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Drugs Are Bad: Live-Action TV

General Examples:

  • The U.S. government paid TV networks to make sure that anyone using drugs was portrayed as a loser. ER, Beverly Hills 90210, Chicago Hope, The Drew Carey Show, 7th Heaven and other shows had their scripts reviewed by the government and changes made so the network could pocket some cash.
    • This started with the Nixon Admin. in the 1960s, as related by Harlan Ellison among others.

Specific Examples:

  • 8 Simple Rules: In one episode, Kerry is found with marijuana in her backpack. CJ seems to accept it, but the rest of the cast reacts with great shock, especially her boyfriend and mother. Cate even gives a moving lecture about it. It should be noted that Kerry was only holding the pot for someone else at school and she wasn't actually planning on smoking it herself.
  • 24: Jack Bauer didn't get addicted to heroin. Heroin got addicted to Jack Bauer.
  • In the Spanish series Aida, the Cloud Cuckoo Lander Ditz Luisma is an ex-addict who suffered permanent brain damage.
  • Andromeda: The episode "It makes a lovely light" dealt with one of the main characters' newfound drug addiction, with heavy reliance on flavor-of-the-month PSA language.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Dr. Franklin becomes addicted to stimulants in Season Three. He's been using them to improve his concentration. Too much tends to have the opposite effect, though. Another doctor lost her license due to the same problem, as seen in Season One's "The Quality of Mercy".
    • Garibaldi's alcoholism as well. Both are arguably handled well.
    • For a time, Franklin was on a self-induced detox, going on Walkabout in the station's back alleys so he could work out his problems without entangling his friends. Along the way he meets a singer in a club who he thinks is hooked on a narcotic called Medezine. She is suffering from a cripplingly painful, incurable disease, and the medezine is used to treat the pain.
  • Breaking Bad: Played straight, and how. Goes into the violence and crime, the desperation, and the screwed up lives of meth addicts. Coke will fuck you up. Heroin will kill you. Even alcohol will make you chuck up your guts if you take a couple of shots when underage. Pot, surprisingly, gets off pretty lightly aside from the (arguably Felony Misdemeanor) reactions of Walt's family. Although it certainly does come out as anti-drugs, Breaking Bad is quite even-handed. The show makes arguments for drugs as a personal choice and portrays a variety of characters (among them Jesse) as high functioning meth addicts. The show is much more critical of the criminal industry surrounding drugs than of the substances themselves (except heroin, which ironically does not get off lightly).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • There was an episode of that had the school swim team doing steroids. They turned into fish demons.
    • Also, the infamous anti-alcohol episode "Beer Bad".
    Xander: And was there a lesson in all this? Huh? What did we learn about beer?
    Buffy: Foamy!
    Xander: Good. Just as long as that's clear.
    • Something of a Broken Aesop in this case since the bad effects weren't caused by the beer; they were caused by a magic potion that happened to be administered via the beer. Possibly this sequence is why the TV Tropes anon-edit password used to be "foamy".
    • In the sixth season, there is an entire Anvilicious plot arc about Willow becoming addicted to magic, complete with her going to a dealer.
    • Riley's blood-addiction thing is a metaphor for drugs (which is also played with in Angel, to an even further degree).
  • Community:
    • One running theme throughout this show. Perfectionist Annie's backstory is that she got highly addicted to medication, which eventually culminated in a mental breakdown and losing her scholarship. Shirley was once an alcoholic (and it's hinted that the addiction helped caused her divorce). In season 2 Pierce gets addicted to painkillers, and ends up passed out on a park bench before being hospitalised.
    • One episode also features the Study Group being forced to do a play to kids about why drugs are bad, with Pierce playing drugs - but doing it such a cool way that the kids love drugs. However, when Pierce storms out, he's replaced by Chang, who is incredibly scary and mean - and thus the highly accurate moral of "drugs will turn on you" is made by mistake.
    • On the other hand, Britta is known to occasionally use recreational drugs, and is perfectly fine.
