When Sitcoms Get Serious

Sitcoms are supposed to be situational comedies. But sometimes they turn into situational dramas/this-episode-is-so-scary-that-I-can’t-watch-the-whole-thing/why-is-this-happening/this-is-supposed-to-be-serious-but-it’s-funny. I watch these episodes and sometimes wonder if I’m suddenly in some sort of waking nightmare. I can’t believe the things that are happening are actually happening. So I’ve gathered together the most memorable of these episodes, despite how much they may disturb me and others, simply to prove they exist.

1) All in the Family – Edith fights off a rapist

Who doesn’t remember the wonderful sitcom All in the Family? Only jerks! We all remember that sitcom, it’s a part of television history: Meathead, a man named Carol other than Matt Damon on 30 Rock, and Sally Struthers who later went onto play Babette in Gilmore Girls. You know what I thought I imagined? That time when Edith Bunker fought off a rapist. But it was no trick of the imagination. I would never have imagined such a situation for poor Edith Bunker.

2) Big Bird in Japan – Big Bird’s friend disappears

I remember happily watching a Big Bird special on television as a child, enjoying his mind-broadening trip to Japan and we’re all having a great time learning and making new friends when BAM. Big Bird’s new friend just disappears! At that time I’d basically been conditioned to assume that anyone who disappears suddenly when you’re talking to them has either been kidnapped or is in danger, so it was downright terrifying. She doesn’t reappear immediately and I got so freaked out I couldn’t finish the episode. I assume the Japanese lady is fine and we all learn about numbers or Japanese colors or some junk.

I don’t remember it happening exactly like that, but I do remember being traumatized by the apparent abandonment.

3) Family Ties – Tom Hanks hits Michael J. Fox

This I think I saw on Nick at Night and recall being very put off by Tom Hanks cracking Michael J. Fox in the face. Sure, he was drunk Uncle Ned but he was Tom Hanks more so. It really freaked me out that he was violent and then he starts crying. It was simply too overwhelming for my childhood brain to comprehend.

4) Golden Girls – Dorothy isn’t Sophia’s daughter?!

I know what you’re thinking – there are far more disturbing episodes of this show. The one where Rose might have AIDS. Or she has a heart attack or something. The one where Dorothy having her mystery disease that turns out to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but nobody will believe her. But for me and at least a couple others, the most troubling episode is one in which we find out Dorothy and another baby may have been switched at birth in Italy. The other family comes to Miami and sure enough the daughter is tiny like Sophia while her parents are beanstalks like Dorothy. Dorothy and Sophia go to get a DNA test but leave before they get results because it doesn’t matter what science says – their hearts tell them their family.

But it does matter! I can tell you that I recently attended a Golden Girls viewing party and this episode was quite unsettling for all those in attendance. It changes the whole GG  universe, for crying out loud.

5) The more fun very special episodes of Fresh Prince and also, obviously, Saved by the Bell

Now for a break from the distressing and a turn down unintentionally funny lane. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air tried to tell me about the dangers of taking speed, but all it told me was Carlton was an amazing dancer. I already knew this, but stick Carlton on speed and you’ve got some goshdarned tootin’ fancy footwork magic. He then passes and out and has to go to the hospital, but nobody’s perfect.

Also the infamous Jesse pill addiction episode on Saved by the Bell: “I’m so excited – I’m so…scared!”

And Alex P. Keaton’s speed addiction on Family Ties was a lot of hyperactive fun.

6) Facts of Life – Natalie gets attacked

This special Facts of Life was completely blocked from memory until I began researching this article. Natalie, dressed as Charlie Chaplin, is coming back from a party and is almost sexually assaulted.

Then she has a mental breakdown and basically doesn’t want to leave the house ever again or something like that. When I watched the clip of the episode my creeped out memories of this episode came flooding back. I feel like The Facts of Life taught me so much about the dangers of costume parties and the wide world around me.

7) Every episode of Degrassi ever

I love Degrassi: The Next Generation, plain and simple. They dealt with every issue under the sun and managed to make me laugh unintentionally  all the time. I never watched the original, but I can’t imagine anything better than Manny’s thong episode.

Degrassi also made me terrified of Canadian public schools with their episodes about school shootings and stabbings. But it made me laugh ever so much about STDs, peer pressure, drinking and drug use.

8 ) The Ones that Got Away – Diff’rent Strokes pedophile episode and the kidnapping episode and Punky Brewster where someone gets locked in a fridge

I’m really glad I never saw these episodes as a child because I don’t think I would’ve left the house or gone near my refrigerator. On Diff’rent Strokes Arnold and Dudley meet a man who owns a bicycle shop who turns out to be a pedophile and in another episode a kid is kidnapped by a crazy family whose own kid died. On Punky they’re playing a game of hide-and-seek and a kid hides in the fridge and suffocates and almost dies. For those of you who saw these episodes as children, I salute you. My fragile brain wouldn’t be able to handle any of that.

Now watching some of these that troubled me, like Tom giving Michael J. the old one-two is kind of hilarious. But others still make me want to curl up in a fetal position or invest in a panic room. So thank you, sitcoms – for being able to make me laugh and then also for being able to scare the bejesus out of me so badly I fear all strangers and the general world around me as a whole. If you’ll all excuse me I’ll just be hiding under my bed with the fridge as far away from me as possible.

