It's hard to make great TV that's consistently great. Even the best shows can struggle to tell new stories with their characters or have trouble getting started. Thankfully, most great shows can rebound from a terrible season and prove that they really are great. A bad season doesn't have to sink a great TV show, but it can if it indicates that the show doesn't know what it's doing. In the cases below, the shows were able to re-calibrate and continue being great.
Often, these bad seasons come at the beginning or the end of a series. It can be hard to set up a show, which is why the first seasons can sometimes be work. Endings are also quite challenging, which is why many last seasons wound up on this list. Sometimes, though, a show struggles with the middle of its run. Whatever the case may be, all of these great shows had just one season that you can probably skip.
After a phenomenal first season, the second season of Friday Night Lights was a real head-scratcher. Although the actors were just as lovable as they always had been, basically none of the show's plot developments made sense. Landry, a side character in the show's first season, kills a guy! It's wild.
That murder plotline is just the worst example of a series of storytelling choices that ultimately hindered the show. Thankfully, the show managed to course-correct, and its final three seasons were as phenomenal as its first. It will go down as one of the best dramas ever made, but that doesn't make its second season any stronger.
Lost could be wildly inconsistent even within seasons, but season three was undoubtedly the show's low point. It was the point when the show began to repeat storytelling beats before the writers had negotiated a defined end for the show. The second half of Lost's third season is much better than its first, but the season features many of the show's very worst episodes.
While Lost never recovered the mega-hit status it once had, it did recover in later seasons. It became a much weirder show, but one that was still incredibly compelling. Thankfully, the first half of season three began to feel like an aberration.
The Office was remarkable in part because it was so consistently fun to watch. That was true through seven seasons, the entirety of Steve Carrell's time with the show. In his absence, there were definitely a few growing pains.
While season eight of The Office is definitely surreal, its jokes are also a lot less consistently great than they once were. If you make it through season 8, the ninth and final season is considerably better. Even so, the first seven are definitely the most worth rewatching. Those were the years when the show was firing on all cylinders and there was rarely a bad episode.
When the final season of a beloved show is bad, it can make the whole experience feel less worthwhile. In the case of Roseanne, the show decided to spend its final season in a world where the Connors had won the lottery and become fabulously wealthy. In the series finale, we learn that the entire season was actually a figment of Roseanne's imagination and that her husband had actually died of a heart attack.
That kind of twist ending made the show feel stranger than it had been for much of its run. In its ninth season, Roseanne managed to ruin much of the goodwill that it had built up over the course of its first eight years.
The final scene on Scrubs's eighth season is perfect, so of course they had to ruin it with a ninth. On the ninth season, the show got something of a soft reboot. While many of its core cast members still appeared, they were no longer the show's focus. Instead, we were introduced to a new cast of young doctors that the show planned to focus on. The results were disastrous.
The new characters didn't connect with audiences, and the decision to keep the old cast on in smaller roles proved to be frustrating. The ninth season was nixed, and all Scrubs fans have collectively chosen to forget that it ever existed.
Under Jon Stewart, The Daily Show became one of the most important shows on TV. It tackled politics in a way no other show could and launched an entire generation of comedians in the process. On its first season, though, the show was something of a mess.
This first season was hosted by Craig Kilborn, who had trouble establishing a consistent tone for the show. It wasn't until Jon took over that it became something truly special. Fans who missed Craig's tenure could be forgiven for not knowing he ever hosted the show. He didn't have any of the lasting impact that his successor would ultimately have.
The first few seasons of The West Wing are brilliant. They may not be based in the reality of our politics, but they're inspiring and enormously entertaining. The show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, is given a lot of credit for the show's success, and it's easy to see why when you see what the show became after he left.
On its fifth season, The West Wing began to tell stories that felt less and less compelling. The words didn't have the same zip as they once did. Suddenly, everything was falling flat. Thankfully, the show's final two seasons restored some of its zest, but it never totally recaptured its former glory.
The Wire is rightly regarded as one of the best shows ever made. It managed to depict the intricacies of city life in a way that no show has since. On its fifth season, though, things went a little off the rails. The plotting became more sensational, and it felt as if the show had nothing more to add to its depiction of broken systems.
