Oh, CALAMITY. I will admit to being one of those faithful viewers who gets all the giddy at the prospect of a Very Special Episode, especially when that Very Special Episode involves words like “murder, shooting, stabbing, rape and betrayal.” You know, the kinds of cheery topics that just scream sitcom. If we’re lucky, the best life-threatening predicaments bring on an emotional outburst or two, maybe a touching montage or a series of emotional flashbacks. In other words, they bring about things that I eat up with a spoon. Oh yeah, and they are also unusually superior episodes, rife with actual tension and set the plot in a new, very exciting direction.
I had a hard time narrowing down my choices for this list. Other top contenders included Lost (Michael shoots Libby and Ana Lucia), Arrested Development (Buster’s “coma”), House (pretty much every season finale- they really like putting their cast in mortal peril), and Roseanne (Dan’s heart attack). And now, the juicy little episodes that made the final cut.
5. Golden Girls– Rose’s heart attack in “Home Again, Rose (1 & 2)” (1992)
Center a hit sitcom around a group of feisty old broads and you just know that one of them will, eventually, have a heart attack or some kind of major health crisis. Had it been acerbic Sophia (who suffered a heart attack in the first season, before our love truly had time to develop), eye-rolling Dorothy or lusty Branche, it would’ve been devastating for sure- but soft-hearted, mush-brained Rose? Oh, man. Nothing gets you more ferklempt than when that group of feisty old broads tear up and admit their fears of losing their sweet, much-mocked friend. Add a little tension with Rose’s bitchy daughter who disapproves of how her mother has chosen to live out her golden years and the fact that they can’t even get in to to see Rose because they aren’t “family” and, and- I’m sorry, there’s something in my eye. Talk amongst yourselves.
4. Beverly Hills 90210– Donna almost gets raped in”Love Hurts” (1995)
As soon as I hit 90210 on the show list, I had to pause. Because, really, there are just SO MANY life-threatening predicaments to choose from. And sure, I could’ve gone with Victim Supreme (that would be Kelly “Never Saw a Soap Tragedy She Didn’t Like” Taylor) or maybe Andrea cooing over her premie baby in the hospital or Brenda talking down a lighter-holding Emily Valentine but I have to admit that Donna’s near-rape is possibly my favorite. It could have something to do with Tori Spelling’s bleached bob phase, the ultra-’90s outfit of baby-T with suspenders combo, but the kicker is that David saves her with a baseball bat, all because Donna tells “Dave” that everything’s all right and there’s not really a knife-wielding rapist in her bedroom. David kicks in the door, Donna’s sacred treasure is spared to turn down abusive Ray Pruitt a few more times, and all across America, girls call their friends to let them know what their “A rapist is in my room” code-word will be. (In case you’re wondering, Beal and I have already talked about it and she knows that if I call her “Melissa”, it’s time to break down the door).
In other news, I am SHOCKED that this clip isn’t on Youtube. Shocked and dismayed that while all the 90210 fans are busy setting fan videos of Donna and David clips to old Sarah Mclachlan songs, no one has put the “Dave” clip up for my viewing pleasure. Inexcusable.
3. West Wing– Josh is shot in “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 1” (2000)
West Wing could’ve gone the usual route with their assassination-attempt episodes at the start of the show’s second season- God knows the situation is emotional enough already. The president has been shot but Josh has been shot too, just a pure knife to the heart right there. I could watch that scene of First Lady Rizzo comforting his assistant Donna and still be satisfied but then they throw in all these flashbacks about how Bartlett’s team was assembled during the campaign. We get to see Toby recruit CJ, Donna basically worm her way into working for Josh just by pretending he’d already hired her, and, the best, Josh going to recruit Sam at his fancy schmancy law firm after Bartett wins him over with an off-the-cuff town hall speech that proves he’s “the real deal.”
2. ER– Carter and Lucy get stabbed in “All in the Family” (2000)
My relationship with ER was pretty rocky when hot Luca replaced hot Clooney on the world’s longest running medical drama but even I had to tune in for this one- the scenario is simple enough- Carter and Lucy (Becca!) are stabbed and lay bleeding to death in a dark exam room while, outside, everyone parties down, completely oblivious. When Carrie Weaver finds them and ushers them into the ER, you can practically feel the usual adrenaline rush get kicked up a few notches as the nurses and doctors work frantically to save their friends. They save Carter but lose Lucy, whose death scene is heartbreaking as she tells Elizabeth Corday not to be sad or guilty that they couldn’t save her. But I think my favorite shot would have to be the one of Benton, Carter’s long-suffering mentor, barreling down the stairs and pushing past people after he’s heard the news. Awe-some.
1. Friday Night Lights– Jason is paralyzed in “Pilot” (2006)
Friday Night Lights starts off with a bang, no-holds barred, when quarterback superstar Jason Street goes for a tackle with his head down and ends up on a stretcher. In Texas, as the show and the Billy Bob Thorton-movie it was based on tell us, high school football is king. So, yeah, losing your star player, an All-American, to a life in a wheelchair is pretty much the biggest tragedy you can think of. And of course, this is just where Friday Night Lights is getting started. Suddenly, Dillon, Texas has a fallen hero, an underdog coach, a devastated town and a second-string quarterback who’s never been on the field. And I find myself in love with a show about football even though I could care less about football.