“Very Special Episodes” were a common sitcom trope of the 1970s and 1980s, bleeding over into the early 1990s. These were serious episodes of sitcoms designed to teach the children watching at home life lessons about a wide variety of topics from drugs and alcohol to child molestation and prostitution.
If you grew up watching sitcoms in the 1980s either first run on in syndication, chances are you saw more than your fair share of the “Very Special Episodes” that plagued seemingly every sitcom of that era from Family Ties to Small Wonder and everyone in between. Heck, Facts of Life seemed to have one every other episode. What a time to be alive!
Here is LMOs countdown of what we think are the 10 best ones from that decade (Sadly “Jessie’s Song” from Saved By the Bell came out in 1990 so it missed the cut-off).
10. Growing Pains – “Thank God It’s Friday” (1987)
Mike Seaver and his pals Boner and Eddie go to a party. When they get there they run into Kristy Swanson, wearing a blue sweater, who wants them to do a little free cocaine with her. The trio almost caves to peer pressure but luckily they avoid the nose candy and go back to their homes filled with sorrow.
9. The Facts of Life – “The Runaway” (1982)
Mrs. Garrett takes the Eastland girls to New York City to see a Broadway show. This is great except Tootie’s parents won’t give her permission so she has to stay back at the boarding school. Defiantly, Tootie decides to go to New York alone and meet up with the rest of the Eastland crew. When she can’t find them she is befriended by a teenage prostitute and runaway named Kristy. Her pimp Mike wants Tootie to be his new girl so he concocts a plan to lure her up to Kristy’s apartment to get her addicted to drugs and turn her out on the streets. Luckily, Mrs. Garret shows up and saves Tootie from certain doom.
8. Webster – “Burn Out” (1984)
Webster gets really excited when he gets a chemistry set as a gift from good ol’ Ma’am and George. He’s so excited that he stays up past his bedtime to play with it. There’s a rocket ship or something with a fuse that he lights but when he hears his adoptive parents walking towards his room he panicked and tossed everything in the closet since he’s supposed to be asleep. A fire breaks out and Webster bellows “Ma’am! George! My room’s on fire!” They save Webster but the apartment is ruined. As punishment for burning down the apartment building Webster is punished by getting to live in an old mansion with a bunch of secret passages and a dumbwaiter he gets to ride in as a makeshift elevator.
7. Punky Brewster – Accidents Happen (1986)
Punky wants to be an astronaut until she watches the TV in horror as the Challenger Space Shuttle explodes in class. She decides that anything that could kill you isn’t worth bothering to do. Luckily Buzz Aldren shows up and says like a space-aged swami –
“You’ve got to take risks when you’re doing something that nobody’s ever done before…’If’ is a word smack in the middle of ‘life.’ Isn’t that deep?”
6. Mr. Belvedere – The Counselor (1988)
In this episode, there were 2 storylines. The first pertained to whether or not Mr. Belvedere was going to play golf with George. It was hilarious. The second was less funny and involved Geroge’s son Wesley getting sexually molested by a camp counselor. Wesley does the right thing and reports the incident. Wesley suffers no ill effects from this incident and his back to his shenanigans and pranks by the end of the episode.
5. Punky Brewster – Cherie Lifesaver (1986)
Punky and her friend Cherie are playing hide and go seek and Cherie hides in an old refrigerator. Cherie gets locked inside and when she is found hours later she is unconscious. Luckily Punky is an expert in CPR and revives Cherie with ease.
4. Diff’rent Strokes – The Reporter (1983)
Arnold is working as a reporter for the school newspaper when gets a “scoop” that drugs are being sold to kids on school grounds. Nancy Reagan learns about this and shows up and talks about her anti-drug campaign.
3. Growing Pains – Second Chance (1989)
Matthew Perry had played Carol’s boyfriend Sandy in a handful of episodes prior to this one. This episode has Carol sneak out to a bar with Sandy. After she gets home she learns that Sandy, who was drunk, was in a car accident. It seems that even though he is in hospital Sandy is going to be okay, but a couple of minutes later we learn he died.
2. Diff’rent Strokes – The Bicycle Man (1983)
One of the all-time greats. Gordon Jump is a pedophile that owns a bike shop. Arnold and his friend Dudley begin hanging out with Jump in the back room where they look at pornography, drink wine and play a game like “Tarzan” with their shirts off. Sensing something is wrong Arnold eventually comes clean to his family. They return to the bike shop and find Dudley hopped up on pills about to be molested. Arnold gets a new bike at the end of this 2-parter.
And Number 1 is…
Family Ties – Say Uncle (1984)
Tom Hanks reprises his role as Elyse’s brother Ned who had previously been in a couple of episodes where he was embezzling money and turned himself in to the FBI. About a year later, this episode finds Ned showing up needing a job. Little do the Keaton’s suspect that Ned is an alcoholic until he starts doing things like drinking a bottle of vanilla extract and trying to play the clarinet at a job interview. The episode ends with Ned socking Alex, sending him flying across the room. Apologetic, Ned calls a rehab facility for help.
If you liked this article and want to check out some more of our 1980s content take a look at the below.
To read about the making of Tim Burton’s Batman CLICK HERE
For a biography of Cheryl Ladd filled with sexy pics and videos CLICK HERE
For the 5 Greatest Video Game Commercials of the 1980s CLICK HERE