Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Very Special Episodes: Ham-fisted writing at its finest

If you're part of my generation, you'll likely have a certain association with the words "Jesse Spano" and "caffeine pills."  Yes, I'm sure the Pointer Sisters haven't sounded the same to you since.

Anyway, I don't envy writers stuck with an assignment to impart a message or life lesson to their audience.  I think that it's possible to use drama and comedy to put forth certain messages or ideas.  The problem is that when the message is the raison d'etre for the entire story, writers tend not to trust an audience to get any subtlety or nuance.  Thus, the result is the "Very Special Episode."  Sitcoms of the 80s and early 90s were crawling with these.  For one week, the escapism you got from your favorite show would be replaced with the future Chandler Bing dying in a car crash to teach us all a lesson about drunk driving, or Alex Keaton having an emotional breakdown from survivor's guilt.

But those are only scratching the tip of the iceberg.  Check out this salute to the Very Special Episode.


  1. First off, I'm busy having my mind blown. It's been so long since I've remembered or thought about Growing Pains, I never realized Matthew Perry used to be on it. Oh, Sandy. Why'd you have to do it? Secondly, while I don't enjoy the "being beaten over the head with a moral lesson feeling," these clips gave me quite the sense of nostalgia. Every time I think of Very Special Episodes, I think of Full House. That show had quite the legacy of special episodes...and I have to admit that the "Randy Might Have Cancer" still gets to me.

  2. It's possible I've seen every one of these, with the possible exception of Diff'rent Strokes (before my time) and Lizzie McGuire (after my time).

  3. Matthew Perry was so fixed in my head as that character that it took at least six episodes into the first season of Friends before I could finally see him as Chandler.

    If you really want to blow your mind with Growing Pains cameos, go here.

    Diff'rent Strokes did so many of these melodramatic eps that I think they might actually outnumber the funny ones. I remember an especially disturbing one being when Sam was kidnapped by another family. There was also the Mr. Belvedere episode where Wesley was molested at camp, and who could forget the Full House ep where D.J. develops and overcomes anorexia in what must be about a week of show time.

    You don't see shows do this as much anymore, thankfully.

  4. Ah, now I just want to sit down and watch Growing Pains (and other old shows) and see if I can spot anyone else...Diff'rent Strokes was also before my time, and the anorexia ep of Full House is what I hear most people refer to when they mention Special Episodes...