Do TV Shows Still Do "Very Special Episode"s?

This was a staple of my TV-watching when I was growing up; a lighthearted sitcom would take on an important social issue of the day, such as racism or alcoholism.

Honestly, I can’t think of any such thing happening on any TV show I watch nowadays. Mike & Molly is basically one long running joke about eating disorders (with some jabs at alcoholism and drug abuse thrown in), but there doesn’t seem to be a moral being preached. The Big Bang Theory has somewhat exposed the problems resulting from bullying, but does not seem to hammer on the issue.

Have you seen a VSE of a show you watch?

Not that I’ve seen, but I think that’s because Sitcoms tend to weave some pretty hardcore stuff into their plotlines from time-to-time to keep the realism up. They don’t have fantasy-land cute plots every week, then divulge into the blue for an episode; they just have blue stuff happen to characters.

I’m terrible at examples at this but the most recent one I can think of is when Jason Segal’s dad died on How I Met Your Mother. I don’t watch the show, but from what I an gather the pathos was ramped up a bit for that episode more so than many.

Mom, starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney, is in a way an entire series composed of very special episodes, only it’s not done in earnest in the way that, say, Different Strokes did child molestation. That is, the characters’ dysfunctional lives are taken seriously, but the writers still find (very dark) humor in the situations.

Breaking Bad dealt with the annoyance of house flies.

They still have morals and character arcs, because that’s an important part of storytelling, they’re just not so heavy-handed anymore. Community is one that has a very clear agenda each episode, but obscures it well with jokes. Scrubs, its spiritual predecessor in some ways, was the same.

Overheard on my TV a few years back: “Coming up next… A very special Holiday Homicide”

Me: ???

It’s just a matter of the maturing and sophistication of TV and it’s audiences. VSE of yore were clunky, ham-fisted attempts for 70s & 80s sitcoms to appear ‘deep’ or ‘meaningful’ or ‘relevant’ because, let’s face it, with only a few exceptions the TV shows of that era were complete and utter mindless garbage. Today there are so many more outlets for content that shows that want to be and are successful at being garbage have no reason to even pretend they’re anything but. In fact it would anger and alienate their audiences.

Yes. One of the things that made the Very Special Episodes come across as Hail Ants wrote, “clunky, ham-fisted” was that you’d have a show that was essentially a series of silly gags, then some Heavy Issue would just get dramatically plunked in out of nowhere: and to do that they’d use the device of a character and/or background history item never heard from before and never to be heard from again. Then next week the reset button would get hit and everything would be as it was.

Ah, yes-The Mrs. Claus Murder. It was a very interesting episode with a neat twist at the end:Turned out the fatal shot was elf inflicted.

Right, there were always shows like Roseanne that tackled seriously heavy issues without having to do that - there was a fantastic domestic violence episode that didn’t seem like a Very Special Episode because it was natural and organic to the show. (When Jackie was getting hit by her boyfriend and Dan went over and beat the shit out of him.)