Tonight On A Very Special Episode . . .
Here’s something that really puts me at ease. The next time my kids ask to discuss a serious social topic with me – be it drug abuse, sex, drunk driving, racism – I can always fall back on Must See TV for guidance.
Because who better qualified to address the important, challenging and, at times, controversial issues faced by kids today than their favorite sitcom characters?
So last week my daughter told me how much she loved her Princess & the Frog Barbie because of “her beautiful brown skin.” A good thing, of course. But then I, being insanely paranoid of raising a child who could one day become either 1.) a mean girl, 2.) a white supremacist, or 3.) Don Imus, decided to walk the daunting tightrope of discussing cultural diversity with her. And then I leaned so far to the other side of things that I about fell, taking her down with me in the process. I’m not exactly sure what all I said, but at some point I might have implied that Jasmine and Tiana could easily, hands-tied-behind-their-backs, waste those generic pale-skinned Disney princess flakes in a beauty contest. To the point where I’m pretty sure now my daughter will become tanorexic just in time for her senior prom.
Steven Keaton, Dr. Huxtable, Kate & Allie – don’t worry, I’ll let you take the next one.
Here are a few “very special” sitcom episodes that left a lasting impact on me as a kid – and certainly taught me a thing or two about something very special.
1.) Saved by the Bell. Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills. Did not see this one coming. If I were to put money on which of the cast members would be high as a kite in a “very special episode,” I’d have put my money on Screech. My theory is that “very special episodes” do best when the comic relief characters carry the dramatic load of the very special issue. (Take note: Kimmy Gibbler on Full House, Six LeMeure on Blossom, Wesley Owens on Mr. Belvedere, David Silver on 90210)
2.) Family Ties. I’m torn here in deciding which of the many “very special episodes” of this show were the most impactful. The creepy relative feeling-up Mallory is certainly a stand-out. Also a bit traumatized still by Alex’s friend dying in a car accident, which included Alex’s somber blackened-stage “if only I would have . . .” soliloquy. But the one I can’t get over is Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the Keatons’ drunk uncle. So addicted that he wanted to drink vanilla extract to get his fix. This just hit too close to home for me. Yes, my brother once dared me to drink vanilla extract. And I confess that I did. It smelled like ice cream so I guzzled it, only to discover it tasted like . . . lighter fluid.
3.) Roseanne. Becky gets drunk. For me, the shock of watching Becky get drunk was actually trumped by watching Becky get a hangover. The next day sister Darlene (or, as Becky called her the night before, “Dardene”) comes to her bedside, knowing Becky is sick, and asks her to come down for breakfast. And that it consists of eggs with runny yolks and sausage where Becky might “bite into a hard thing.” To which Becky goes flying out of the room to the bathroom to hurl her guts out. Definitely learned something here. Before then, Falcon Crest had led me to believe a hangover was nothing that couldn’t be cured with a pair of sunglasses and a Bloody Mary.
4.) Growing Pains. There were several “very special” specials on Growing Pains. But the one that sticks in my mind is when Mike Seaver gets propositioned by a “fast girl.” When his parents are away, the girl (played by Dana Plato) comes on to him in the guest bedroom as they discuss whether or not he is a virgin. Which is met with an over-the-top, tension-breaking laugh track. Using the context clues of this episode, I finally figured out what that word meant. Important because before then I thought the word meant prostitute. Which I bet money had something to do with the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards and my favorite Madonna song.
5.) Diff’rent Strokes. Arnold and his friend are groomed by a pedophile. Which I often confuse with the episode where Arnold and Kimberly are abducted. Which I often confuse with the show where Arnold’s friend Sam is kidnapped. Then those also sort of blend with the many episodes that featured some form of bigotry. It’s easy to see why Diff’rent Strokes set the Gold Standard in “very special episodes.” Unfortunately, based on the tragic paths taken by its child actors, I believe too much exposure to “very special” could have harmful effects.
These may not qualify as the typical “very special” shows, but I never could quite shake them out of my noggin. Make no mistake, there’s definitely something special going on here.
1.) Flintstones. Wilma gives birth to Pebbles. Pre-Simpsons, I don’t know that cartoon characters gave us any indication they might be sexual beings. I sure didn’t know they reproduced and figured they had bore themselves from sketch pads. (Remember that the Flinstones were the first TV couple who slept in the same bed.) So seeing Wilma in a hospital bed, groggy, weakly talking to Fred after having just given birth to a cavebaby . . . completely freaked me out. A close second “very special episode” was when Barney and Betty referenced their infertility issues.
3.) Brady Bunch. Marcia gets hit in the nose with a football (and loses her date with Doug). Here Marcia becomes temporarily disfigured and loses her status as the most dateable woman on campus, not to mention her place as the most beautiful Brady. Aside from the number it did on Marcia’s solid-as-steel self-esteem, this episode rocked the family in ways I can’t imagine. Yep, turned them upside down. Something that I wish were revealed here is that, as the tragedy had played out, Jan was coincidentally under the bed using Cindy’s beloved Kitty Karry-All as a Marcia voodoo doll. Overall, the most important lesson learned here though: never trust the excuse “something suddenly came up.”