  • Deep Love: Kenji's drug addiction is very much this, showing his fall from grace as a Pretty Boy host, to begging for money and owing money to violent loan sharks.
  • Dinosaurs: Both played straight and played with in this early 90s live-action/rubber suit sitcom. They do a very straightforward Drugs Are Bad episode about the characters finding and abusing a plant implied to be marijuana until one of them just accidentally burns the whole thing while high. At the end, they avert the usual PSA segment about how bad drugs are, when the adolescent son begs the audience to not do drugs so sitcoms can stop getting pushed to make Very Special Episodes.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Nightmare on Eden" involves intergalactic drug smugglers accidentally releasing horrible monsters.
    • Played with in "The Caves of Androzani", which is about the Doctor getting caught in the crossfire of a drug war and virtually everyone in the story dying in the resulting mess, including the Doctor - yet the drugs themselves are value-neutral, the 'badness' associated with the unscrupulous, highly intelligent and murderous gangsters who end up dealing them.
    • The episode "Gridlock" involves a virus that mutated from an incredibly addictive drug named "Bliss", which wiped out a whole city.
    • On that note, unearthed Word of God from The Sixties describes regenerations "as if [the Doctor] has had the LSD drug and instead of experiencing the kicks, he has the hell and dank horror which can be its effect". No wonder why he might suffer from regenerative trauma after the process.
    • Subverted in the expanded universe story "Wonderland", which is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Fransisco in the Summer of Love and deals with the damaging psychological effects of hippie drug use through the medium of a form of LSD that causes its users to morph into hideous monsters and die, with this apparently also causing images of monsters the Second Doctor had previously faced (like Menoptera and Cybermen) to appear as solid hallucinations. The people controlling the drug trade in the setting are despicably evil - one faction is run by a misogynistic, psychotic gangster who rapes and then tries to murder the protagonist, and the other faction is a Government Conspiracy keeping a psychedelic 'colour-beast' locked away in order to produce dangerous drugs from its blood to wipe out the corrupt and hypocritical hippie counterculture. However, the Doctor realises that the hallucinations of the monsters are the colour-beast trying to send him a message, and has the protagonist take a drug he engineered that 'mimics the effects of LSD but without the dangerous side effects' in order to become able to see it and save the creature. Symbolically, the Doctor is also only able to properly save the protagonist from the villains and admit his fondness for her decades in her future and centuries in his, after he has changed into an incarnation that more closely physically and psychologically resembles a hippie (or, rather, a bohemian).
  • Dragnet: This 1960s show handled this with all the finesse of a sledgehammer to the face. There was the couple who was so busy getting high that they let their daughter drown in a bathtub. There was "Blue Boy" who dosed on LSD and buried his head in the dirt while "painted up like an Indian and after chewing the bark off a tree. Sgt. Friday also told us about the guy who dropped acid and pulled his own eyes out so he could "get a better look", about the teenagers in San Jose who went blind from staring into the sun while on an LSD trip and lectures a group of people on how marijuana irreparably destroys your judgment, but alcohol doesn't.
  • Growing Pains: In "Thank God It's Friday", Mike, Boner and Eddie go to a college party where all of the party guests are doing cocaine. The three boys are then pressured to do coke by the hot chicks who want to experiment with the drug and have fun.
  • Hawaii Five-O brought us "Up Tight", the sad tale of a young woman who jumped off a cliff and the Timothy Leary Expy (Ed Flanders) who gave her the stuff... said to be "speed" all the way through the episode, but it was clearly acid. Also from this show, "Two Doves & Mr. Heron", which isn't about drugs per se, but a friend of the "two doves" dies of an overdose.
  • The Name Of The Game had "High on a Rainbow", featuring a deadly shootout with stoned school kids, a cafe used as a drug supply center, and a Mushroom Samba.
  • Marcus Welby MD had "Homecoming", about someone having flashbacks after having been "addicted" to LSD.
