Five of the Worst Subplots from the Best TV Shows

There are certain shows we love so much, we can often turn a blind eye to their faults. The ones I’m about to list here are some of my absolute favorite, and it’s hard to find many issues with any of them.

That said, if you remove your rose tinted glasses, often times there are certain subplots within these shows that leave something to be desired. Even if the show is usually top notch, it can stray when it doesn’t quite know what to do with its characters. Read on to see exactly what I mean.

24 – Kim Bauer and the Mountain Lion

This is the stupid subplot to end all stupid subplots, and the inspiration for this entire list. 24 is a pretty amazing show, at least in about six of its eight seasons, but what tarnished an otherwise excellent season two was that the show felt a need to include Kim Bauer, despite her having no relevance to the central plot.

Kim was a huge part of the first season, as her and her mother’s kidnapping were the inspiration for practically everything that unfolded. But in season two, they didn’t quite know what to do with her. They stuck her in the role of “time filler” where when babysitting a kid, she sees a husband murder his wife, and then flees then scene. If that wasn’t exciting enough, at one point she actually runs into a goddamn mountain lion. Seriously.

It’s one of the only times on the show where one of the subplots literally had NOTHING to do with the central storyline in any regard, other than Kim periodically calling her dad to ask what she should do. Eventually she kills the murderer while he’s on hold. What a Bauer. But yeah, terrible, terrible subplot.

Mad Men – Don’s Past

When Mad Men was first starting out, the showrunners apparently thought that witty dialogue, retro fashion and pretty faces wasn’t going to be quite enough to get people’s attention. That’s why for the first season or so, they decided to make Don’s past a mystery.

The plot path never seemed like it really belonged on the show, it’s like was ripped from Lost or something similar. Eventually, you discover that to escape his crappy life on a redneck farm, after the Korean War, he (then Dick Whitman) assumed the identity of a dead soldier he knew, Don Draper. This made him still technically married to Don’s wife, and the two had a platonic relationship where he paid her money and she was sort of his friend.

It’s not exactly the big dark secret they were building it up to be, and when Pete Campbell found out and was going to use it against him, everyone just sort of threw up their hands and said, “so what?” And now, the show rarely, if ever, mentions it at all.

Lost – WALT!

Speaking of Lost, I think we can all agree which plotline was the most annoying on the show. Lost was filled with great characters, and we filled in the gaps of their history with flashbacks for many seasons.

Walt and his father, Michael, could have had the potential to be great characters. Walt had some sort of weird powers that weren’t really explained, and when he went missing, it was one of the most gripping parts of the show.

But what followed was the endless annoyance of Michael being reduced to one line only (WALT!), and worse yet, Walt himself became one of the biggest loose ends in the show, which was full of unfinished plotlines by the end. We never learned why exactly Walt was so special, and when he did show up in later seasons, he literally did nothing. Wasted potential.

Game of Thrones – The Lord of Light

Yes, I’m even putting the beloved Game of Thrones in here, because I really just did not enjoy or understand Stannis Baratheon’s plotline this year.

There was so much hype about the next Baratheon brother, and he turned out to be…some gruff bald guy with no personality. Granted, having no personality is PART of personality on the show, but I really did not enjoy any of the scenes this year with him or Melisandre.

I understand magic is coming back in strange ways, but (spoilers) Melisandre’s demon vagina monster killing Renly has been the most bizarre moment of the show by far, and it made the only significant character death of the season a simply strange experience. Hopefully the pair of them become more interesting next year.

Arrested Development – Host vs. Graft

Yes, not even the holy grail of television is safe from this article. Practically every moment of Arrested Development is pure gold, but one joke plotline always stood out like sore thumb to me toward the end.

Tobias getting hair plugs was funny at first, especially when he tried to run a comb through them, but the resulting host vs. graft syndrome that followed where he grew long lush hair and became wheelchairbound as the life was drained from him was just…weird. It was a little out there, even for Arrested Development, and Tobias decaying and creeping everyone out was just uncomfortable, rather than funny.

That said, even a bad Arrested Development plotline is better than entire SEASONS of other comedies.

  • JB

    Yeah that plot of AD wasnt all there but there were still some great jokes in it. Like when Tobias falls down the stairs with GOB chasing him with the camera just to say “Dam wasnt recording it. Gotta another fall in ya buddy?”

