This one’s been percolating for a while.
A note before we start: It’s worth mentioning that none of these episodes do anything to denigrate my appreciation for the respective programs. But no show is perfect (not even Battlestar, though it is absent from this list, because even its weakest episodes are better than many shows’ strongest offerings). And sometimes that’s worth clarifying, just for fun.
So, onward and downward.
“Doublemeat Palace,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Without question, BtVS has more bad episodes than any other show on this list. As I said, this doesn’t take away from my affection for the program. But it does mean I have to avert my eyes and scowl every once in a while, at least once a season on average. “Doublemeat Palace” sees Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) landing a job at a local fast food restaurant. Honestly, I’ve largely blotted this episode from my mind. I remember there’s something wacky and disgusting going on in the back room of the restaurant, but I don’t remember how it works or why I should care.
Dishonorable mentions: I literally fell asleep during the first season cyber horror fiasco “I Robot … You Jane”; “Beer Bad” takes all the fun out of a show that really can be funny; and “Where the Wild Things Are” is a superfluous sex romp, an absolute mess of an episode.
“Never Again,” The X-Files
I’ll give this to The X-Files: even when the episodes are weak, they typically have some redeeming value. Not so with “Never Again,” the episode that immediately follows Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) discovery that she has cancer. “Never Again” sees Scully having what might be sex with an anonymous guy whose tattoo talks to him. She also gets a tattoo of an ouroboros, because that’s totally something Scully would do. I understand that Scully would behave out of character after finding out something so important. But a tattoo and casual sex? This is not the Dana we know and love. And she’s back to normal within an episode or two, if a little depressed. It’s almost as though this atrocity never happened. And it shouldn’t have.
Dishonorable mentions: “Chinga” proved that Stephen King should never, ever, ever write an episode of what is typically a very successful television program, and “First Person Shooter” could’ve been great fun, had the writers known anything at all about gamer nerd culture.
“The Message,” Firefly
Firefly is kind of a peripheral favorite show of mine, a series I’ve seen beginning to end and for which I have plenty of affection, but one I maybe could live without. (Please don’t kill me.) Even so, it doesn’t include a single disappointing episode, except for “The Message.” I don’t know if you noticed, but I take issue with principal characters acting nothing like themselves, and this is something we see here with Kaylee (Jewel Staite). Kaylee is otherwise a very consistent character, so it’s jarring to see her reject the object of her affection, Simon (Sean Maher), for someone she’s never met who doesn’t deserve her trust. Also, there’s a shameless emotional one-two punch at episode’s end that falls flat completely.
Dishonorable mention: Captain Mal’s (Nathan Fillion) not himself in “Heart of Gold,” what might be a schlocky morality tale about the future of prostitution.
I’ll admit to feeling a little weird about my dislike of “Dave.” It’s directed by the brilliant Jack Bender and written by the typically successful duo of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and it’s an episode about one of my favorite characters, Hurley (Jorge Garcia), so it’d be logical for me to enjoy it. But something about it falls flat to me. It’s just the idea that Hurley would only now be having hallucinations–and if they’ve been around for a while, then why didn’t we hear about it sooner? Lost keeps a lot of secrets, but not like this. Plus, the twist at the end accomplishes nothing, rare for a Lost episode’s conclusion.
Dishonorable mentions: I know I’m not alone in this, but Kate-centric episodes often get to me, despite Evangeline Lilly’s obvious talent. “What Kate Did,” with hackneyed attempts at triggering emotional reactions, sticks out to me as one of the worst. And, of course, the notorious “Stranger in a Strange Land,” or “Jack’s Tattoos,” is an example of everything Lost shouldn’t be: a handholding, direct explanation of every character flaw Jack (Matthew Fox) possesses.