For TV network brass, a crossover episode of two or more immensely popular TV shows must sound like a no brainer on paper. They’ve got one show that has millions of weekly viewers filled with characters that a lot of people love and they’ve also got another show that has millions of weekly viewers filled with characters that a lot of people love, and the idea behind a crossover episode is that the millions of viewers who regularly tune in to each show will tune in to watch the crossover, because all their favorite characters will be there. And if you like both of those shows, then even better, because you’ll get to see the characters you love from one show interact with the characters you love from another show, and you’ll be sure to tune in. Sure, it does sound like a good idea on paper, and from a business perspective, you understand perfectly why they would do something along those lines. But then you watch an actual crossover episode and realize it was a terrible, ghastly idea. For starters, the tone and the world of each show will be very different, so to combine them is always weird. Putting Jess Day in an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (which they actually did last year) is like putting ketchup on a cupcake. Crossover episodes aren’t always a bad idea, but most of the time, they are an awful idea. Here are the 10 worst and most misguided crossover episodes in television history.
Ever since Simpsons creator Matt Groening created a second animated series in the form of sci-fi comedy Futurama, fans had been itching for a crossover, and in 2014, they finally got one – and it was completely and utterly mediocre. Fans got excited when Groening joked, “That was a really tough one to negotiate, because I had to talk to myself,” and writer Al Jean added, “They were going off the air, so I thought people would really love it if we had one more chance to see those characters.” It was going to be awesome, and then it was a total let-down. This was the meeting of Homer and Bender, the meeting of Bart and Fry, the meeting of Lisa and Professor Farnsworth, the meeting of Grampa and Zoidberg. Critics opined that the episode was “a bit dull, especially considering some of Futurama’s more epic storylines,” and that it “mostly settled for simple gags.” The AV Club’s critic wrote, “Seeing the Simpsons family interact with Bender, Fry, Leela, Professor Farnsworth, and the rest has a certain automatic thrill to it, like any half-assed internet mash-up.” The only good thing to come from the episode was the internet-breaking reveal that Kang and Kodos are a same sex couple.
The X Files was a really brilliant science fiction series that was filled with thought-provoking ideas and concepts and truly fascinating storylines that made you question whether or not the truth really is out there and think about our place in the universe and reflect on humanity as a species. It was a great show, but after seven seasons, they had clearly started to run out of ideas, since this crossover with Cops got pitched. It’s a bizarre and stupid idea – and it should’ve failed miserably. It sees Mulder and Scully chasing a monster around the streets of Los Angeles alongside the Cops crew. The episode’s writer, Vince Gilligan (yes, the same Vince Gilligan who would eventually go on to create Breaking Bad), had persistently pitched this Cops crossover episode to the series creator Chris Carter and the rest of the writing staff and he had always been shot down. But as they got into the seventh season and the quality of the show was winding down, they finally greenlit Gilligan’s pitch. They figured, “What the hell, let’s give it a shot – we’re on our way out anyway!” The eventual episode is sort of fun, but the gimmick of the crossover wears thin after about ten minutes and then it goes on for another fifty.
8. Phoebe and Ursula Buffay
Lisa Kudrow played a character named Ursula on the show Mad About You on NBC, which was a successful and popular show. And then Lisa Kudrow started playing a character named Phoebe on another show on NBC, Friends, which also became a successful and popular show. So, naturally, the network executives came to the no brainer conclusion that these two characters are twins who exist in the same fictional universe. Of course! They adopted that old soap opera trope of the evil twin – a trope that the show would shamelessly poke fun at while Joey was starring on Days of Our Lives, like they didn’t already do it themselves. The nerve! Ursula was the evil twin who sold Phoebe’s birth certificate and used her name to appear in porno movies. Was there any need to do this? Are they going to start making all the characters played by the same actor across multiple shows siblings? Are Sam Malone, John Becker, George Christopher, and Michael from The Good Place quadruplets? By the way, if you’re a fan of Friends but not a fan of Mad About You and ever wondered what happened to Ursula in the end, she apparently enjoyed a long and successful career in porn before getting elected Governor of New York.
7. Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics
For some reason, the top brass at Hanna Barbera decided that it would be a good idea to throw more or less every single cartoon character they had ever put on television into the same show together, where they would be split into three teams – the Scooby Doobies, the Yogi Yahooeys, and the Really Rottens – and made to compete in an epic animated Olympic Games. This eventually became its own show, but it only lasted for a grand total of 24 episodes. The problem with this crossover is simply that the Hanna Barbera team crammed far too many characters into one show. They shoved Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Scooby Dum, Dynomutt, Blue Falcon, Captain Caveman, Brenda Chance, Taffy Dare, Dee Dee Sykes, Speed Buggy, Tinker, Babu, Hong Kong Phooey, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Cindy Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Pixie, Dixie, Mr. Jinks, Hokey Wolf, Yakky Doodle, Quick Draw McGraw, Snooper, Augie Doggie, Doggie Daddy, Wally Gator, Grape Ape, Mumbly, Dinky Dalton, Dirty Dalton, and Dastardly Dalton all into the same show. It’s too much! It’s way too much! One good thing that came from the Laff-A-Lympics is that it allowed Robot Chicken to do a brilliantly dark parody in the style of the 1972 Munich massacre.
6. A Star is Burns
If you ignore the fact that it’s a crossover with another show, The Simpsons episode “A Star is Burns” is a pretty good one. It’s about a film festival coming to Springfield and we get to see all the town’s residents’ attempts at the art of cinema and it’s a lot of fun. As with any episode from the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, there’s a ton of laughs to be had in this one. But it’s what was going on behind the scenes that makes this a misguided idea, because this episode led to a whole ugly falling out among the creative team of The Simpsons, turning series creator Matt Groening against co-producer James L. Brooks. See, Brooks pitched this episode as a crossover with the new animated series The Critic, which was created by Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss and was struggling in the ratings. This episode and its film-related plot were designed to shoehorn in the character of Jay Sherman, voiced by Jon Lovitz. Basically, as one of the producers of The Critic, Brooks’ plan was to shamelessly plug The Critic and promote this crummy new show on his much more successful show, The Simpsons. Groening was angry about this, and voiced that anger, seeing the episode as a half hour ad for The Critic that sullied the integrity of The Simpsons. Subsequently, Brooks was “furious” about how outspoken Groening was about this issue.
5. Colonel Klink in Batman
The ‘60s Batman TV series was really camp and a little lame, but it’s been a huge influence on everyone. Who among us can’t say that as kids, we didn’t tune in to watch Adam West and Burt Ward kick colorful supervillain ass? The old ‘60s TV show inspired a young Christopher Nolan, who would go on to give us the greatest Batman movies ever made. It was a great show, but it did have a lot of corny gags in it. One of the running gags from the series came any time that Batman and Robin would be climbing up a rope, scaling the side of a building. By the way, they always shot these by putting the camera on its side and having West and Ward walk along the ground, making it look like they were climbing vertically up a wall. It was some very clever early special effects. You mock it now, but back then, that was ingeniously innovative. Anyway, the running gag was that, as Batman and Robin would climb up the side of a building, a famous face – Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr. etc. – would poke itself out one of the windows to see what was going on. One such famous face was the Hogan’s Heroes villain Colonel Klink. Sure, at first, it’s like, “Hey, it’s Colonel Klink, how about that!” But if you think about it, if Colonel Klink is standing in that window, then he’s a Nazi war criminal who managed to survive World War II and settle down in America. And not only that, Batman and Robin recognize him and do nothing. These guys are supposed to be the world’s greatest crime fighters!