  • Chooch

    The Lord of Light subplot has barely begun…

  • KingsWit

    Having read the book, I cans say that Melisandre and Stannis’ plotline is simply not suitably fleshed out in the show. Game of Thrones is usually a stellar adaptation, but they dropped the ball here, making certain scenes only relevant to readers of the books. I don’t think it was boring or out of place, but I think that may stem from knowing more about the characters and their place in the story.

  • Ryan

    Mad Men – I thought this subplot really helps to develop Don’s character. I never got the impression it was supposed to be anything more than what happened. Did you expect Don to be a murderer/psychopath or something?

    Game of Thrones – This subplot was done poorly in the show, but it makes a lot more sense in the book. Don’t discount Melisandre and Stannis yet!

    Arrested Development – I thought this joke was a nice change of pace really. Just the sight gags of Tobias with lush hair is enough reason to get it in there.

  • Yeah…the thing’s called ‘Song of Ice and Fire’…and she worships the fire god. Strap in for the rest of the series.

  • trashcanman

    Can you say “magic = drug/alcohol abuse”? Buffy season 6 was full of bummers, but that subplot in particular was when it became entirely lame. You could probably make an entire list from just Lost for this, man.

  • I agree with everything but Mad Men. What about The Wire? I’m sure there’s at least one subplot we could’ve done without.

  • Javier

    I don’t think you should’ve includded GoT…I mean, the series is still going on so there’s plenty of time for that subplot to go somewhere, even if this season was blank..

    I’d trade that for a any of the Heroes subplots that went nowhere..

  • Jonathan

    @Javier – Don’t even get me started on all the Heroes subplots that were dropped. The writers just kept rehashing the same things over and over, despite a rich back-story and plenty to work with. Season four really circled the drain. I’m still dreaming for something to end the show. Damn shame we’ll probably never see that.

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    You know, in all fairness the Kim Bauer vs. the Mountain Lion subplot wouldn’t have been all that bad HAD the Mountain Lion actually eaten her.

  • Connor

    The car wash side plot in Breaking Bad season 4 deserves to be on this more than GoT, considering the lord of light has greater impact on the story’s future.

  • Bad Acid

    ^^^^^^ Connor beat me, but yeah. I think everyone is sick of Skyler đŸ˜›

  • Monchofos

    Actually Stannis plot this season made me become somewhat of a Stannis fan. Reading the second book you only get about Stannis from Davos POV (well also Maester Cressen for the epilogue to aCoK) nd naturally you get the idea he is this gigantic asshole but the show actually makes a good version of the guy, maybe its the actor but I greatly enjoyed him this season, made me understand Stannis much better. His story in the books is interesting because Davos internal monologues are pure gold, he quickly became a favourite.

    But the show made me actually root for Stannis, they really made it work which is more that I can say about Jon Snow’s story, but then again I have always hated the Jon Snow chapters, its terrible that GRRM gives him so many chapters, and Kit Harrington is possibly the weakest main cast member in the entire lot, he really leaves much to be desired.

    Most mains developed a lot, still would have wanted more Tyrion, aCoK is mainly Tyrion’s book, even Cat and Robb who were dull in the first season grew better (Robb is an idiot, but thats the point), Arya was great, Sansa, Cersei had her moments but some of her earlier episodes were way off character, Littlefinger was tits, but Jon Snow was horrible, and the changes they made to his story were really for the worse, here we have Dany’s plot getting a better treatment and Jon’s devoid of all of the little things which come to matter later on.

  • Henry

    Like another person has already said, GoT shouldn’t be included here. It’s only on season 2 and the story is only just getting started.

  • Chris

    I disagree with the GoT thing.

    Not because it didn’t feel off-kilter (it did, and I was disappointed every time they featured on-screen). But because it’s not in any way a subplot. As will become very clear in the next season and beyond, it’s just plot.

  • Ant2206

    While it’s rarely addressed directly, Don Draper’s past informs everything about the character, and the subplot is present throughout the series – including in the absolute latest episode [SPOILER APERT] when he tells another character how easy it is to reset your life, with disastrous results.