  • In The Young Lawyers episode "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", Aaron bails out a former fiancee who's become a badly deteriorated heroin addict. Writer Harlan Ellison says the episode as you saw it had so much important parts cut or rewritten that it was a farce compared to his original hellish tragedy. (His version is reprinted in The Glass Teat volume 2.)
  • In the Mannix episode "Warning: Live Blueberries", the Leary Expy is Prof. Wilson (Phil Leeds), who runs a meditation center where people "turn on". The blonde chick of the week is shown pleading with a friend to return with her to "the center of the earth" to experience "the taste of blue and the colors of twelve." (Yes, that's the Buffalo Springfield playing in the nightclub scene.)
  • Ironside takes a "Trip to Hashbury" where a murdered girl was a clean-cut all-American girl by day and a tripped-out acidhead by night. This was probably a reference to the double life of Linda Fitzpatrick in the infamous Groovy Murders which were then prominent in the news. Her boyfriend, said to be taking "lethal amounts" of LSD, was the culprit. As in many of these LSD episodes, drug use was ascribed to already-present mental illness and/or low self-esteem.
  • Averted in The Defenders episode "Fires of the Mind", first aired in 1965. Donald Pleasance plays the Leary Expy here, on trial for murder after one of his students suicided. Instead of "drugs are bad", the Arnold Manoff screenplay showed both sides. The older lawyer is so disgusted that he quits the case; the younger lawyer, his son, tries LSD to see what it's like and testifies that he had a positive experience.
  • In the 1970 soap opera The Best Of Everything, gang member Squirrel takes revenge against now-straight Randy by breaking into Randy's fiancee's house and injecting brownies with LSD. Fiancee's little brother eats one and instantly goes insane; at the hospital, the doctor states "His system is full of LSD".note  The same storyline appears later in Ryan's Hope.
  • As late as 1979, Heather in General Hospital planned to give someone LSD to make them appear insane, only to accidentally take the drug herself.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The episode "Just Say Yo" has Will being offered amphetamines so he can stay awake, and Carlton takes some from Will's locker thinking they're vitamins and almost dies as a result.
  • Fringe: Averted Trope as often as possible. Drugs play a significant role in solving several cases, Walter uses psychotropics all the time (on himself and others), and as of episode 3.19, which is called "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide", Astrid Farnsworth is the only main character who hasn't been under the influence of drugs onscreen at some point.
  • Gossip Girl: Averted Trope. Nate and Chuck do drugs on a seemingly regular basis with no ill effects thus far. One of Serena's one-nighters OD-ed in a flashback, but they didn't really overdo the Drugs Are Bad point (thankfully).
  • Highway To Heaven had several episodes that deals with the subject of drugs.
    • In one episode, kids who get high on heroin like to throw rocks through the windows of a school that teaches illiterate adults how to read.
    • In another episode, local youths use remote-controlled planes to smuggle drugs for some reason. Supposedly, this is to get the drugs across the border.
  • Home Improvement: In one episode, Tim and Jill catch Brad with marijuana and try to convince him that using marijuana is bad, but it is portrayed in a more even-handed way than in many other shows. Jill ends up revealing that she smoked pot in college and once while high bought a stash that was laced with something and she ended up in the emergency room and then was charged with possession and Tim had to bail her out of jail. The end. message was that while marijuana might not be inherently bad it can cause the user to make bad decisions and the potential risk is not worth it. Tim Allen himself rather famously spent a few years in prison for selling drugs, so he'd know.
  • House: The title character is addicted to Vicodin and isn't above criminal means to ensure a steady supply. This is partly a reflection of the fact that he's a Sherlock Holmes Expy (though Holmes' drug taking would have been legal at the time).
  • How I Met Your Mother: the characters smoke pot on occasion, no big deal is made out of it and eventually they decide they are too old for such proclivities.
  • In the Heat of the Night: A few episodes focus on this (it was The Nineties) and how it's destroying Sparta, but the most compelling one is "Cracked" where a young teen (she was 13) tries crack, gets hooked, and dies.
