Five Awful Storylines From The Greatest TV Shows
It's the age of prestige television, where wave after wave of seemingly perfect shows crash over our heads, endlessly volleyed at us by multiple networks and streaming services, threatening to drown all of our free time in quality storytelling. Truly, history should pity us. But don't be fooled. Even the best of these series can have awful subplots that make you wonder why you started watching in the first place. Such as ...
Christopher's Screenwriting Journey In The Sopranos
The Sopranos is a rightfully revered show about the modern mob, family, and how New Jersey continues to be the most beautiful place on Earth. However, it is not a show about the trials and tribulations of trying to make it as a screenwriter. But the show insisted on doing just that in a recurring arc that should have been tossed over the side of the boat faster than Big Pussy Bonpensiero.
It begins in Season 1 with "The Legend Of Tennessee Moltisanti." Christopher Moltisanti, fresh off his first kill and needing a healthy distraction, decides to take up screenwriting. That's not the most outlandish decision, as lots of people write to deal with difficult things in their lives. And Tony Soprano's reaction to Christopher working on a screenplay about the mafia is spot on: "Are you insane? We don't draw attention to ourselves." And that's where it should have ended, but thankfully for this article's premise, it did not.
Christopher begins attending an acting class, and he's amazing at it. He does a tender scene onstage, but then quits after delivering a beating to his acting partner over crying in front of him. By Season 2, though, Chris has rekindled his interest in the business, and through a series of machinations he winds up on the set of a movie directed by Jon Favreau, played by the real Jon Favreau! The show some critics call the greatest in history stoops to a cheap "appearing as himself" stunt that accomplishes nothing except giving the audience an opportunity to say "Wow, there's Jon Favreau on The Sopranos." And not to diss the guy who would end up directing Iron Man and playing Happy Hogan, but this was 2000 Jon Favreau, who was mostly famous for being the slightly less awful dude in Swingers.
And they just kept coming back to this. In the sixth season, Christopher visits the real Ben Kingsley to try to persuade him to star in the movie he's "producing" called Cleaver. Kingsley passes and Christopher ends up shooting his screenwriter in the head, because they needed to remind you that you're watching The Sopranos. But the movie does get made, and Tony even sees the premiere and is amused by the whole thing. Sorry, Tony. I can't really relate.
Marie's On-And-Off Kleptomania In Breaking Bad
On Breaking Bad, Marie Schrader is DEA agent Hank Schrader's wife, and sister to Skyler White. Skyler is the wife of meth-cooking chemistry whiz Walter White. And because it would be weird to have one main character who is just "Hank's wife that's kind of annoying sometimes," the show sorta decided Marie's also a kleptomaniac. I say "sorta" because that whole thing only seemed to show up whenever Breaking Bad remembered that it hadn't done anything with Marie in a while.
In the first season, Marie swipes a pair of shoes from a store. She later steals an expensive tiara and gifts it to Skyler for her unborn daughter. Skyler tries to return the tiara, but the store recognizes it as being stolen and she is detained. To get out of trouble, Skyler fakes going into labor -- a decision that seems absolutely sitcom-ish when you consider that a year later in the show's timeline, she'll face a home invasion by drug-dealing white supremacists.
Skyler and Marie have a tough conversation about the theft at the end of the episode, and Marie just calmly denies everything. The whole affair carries over to the beginning of Season 2, when Skyler addresses Marie's shoplifting with Hank and learns that Marie is in therapy for her problem. We then forget about that kleptomania business for two whole seasons.
But in Season 4, it's time for Marie to steal stuff again, this time at open houses. And when she gets caught, Hank pulls some strings and she avoids prosecution. And that pretty much marks the end of that storyline, save for an online "minisode." Yes, this character trait wasn't even important enough to wrap up on the actual show.
Pam's "Romance" With The Boom Operator In The Office
A quick recap for those of you who choose to believe The Office ended with Michael Scott leaving on an airplane to sell paper supplies in Valhalla: In the final season, Jim and Pam start to have marital troubles, and Pam finds herself confiding in Brian, a boom operator on the crew that has been filming the office for the past decade. Brian has a crush on her, despite the fact that they're both married and their only interaction has been him asking to test her mic levels.
