Monday, June 1, 2009
Tonight, on a Very Special Episode of Children of the 90s: watch as our heroes combat drinking/smoking/drugs/racism/domestic abuse/eating disorders/gang violence/poverty/suicide/disease/prejudice/homophobia. Stay tuned, as this is not one you'll want to miss!
The Very Special Episode was spurned in the 70s, when the airwaves were teeming with family sitcoms just aching to impart morality and wisdom onto the eager viewing masses. With time, the Very Specialness of it all had been toned down considerably; the 80s boasted its fair share of preachy sitcom episodes, but for a few minutes in the late 80s it appeared as if the trend were preparing to taper off gracefully.
Lucky for all of you children of the 90s, television executives reconstructed and revived the Very Special Episode into a veritable art form. With the advent of countless interchangeable family sitcoms aimed at considerably younger viewers, the 90s boasted a roster of series for whom the Very Special Episode was nearly synonymous with the sehow itself. Let's take a morally conscious stroll down memory lane and examine some of the 90s most Special moments that shaped our childhoods and warped our perceptions for years to come:
Blossom was the real innovator in 1990s Very Specialness. Indeed, it was the good people at NBC who took great liberties in introducing an inordinate number of Blossom episodes with the oft-mocked phrase, "Tonight, on a Very Special Episode of Blossom..."
The show's breadth of very special episodes ran the gamut from drinking to divorce. It truly seemed as if every episode of the show was in some way Very Special; the series had no qualms about shoving allegedly acute moral lessons down the throats of its impressionable young viewers, albeit often with humorous undertones. Observe, a lighthearted reprimand from Six's mother following an incident of stealing:
Saved By the Bell (1989-1993)
Saved by the Bell was unabashed in its portrayal of faultless, morally rigid teenagers masquerading as carefree characters. Saved by the Bell spared us no issue, undertaking parental unemployment, feminism, fake IDs, drunk driving, and drug use in a scant 4 seasons. While often the drama of the purported misconduct took place outside the nuclear group of major characters, a few episodes did choose to sully our heroes' good names with some good old fashioned cheesy 90s transgressions.
While the drinking and driving episode certainly has its moments (particularly as they manage to crash Lisa's mother's car after a mere sip of beer), the most memorable episode was none other than the infamous Jessie Spano caffeine pill freak-out:
"I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so (choke/gasp) scared!" And to think the movie Showgirls couldn't manage to coast along on Elizabeth Berkley's master thespianism alopne. I'm not sure if you have ever had any run-ins with caffeine pills, but unless you're on the serious overdose track they tend to be fairly benign. They might as well have had Jessie sobbing over her skinny soy latte from Starbucks.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990-1996)
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was not without its fair share of issue tackling. Like any good sitcom featuring adolescent main characters, there were many of the requisite coming-of-age themes (such as the episode in which Will likes a plus-size girl). The show also occasionally skimmed the surface of topical issues featuring episodes about interracial marriage, race riots, and gun violence in an episode where Will is shot in an armed robbery.
Two of the most Very Special are an episode where Carlton mistakenly takes amphetamines from Will's locker and is subsequently hospitalized and an episode where Will's absentee father returns with empty promises. I did not compile the following into a video, but its existence on YouTube certainly is convenient to my chronicling its Very Specialness.
Full House (1987-1995)
If nothing else, Full House is truly a Very Special show. Rarely did more than an episode or two pass in a season without confronting some sort of wholly unsubtle moral dilemma. The perfect and sanctimonious children of Full House may not have been prone to many discretions themselves, but they were certainly good at pointing out other people's faulty behavior.
The quintessential example of this is undoubtedly the episode in which Uncle Jesse wrongly accuses DJ of drinking beer at a school dance. Of course, our fair DJ would never engage in such raucous and unbecoming behavior, particularly not while wearing that Hilary Clinton circa 1995 pantsuit. DJ's wardrobe and rockin' mullet aside, she is the epitome of innocence shocked when she exclaims, "You're drinking BEER!" I especially like when the supposedly rebellious beer-drinking 12-year old proclaims her to be "so uncool!" It seems our friends over at ABC lifted this script directly from a DARE in-class video presentation.
90210 was teen soap operary at its finest, and certainly featured a hefty dosage of Very Special Episodes. One of the most memorable was the season five finale in which Donna's abusive boyfriend Ray pushes her down the stairs. This would be an admirable leap into real-issue territory if the scene hadn't been quite so hokey. Tori Spelling's verbal acting aside, it's possible her physical work could use some work. I know it's in poor taste, but watching this clip potentially suggests she'd be well suited for some sort of highly-physical comedic work:
The drama! The drama! It is, of course, a very serious issue and it makes you wish they could have pulled it off a little better in the execution. Oh well, I guess it's either you hire your daughter or you hire a credible actress, and you just can't have it both ways.
Unfortunately, I just can't fit all of your favorites into a single post. I can, however, make a totally cop-out move by simply listing my runners up without actually describing them in any great detail. Hence, here we have some formidable honorable mentions:
Dinosaurs: Robbie encounters peer pressure to smoke weed
90210: Dylan's alcoholism
Family Matters: Laura gets beat up by a gang for wearing a certain jacket, racist graffiti at school
Boy Meets World: Shawn's drinking problem
Every episode of 7th Heaven and Dawson's Creek
Thank you for tuning in to this Very Special Episode of Children of the 90s! Join us next time when Children of the 90s confronts peer pressure/promotes Black History Month/feeds the homeless/administers STD testing/get juvenile diabetes.