    But you’re bang on with Walt. I can imagine a wall of subplots in the Lost writer’s room written on Post-It notes, and between seasons, the one which says WALT falls off and drifts under the table. After the show ends a janitor is cleaning up and finds the note, and thinks, “hey yeah, what the hell happened to Walt?”

  • Kit

    That whole “James falls for an older married woman whose husband is abusive and wants to frame James for his wife’s (yet to be committed) murder” in Twin Peaks. I usually just skip those scenes. HATE that subplot.

  • Lemm

    I’d just like to say this:
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Robot Buffy storyline.
    what the hell was that? It’s one of my favorite shows (what? sue me), but I still thik Joss Whedon or whoever came up with that must’ve been on some quality weed…

  • Lemm

    sorry for the double post, but
    the car wash plot of BB S4 was neccesary and awesome at the same time. It just shows how much effort the writer put into realism. And…
    Walt putting the framed dollar in the Coke machine? Please…character development anyone?

  • TexasRanger

    Gotta disagree on the AD one. That plotline had moments that left me crying with laughter. The Uncle T-bag line and then Tobias falling out of his chair and Michael trying to help him up again is classic.

  • Meredith

    How is the *SPOILER* Tyra & Landry murder someone on Friday Night Lights Season 2 not on this list. Every time I tell someone to start the show I have to preface it with “There is going to be subplot in season 2 and it’s terrible, but it goes away and then it’s just pure brilliance again.”

  • What about Tyra / Landry killing some dude on “Friday Night Lights”? It was a half-assed attempt to do something to rope in new fans and was terrible and just kinda faded away.

  • ChristianH

    Totally disagree on Mad Men and Arrested Development, but I’d let them slide if we could agree to include every ridiculous boy-crush Julie ever had on Friday Night Lights that wasn’t Matt Saracen? Every other episode it was like, ‘Jesus, Julie, you’re just in perpetual heat or something, aren’t you?’

    It didn’t help that she was so obnoxious. Everyone else here is hating on the Tyra/Landry thing, but I loved it for every excuse to have the two of them on screen together. All of season two was such a disaster anyway. Julie was the only character who never clawed back from being awful.

  • Nickjaa

    lies! i loved the tobias storyline!

  • Sean

    Connor, the car wash subplot was needed. It was a way to bring Walt and Skyler closer and a way to show where the money could be drained into.

    As for this article, I feel you’ve missed the point of these “subplots” Paul.
    The GoT is unruly to put in as it will play a larger role in the future.
    And the Don Draper stuff, ugh. It builds into who he is. It matters on a show that’s mostly about characters and not so much on story.
    And the Arrested Development plot was just another bit that was gold. Anything with Tobias is.

  • Charlie Ward

    The “Mad Men” one is so off-base to me. Don Draper is a fraud. That fact hangs over his head every moment of every day, and has the potential to utterly ruin his life. It destroyed his first marriage already, remember. Yeah, I don’t know about you, but not an episode goes by where I don’t feel slightly tense about when the other shoe might drop for old Don.

  • Dave

    Wow, really? The Don Draper history was the most interesting part of the entire show imo. Him sleeping with a different woman every episode is the boring subplot.

  • Fred

    Friday Night Lights Season 2 – Landry kills Tyra’s sexual assaulter. Boom. End discussion.

  • James

    Dangit, Fred beat me to the punch. Landry and Tyra’s covering up of a murder and then getting away scott free was terrible, especially considering how good the show was other than pretty much that whole season.

  • mudywaters

    I actually really like the subplot of Don Drapers previous life. In my opinion, it gives his character more mysterious depth.

  • Cuneform

    If you’re going to include a Breaking Bad subplot that’s truly unnecessary – how about Marie’s shoplifting?

  • Brian

    Keep in mind, the FNL subplot with Landry and Tyra took place during the writer’s strike season.

  • AndrĂ©

    AND….basically every subplot Dexter had in the last 4 years.

  • Tom

    It was never implied or stated that Walt had “powers”. Some fans have arrived to this conclusion based on what they find to be interesting. Everyone had some type of mystical experience with the island. Walt showing up in the forest can easily be explained by the smoke monster’s ability to take the shape of others.

    If there were obvious powers that I missed, I still don’t see how it was a weak plot point. He was not a main character, just used to further the development of other characters. Even michale was not exactly a main character, but his killing of Anna and Libby impacted the other characters that were close to her.