matt zoller seitz

Seitz Asks: What TV Shows Have You Stopped Watching Because of a Single Terrible Episode?

Seitz Asks: What episode of a show was so bad that it made you quit watching?
Seitz Answers: The one with the murderer dressed in a nun’s habit on The Practice.

To clarify, I’m not talking about when you sample a series you’ve never seen before, decide you don’t like it, and never watch again. I’m talking about when you’re fully or partly invested in a series, despite any faults that it may have, and then it does something so egregious that it pushes it into the “never again” column.

I’ve had many experiences like that over the years, but one that really stands out is the George Vogelman arc on the ABC legal drama The Practice. That show was already skating on thin ice with me because my tolerance for David E. Kelley was iffy to begin with. As a writer-producer in the eighties, he was part of an elite group that tried to make TV more inventive and surprising. I liked Kelley’s kooky fearlessness and irrepressible energy, his “What the hell, let’s try it” attitude, even though it often tipped over into stupidity and crassness. I never got into The Practice’s sister show, Ally McBeal, because it had such a debilitating case of the cutes, but while The Practice had that quality, too, it wasn’t as pronounced, and early on it was more grounded in — well, not “reality,” exactly, but something like it. Its characters seemed like plausible people, egotistical and self-righteous but empathetic and good at their jobs. And while the cases sometimes aimed for L.A. Law–style outrageousness, there weren’t too many events that didn’t seem justifiable within the somewhat nutty context of the series.

Alas, things started to take a turn for the shameless; I don’t recall exactly where because I’ve suppressed a lot of my Practice memories, but it might have been the giant fight among the partners. In any event, Kelley had settled into his go-to mode long before the brawl, doing whatever he felt he needed to do to get a rise out of viewers, character credibility and story continuity be damned. The stupidity spiked earlier in season three when George Vogelman (Michael Monk), the podiatrist that attorney Ellenor Frutt (Camryn Manheim) briefly dated, came into the office with a severed head in a medical bag. After a protracted “Is he or isn’t he a killer?” arc, Vogelman was ultimately confirmed as a whack job who’d been terrorizing Boston and who had stabbed Ellenor’s colleague Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams). At the end of season three, he was shown furiously wandering the streets wearing a nun’s habit, one of the most unintentionally hilarious images in nineties television. In the third episode of season four, Vogelman showed up at Ellenor’s apartment in the habit — very possibly the least imaginative confirmation of an alleged murderer’s guilt in the history of filmed media — and Ellenor’s roommate Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle) shot him in the back. And that was it for me and The Practice.

After I wrote a column about how I’d stopped watching the show after that singularly awful episode, a friend asked, “Why didn’t you quit earlier?” It was because I didn’t want to admit I’d invested so much time in a show that wasn’t making me happy anymore, and I figured that if I just kept watching, maybe things would get better. Bad relationship logic.

I had a similar reaction to the episode of Six Feet Under where David Fisher got kidnapped and terrorized by a crackhead. It was well-done, but it was pushing so hard to be “powerful,” in that graduate theater workshop way, that it felt cynical and sadistic. It was as if the show had turned into a mean older brother who took a younger sibling’s doll away and started punching it while saying, “Look, it’s crying!” I quit watching Six Feet for a while after that; I caught up with the rest of the season later, but out of critical obligation rather than enthusiasm.

What episodes of shows made you bail out after months or years of loyal viewing?

What TV Did You Stop Because of a Bad Episode?