TV: The Very Special Episodes

A time honored tradition of television is to take a sitcom and turn it as serious as possible. These were TV’s “Very Special” Episodes. There was no topic off limits when television went very special. Our favorite sitcom characters were molested, got drunk, faced drug use and all kinds of life and death situations. These shows were designed as overly dramatic lessons to their young viewers and warnings to their parents that watched too. This is when television was very special.

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The Show: Diff’rent Strokes
The Episode:  “The Bicycle Man” (1983)

Diff’rent Strokes led the way for very special episodes. There may have been more “Very Special” episodes of this series than regular ones. “Strokes” took on everything from just saying no to drugs (which featured First Lady Nancy Reagan) to kidnapping, bulimia, bullying and many more. However, there was no very special episode more special on Diff’rent Strokes than “The Bicycle Man” pedophile episode. Gordon Jump played an extra friendly bicycle shop owner who plied Arnold and his pal Dudley with ice cream, pizza, comic books and wine in order to seduce them into some shirtless photographs. Arnold finally wised up, but only to leave Dudley alone with the Bicycle Man to play bath tub games.

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The Show: All In The Family
The Episode:  “Edith’s 50th Birthday” (1977)

This wasn’t All in the Family’s first go around with sexual assault. In a previous episode, Gloria had been attacked and Archie and her husband Mike convinced her not to report it. That attack was never seen on camera. So now, All in the Family was going to up the ante with the first sexual assault seen on television. Edith is home alone getting ready for her 50th birthday party when a man posing as the police comes in the house and attacks her. Fortunately, she’s able to fight him off with a burnt cake and escape next door. This time the Bunkers decide they will press charges.

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The Show: Family Ties
The Episode: “Give Your Uncle Arthur a Kiss” (1982)

Family Ties had their share of very special issues. Tom Hanks once appeared as an uncle with a serious drinking problem. The show also dealt with drug use and teen death. The episode “Give Uncle Arthur a Kiss” says it all. Mallory is really uncomfortable with her uncle and his extra tight hugs. Of course, he’s not a blood relative either. He’s just a close friend and co-worker of Mallory’s dad. Uncle Arthur tries to apologize to Mallory if she got the wrong idea from his hugs. And his apology comes in the form of a long kiss on the lips. These fake uncles are never really sorry.

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The Show: Punky Brewster
The Episode: “Cherie Lifesaver” (1986)

When a game of hide-and-seek turns deadly, then that’s a very special episode. Punky Brewster and her pals are playing a game when Cherie decides to hide in an abandoned refrigerator. When they find her, Cherie is unconscious and not breathing. Punky’s foster parent Henry has no idea how to administer CPR. Fortunately, Punky does and saves the day. Punky Power! Henry apologizes for not removing the door from the fridge and promises to take CPR classes. Today, the old guy would be serving time for this.

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The Show: Little House on the Prairie
The Episode: “Sylvia” (1981)

There’s so much wrong in this very special Little House on the Prairie. Sylvia is a girl with a puritan father who doesn’t like how fast she’s growing up and developing. He insists that she bind her breasts to conceal them. If that wasn’t very special enough, when Sylvia is attacked walking home by the most frightening prairie clown ever, she then becomes pregnant. The Ingalls’ adopted son Albert is accused and Sylvia ends up running away. Fortunately, all these issues are resolved at the end of a two part very special episode when Sylvia falls to her death.

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The Show: Saved By The Bell
The Episode: “Jessie’s Song” (1990)

Saved by the Bell’s Jessie Spano does it all. She’s valedictorian. She sings. She dances. And she does it all with the help of some speed. Jessie gets confronted by Zack and has a freak out when he tries to take her caffeine pills from her. She insists on singing with her new group “Hot Sundae” no matter what in one of the the most over the top “very special” scenes in television history.

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The Show: Boy Meets World
The Episode: “Cult Fiction” (1997)

Even though Boy Meets World was a 90s sitcom, they went for that 80s very special feel in an episode called “Cult Fiction”. Cory’s best friend Shawn gets a bad grade, so of course he joins a cult called “The Centre”. The fun part of this very special episode is to watch for Styles from “Teen Wolf” as the cult leader. Everyone tries to rescue Shawn with no luck, but once Shawn’s foster dad Mr. Turner ends up in the hospital from a car accident – Shawn finally sees the truth. That’s a lucky car wreck.

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The Show: The Facts of Life
The Episode: “Runaway” (1982)

Tootie has been banned from a trip to New York City with the other girls by her parents. That’s not going to keep Tootie from running away to NYC to join the others. The problem is instead of finding her friends and seeing a Broadway show, she lured into a life of teen prostitution by a girl she meets in a diner. Mrs. Garrett and the gang save the day just as Tootie’s potential pimp is ready to take her off to an apartment, get her drunk and turn her into a Times Square whore.

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The Show: Full House
The Episode “Shape Up” (1990)

Young DJ Tanner has to get ready for bikini season. So here comes the Full House very special eating disorder episode. DJ is obsessed with calories and working out in order to lose weight. It’s not until she collapses in the gym where her whole family was working out that the Tanners start to suspect. Enter DJ’s little sister Stephanie who informs on her sister and let’s everyone know that DJ hasn’t eaten in 3 days. That’s when they try to sit her down, talk some sense into her and feed her chicken parmigiana.

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The Show: Growing Pains
The Episode: “Second Chance” (1982)

When a show wants to kill someone off for a very special episode, they won’t use a series regular. They bring in a guest star and they’re as good as dead. That’s Growing Pains very special episode “Second Chance”. Carol Seaver has a great new funny boyfriend, Sandy. And yes, he is played by Chandler Bing. When Sandy and Carol decide to do some drunk driving, Sandy ends up in the hospital from a car accident. He and Carol vow to never drink and drive again. So, everything should be fine. Sandy gets his very special “Second Chance”. Oops, not so fast. The doctors didn’t do anything about that internal bleeding.

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