Images via dumbbaby.net, tropicsofmeta.blogspot.com, tvchannelsfree.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=797629325 Liat Aviram

    That episode of Diff’rent Strokes with the bike shop owner creeps me out till this day. Especially the bath tub scene… This reminded me of a similar episode onthe original Degrassi where a boy is molested by a man who kind of looks like Sam Waterston, which disturbed me out so much I couldn’t watch Law & Order for awhile. Eeek.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noelleabella4 Noelle Christina Gharzai

    The diff’rent stroke episode gave me a nightmare and I saw it when I was an adult. When he asked those kids to take their shirts off I was yelling, “are you kidding me?! Is this happening”. Definitely not the fun nick at nite evening I was planning. Oh and the degrassi episode where Paige got raped and I felt like a teenage monster when I said in a room of fellow degrassi lovers “she was kind of asking for it…” bad move.Scary stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/selinaparra Selina Parra

    I guess I’m morbid, but I’m actually a big fan of “special” episodes. However, I’ll admit that sometimes it gets uncomfortable when all you’re looking for is a laugh, and you wind up having a panic attack on your couch. Family Ties liked to randomly go dark on us all the time. Straight away in the first season, there’s that episode where a friend of the family inappropriately makes a pass at Mallory. And don’t even get me started on that two-parter where Alex’s friend dies, and he’s all, “WHY AM I ALIVE?!” Intense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12300190 Carolyn Toth

    I once saw an episode of “The LIttle Koala” (a cartoon) when I was around four or five, and the boy penguin told his twin penguin sister that she was fat, and she stopped eating, and the whole animal town was concerned about this cartoon penguin’s bout with anorexia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.haebe Liz Haebe

    I was just talking about the Diff’rent Strokes episode the other day. And, I’d TOTALLY forgotten about Natalie being attacked on Facts of Life. Good GOD! Waking nightmares, indeed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593100073 Kristina Babich

    The original Degrassi is WAAYYYYY better than the new one!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rollerscait Caitlin Kelly

    These are all SUCH great pics. The Saved by the Bell episode will haunt my dreams for all eternity…in a hilarious way, of course.

    Every time I hear, “I’m So Excited”…

  • http://www.facebook.com/toriwiget Vittoria Dawn Marie Wiget

    Augh! The Punky Brewster episode scared the crap out of me as a kid! I wouldn’t go near our fridge for awhile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=32400093 Megan Peter

    I have seen all of those and agree that some are really disturbing. I think two of my “favorite” sitcoms-gone-serious is Laverne and Shirley “Why do firefighters have to die” when Ted Danson guest stars as Laverne’s boyfriend and well, you can figure out what happens. So heartbreaking. Or on “Growing Pains” when Matthew Perry is Carol’s boyfriend, drinks and drives and then dies. It is not only that episode, but the next few ones dealing with the aftermath that really get me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryshutes Mary Frances Shutes

    The episode of Punky Brewster where her bff Cherie gets locked in the freezer is like, the only one I remember clearly. They learned CPR in school just before that fateful game of hide and seek… yup. I cried.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.addington Amy Addington

    There was an episode of Smart Guy(yes I’m a 90’s kid) where they were going to help out with this new video game or something, and this child predator guy wanted them to take their clothes off…and then there was that episode of Full House where DJ had an eating disorder for like a week, which apparently was enough time for her otherwise clueless family to figure out that she wasn’t eating.

    • http://www.facebook.com/maryshutes Mary Frances Shutes

      I remember that one… Kimmy was haveing a pool party. Damn that Kathy Santoni for being so perfect!

  • http://www.facebook.com/taryn.fernacz Taryn Fernacz

    There was also a Pedophile episode of Smart Guy and I remember there was quite a few episodes of Boy Meets World that got pretty scarily serious.

    Woops, I just saw the person above me mention the Smart Guy episode. But that one really sticks out because I actually watched it on BET not too long ago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.hetterich Jessica Hetterich

    HAHA I am so glad you mentioned Big Bird Goes to Japan! a couple weekends ago, during my unemployed low stage, I watched most of it on YouTube. The memories of how terrifying it was came flooding back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16921591 Molly Ann Magestro

    The episode of Family Matters when there is that school shooting over a pair of sneakers? I felt physically ill (dizzy and nauseated) during the whole scene and the aftermath even though only one girl gets shot. In the arm. And then they have a “turn in your guns” drive in the school parking lot.

    • Laura Kadner

      I don’t remember that one at all! That sounds horrible!! I’m glad I didn’t see it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/naomiroseprale Naomi Prale

    what about the full house episode where stephanie had a friend who was abused? also the laverne and shirley episode is so sad..

  • http://www.facebook.com/rileyrobbins Riley Ray Robbins

    I think the two that stand out for me are a Punky Brewster and a Growing Pains.

    On the Punky, it was RIGHT after the Challenger disaster where the whole class comes to grips with the tragedy. I remember her hip black teacher saying “yeah I’d go on the next rocket if they’d let me.” And I remembered thinking “But they haven’t fixed it yet right? Does that teacher have a death wish?”

    Then, the Growing Pains one, that was where Mike Seaver almost loses his virginity but, at the last minute, decides not to go all the way with the hot, too-fast girl. And who played the dissed strumpet? IN an ironic meta-twist, Dana PLATO, who was on her own downward trajectory at the time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/velmasdd2 Susan Ward

    OMG….when I saw the picture of Jessie and Zack I freaked out. It’s not very often that I remember specific episodes of something, but every time I hear that song “I’m so excited” I think of that episode.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chapin44 Pamela Chapin

    Or the episode of Boy Meets World where Cory is so brokenhearted over losing Topenga that he gets drunk and gets Shawn drunk. Then Shawn, having a family history with alcoholism, continues drinking until he shoves Angela during a confrontation. They basically never air it in re-runs.

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