We may be in the Golden Age of television, but it took a long time for society to recognize it as a worthy form of art. That was partly due to snobbishness, but it was also completely warranted. Television used to be awful -- even the very best of it. Just take a look at these utterly baffling episodes from some of the most well-regarded programs in classic TV history.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Ill-Conceived Anti-Drinking Episode

20th Television

Let's get this out of the way: Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the goddamn best. Even the guy who made The Wire thinks it's the best show in recent television history. But even the greatest of shows aren't without their episodic equivalents of putrid bags of diarrhea, and most Buffy fans would probably agree that the putridest of their bags was the fourth-season episode "Beer Bad."

This one begins with Xander getting a fake ID so he can work as a bartender for this one episode and never again.

20th Television

To reiterate: He got a fake ID not to drink, but to work.

While hanging out at the bar, we find that its patrons are all going nuts for a new beer called Black Frost, which we soon see getting brewed by some kind of mad scientist.

20th Television

Toasty, biscuity accents on the malt, and a partial aftertaste of forbidden rites.

But would you believe, in an episode called "Beer Bad," that the beer was bad? Would that blow your tiny little mind? Anyway, it is. It's very bad. Drinking it turns these jerkbag college kids into cavemen.

20th Television

Using makeup borrowed from a Geico commercial.

Buffy, who's illegally drinking as well, suffers the same effects, and ends up painting stick figures in her room.

20th Television

With what we're sincerely hoping is not slayer feces.

It turns out that the beer was spiked with a magic potion, because the owner of the bar was gently bullied by college kids over the years. He flat-out admits all this to Xander after seconds of interrogation. And how did he pull off this incredible transformational poisoning?

20th Television

Look, it was a good show in general.

Hilariously, this episode only exists because Buffy was trying to take advantage of a government subsidy to incorporate anti-drug storylines into popular shows. Despite crafting this whole stupid plot with that goal in mind, the episode was rejected by the program for its "otherworldly nonsense." It didn't show the real dangers of substance abuse, the government argued; it showed the dangers of vindictive tavern managers with warlock relatives. A situation the government is apparently neutral on.

The X-Files -- Mulder Battles A Virtual Stripper In Virtual Reality

20th Television

When people think of The X-Files, they remember the conspiracies, the aliens, and the surprisingly young FBI agents who made us feel bad about our own accomplishments in life. But that only describes the good episodes. There were at least a few which didn't quite hit those heights, such as the seventh-season episode "First Person Shooter."

This episode finds the patrons of an elaborate virtual reality company being killed off by a mysterious, scantily clad video game character. It's all very ominous.

20th Television

Bum, bum bum bum, bummmmmmmmmm.

Not surprisingly, Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate, taking with them the world's greatest gamer to help defeat her. Unfortunately, he's horribly maimed and killed.

20th Television

Insert coin to continue.

So Mulder enters the game, embarrasses himself almost immediately with an attempt at trash talk ...

Bring it on.
20th Television


... and that's when things start to get dumb.

It turns out the villain was created by one of the company's female employees, because she was sick of working with gross men. Honestly, that's kind of a good premise, because it's still a huge issue today. What is less great is the decision to explore that issue via a sword-wielding Mulder fighting sexy cowgirls.

20th Television

Mulder's looking fairly sexy here too, admittedly.

Eventually, Scully has to come into the video game to save him. This is played up like the most incredible hero turn in the Universe, because the idea of a woman playing a video game was completely mind-blowing at the time.

20th Television

"Well that was dumb."
"Was it really though, Scully?"
"Yes, Mulder."

Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Dr. Crusher Is Seduced By Her Dead Grandmother's Ghost Boyfriend

CBS Television Distribution

We've talked about how Star Trek occasionally devolves into lizard sex and stabbing woman-shaped cakes before. But the second live-action show in the franchise, Star Trek: The Next Generation, tended to keep its shit together. It was the responsible Star Trek in the room -- the one you could introduce to your parents.

As long as you didn't start with the erotic Scottish ghost episode, that is.

The episode "Sub Rosa" finds the Enterprise visiting a planet terraformed to look and feel like Scotland, presumably because at some point in the future, Scottish people were all thrown off of Earth for rowdiness.

CBS Television Distribution

Seconds after this funeral scene, a football-related fight breaks out.

The reason for the Enterprise's visit? Dr. Crusher's 100-year-old grandmother has died. Dr. Crusher soon discovers her Nana's diary, which recounts a recent love affair with a younger man. Then, possibly because Dr. Crusher was super close to her grandma, she begins having vivid dreams about the diary's contents.

He knew exactly how I liked to be touched.
CBS Television Distribution

She ... uh ... she gets into it.

Soon, the boyfriend shows up as a disembodied voice, and seconds later admits to being a ghost. Then, while families around the world sit in front of their televisions watching in stunned silence, the ghost proceeds to psychically give Dr. Crusher an orgasm.

Now do you remember me ?
CBS Television Distribution

Nothing more traumatic than witnessing female sexuality.

He eventually appears in a more physical form, though still chooses to have sex as kind of a mint-green mist.

CBS Television Distribution
CBS Television Distribution

Which at least seem like it'd be an effective contraceptive.

This happens more than once.

CBS Television Distribution


Eventually, Geordi and Data dig up their colleague's grandmother's body (that familiar old trope), and are shocked to see her come to life.