  • Intervention: May be the strongest argument ever made against drugs. Or the not-so-awesomeness of having a serious disease; Intervention certainly doesn't really moralize about their choices and covers more on the aspect of people having a serious disease and how their drug use is more of a symptom of that disease than the actual cause.
  • JAG: In the episode "JAG TV", Harm investigates a sailor on an aircraft carrier who apparently committed suicide by jumping in front of a F-14 during landing. Turns out the reason was his drug use plus other personal problems.
  • Mad Men:
    • Averted Trope:
    • When Creative has to work on a Saturday to come up with ideas for a new Bacardi Rum campaign, Kinsey (Sterling Cooper Creative's resident Pretentious Intellectual) makes a point of saying how much he is inspired by "Mary Jane." He tracks down some marijuana (that is, he calls an old college buddy of his to bring it into the office), and he and one of the other Creative guys starts smoking it, having engineered to get Peggy out of the office. She storms back in, and very pointedly says "My name is Peggy Olson and I'd like to smoke some marijuana." Not only does she seem to really enjoy being blazed, she ends up actually finishing the assignment by the end of the episode. It potentially crosses over into Inversion territory when Peggy's secretary Olive, a rather conservative older woman who'd been warning Peggy about how bad it was, receives a (completely stoned) lecture/"Reason You Suck" Speech from Peggy about how she (Peggy) was going places and how Olive had already decided not to (more or less).
    • Peggy also smokes up in Season 4, after visiting what appears to be an outpost of The Factory, when it is raided by the police. She successfully hides, avoiding arrest.
    • The writers do, however, appear to have a problem with heroin: when (commercial artist and Don's first flame in Season 1) Midge comes back in Season 4, she's prostituting herself to pay for her habit.
  • M*A*S*H: Has one episode where Winchester starts abusing amphetamines, right after he lectures Klinger about the stimulant's many deleterious side effects when he asks for them. Sure enough, those exact side effects kick in and Winchester is a wreck by the time Hawkeye and BJ discover what he is doing and convince him to stop.
  • My Name Is Earl:
    • One very special episode had him and his friends accidentally acquire a pile of marijuana - these career criminals who spend most of their time drunk react with horror to the stuff, and the folks using the stuff act unlike anyone stoned, ever. It had to be a parody - HAD to be...
    • Perhaps I'm not remembering it entirely accurately, but as I recall they were simply worried about the consequences of getting caught with so much marijuana, and weren't particularly concerned with any moral implication.
      • It wasn't even to do with the consequences, it was because of Joy's logic that went along the lines of 'If you get drunk, you throw up and get thin. If you smoke pot, you get the munchies and get fat.'
    • Of course it was a parody. They even Lampshade the alcohol thing when Earl's mother discovers the marijuana and says "Weed is addictive and fosters anti-social behavior!". After grabbing a bottle of booze, she says "If you need me, I'll be upstairs!".
  • In an early episode of The Nanny (second episode, in fact), Brighton complained about how he wasn't popular in school, and Fran told him about a kid she used to know who tried smoking to do that; unfortunately, Brighton got the wrong message, and tried to one-up that guy, by doing it himself (not Fran's intention at all), and got caught. At the end of the episode, Fran Scared Him Straight by taking him to the retirement home where her grandmother Yetta, an addicted smoker who was clearly showing the adverse effects of doing it her entire life, lived. (And to drive the point home, Yetta was all-too willing to show him a few of the other residents who were even worse off, which thankfully, happened off screen.) It worked like a charm.
  • Noah's Arc: Played in with in a counterintuitive way in the movie. When Brandy crashes Noah's wedding we get to see her enjoy a variety of drugs, and its all Played for Laughs with no real consequences. On the other hand, Alex's addiction to caffeine pills is taken seriously by Noah, and that's where the Drugs Are Bad aesop is played out.
  • Peep Show is fairly even-handed as far as drugs are concerned. The most dramatic example is Super Hans, who despite being a crack addict and having tried many times to kick the habit, is still able to function day to day. Softer drugs (ecstasy, magic mushrooms, marijuana) are also used by the cast with few ill effects. At one point a woman breaks out crying after taking speed, which Mark lampshades as being like "my very own anti-drugs advert".
