With that in mind, we revisited 5 classic sitcom episodes that real-life events have made epically sad. Let's get bummed!
The Family Ties Episode Where Alex Loses Bodily Control
What Happens: Alex P. Keaton (played by Michael J. Fox) loses bodily control.
Family Ties is known for confronting serious situations in a humorous way. Once, Tom Hanks played an alcoholic uncle who chugs a bottle of vanilla. So, in another episode where oldest sibling Alex becomes addicted to pills, the situation is treated in a hilariously serious way. After all, Alex was only popping pills to get an advantage in his homework. Ah, to live in the days before rap invaded suburbia, when white folks had absolutely no idea how to have fun with drugs. Fortunately for young Alex, his father intervenes and throws the pills away. Unfortunately, this was before the entire world had a collective intervention against ridiculous men's beards.
Everything's pretty funny up to this point, in an "I'm learning a lesson" kind of way. But then Alex wakes up the next day and things aren't so funny. Especially in light of the crippling brain disorder which now plagues the amazing actor Michael J. Fox (Back to the F*ture, The Frighteners, Doc Hollywood), causing him to twitch and stumble uncontrollably. First, Alex tries to get out of bed, and falls on his face:
Again, when we were kids this was hilarious. Now that we know this occasionally happens to Michael J. Fox... tragic. The face-fall is soon followed by twitching:
The knowledge that Alex P. Keaton will sober up from his pill withdrawal symptoms, but Michael J. Fox will never again have relief is sobering, to say the least. Alex's behavior scares his mother so much that she has to hide from the five-foot-four actor:
The sensitive man rears his 90-pound body to full height
It's truly sad to be reminded of the brutal symptoms of Parkinson's. Even more sad is being reminded that they will never make a Doc Hollywood 2:
The Golden Girls Episode Where Betty White Predicts the Sad Future
What Happens: Betty White predicts the sad f*ture of the Golden Girls.
Golden Girls brought America a healthy dose of laughter, as well as knowledge of the nasty-ass fact that old people are really horny all the time. To pull off such a risque (and kinda icky, from a general perspetive) show took an all-star cast and writing staff.
Part of the reason why the cast was so cohesive was that they spent lots of time together off the set. Even after the show, they all stuck together closely, joining each other for outings as simple and sweet as grocery shopping trips. In the episode "Sophia's Choice," the girls are forced with the choice of whether or not to put Sophia in a home. And in the midst of the conversation about "abandoning" Sophia, and what it really meant for the near-f*ture of all of them, Rose (Betty White) urges the others to make a pact to stick together no matter what. They will always be friends, and even if they all go into homes together, they will never be alone. It's obvious that the actresses themselves took these words to heart.
(I always pictured Bea Arthur as the heavy. May she rest in peace.)
And unlike most people, Betty White's character doesn't seem to mind that these actresses are flashing more colors than a third-world country's national flag, either. She's too swept up in the notion that the Golden Girls will stick together to the end (which they did even after the show went off the air). Which is why it's so traumatic when she utters the worried phrase:
"But what happens when there's only one of us left?"
Now (and I hope I can say this for quite some time), all of the Golden Girls have passed away except Betty White. There is only one of them left, shuffling through the grocery store alone. Aw, who am I kidding, Betty White is like the most popular person on earth. Rest in peace, ladies, we hope Sophia isn't cracking too many jokes about how frigid your bodies are.
The Just Say No Episode of Diff'rent Strokes
What Happens: Most of the child actors were doing drugs off-camera.
When Diff'rent Strokes child stars weren't on camera warming America's hearts, they could often be found backstage warming up a pipe. One episode sees Mr. Drummond open the door to find Nancy Reagan. I'm going to include the clip, here, because I want to point out that when the First Lady makes her entrance, literally one person in the audience applauds. This is a studio audience who is paid to applaud! Did everyone on the entire set just pass a pipe back and forth with the audience between takes?
At most, three people in this picture are not daydreaming about drugs.
That's Todd Bridges in the background, who struggled with crack addiction and was once arrested on suspicion of shooting a man in a crackhouse while high. Todd Bridges was a pretty funny teen actor, watching him get high used to be hilarious.
In some indirect way, this led to him being arrested for shooting a man
Now, Willis being stoned out of his mind, begging his dad for more money to buy drugs just feels awful for us to watch.
Now that I think about it, watching any episode of Diff'rent Strokes is kind of hard because of how precocious the actors seem. It's like watching Sesame Street after you find out that, behind the scenes, Ernie had Big Bird turning tricks on "The Street" for hits of oven cleaner.
Bridges would get so high he'd see Tutti, from The Facts of Life
Kimberly, played by the talented Dana Plato, never had a drug episode. She also never had an episode where she robbed a video store at gunpoint, even though it happened in real life.
Full House Episode About DJ Tanner's Weight Disorder
What Happens: An entire episode where DJ Tanner (played by Candace Cameron, who suffered from body image and eating disorder issues) struggles with a weight disorder.
Full House was the most lighthearted sitcom ever to be based upon a mother dying in a horrific car crash. But that's okay, because their widower dad is recruiting. In comes a hip young uncle who looks like he scalped the lead singer of a Hair Metal band and is wearing it as a hat:
… and a single male friend who just happens to like acting juvenile and being around young girls. Played by an actor who may or may not have been banging an underage Alanis Morissette:
There's plenty of space in my big, white van.
What could possibly be more creepy? I'll tell you. Candace Cameron played DJ Tanner, eldest sister. In one Very Special episode, she tackled the subject of eating disorders. What makes this uncomfortable to watch now is the fact that Cameron would later develop bulimia.
Meanwhile, the actress who played DJ's sister would eventually learn to stay thin with the help of meth. It's no fun watching actresses illuminate serious issues which they will then themselves ignore.