breaking up

The TV Episodes That Made Us Stop Watching

Go on, git. Photo: CBS, NBC and Showtime

As with people, it is possible to fall out of love with a television show. Sometimes it creeps up on you, until one day you realize you’re not watching the same show anymore. Other times, it’s sudden and unexpected: The show has done something unforgivable. Whatever the case, where the time and emotional investment were once worth it, they now bring no returns. Below, we recall the episodes when we knew there would be no more second chances.

First, cultural critics spoke of “jumping the shark.” Then, in a post-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull world, we spoke of “nuking the fridge.” I propose that we add another phrase that describes a particular kind of rubicon-crossing: “blowing up the Secretary of Defense,” a process by which a series gives up on being cerebral and opts to go all dumb and explosion-y. In an effort to raise the show’s dramatic stakes, Homeland’s creators saw fit to stage a terrorist attack in which a significant portion of the United States national-security leadership were abruptly killed, with guilt pointing toward Carrie and Brody. In that flurry of rubble and dust, the show fully obliterated its original thematic concerns: the treatment of demobilized soldiers, the quiet paranoia of the security state, untreated mental illness, and personal religious struggle. All that was left was a truly stupid, generically sexy, mass-murder-prone action thriller. I never wanted to hear Carrie’s crying voice ever again.
— Abraham Riesman

Plenty of episodes have made me stop watching a show I was sort of on the fence about, but the first time I remember quitting a show I really liked was the season-three finale of The Practice. That was the one where George Vogelman (Michael Monks), the nerdy podiatrist who sued Ellenor Frutt (Camryn Manheim) for rejecting him in season one, shows up at the law firm with a head in a bag claiming he was framed for murdering a college student named Susan Robin following a one-night stand. A great deal of rigamarole later, the show turns into a Basic Instinct–style murder mystery, by which I mean a ludicrous potboiler that can’t truly be called mysterious because there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. It starts piling one thing on top of another willy-nilly, as series creator David E. Kelley unfortunately tends to do whenever he has more than one show on the air and the other one is hotter. (The hotter one at this point was Ally McBeal.) Suffice to say that the supposedly harmless Vogelman is scamming the lawyers into thinking he’s been framed and that somebody else (maybe the victim’s brother) is the killer. Ellenor’s colleague Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams) gets stabbed by somebody wearing a nun’s habit, and in the final shot of the season, the stabber is revealed to be none other than George Vogelman, who’s gone from being a socially inept doofus to a killer diabolically brilliant enough to play every regular on the show for a sucker — and why? So that Kelley could keep himself amused? It was beyond dumb, and it certified a drift into heedless silliness that came to define the latter years of The Practice, a show that had always been goofy and somewhat random, but that also prided itself on a certain grittiness, and that had never before showed such flagrant disregard for its characters and situations. Don’t ask me about anything that happened after that alleged cliffhanger; if I ever knew, I’ve wiped it from my memory, along with any inclination I once had to give Kelley the benefit of the storytelling doubt.
— Matt Zoller Seitz

Veronica Mars
was a masterpiece, but when it came to season-long mysteries, its decline was precipitous. The first season gave us the brilliant Lily Kane murder mystery. The second season’s bus-crash story line was ambitious, but overstuffed. The third season switched to mini-arcs, and promptly gave us a hamfisted campus-rape mystery, and an academic murder plot that never quite came together. So it was a bittersweet moment when, in one final attempt to stop hemorrhaging viewers, the show announced it would finish out the third season with five standalone episodes. I watched the first of these, “Un-American Graffiti,” and it was … fine. It just didn’t feel quite like the Veronica Mars I knew, and like an old dog, I had no interest in watching the show limp along towards its certain death. (Didn’t stop me from donating to the Kickstarter, though.)
— Nate Jones