4. ER doctors in Friends
Way back in the very first season of Friends, in the episode “The One with Two Parts,” George Clooney and Noah Wyle guest star as a pair of hot, young, single doctors called Dr. Michael Mitchell and Dr. Jeffrey Rosen who work in a New York City hospital. In the episode, they go on a double date with Rachel and Monica. Now, as it just so happens, in the long running medical drama ER, which was ongoing and at the height of its success at the time, Clooney and Wyle played a pair of hot, young, single doctors called Dr. Doug Ross and Dr. John Carter who worked in a Chicago hospital. So, the idea here was that, in order to give the ratings of their new sitcom a boost, NBC forced a weird little crossover with their wildly popular drama ER by which the main characters of ER would go on a double date with the main characters from Friends. But they’re in a different city with different names! They’re the exact same characters, and yet they’re completely different! The episode itself is a lot of fun, but there is that lingering sensation that you’ve entered the TV Twilight Zone.
3. Becker meets Cosby meets The King of Queens meets Everybody Loves Raymond
CBS had the good grace to bill this night of crossover episodes as “Shameless Crossover Monday,” so it’s not all bad. They realize that what they’re doing is a shallow publicity stunt to get as many viewers in for all the four shows as possible and they know that that’s completely shameless and they put that in the marketing, like a sly wink to the audience. This crossover was a sort of slow burn throughout the night, leading up to the grand finale in the episode of Becker. In the night’s Cosby episode, Hilton Lucas ended up injuring himself. In The King of Queens episode, Doug Heffernan injured himself. And in the Everybody Loves Raymond episode, Ray Barone – you guessed it – wound up injuring himself. And then, in the final show of the night, Becker, Ted Danson’s titular character, a medical doctor, returns to his office to find three people waiting for treatment in his waiting room. Can you guess who those three people are? It doesn’t quite add up that Hilton, who lives in New York City, Doug, who lives in Queens, and Ray, who lives in Long Island, would end up in the very small practice run by Becker, who lives in the Bronx. But hey, that’s the magic of television for you!
2. Steve Urkel in Full House
Do you remember that really terrifying Key and Peele sketch in which Jaleel White menaces the network executives and the other cast members until he has full control of Family Matters and he’s the star of the show? Well, the reality was not actually far off that. He came into the show for a one time only appearance and proved so popular that he became a supporting cast member, and eventually, he became the actual leading character of the whole show. Reginald VelJohnson was usurped from a show that was supposed to be a starring vehicle for him to accurately represent a blue collar African American family on television. And then Urkel set his sights on another hugely popular show: Full House. He was shoehorned into the episode “Stephanie Gets Framed,” supposedly as the visiting cousin of DJ’s friend Julie. His only purpose to the story is to make Stephanie feel like less of a dork for wearing glasses. This is Steve Urkel we’re talking about, the dorkiest dork in the history of television. The overall feelings when watching this were, to quote George Costanza, “Worlds are colliding! George is getting upset!” Hell, they’ve even hinted recently that a middle aged Steve Urkel could be showing up on Fuller House, after a throwaway line in the third season finale: “I wonder who else we can track down. I wonder what Urkel’s up to.” Dear God, please, no.
1. The Simpsons Guy
A crossover episode of The Simpsons and Family Guy must’ve sounded great on paper. Everyone loves the Simpson family and everyone loves the Griffin family and a meeting of the two would be an unmissable TV event. Homer Simpson would meet Peter Griffin. Bart Simpson would meet Stewie Griffin. It was going to be a laugh riot. But as soon as you start watching the show, you realize just how different in tone these two shows are. The Simpsons is prone to the occasional dark joke or sly remark, but Family Guy is a much, much darker and more cynical show than The Simpsons. We’re used to seeing blood on Family Guy, but we’re not used to seeing blood in The Simpsons, so when Peter graphically beats blood out of Homer’s head, it’s horrific. We see Homer get injured a lot, but we never see him bleed. We don’t want to see him bleed – he’s Homer Simpson, for God’s sake! And when Stewie tries to prank call Moe, Family Guy-style, he tells him his sister’s getting raped. That kind of joke might fly on Family Guy, but in Springfield, it’s horrible and out of place. On the whole, the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover episode is a truly disturbing affair.