Top 10 Most Controversial TV Episodes

Script written by Garrett Alden These episodes sparked quite the backlash. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 controversial TV episodes. For this list, we’re looking at the episodes of television that prompted a public outcry, were censored, or otherwise stirred up heated discussion. We will not be including season finales or animated episodes, however, as those have lists of their own. Have an idea you want to see made into a WatchMojo video? Check out our suggest page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest and submit your idea.
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These episodes sparked quite the backlash. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 controversial TV episodes.

For this list, we’re looking at the episodes of television that prompted a public outcry, were censored, or otherwise stirred up heated discussion. We will not be including season finales or animated episodes, however, as those have lists of their own.

#10: “Honey”
“Degrassi” (2001-15)

While this teen drama has never shied away from controversial or taboo topics, one of its most contentious moments was this season 13 episode, which featured the death of fan-favorite character Adam Torres. Drawing on modern issues, Adam dies after an accident caused by texting and driving. The death of a beloved character is often a sad and anger-invoking event for many fans, but being the first transgender character on the show, Adam’s death was a particularly rough blow for “Degrassi” viewers.

#9: “I’ll See You in Court”
“Married... With Children” (1987-97)

It was a series notorious for being more racy than its contemporaries, but this episode is perhaps its most controversial, in large part due to censoring by the network. “I’ll See You in Court” sees Al and Peggy attempt to spice up their sex life by trying it somewhere new, only to end up being filmed without their consent; which leads them to seek compensation for the violation of their privacy. Going unaired for years on US television, the episode gained a reputation as the “lost episode.” Upon viewing it however, more recent critics have found it fairly vanilla. Chalk this one up to overzealous censors.

#8: “Thirteen”
“The 100” (2014-)

Killing off a character who exemplifies an underrepresented demographic can often result in a public outcry, and the death of Lexa – one of the few gay characters on “The 100” – was another case of this. Fans were particularly upset since axing gay characters is common enough to be a rather morbid trope. The writing staff of “The 100” has apologized for their handling of the death since the episode aired though, saying that they would have done things differently in hindsight. On a happier note, over $170,000 was raised by fans to support LGBTQ teens in need after the episode aired.

#7: “On All Fours”
“Girls” (2012-17)

“Girls” has generated plenty of controversy and discomfort for its audience, but this episode took the series’ signature cringe comedy and cranked the squirm level up to eleven. While the majority of “On All Fours” drew criticism for being one of the darkest outings in the show to that point, with extremely uncomfortable storylines for many of the cast, the epitome of the tone shift came in the titular sex scene, which featured rough, humiliating sex that some viewers felt bordered on rape. While HBO in general is noted for featuring programs that delve into the darker side of sex, many viewers apparently felt shocked to witness something quite so extreme on what is primarily a comedy.

#6: “Earshot”
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)

Buffy and the rest of the “Scooby gang” dealt with many supernatural threats during their adventures, but one of their most talked about episodes dealt with a problem that hit closer to home. An accident with a demon’s blood allows Buffy to hear the thoughts of others, which leads her to uncover a potential school shooting. The subject is always extremely sensitive in America, but “Earshot” was initially set to air shortly after the Columbine Massacre. Despite the fact that the episode's shooter only intended suicide and that the airing was delayed until nearly the next season, it still drew complaints.

#5: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
“Game of Thrones” (2011-)

Controversy has been woven into “Game of Thrones” since day one, but this episode ignited one of its biggest public outcries, primarily for one scene. Despite the fact that the show infamously kills off fan favorite characters, it was the rape of Sansa Stark by her sadistic new husband Ramsay Bolton that had fans and critics outraged. Many found the scene gratuitous, even with the show’s history of depicting non-consensual sex. In addition, fans of the books objected to the scene, as the rape and even Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay originally happen to an entirely different character. In their view, this change derailed her story arc and prior character development.

#4: “Maude’s Dilemma”
“Maude” (1972-78)

Given that it was a spin-off of the always confrontational “All in the Family,” “Maude” was destined to deal with hot-button issues and this two-parter went right for the jugular, as few things inspire as much debate as abortion. Made following the practice’s legalization in New York in real life, Maude, a middle aged woman, finds herself pregnant and decides to have the procedure. Although the initial broadcasts drew little attention, that changed when it was re-run after the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court verdict. This time, it drew huge viewing figures, thanks in part to the publicity unintentionally generated by protesters.

#3: “Home”
“The X-Files” (1993-2002; 2016-)

The truth is out there – and it still gives viewers the creeps – in part thanks to episodes like “Home.” Set up like a slasher horror movie, this episode saw Mulder and Scully investigating a murderous family so monstrous, they make the Flukeman look cuddly. The violence and subject matter, which included rape, incest, and child murder, were so graphic, that it’s the only episode during the series run to receive a TV-MA rating and the only one never rebroadcast on FOX. Despite the controversy, “Home” earned extensive critical acclaim and is typically considered one of the series' finest episodes.

#2: “The Puppy Episode”
“Ellen” (1994-98)

Yep, it’s that episode. Lead character Ellen Morgan realizes she’s gay and opens up about it to others in the course of this two-parter. In a case of art mirroring life, Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet nearly simultaneously with her character. Although not out of the norm today, this was groundbreaking in 1997. The episode was the subject of backlash even before it aired, with sponsors pulling support, right wing groups expressing outrage, and the studio even receiving a bomb threat. Its legacy is much more uplifting however, as Ellen’s coming out episode was a hugely seminal moment in advancing gay representation on television.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “The Encounter”
“The Twilight Zone” (1959-64)

- “Conflict”
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” (1968-2001)

- “Plato’s Stepchildren”
“Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-69)

#1: “The Puerto Rican Day”
“Seinfeld” (1989-98)

Although the “show about nothing” tackled some provocative subjects during its run, its most controversial episode was not intentionally provocative. When Jerry and the gang are on their way home from a baseball game, they are caught in traffic due to the Puerto Rican Day parade. In the course of the story, Kramer accidentally sets a Puerto Rican flag on fire and stomps on it to put it out. In addition, the Puerto Ricans depicted in the episode are not shown in a favorable light, and the territory itself is implied to be riot-prone. All of this prompted protests, a formal apology, and the episode being pulled from reruns for several years.

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