C groaning )
CBS Television Distribution

Leave it to the nerdiest nerds on the Enterprise to defuse a sex mystery.

Of course, it's not actually a sex-ghost, but some bullshit science monster that is easily killed. So yeah, not a classic. There's probably a reason the Borg never molested anyone with cartoon stink lines.

Ghostwriter Promotes Literacy With A Disgusting Purple Slime Monster

Sesame Workshop

Ghostwriter was PBS's attempt to trick children into learning phonics by following the adventures of a lovable phantom with a ridiculously depressing backstory. Most episodes consisted of adorable children from every possible ethnic background teaming up with Ghostwriter to solve mysteries using only the power of literacy, home computers, and necromancy.

Sesame Workshop

And silk print shirts.

The "Attack Of The Slime Monster" story arc finds the team taking a break from battling crime to write a short story about a creepy toy named Gooey Gus, who is essentially a Cabbage Patch Doll caught in a chemical explosion which destroys its meth lab.

Sesame Workshop


Soon, they start to think that Gooey Gus might be coming to life. At one point, he grows to human size and is played by who is almost certainly a Julliard graduate beginning to grasp the true meaning of rock bottom.

Sesame Workshop

This had better be paying a lot of bills.

In the end, to celebrate their successful creation, the gang has a barbecue. But then goddamn Gooey Gus appears in the flames, and proceeds to vomit slime all over the kids. The end. Go literacy.

Sesame Workshop


An Episode Of M*A*S*H Was Full Of PTSD Nightmares

20th Television

Few sitcoms take place in the middle of a terrible war, but M*A*S*H was different. Able to find comedy in the trauma of the Korean War, the show even somehow managed to last longer than the war itself.

20th Television

Implying there were thousands more fictional casualties in this universe.

Considering how long the series ran, it's probably not so unbelievable that one of the episodes focused more on the actual horrors of war. The episode "Dreams," which joined the lovable gang of misfits after 30 hours of sleep-deprived emergency surgery, took fans on a journey into the characters' supremely fucked-up psyches. It aired without the usual laugh track, because, well, you'll see.

The first dream we see is Sgt. Houlihan, who fantasizes about getting married.

20th Television


Well that's nice. Good for Hot Lips. Oh wait, there's more...

20th Television

Well that took a turn.

Similarly, Father Mulcahy dreams that he's the Pope -- only to watch Jesus on the cross turn into a bloodied soldier.

20th Television
20th Television
20th Television

You can see how the laugh track would have been less than appropriate here.

But the weirdest dream of all is reserved for the wisecracking Hawkeye, who dreams that he suddenly has mannequin arms.

20th Television


Then he's on boat in a sea of mannequin arms.

20th Television

Which we're pretty sure was also a Doors lyric.

Then he finds a wounded child, but can't operate because he has no arms, so he screams to the heavens.

20th Television


The episode makes a lot of sense within the context of its premise -- lack of sleep, brutal working conditions, and the possible ingestion of chemical warfare agents would absolutely cause wartime field surgeons to dream up some crazy shit. But it's the fact that every other episode was presented like The Big Bang Theory that makes this one stand out.

The 90210 Gang Flashes Back To The '60s For Some Reason

CBS Television Distribution

Beverly Hills 90210 was the teen soap opera back in the day. Hell, you couldn't even look at a Frisbee in the early '90s without Luke Perry gazing directly into your soul.

LLO 90210 HILLS. REVEALY 'sbe: R FITEAI E Tsi'ii. B 9000

How about we get out of here and fool around a bit, Frisbee?

While the show had a lot of great ideas (David gets addicted to meth, Dylan's dad explodes, Donna meets Candyman), it also had some not-very-good ones, like the time the entire cast flashbacked to the 1960s for no real reason, because nothing was more relevant to teenagers in the 1990s than the struggles of teenagers in the 1960s.

END THE WAR. 1 sicnlamt
CBS Television Distribution

Maybe there was a mix-up at the wardrobe department, and they had to make do.

In the episode "The Time Has Come Today," Brenda discovers a diary from the 1960s, and like the thieving snoop she is, she reads it without a second thought. And, as is standard protocol in all movies and TV shows that involve reading, she visualizes herself and all of her friends as the characters in it. This means we get to see Kelly as a stoner, Brandon as an army officer, and Dylan as an antiwar activist.

CBS Television Distribution

A thoughtful, nuanced look at a turbulent time.

It's a real mishmash of stuff, basically, every character getting a turn to be the '60s version of themselves. Here's Brandon kicking in his family's TV during a fight over the war in Vietnam:

CBS Television Distribution
CBS Television Distribution

The turbulence getting so much turbulentier.

Also, for some reason Brenda, can visualize things that clearly would not be in the diary, like '60s David trying to bone '60s Donna.

Yeah, Donovan's a genius. You wanna hear it again?
CBS Television Distribution

Now you're just projecting, Brenda.

At the end of the episode, Brenda tracks down the woman who wrote the diary, only to find out that she's been dead for two decades.

Died of a heroin overdose in '71, I think it was.
CBS Television Distribution


So yeah. The diary was written by a person who was dead before any of the characters in the show were even born, which you may recognize as the most relevant possible storyline to introduce into a prime-time teen soap opera.

J.M. McNab co-hosts the pop culture nostalgia podcast Rewatchability, which can also be found on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @Rewatchability.

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