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