Most of The Boondocks episode "Thank You for Not Snitching" follows the militarization of a Neighborhood Watch group that targets young black children. Considering what happened to Trayvon Martin, this makes the episode harder to watch.
One of the stations in the New New York tubeway system was given as "J.F.K., Jr. Airport". After the real life John F. Kennedy, Jr. died when his private plane crashed, the line was replaced with "Radio City Mutant Hall".note Though the original line can still be heard on the full-episode animatic that appears on Futurama volume one DVD and on the UK airings.
The line in the first episode about the Stop & Drop Suicide booths being "Americans' favorite suicide booth since 2008" becomes a bit wince worthy in light of 2008's economic meltdown and the invention of an actual suicide machine in the same year.
In "The Lesser of Two Evils", the main characters visit a theme park modeled on 2000s New York. There's a brief scene where the stock market drops from about 11,000 to 7,200, similar numbers to the real life 2008 crash.note Fortunately, it jumps right back up to 11,000, and all the stock brokers who jumped to their apparent deaths float back up into the building via jetpack. Considering that the scene was supposed to be a "distorted history" take on the crash that started the Great Depression; that makes this a sort of bizarre life imitating art imitating life.
There is a not-so-untrueUrban Legend about a King of the Hill episode and a Columbine survivor who was hiding during the shooting and wrote a love note she intended to give to a friend after realizing how close she was to dying, but the friend turned out to be one of the perpetrators. "Wings of the Dope," the episode with Buckley's angel, aired two weeks later and watching it helped the girl realize she didn't need permission or approval from anyone to mourn her loss (or the loss of what could have been had she spoken up sooner). In the episode, when Hank is tired of everyone talking about the angel and tries to get Luanne away from him, he says:
"I'm sure with his help you'll do just fine. You'll pass the test and he'll have finished his good deed and there'll be no need for him to come back to Earth again. And if you do see Buckley's angel again, it will actually be an evil angel of death."
The Sam & Max: Freelance Police episode "Fools Die on Friday", originally aired in 1997, is about a terrorist who hijacks an aircraft and almost crashes it into a tall structure in New York City. Of course, the aircraft is a blimp, the terrorist is just a mildly insane loser, and the crash (into the Statue of Liberty) is averted. But the overall plot and dialogue still parallel 9/11 enough that it makes the episode harder to laugh at. The episode was not shown on Gametap when they began streaming the series in 2006, but it is fully present on the DVD release.
The entire episode "The Jeffersons" (and the lines from the black man on "The Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka" who kept telling Jesus that Michael Jackson is still a beloved entertainer, despite being branded as a Memetic Molester), which brutally spoofed Michael Jackson, considering the death of the pop idol and how all the jokes about Jackson being a child molester fell out of favor when he was acquitted in 2005 and when he died in 2009. Considering all the crap he got for his alleged crimes, both in real life and on other TV shows, that make jokes about Jackson being a child molester, South Park actually had a shocking amount of sympathy for him in the episode "The Jeffersons" as a Man Child who acted this way to make up for the childhood he never had (and Kyle calls "Mr. Jefferson" out on acting like a kid when really he should be caring for the child he has).
One of the last scenes of "Butters' Very Own Episode" has Gary Condit, JonBenet Ramsey's parents, and O.J. Simpson being called out quite viciously and angrily for being murderers who lie through their teeth while playing the victim card. Though it was basically conventional wisdom at the time that Condit and the Ramseys were guilty liars, it has since that it has been confirmed that the Ramseys and Condit were innocent victims who were Convicted by Public Opinion, making their call-outs in the episode not nearly as funny and biting when viewed today. This revelation came too late for Patsy Ramsey, having died of ovarian cancer. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have gone on record saying that they deeply regret this.
In the episode "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", a sympathetic portrayal of Stan's homosexual dog Sparky actually shows him as a rapist who forces himself on straight male dogs. They even whimper and cry as they run away. Given the many stereotypes and fears of homosexual men that view them as insatiable sex monsters who will rape any man or child that gets in their way, this intended Very Special Episode can actually feel like part of the problem now, due to more awareness of the oppression of gay men.
In an in-universe example of this, the revelation in the Wham Episode "201" completely twists the climax of "Scott Tenorman Must Die" around in a new light. For those who wonder: Cartman's true father and Scott Tenorman's father are the same. Meaning that Cartman killed his own dad and thus that his his victory in "Scott Tenorman Must Die" was a retroactive Pyrrhic Victory.
In 2004's "Passion of the Jew," Mel Gibson is shown as a deranged man who goes after Stan and Kenny for hating Passion of the Christ and ends up making a fool of himself in front of everyone in town (even going so far as to act like Daffy Duck, back when he was a screwball). In 2006, Gibson was pulled over for drunk driving, and while being arrested, he made anti-Semitic remarks and insulted a female officer by calling her a misogynistic name. In 2010, he's taped making racial and sexist slurs and screamed at his wife while threatening her, in a way that is scarily similar to his insane depiction.
In "Jared Has Aides", after a misunderstanding, Jared Fogle is fired from his position as a Subway spokesman because people think he wants to give people AIDS, including children. Several lines of this episode become cringeworthy after Subway cut ties with Jared after he had his home searched by the FBI under suspicion of possessing child pornography. He was subsequently charged and pled guilty of it and having sex with minors.
