1. Saved By the Bell– “Jessie’s Song” (1990)
There’s a reason why this Saved By The Bell episode is possibly the most famous “Very Special Episode” in sitcom history (so much so that it prompted a mention in Beal’s overview of today’s topic) and nothing encapsulates the After School Special/Over-Dramatic Ridiculousness of Jessie Spano getting hooked on CAFFEINE PILLS more than the scene above. Even setting aside the fact that the last thing our uptight Jessie needs is the Saturday morning sitcom equivalent to crack cocaine, the episode just crackles with the kind of over the top acting that kind of makes you want to die a little bit upon viewing it as an adult.
And let’s face it- that Hot Sundaes song is pretty catchy.
2. Beverly Hills 90210– “Thicker Than Water” (1994)
I’m pretty sure that whoever is behind those Drug-Free America commercials, the ones that espouse how pot will make you accidentally kill your younger siblings, has this episode of 90210 playing on constant loop in the background. Indeed, what can be more tense than David Silver on meth, losing his baby sister at the park because he’s too busy practicing his patented “moves” over by the swing set? Or, ok, just takes a nap.
90210 forced poor David into drugs quite a bit over their decade-long tenure and while this episode PALES in comparison to some of the others (particularly the hilarious episodes when David gets clean and “finds music again” by playing the keyboard while the “famous” Jazz musician next door wails on the sax in his garage until they’re jamming together and it’s oh, so sweet), I think you need to draw the correlation between David Loses Erin and pretty much every drug-free campaign over the last ten years. Coincidence? I think not.
3. A Different World– “No Means No” (1993)
It’s all right there in the title of the episode, isn’t it? Now, A Different World is no stranger to The Very Special Episode but this one stands out in my mind, if for no other reason than it’s resolved because Dwayne Wayne jumps ON THE ROOF OF THE CAR (3:18) and basically fights Freddie’s date, a star basketball player who apparently didn’t read the title of the episode, through the sunroof. Fantastic. And really, Freddie, I don’t blame you for not suspecting him- a basketball player named Garth?
4. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air– “Bullets Over Bel-Air” (1995)
I’m going to officially embarrass myself right now and reveal to you that I kind of can’t handle it when Will Smith cries. I KNOW. To quote Freddie (see clip above), I am a dork of the highest magnitude. That episode when his deadbeat dad breezes into town (Ben Vereen, NO!) and then leaves again? I don’t even really want to talk about it. Like, for real.
This episode, when Will gets shot after he and Carlton are robbed, would probably be up there in the “oh my God, Judi- are you ACTUALLY CRYING right now?” meter if Carlton didn’t respond to the situation by stupidly purchasing a gun, despite the fact that he apparently plans on using it while wearing a khaki jacket, thus necessitating the need for protection in the first place. Alfonso Ribiero has many, many fine sitcom talents but over-dramatic acting has got to be the greatest one of all.
5. Growing Pains– “Second Chance” (1989)
This was possibly the most effective Very Special Episode in my own life because upon seeing it, I vowed never to drink and drive ever. EVER. I wouldn’t drink ANYTHING while driving, in fact. No water, no orange juice nothing. Yes, I was eight at the time but seriously- THE KID DIED. I’m not even kidding. Growing Pains killed Carol’s boyfriend for drinking and driving. Alan Thicke is not fucking around, people.
This episode, and that scene when Mike tells them Sandy is dead and Carol thinks he’s joking, affected me so much that when I first saw Matthew Perry in Friends, I almost had a heart attack. “SANDY. He’s alive! Please don’t go to a bar ever again!”