so distraught, he allows two planes to collide in mid-air, raining debris down over Albuquerque, Walt’s pool included. There’s some sort of lesson in here about Walt’s actions influencing the larger world unintentionally, but I always hated the complete bad luck and randomness of this storyline.
[Photos via NBC & FOX]