  • Punky Brewster wants to join a clique who call themselves the Chiclets. But in order to join, she has to try drugs. Punky is faced with a quandary until she follows a "Just Say No" campaign. The episode ends with Soleil Moon Frye doing a Just Say No rally in Atlanta and Cherie Johnson doing a campaign in St. Louis.
  • Revolution: In "Sex and Drugs", Drexel is the personification of this trope. He has poppy fields, which is how he gets the heroin in which he deals. Drexel and a whole squad of goons live in a luxurious mansion as a result of his heroin business. He also reveals that he is the largest heroin supplier in the Monroe Republic, because he paid Miles Matheson, back when Miles was a general in the Republic, large amounts of gold to remove all his competition. His only opposition is a family of Irish cops named the O'Hallorans, who have burned his poppy fields. Bill O'Halloran, the patriarch, reveals that his daughter Rebecca ran away because she wanted a glamourous life with Drexel, and Drexel got her addicted to heroin, killed her and sent her body back to Bill.
  • Saved by the Bell: Most famous TV example: This show + Jessie + prescription caffeine-like pills = The greatest moment in unintentional comedy history.
  • Sex and the City: Subverted Trope. Carrie, Miranda and Samantha smoke pot sometimes. Once, when the women were asked where were they going to score some weed, Samantha's response was, "Well, I'd call my dealer, but he's at the Cape."
  • Small Wonder: In "Vicki and the Pusher", a schoolyard bully tries to get Vicki addicted to narcotics. Vicki takes the drugs home, but she doesn't consume them. Later, the Lawson family help the police conduct a sting at the school.
  • Spaced: Averted Trope: Recreational drug use is everywhere in the series and is either not a big deal or Played for Laughs.
  • Stargate SG-1: Late in this show, a cartel of drug runners called the Lucian Alliance formed in the power vacuum left by the fall of the Goa'uld. The SGC responded by mounting raids on their shipping. They end up as the Big Bad of Stargate Universe for much of its run.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: There are the Jem'Hadars.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "Symbiosis" including a why-drugs-are-bad speech by Tasha Yar to Wesley Crusher. She points out that drugs can be an escape from one's crappy life.
      • What makes it even more jarring is that it is entirely irrelevant to the situation.
    • The episode "The Neutral Zone" has a musician from the 20th century who died from heavy substance abuse, was frozen, and then revived by the Enterprise crew.
  • That '70s Show:
    • Subverted Trope. The main characters smoke pot almost every episode and rarely faced negative consequences as a result. Even after being caught, the characters continue to do it like it never happened.
    • Further parodied in the episode "Reefer Madness." Red imagines Eric getting convinced to try marijuana by Hyde in a take-off of the Reefer Madness movie, in which Hyde shoots Donna, Eric goes incurably insane, Jackie dances to really fast music, and Kelso ends up with random laughing fits.
  • Torchwood:
    • Because the idea of monstrous aliens blackmailing the human race for ten percent of their children apparently wasn't far enough over the Moral Event Horizon, Day Five of the mini-series Children of Earth had to reveal that the aliens were using the kids to get high.
    "You're... shooting up... on children?"
  • Traffic: The British miniseries, and the American film adaptation, have the message "Drugs are bad, but there aren't any easy answers (possible solutions, but not easy ones)."
  • V: Subverted Trope. In V: The Final Battle, the street smart member of the resistance is selling drugs to Visitors and their collaborators. When his father confronts him on this, the character justifies it as a means to help undermine their enemy in some small way and his father admits he has a point.
  • Welcome Back, Kotter: Had a Very Special Episode dedicated to Washington getting involved with drugs.
  • The Wire: Through the character Bubbles, gives a pretty grim representation of the life of a Baltimore heroin addict. It's not pretty. He finally goes into rehab in the fifth season.

    Drugs Are BadWestern Animation

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