When Ross and Rachel serenaded newborn Emma with “Baby Got Back,” a nadir in Friends story lines was achieved from which neither the show nor a superfan like myself ever recovered. As the Über-ensemble of its era, Friends always derived its humor from the besties’ synergy: The dunderheadedness of Joey and Phoebe’s harebrained schemes, how Chandler mitigated Monica’s prudishness, etc. But the “Baby Got Back” joke was nothing more than, “Look at the whitest people on TV rap about juicy butts!” It was a one-note gag inexcusably repeated in three separate scenes, and if that wasn’t proof enough that Friends was out of ideas, this episode also featured lame, unworthy callbacks to “We were on a break,” “Smelly Cat,” and Monica’s ex Richard (although sadly, no Tom Selleck cameo). Funny enough, Christina Applegate guest-starred as Rachel’s vapid sister the following week on the show’s always amusing Thanksgiving episodes; her scene-stealing performance only further confirmed that Friends needed a permanent break of its own.
— Rose Maura Lorre

I’m not the only person who watched the season-one finale of The Killing hoping it would be my last. I, like so many, had realized the show was a turd about halfway through, but was curious who killed Rosie Larson. And, infamously, the episode ended without answering the question it begged from its onset and, again, like so many, I said, Okay, we’re good here. I realized at that point, I work at a pop-culture site. When they finally reveal who the killer is, I’ll just ask Margaret. And so I did.
— Jesse David Fox

There was a point in time that Glee’s outrageous characters, leaps in logic, plot inconsistencies, and pop songs were part of its charm. Until that time was up. For me it was specifically the season-three episode where New Directions performs at sectionals. Not only do they have to go to a Kentucky male strip club to convince Sam (Chord Overstreet) to rejoin the glee club, they have to battle against the Trouble Tones, the bad girl group that was set up when Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies) was kicked out of the club for being horrible. There’s that strange Irish boy from The Glee Project singing for no reason, a ton of characters we don’t care about while ones we do (like Mercedes) are sidelined, a whole story about Mike Chang (Harry Shum) having to major in pre-med when that is not even a real major that exists in the world, and, finally, New Directions winning sectionals against glee clubs they never competed against before (where are all those old glee clubs from past seasons?) with a mashup of Michael Jackson songs that wasn’t that good. Mind you they didn’t even have their number memorized or choreographed at the beginning of the episode, so they’re just that good suddenly? The only thing worse than Glee’s overreliance on awful mashups was enduring a choir version of “Red Solo Cup” earlier in this episode. It was just all too ridiculous and contrived for me to even put up with any longer. Considering they have since moved to New York and other ridiculousness, I think I made the right choice.
— Brian James Moylan

Let’s play “compare and contrast.” One of the highlights of The Office’s unimpeachable season-two-to-season-four run was the moment in season three, episode eight, where Michael and Dwight unveil a homemade riff on “Lazy Sunday” called “Lazy Scranton.” As usual, the show was cringe-inducingly brilliant in its parody of the way unfunny people try to jump on a viral-video bandwagon. Fast-forward to Jim and Pam’s wedding, when the show did a riff on that “Jill and Kevin’s Wedding” viral hit (y’know, the one with all the guests dancing their way down the aisle while Chris Brown’s “Forever” plays). Unfortunately, instead of spoofing the idea of exploiting a viral video for your own watered-down comedic gain, the show’s creators simply … exploited a viral video for their own watered-down comedic gain. It was a perfect example of how far the show had fallen: No longer was it trying to be subversive, it was merely trying to be palliative and pleasant. What’s more, Jim and Pam were getting married while their relationship was in a state of near-perfect bliss. The show had given up on attempting to pave new ground in TV relationships, and had simply given us another happy young couple. And to make matters even worse, they unironically used that same Chris Brown song from the original video, meaning that girlfriend-beating monster got royalty payments. What had once been my favorite television program would never again pass before my eyeballs.
— Abraham Riesman

I have an oddly distinct memory of watching Community’s Law and Order parody: I was at a friend’s house in Ridgewood, and I’m pretty sure I was drinking orange juice. If I recall correctly, I enjoyed it (the episode and the juice) quite a bit! And yet, for some reason, this was the last episode of Community I ever watched. The third season wasn’t my favorite — I didn’t like the Imaginarium thing — and I would often go a few weeks without watching, then catch up later on Hulu. That’s probably what happened here, except that after Dan Harmon got fired, I lost the energy to keep up. Either that, or I really liked Starburns.
— Nate Jones

