Like it or not, the Very Special Episode is a staple of American television. It’s intention is to teach the audience a SERIOUS moral lesson or bring a controversial social issue to life on screen, but the end result is more often than not, a campy, nearly un-watchable display of poor acting followed by years of mockery (“I’m so excited! I’m so, so scared!”) These episodes are so cheesy that they cannot be watched without crackers (name that 90’s movie!). Usually aired during sweeps, episodes that contain material surrounding pre-marital sex, teen pregnancy, abortion, eating disorders, homosexuality, peer pressure, rape, drunk driving and my personal favorite, drug abuse ( which usually involves a main character’s extreme downward spiral, which often reaches rock bottom within the half-hour) are generally considered VERY SPECIAL. Any episode that ends with a public service announcement starring the cast of the show, is definitely VERY SPECIAL. Which leads me right into my first all time favorite VSE of all time. . .
1. Saved by the Bell “No Hope with Dope” (1991)
When Bayside High is selected as the location to film an anti-drug PSA starring Johnny Dakota (ahem generic Johnny Depp) the gang is super pumped. THEN they see him smoking “dope” at a party, even passing the joint to Kelly Kapowski (who clearly stayed late in hopes of hooking up with such a hunk). Fortunately Zack swoops in just in time and Dakota is replaced with Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC in the PSA—because if teens want to hear “don’t do drugs” from anyone, its a CEO they couldn’t give a shit about.
2. Full House “Shape Up” (1990)
Obviously the most important time to go on a dangerous crash diet and experiment with anorexia is before Kimmy Gibbler’s 14th birthday party. Chubby D.J. is embarrassed to be seen in her swimsuit at the fancy hotel swimming pool where the usually-white-trash Kimmy is hosting the bash. When she collapses in the gym, Stephanie can’t keep the secret any longer and reveals to Danny, Joey and Uncle Jesse what Deej is up to. Danny helps D.J. realize that looks aren’t as important as she thinks. Everyone hugs. I’m not even going to go into how absurd it is that D.J. thought she could knock off enough weight to make a difference in a week’s time.
3. Roseanne “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (1994)
Roseanne visits a gay bar with her lesbian friend Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) and her girlfriend Sharon (Mariel Hemingway) in efforts to appear hip (boost ratings). At the lesbian bar (obviously dubbed Lips) Sharon kisses Roseanne. ABC threatened not to air such smut, which then attracted like 30 million viewers.
4. Beverly Hills, 90210 “Perfect Mom” (1990)
Brenda becomes totally jealous of Kelly’s super hip mother, Jackie Taylor, whose blonde crop and fabulous clothes and BFF attitude with her daughter make Cindy Walsh look as horriblly matronly as ever. She changes her mind when Jackie turns the mother/daughter fashion show at West Beverly into a total train wreck because she hosts the event completely loaded on various narcotics and booze. Brenda quickly appreciates her stable Midwestern mother and Kelly moves in with the Walshes after dropping her mom off at rehab, again.
5. Family Ties “Speed Trap”
When Ronald Reagan’s biggest fan Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) becomes overwhelmed with finals and scholarship applications he enlists the help of his amoral sister Mallory (Justine Bateman) to obtain amphetamines (in the form of diet pills). He oversleeps and misses his big test. When his parents find him still in bed, Alex jumps out of bed, collapses on the floor, and then begins desperately digging through the trashcan to find the thrown out pills just before uttering the a classic VSE phrase, “I thought I could handle it.” Sha na na na!