In keeping with the t.v. theme, I thought it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane and imagine, not the best moments of your television-viewing history, but the weirdest. I’m referring to those WTF? moments that either cause you to stop watching or to seriously question what the writers were smoking when they came up with “that” idea. I’m not talking studio or network decisions, so no cancellations, only highly suspect creative choices. I’m sure that, off the top of your respective heads, countless come to mind, from baffling leaps in logic to the deaths of beloved medical characters. And I’d love to hear all about them. But first, here is a list of My WTF? T.V. Moments. Some are egregious. Others are bizarre missteps magnified by the fact that they happened on otherwise amazing shows:
DALLAS: Forget that ever happened.
The ninth season of Dallas ended with the character of Pam Ewing walking into the bathroom and discovering her husband Bobby in the shower. But how could this be? Bobby was dead. He’d been killed after being hit by a car the previous season. How could the writers possibly resurrect the beloved character? Easy. They just hit the reset button by making the previous season a dream. The ENTIRE SEASON! 31 episodes! All a dream! They used a narrative device that not even a fourth grader gets away with nowadays. Hey, Dallas fans, that last year of your favorite show was one giant waste of your time. Sorry. Wonder how the dvd’s for that ninth season sold in comparison?
ROSEANNE: Let’s make The Beverly Hillbillies instead!
At the beginning of the show’s ninth season, the Conners win the lottery! 108 million dollars! So what changes for them? Pretty much everything. The lovable blue-collar family many viewers connected with over the years suddenly become the 90’s equivalent of The Beverly Hillbillies. I didn’t watch the show but I know several people who did – and, boy, were they unhappy with the show’s strange, unfunny turn. But the worst was yet to come…
ROSEANNE: Not quite Bobby in the shower but…
In the show’s ninth season series finale, the audience discovers that the whole lottery storyline was fantasy – not a dream but the imaginative writings of Roseanne Conner who reveals the entire show has been a slightly altered version of her real life. Oh, and amiable hubby Dan died of a heart attack back in season 8. Funny stuff.
THE WONDER YEARS: P.S. Dad dies.
Oh, come on! In the series finale, Kevin reveals how things turn out for everyone. His best buddy Paul goes to Harvard. His boyhood crush, Winnie Cooper, ends up studying art history in Paris. His mother becomes a successful business woman. And his dad…well, his dad drops dead of a heart attack two years later. Wait! What?! Look, I’m all for bittersweet endings but this one feels forced because, in a previous episode, Kevin tells the audience how his father would eventually have a grandson of his own. Now, unless Winnie got pregnant in this final episode and gave birth to a son before heading off to Paris, information Kevin elected NOT to make us privy to, then killing dad off is like a giant cheat.
SOUTH PARK – Carman’s real father is…!
South Park fans had to wait an entire hiatus – and then some – to learn the identity of Cartman’s father following the first season cliffhanger. Eager fans tuned in to find out on April 1, 1998…Oh, wait. April 1st? Instead of concluding the storyline, producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker pranked their audience by airing a totally unrelated episode titled “Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus”. Good one, no? No. The audience responded by roundly criticizing the show and firing off some 2000 angry emails to Comedy Central.
24 – Really? No, really? NO, REALLY?
In the show’s first season, Jack Bauer’s wife and daughter are in a car, speeding away from pursuers. Assuming she has lost them, Jack’s wife, Terri, gets out of the car and hurries back up the roadway to make sure. Yes, that’s right. She leaves the car to head back on foot to make sure (!). Satisfied that the coast is clear, she walks back to the car…only to discover she happened to park it too close to the side of a ravine and the car has plummeted – with her daughter inside (!). She is so distraught that she collapses. And wakes up with amnesia (!). Trifecta.
DYNASTY – Duck and cover!
One of the most notorious season finales in television history finds the entire cast of characters gathered for a royal wedding in the fictitious nation of Moldavia when the festivities are interrupted by armed terrorists. The chapel is strafed with bullets and, in the final, lingering shots all of the major characters lie, seemingly dead. It came to be known as The Moldavian Massacre – although, in hindsight, maybe massacre was a bit of a stretch. In the show’s sixth season premiere, we learn that only two minor characters died in the attack thereby confirming what every action movie has already proven – that bad guys are terrible shots.
THE SOPRANOS – Cut to black.
The show’s final sequence unfolds to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ with the Soprano family – Tony, Carmella, and AJ – sitting in a diner while, outside, Meadow struggles to park. Tony glances up as a suspicious character walks in and shoots him a look. We cut back to Meadow parking. Tony looks up as someone else walks into the diner. Back to Meadow parking. Then cut back to Tony. Meadow parking. The tension mounts. The suspense is unbearable. And then – we go to BLACK. End of series. In the days following, armchair experts went to great pains to analyze the symbolism of the finale, ferreting out clues from previous episodes to bolster their theory that Tony Soprano actually died when the screen cut to black – which only served to exacerbate the indignation of fans who felt they’d been left hanging. Really? We were expected to piece together a bunch of esoteric clues in order to figure out the ending? As it turned out, no. According to show creator David Chase, Tony wasn’t whacked after all.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS – Murder in Dillon!
The first season of Friday Night Lights was incredible on every level – well-written, brilliantly acted, poignant and inspiring – atypical of many shows out there, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that it was struggling in the ratings. But FNL was a critical darling and received a second season pick-up nonetheless. And when it came back, for some reason (Insert your own theory here. I certainly have mine.), the writers elected to work in a a sub-plot involving gosh-shucks geek Landry accidentally killing a would-be rapist. Suddenly, the wonderful character-driven stories were overshadowed by this completely out-of-place narrative that would have been better suited to an episode of Law and Order. Panned by critics, the story was quickly wrapped up – and never referred to again.
MAD MEN – I ate a bad sandwich.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the show is brilliant and well-deserving of all of the accolades it has received, which is why it made this list – on the basis of a dramatic turn at the end of the show’s first season that was, well, in sharp contrast to EVERYTHING ELSE. Don Draper’s carousel speech is some of the best writing ever committed to script. On the other hand, the whole “surprise” that ends this episode seems like something completely out of place for such a grounded show. Secretary Peggy is feeling under the weather and goes to see a doctor. She assumes she “ate a bad sandwich”. But it isn’t a bad sandwich after all. Peggy is pregnant. Pregnant and IN LABOR! Cut to the next scene – where she is presented with her new baby. Now wait a minute! I understand people can be naive and, in some cases, it takes them a while to catch on – but this character was nine months pregnant and didn’t have a clue! I know it happens, but rarely, and when it does it’s to very heavy women who may not have noticed the extra weight gain. It’s as if I was watching a completely different show.
BREAKING BAD – Heads up!
Not even one of my very favorite shows is immune to the occasional questionable call. The second season of the show kicks off with disquieting hints of an atrocity to come, starting with the eye of some stuffed animal floating in a swimming pool and progressing to body bags being lined up on a quiet residential suburban street. It builds and builds over the course of those thirteen episodes, finally paying off in the form of – a mid-air plane crash. Huh? Sure, one can argue that Walter was indirectly responsible for the carnage since he did kill the grieving air traffic controller’s daughter but, all the same, for a show that has built a solid rep for tight scripting, this felt like a bait-and-switch.
Care to chime in? Let’s hear your WTF T.V. Moments.