Downton Abbey once hit a sweet spot that only British period dramas can for me — somewhere between all that class tension and slow-burning romance, there was some high-level subtext at play. Except when it came to Anna and Bates — the most strained relationship on the show, and ultimately, the thing that did me in. The more I wanted them to go away, the more they persisted as a couple and story arc. Around the start of season three, their plotline took an annoying turn: Bates is thrown in jail, and Anna starts sleuthing to get him out. And just like that, they became not only the most boring love story ever, but the most boring crime saga. You could argue this was a bad time to give up on Downton, just as Mary and Matthew’s relationship was beginning in earnest. But the whole ordeal with Lavinia’s money didn’t inspire much confidence that these two people were right for one another. Plus, Matthew’s fate (death) had been spoiled for me, so it was this unremarkable episode where I cut my losses and bid Downton adieu.
—  Gazelle Emami

My family’s access to HBO came and went throughout my childhood, as my penny-pinching dad refused to pay for it but wasn’t above asking my uncle (a former cable repairman) to go fiddle with the box in the middle of the night. The resulting cold war with Comcast meant that I only got to see The Sopranos in fits and starts through the years, catching an episode here or half a season there throughout its lengthy run. A few years back, I decided to watch the whole thing from start to finish, eager to finally experience one of TV’s great shows the way it was meant to be consumed, and was having a grand time until I got to season three and hit this episode. If you’ve seen it, I don’t have to describe the effect Dr. Melfi’s brutal rape had on me. I cried after I watched it, and had nightmares for weeks. It hit home in a way all the violent mob shootings and beatings  didn’t, and I just couldn’t stomach the thought of watching the show again, so I haven’t. People get really upset when I tell them this (you’ve missed so much! “Pine Barrens” alone! no one even gets raped again!) but that episode was so below-the-belt, such a gut-punch, that I couldn’t trust the show with my feelings after that. It felt out-of-context, aggressive, and cruel to that character, who was otherwise removed from the show’s violent intensity; she was raped by a complete stranger who had nothing else to do with the world of the show, something that’s quite rare in reality, compared to the prevalence of acquaintance rape. It felt like the writers got bored with having her character be so firmly on the outside of the show’s violence, and decided that the best way to move her piece forward on the board was just to smash it, so that she had to face that huge moral choice about whether or not to have Tony kill her rapist. It’s using rape as a tool, and I’m still mad about it.
— Allie Pape

Olivia Pope is being auctioned off to the highest terrorist bidder — a scenario she set in motion after being kidnapped at the behest of the vice-president so he could overthrow Olivia’s love, President Fitzgerald, whose weakness – and thus, the U.S.’s — would be revealed. Except Olivia’s now-amiable kidnapper gets killed by one of his henchman, so now it’s now up to Jake, Huck, and rest of the gladiator gang to find a terrorist of their very own to buy Olivia on the Darknet with, wait for it, the billions Huck has conveniently appropriated from the now-defunct super-secret spy organization B613. Oh, and who’s the terrorist they co-opt? Why it’s none other than Mama Pope, who wangles a flat-screen TV (outside her cell) with basic cable in return. But wait, the kidnappers end the auction after Iran puts in an unbeatable bid, so Fitz orders an extraction. Scandal, your ridiculous hijinks have finally worn me out.
— Lisa Liebman

This show put me through so much over the years — a crazy gunman roaming the hospital, cancer, Alzheimer’s, sex with a ghost. I stayed with it, loved it, defended it. Then in May 2012, for its season finale, Grey’s Anatomy once again had to visit a newer, bigger tragedy upon its well-coiffed doctors. This time, it chose a plane crash: Six of the doctor main characters go down in a private-plane crash and end up fighting for their lives among the wreckage in a bleak forest. It looked like ABC had asked Grey’s to use up some rejected footage from theLostpilot. Ultimately (spoiler alert), Lexie Grey dies. Of course I understand that TV dramas must keep the drama coming, year after year, and of course I understand how that challenge escalates by the end of an eighth season. But when you find yourself laughing as a major character dies—a major character you liked—that means the connection between you and a show has snapped. I resolved to stop watching unless they ran into some characters from Lost for some kind of series finale do-over crossover. Alas, this did not happen, and so Grey’s Anatomy and I ended things over Lexie’s dead body. 
— Jennifer Keishin Armstrong