Sitcoms have been around pretty much as long as TV has been a thing, but in the 80s, they seemed to be especially common. Not only that, but we also saw the rise of "very special episodes," which almost always meant it was going to deal with something incredibly serious that would probably ruin your fun time. Here are 8 times shows caught us totally off guard with something serious.
Best remembered as the sitcom starring a girl robot who has to hide her identity, Small Wonder took a turn for the dark with the episode "The Girl on the Milk Carton." The family's young boy finds his new friend Chrissy's picture on a milk carton, revealing she's a freaking missing child who was kidnapped away from her mother by her father! This is played for jokes for the entire episode.
Wesley's friend Danny has to pull out of the school play. Why, you might ask? Because he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. This is played for laughs. Really.
In the two-part episode "The Bicycle Man," the Drummond family go to Mr. Horton's bike shop, where he takes something of a... liking to Arnold and Dudley. They spend more time at the store, until Mr. Horton gives them freaking glasses of wine and pornography magazines, and then tries to get them to strip naked for photos! It's respectable that they tried to tackle a serious issue like pedophelia, but the episode just ends up being a real WTF moment.
These next few episodes are pretty freaking dark...
The show regularly dealt with some pretty intense issues, from kids getting trapped in freezers to the freaking Challenger explosion. However, the most intense was by far when Punky got lost on a camping trip. She and the kids stumble upon a group of Native Americans, who tell them the freakiest story about an evil spirit that lives in the area. It's real tough to watch, especially as a kid.
Too Close For Comfort
This often-forgotten (because it was dull as dishwater) sitcom tried to tackle a serious issue by having Monroe, one of the lead characters, be abducted and sexually assaulted by two women, who try to do the same to his friends but are then arrested. It's an incredibly tough subject, and their approach to it involved terrible jokes through the whole episode.
This quirky sitcom suddenly took a turn for the serious when the ladies' firm is hired to design a funeral for a young gay man, who was dying of AIDS. Unlike a lot of the other shows on this list, this one actually took the subject very seriously (it was based on the loss of show creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's mother, who died of the disease), at a time when the U.S. Government had only just recently acknowledged it.
The Facts of Life
In the episode "Fear Strikes Back," Natalie is sexually assaulted while coming home from a costume party (dressed as Charlie Chaplin no less) and develops agoraphobia from the event. Holy crap guys.
Diff'rent Strokes (AGAIN)
This show just couldn't stop with the jarringly serious moments apparently. In the episode "The Hitchhikers," Arnold and Kimberly decide to hitch a ride with someone who turns out to be a serial killer/rapist. Arnold manages to escape and alert the police before something happens to Kimberly, who is locked in the killer's dark room. You know, fun for the whole family!