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Tonight On A Very Special Episode . . .

September 16, 2011

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. 

Honorable Mention:

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.

2.)  Sesame Street.  Sesame friends discuss Mr. Hooper’s death.  For crying out loud, that man was like a produce-peddling grandfather to me.  I didn’t get over this one any time soon. 


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.”

25 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2011 5:21 pm

    Oh Lawd Angie! This was just too funny and brought back some great memories of those “Tonight, on a very special episode of ‘Blossom’ or ‘Mr. Belivedere’ Too funny. Very witty writing. I like it and I KNOW Big Indian Chief himself Jim Hullinger would be most proud!!

    • September 16, 2011 5:51 pm

      I knew it! You’re a closet “very special episode” fan. Sure, Chad. You pretend to be all macho, “I’m too good for warrior archetypes and all that nonsense.” All the while, you’ve been eagerly anticipating the future syndication of Blossom.

  2. September 16, 2011 6:13 pm

    Holy, holy crap. How did you know Six’s last name? You forget the very special family ties where Alex gets addicted to caffeine pills and oversleeps his final exam. And the one where Tina Yothers becomes obsessed with climate change. And the one where the niece has a one night stand with some random dude and Elise has to give her a very important talk. All so very special. Did you see the one where punky brewster invited those girls over and they brought a whole buffet of recreational drugs? Not soft ones, either. I don’t know where those 14-year old girls got so very many drugs. One of which they referred to as “nose candy.” Oh, TV, you teach us so much.

    • September 16, 2011 8:40 pm

      I’m sorry to say I didn’t know Six’s last name but looked it up. I did of course know Kimmy’s last name and what’s Kimmy without Gibbler. So poor Six seemed to need a last name too. Thank you, Google.

      I’m quite impressed with your amazing memory of very special Family Ties episodes! I so don’t remember that “Punky is offered drugs” one. But I do remember the “very special” one where she grew breasts. Ugh :(

  3. Sonya permalink
    September 16, 2011 7:21 pm

    These very special episodes rank up there with the afterschool specials for me.

    And I want to know how you know what lighter fluid tastes like…

    • September 16, 2011 8:37 pm

      There will be a “very special episode” to come where I explain how I know what lighter fluid tastes like.

  4. Punky Brewster~ aka Jaclyn permalink
    September 16, 2011 7:47 pm

    Best post yet! Brings back so many memories and I wonder if you and I were both sitting front of the tube watching each of these episodes because I think I remember them all. Saved By the Bell is #1 “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it.” Awesome work Angie!

    • September 16, 2011 8:47 pm

      That Saved by the Bell episode just might be the very special episode that ruined it for all very special episodes to come. Even as a kid who wholly bought into the message of any afterschool special or Degrassi Junior High episode (an entire show devoted to very special episodes!), I could hardly watch that Saved by the Bell with a straight face. Oh, that line is just too much – ack!

  5. September 19, 2011 9:49 am

    That special Family Ties episode with Alex in a dark room singing ‘where is thumbkin..’ was just stupidly weird. I really was expecting so much more, especially when it said in the tv guide that it was suppose to prove the existence of God. LAME.

    • September 20, 2011 3:20 pm

      Now that you mentioned this scene, I think the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might’ve ripped off Family Ties a bit. Oh, and that’s just so wrong. Charlie Kaufman channeling Family Ties’ “very special episode.” :(

  6. October 31, 2011 11:05 am

    This is the BEST! The “very special” episodes were always the most uncomfortable. “Very special” was my cue to “not watch it with my parents”!

    • November 7, 2011 11:00 am

      Yep, couldn’t agree more. I would’ve probably went to the kitchen to get more Doritos at just about the time the Facts of Life crew began talking about virginity.

  7. June 13, 2012 1:29 pm

    I saw so many very special “Diffrent Strokes” episodes like “The Bicycle Man”, “Sam’s Missing” and the one where Dudly and Arnold try smoking that I thought that every “Diffrent Strokes” episode was a very special one!

    • June 14, 2012 8:56 pm

      Ugh, all those were so “Very Special” indeed — that show might as well have been marketed as an after-school special.

  8. June 15, 2012 12:10 pm

    Have you seen the Very Special “Family Matters” where Steve Urkel gets drunk and falls off a building? It was scary because I thought he’d die but it was funny too!

    • June 17, 2012 8:18 pm

      Holy crap! Is he drunk or is he dropping acid? I love how the writers made sure to work in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” catch phrase of the century.

      • June 18, 2012 10:15 am

        Someone spiked some punch and Steve had too much and got drunk.

      • June 18, 2012 10:39 am

        Oh…no, I watched the video :) I was just teasing — because his reaction is so over-the-top (walking on the ledge of the building) that you’d almost think he was on something more than just spiked punch.

  9. itoccurs2me permalink
    August 24, 2012 9:56 am

    I always got the impression ‘Very special episodes’ were a half-way-through-season-three-and-the-writers-are-clean-out-of-funny-plots type phenomenon.

    It was like they were telling us “we got nothing” and you might as well flip the channel over to a show still in it’s first or second year.

    • August 24, 2012 3:20 pm

      I think you’re on to something there. Either that or the writers were tired of writing comedy and wanted to exercise their dramatic chops — expecting that the output would have Emmy written all over it. Oh, how wrong they were.

  10. allthenamesaretakensothisisreallyreallylong permalink
    February 13, 2013 4:40 pm

    This was a great read. While I wasn’t much of a TV watcher, I do remember the “special episodes” and am frankly happy this phenomena seems to have dropped off. I wonder if part of this die-off has to do with the rise of cable TV shows that are exclusively dramatic. Er, actually, I don’t watch prime time tv and haven’t for some years. Maybe these are still happening?

    • February 18, 2013 8:32 pm

      Thanks for commenting. Are there still Very Special Episodes? I have no idea either — because I’m right there with you with not watching much TV these days. I certainly hope my kids don’t turn to sitcom characters for the meaning of life.


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