At one point, Brian gets into a fight with a dude who vandalized Pam's warehouse mural, and then gets fired for his gallantry. He later reveals to Pam that he left his wife, and then everything stops abruptly. Brian apparently evaporates from the show, and Jim and Pam learn that their love is important. We never get the chance to see Jim fight Brian in a bare-knuckle boxing match for Pam's heart, because the writers seemingly forgot that the subplot even existed.
The "will they / won't they" between Jim and Pam basically fueled the first three seasons of the show. But since they had a marriage and a house and two kids by the final season, teasing us with their divorce feels so toothless. There's no way it's gonna happen. By this point, The Office had transformed from an uncomfortable show about what it's like to work in a miserable office for an idiot boss into a sweet story in which everyone gets some kind of lovable resolution. They may as well have teased that Pam was the Scranton Strangler all along. Yes, I'm sure that's an elaborate fan theory somewhere. No, I don't want to hear it. Yes, I know you're going to tell me anyway.
The Rise And Fall Of Michael Ginsberg On Mad Men
If prestige television had a Mount Rushmore, then Don Draper's cartoonishly handsome head might be the first thing they chisel into it. Each episode of Mad Men was almost literary. The show was thought-provoking, meticulously crafted, and subtle. Which is why we still can't figure out what the hell the writers were thinking when they had supporting character Michael Ginsberg chop off his own nipple in the final season.
Remember Ginsberg? He was the promising copywriter Don hired in Season 5, despite Peggy pointing out that he had the social appeal of a swarm of bees. Still, all was going swimmingly until Don became jealous of Ginsberg because he was just so dang good at putting words in front of pictures and selling them to rich white people. So Don presents his own inferior idea to a client over Ginsberg's idea, and even though Ginsberg gets pissy about it, Don wins because he's the boss.
It's actually a fascinating dynamic, full of potential themes worth exploring, like the young overtaking the old, the nature of talent, etc. And then a season and a half later, Ginsberg cuts off his nipple and presents it to Peggy in a box and ... wait, what?
Ginsberg goes full Alex Jones after the firm installs a brand spanking new room-sized computer. He believes the computers are turning everyone gay, you see, and after confessing this to Peggy and straight up assaulting her in her home, he shows up the next day at work with his severed nipple in a box. And then, in a move that would make Vincent van Gogh look like a masterful pickup artist, he presents that box to Peggy as a gift of affection. Peggy freaks out and Ginsberg is hauled away to the madhouse, never to be seen again.
Now, this batshit turn sounds a lot like it came from an actor asking to be let off the show immediately, and in a panic the writers went with Plan B. But come on, this is Mad Men! If Don Draper had freaked out and started mailing his toes to people, this may have fit in. But otherwise, it just sticks out like, well, a severed nipple.
Ros, The Throwaway Prostitute On Game Of Thrones
Here's an easy take: Game Of Thrones isn't perfect. As a show that's basically Lord Of The Rings if everyone was unfriendly, it sometimes makes rather ridiculous logical jumps. That said, the action can be suitably epic, the suspense can be unbearable, and the characters can be remarkably well-crafted. And that last part is what makes Ros' storyline so disappointing.
Ros wasn't in the books, and was often accused of merely being an easy outlet for "sexposition" (that trick the show loved early on where it'd be telling us all the boring parts while showing people boning). But despite everyone's best efforts, she became an interesting character anyway. In Season 1, she teased Theon into a blue balls coma, and their chemistry might be the best on the show. In Season 2, she's in King's Landing working her way through the ranks of Littlefinger's brothel. By Season 3, she's working with Varys as an informant against Littlefinger. At this rate, she would probably be queen by Season 5.
There's even a scene between her and Shae where they discuss the dangerous world they live in and the dangerous men who inhabit it. And for a moment, we're led to believe that any of this matters. But then bam, Littlefinger gives Ros to Joffrey to get crossbowed, and the audience is left feeling a little bit stupider for ever caring in the first place.
And sure, people die all the time in Game Of Thrones. It's like the most famous thing about the whole show. But the point isn't that she died gruesomely. Why make her Littlefinger's right-hand woman, or put her in the harbor with Shae, or tell us (in a later conversation with Varys) that she's highly intelligent and literate? Game Of Thrones was building a character who enacted change on the world she existed in, and just before she could make a single move that was her own, we got another dead prostitute in a series full of them.
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