This article originally appeared at www.forcesofgood.blogspot.com.
I loved special episodes. You know, the ones where sitcoms would say "Hey, let's forget about the fluff and the cute kids. Let's talk about the issues really troubling America." Sadly, they seem to have gone the way of the buffalo. For those that remember, here's a trip down memory lane. For those that don't, here's what you missed.
1. Diff'rent Strokes-"The Bicycle Man"
WKRP In Cincinnati and Maytag man Gordon Jump plays a bicycle shop owner/child molester who lures Arnold and Dudley into his special back room in the back of the bike shop. I was only seven or eight when that it came out but it had me checking over my shoulder for creepy old dudes.
2. Maude-"Maude's Dilemma"
In this two-parter, a pre-Golden Girl Bea Arthur finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy at the age of 47. Ultimately, she decides to get an abortion. The crazy thing about this episode is that abortion was not yet legal nationwide, but legal in the state of New York where Maude was set. CBS received a flood of hate mail regarding this episode. Even by today's standards, it's still very controversial.
On a lighter note, a better special episode would have been her husband explaining why he found Maude attractive.
3. Growing Pains-"Thank God It's Friday"
Mike Seaver and his buddies, Boner and Eddie, go to a high school party. But this is no ordinary party because kids are doing (in a whisper) cocaine in the bathroom. When a hot girl asks Mike if he'd like to join her in the bathroom, he's left with a huge dilemma. Ultimately, Mike decides not to "go to the bathroom." I remember thinking if high school was going to be filled with fast times and wild parties like on Growing Pains. Sadly, it was not.
4. Family Ties-"Say Uncle"
In one of his pre-Oscar/post-Bachelor Party roles, Tom Hanks played the alcoholic uncle of the Keaton children and brother to Elise Keaton and brother-in-law Steven Keaton. The memorable scenes were of Hanks character, Ned Donnelly, drinking extracts in the pantry. But the feather in this cap, was Alex's attempt to stop Uncle Ned from drinking and Ned backhanding him across the face. So really you get the topic of alcoholism and domestic violence in one episode. (Note: the ex-hippie dad yells at Forrest Gump after the slap, but doesn't really go ballistic and hand out a beating of biblical proportions. One would think you would do if someone slapped the bejeezus out of your kid. I'm just saying...)
5. The Cosby Show-"Theo And The Joint"
This was the first special episode for The Cos' and family. Cliff discovers a joint in Theo's geography book. Despite the protests that it's not his, Cliff and Claire punish Theo, as any upstanding television parents would. Left with no other recourse, Theo has to clear his name and seek out the true owners of the joint. After tracking down the culprit, Theo uses his power of intimidation and imposing shag (a.k.a. the black mullet) haircut to tell the Huxtables that it's his weed. Theo even threatens the joint's owner with fisticuffs if he doesn't come clean to Cliff and Claire. Eventually, he does and Theo is exonerated.
(Note: Theo went to a New York City public school in the 1980s. The odds that he wasn't already smoking pot: pretty slim. The odds that Theo would have gotten stomped out like a cigarette butt by the rightful weed owner after his ultimatum: very, very high.)
6. Family Matters-"Life Of The Party"
During a rooftop party, bully Willie Fuffner retaliates against his nemesis Steve Urkel by giving the adorable nerd a glass of punch spiked with whiskey. This is retaliation for Urkel having the audacity to beat Fuffner in a boxing match in the episode "Requiem For An Urkel." Urkel's intoxication leads him to walking along the roof edge, eventually slipping and clutching to the rooftop for dear life until he's rescued by Aunt Rachel. Fuffner ends up in jail. Lesson: it's all fun and games until a nerd falls off a roof.
(Note: Willie Fuffner was played by Larenz Tate, the actor who went on to play O-Dog in Menace II Society. Steve Urkel was played by Jaleel White who went on to be known as The Guy Who Played Urkel for the rest of his living days. )
7. Party of Five-"Point Of No Return"
Bailey's escalating drinking problem was a constant theme throughout the third season. It reached a triumphant climax during baby brother Owen's birthday party. When a constantly sloshed Bailey forgot to hire a clown for the party, he decides to save some dough and step in as the clown----a DRUNK clown. Oddly enough, a wasted clown only upsets the little tykes further. Bailey tells a youngster "Stop crying. Be a man." These pearls of wisdom probably hit home to a two year old. When older brother Charlie tries to tell him to take it easy, Bailey shoves him into a gazebo Charlie had been working on, causing even more damage. Appropriately, the next episode was an intervention for Bailey.
8. Full House-"Shape Up"
DJ feels her body isn't perfect and stops eating. The only one who knows her secret: little sister Stephanie. In her quest for the perfect body, she ends up passing out after a rigorous workout on the step machine. After passing out, Stephanie finally spills the beans. Luckily, the dad is Bob Saget who calmly tells her that she looks just great. It would have been great if he had videotaped it and sent it to America's Funniest Home Videos. But I guess that would have been a bit surreal.
(Note: Who were the co-stars on this show? The Olsen twins. You'd think they would have learned a valuable lesson)
9. Punky Brewster-"Just Say No"
Punky and Cherie fall in with a popular crowd at school. The catch: the popular girls do drugs. Punky and Cherie aren't sure what to do. Ultimately, they decide to say no. This episode ended with Punky Brewster being seen at various anti-drug rallies and helped kick off Mrs. Reagan's Just Say No campaign.
(The great thing about Punky: she stayed hot. When you were eight and thought she was pretty fly, that was one thing. Twenty years later, boom. Still dope. Doesn't happen every day. Mad props to Punky Power)
10. City Guys "unknown episode title"
This show really brought the special episode back into the Saturday morning TNBC lineup. It was an urban, third-rate Saved By The Bell with the twist being that two complete opposites became best friends. Anyway, in this episode, there's a new kid with a shaved head who's got a bad attitude. Lead characters Chris and Jamal think he's a racist skinhead due to his dislike of pretty much everything. After confronting him, it turns out he's not a skinhead. He's got cancer and does walk through life angry due to his circumstances. The bald look is due to chemotherapy, leaving Chris and Jamal to feel like idiots. In turn, the audience feels like idiots for wasting 30 minutes of their life. Not the greatest special episode, but it is one with an M. Night Shyamalan twist