What's your favorite "Very Special" sitcom episode? Those of us with an affinity for classic sitcoms all remember "Very Special Episodes." An odd trend in the sitcom universe, Very Special Episodes were episodes about social issues, usually with an uncharacteristically serious tone, and often with a preachy message (sometimes delivered out-of-character) tacked on at the end. Some of these episodes are uncomfortable, some unintentionally hilarious, and a few are just plain weird. What are your picks for the best Very Special sitcom episodes of all-time?
The Bicycle Man (Diff'rent Strokes)Photo: NBC
Wacky, mismatched foster family sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" got in more than one solidly preachy episode during its run. Perhaps the most skin-crawlingly memorable, however, was this two-parter from season five about child molestation. After befriending Mr. Horton, the jolly owner of a local bike shop, Arnold (Gary Coleman) and his friend, Dudley, drop by the man's apartment after school one afternoon, where Mr. Horton promptly attempts to get them drunk, talk them out of their clothes, and take shirtless photographs of them.Luckily, the police sabotage this seductive milieu just in time, and the episode closes on a somberly out-of-character Conrad Bain delivering a message to the viewing audience about the dangers of sexual predators.1,486357Is this weird?
Give Your Uncle Arthur a Kiss (Family Ties)Photo: CBS
In this season one episode of "Family Ties," sophisticated 15-year-old Mallory finds herself dealing with a little more sophistication than she can handle when her father's co-worker and family friend, "Uncle" Arthur, makes a pass at her. Horrified and ashamed, Mallory keeps the incident secret, hoping to just move on and forget it ever happened.After Arthur moves in for a second attempt at a family gathering, however, Mallory breaks down and tearfully confesses to her parents, who confront Arthur, sternly telling him to keep away from their underage daughter and to "get some professional help," while Arthur whines pathetically about feeling "crazy" since his divorce. (For some reason, they don't... you know... call the police or anything, which they should. But whatever.)1,043238Is this weird?
Edith's 50th Birthday (All In The Family)Photo: CBS
All in the Family was a controversial show in its own right, and broke ground for its portrayal of serious issues that had never before been tackled on TV. But in one very special episode, some raised their eyebrows at a plot addressing sexual assault quite in this way.
In "Edith's 50th Birthday," Edith is at home while her family is planning a birthday party for her. A stranger knocks at the door claiming to be a police detective and Edith lets him inside. Then, he viciously attacks her and threatens to rape her. Luckily, the birthday cake she had in the oven catches on fire and smoke billows out from the kitchen. She throws the cake and him and he flees.1,115267Is this weird?
Jessie's Song (Saved by the Bell)Photo: NBC
No list of unintentionally hilarious sitcom episodes would be complete without this classic installment of "Saved By the Bell," in which Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkeley) – Bayside High's resident goodie two-shoes – suffers a full-blown, speed-freak meltdown after becoming addicted to pep pills. The scene in question is so legendary that even people who never watched "Saved By the Bell" are at least familiar with it (especially since the X-rated, so-bad-its-good cult fave Showgirls, starring Berkeley as an ambitious Vegas dancer, was released a few years later).
The episode was supposed to center around Jessie dealing with an addiction to speed, but NBC's censors made the show soften it to "storebought caffeine pills." Which lowers the stakes just a tad.1,402530Is this weird?