In the end, this final season didn't tarnish the legacy of the show, but it does leave things on a fairly sour note. The earlier seasons are basically perfect, so it's easy to see why the fifth season had some trouble measuring up.
The Seinfeld series finale is a famous disappointment, but the show's entire final season isn't much better. After creator Larry David left the show, everything just worked less well than it had before.
It's true, too, that the finale hangs over the season in a way it probably shouldn't. The show's decision to finally give its characters a comeuppance will always be regarded as a strange one, especially considering that the show wasn't supposed to be about anything. A more fitting finale may have seen the characters going about their routines as if nothing had changed for them, even though their TV show was over.
So many of the shows on this list got bad once their creators left. That was especially true on Community. After creator Dan Harmon left the show, it almost became a parody of itself. The show's earlier seasons had cleverly referenced a variety of pop culture without feeling snooty.
On season four, the show completely lost any sense of what it had been. In the world of the show, the entire season is referred to as "the gas leak year." Basically, they chalk up all the odd behavior in that season to a gas leak. In the end, even the show's own bad season became a joke for future seasons of Community.
Throughout its initial run, Gilmore Girls was unlike anything else on TV. It was fast and quippy, but it also had a keen sense of its characters and the odd world they inhabited. When the show's creator Amy Sherman-Palladino left the show after season six due to contract disputes, things took a turn for the worse.
The show lost a lot of what once made it special, and the show's ending didn't seem to have the same impact as it might have. Things worked out well enough for the mother and daughter at the show's center, but that doesn't mean the seventh season worked.
Once Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets going, there are few shows that are easier to watch. During its first season, though, Buffy was still finding its footing. The bones of the show it would eventually become are there, but the execution is not perfect yet.
The first season's Big Bad is also a bit of a snore, though it's a decent introduction to the show's world of Big Bads. Fortunately, the network stuck with Buffy and eventually allowed it to become the outstanding show that it was. That first season is rough, but it's also short. If you can get through it, good things await you in the episodes that follow.
Angel's penultimate season occurred alongside the final season of Buffy, so it makes sense that all the energy would be going into the original show instead of the spin-off. Even so, Angel's fourth season is a bit of a mess, in part because it was working too hard to complement the stories that were happening on Buffy.
Thankfully, the show recovered for its fifth and final season, and managed to go out on a high note once Buffy was off the air. Angel is a worthwhile show entirely on its own, and Buffy was only making things more complicated than they might be otherwise.
Halt and Catch Fire steadily improved over the course of its four-season run until it emerged as a truly great drama. The show tells the story of a group of computer programmers who launch a series of ventures, all of which are doomed to fail. In its first season, though, Halt and Catch Fire was a little too interested in being a Mad Men rip-off to be particularly interesting.
By the show's second season, though, things had shifted, and they would continue to shift as the show went on. Halt and Catch Fire was never content to let its characters live in the status quo, which is part of what made the show so fun to watch in its later seasons.
On its second and third seasons, The Leftovers proved that it was one of the best dramas of the decade. Thankfully, it got the chance to prove that after a rocky first season that took a few episodes to find its footing. Although the show's first season has intriguing elements, it wasn't until the show's second season that it emerged as a fully-formed creation.
On those later seasons, the show balances comedy and drama more effectively, which only makes the moments of heartbreak even sadder. The Leftovers was a truly moving show, but it took a minute for it to figure out which elements made it work so well.
When Parks and Recreation first premiered, it had no idea what it was. It was trying very hard to be a riff on The Office with a female lead, and that just wasn't working. Eventually, it found its footing, and it turned into one of the best comedies of the decade thereafter.
Although that first season is fairly rough, it's worth it just to see how quickly the show course-corrected. The second season is great, and the show only got better from there as it moved forward, as it figured out how to take full advantage of its funny, incredibly talented cast.
Disappointment was the buzzword around the final season of Game of Thrones. After years of hype, the show went out with a whimper instead of a bang, rushing to a conclusion that didn't feel earned. Fans felt enormously betrayed, and for some, it ruined the experience of the show as a whole.
Whatever you feel about the show's final season, it's hard to argue that it measures up to the show's earlier, incredibly clever work. Game of Thrones was always going to disappoint some people with its ending, but it didn't have to disappoint everyone. Instead, it rushed to an ending that left many people upset.