Subway Rep: Mr. Jared's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Subway company.
Tuong Lu Kim: I'm no having Jared in my City Wok! Don't you know? Everyone hates him now that he want to give AIDS to children!
The Season 5 episode "Proper Condom Use" has parents pushing for sex ed to be taught to the younger grades. How young? Try "kindergarten".note Which Chef finds appalling, as he believes that kids should be kids and not worry about sexual matters until they find out about it for themselves. It was just a joke about how insane the need for teaching sex ed to younger children can be pushed. That is until some schools actually proposed having sex ed classes for 1st and 2nd graders. However, this was more centered on child molestation and what to do if you or someone you know is being sexually molested.
In Season 1's "Volcano", Jimbo says that because lawmakers are making it harder to hunt animals, hunters pretend to act like the animals pose a threat to them as an excuse to hunt. This becomes cringeworthy after the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman trial put Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws (harming/killing someone if you feel poses a threat to you) into the national spotlight (even though Zimmerman did not invoke "Stand Your Ground" and waived his right to have his case looked as such).
In the Season 2 episode "Summer Sucks", Mr. Garrison daydreams about cutting Lamb Chop off Shari Lewis' arm and throwing her on a barbecue. This became much less funny when Lewis passed away less than two months after the episode aired.
This one goes to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; in light of the cyber-attacks on Sony Pictures allegedly by North Korea over the film The Interview, the plot about going to war over a movie doesn't seem too farfetched anymore. In a related note, the "Cartoon Wars" two-parter features an episode of Family Guy getting pulled after it receives terrorist threats due to its depiction of Muhammad. The Interview ended up getting pulled from theaters due to terrorist threats over its depiction of Kim Jong-un.
For one overlapping with Harsher in Hindsight, season 10's "Cartoon Wars" two-parter focused on people freaking out over Family Guy airing an episode featuring Muhammad. Flash forward to the 201 debacle from only four years later, and this becomes an unfortunate case of Life Imitates Art.
This was inverted in the pilot episode. Comedy Central initally didn't want Toot Braunstein to cut herself, as they felt that the gag was too tasteless. A year before the show premiered, an episode of The Real World: San Diego revealed that Frankie Abernathy was a cutter. Because of its relevance, the scene was left in the show.
The episode "Unrestrainable Trainable" has Captain Hero investigate the city under attack from a giant midget (which later turns out to be his inbred son), with one of the evidence of destruction being a giant reservoir of banana pudding being drained. Bill Cosby is seen standing over it, saying that he's just another unemployed sexual predator without it. His recent accusations of sexual assault makes this not so funny.
When Steve Irwin gets tail-whipped by Medusa, he rips his heart out and puts it back in, saying "What a stinger!" This is now seen in bad taste due to Irwin's real life death after being stung in the heart by a stingray.
Siegfried getting attacked and killed by the tiger in Penn & Teller vs. Siegfried & Roy match became less funny when Roy was mauled by the tiger in Real Life.
The Show Within The Showflanderizes Unalaq, the Big Bad of book 2, in an effort to get people to realize that he was indeed the bad guy by showing him as an Omnicidal Maniac. This became unfunny when it turned out that Unalaq was indeed such after becoming the dark avatar.
The original series has The Ember Island Players, about a Fire Nation play about the cast, which is about as hilarious a warping of reality as the Unalaq play. Then came The Movie, where pretty much everything the actual Gaang had a "No. Just... No" Reaction to in the play was true of the movie's portrayal. The movie goes on to be considered In-Name-Only and universally reviled by fans, not even liked by people new to the franchise and unfamiliar with what the cast was supposed to look and act like, and generally cemented M. Night Shyamalan's Fallen Creator status, derailed the lot of the cast's careers, and put a hitch in the 3D revival with it's last minute conversion and the Razzies that it won for it.
This ad for◊ Clarence is a lot less funny after the creator was fired from Cartoon Network over allegations of sexual assault. However, the episode where this scene came from, "Slumber Party", did eventually air unaltered, which may fall into Too Soon territory instead.
The The Wild Thornberrys contains an episode where Eliza meets a pack of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Eliza claims that there has never been a single human in North America killed by a wolf. The deaths of Kenton Joel Carnegie and Candice Berner, who were both killed by wolves in North America (Carnegie was Canadian, Berner was American), make this quote hard to stomach.
Seven months after the episode "Hurricane Fluttershy" aired, most of the United States' Mid-Atlantic region was devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
Season 3's "Just for Sidekicks" has Spike emulating Bill Cosby's "Chocolate Cake for Breakfast Routine". This is now harder to stomach after Cosby's rape allegations.
The Scootachicken jokes which originated in Season 1's "Stare Master" became considerably less funny when it turned out that in Season 4's "Flight to the Finish", Scootaloo has trouble flying in canon and Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon tease her for it.
A lot of the various Spike gags became somewhat sadder in hindsight after "Equestria Games" revealed he has serious self-esteem issues.
The episode "Ammending Fences" does this to the very first episode. The Establishing Character Moment of Twilight brushing aside a party invite to focus on her studies with Nightmare Moon's imminent arrival? Turns out the party that she was invited to was for an old friend of hers named Moondancer, and by snubbing it and moving to Ponyville without even saying goodbye it effectively ruined the entire pony's life. Moondancer's scene where she breaks down delivers a tear-filledreason you suck speech is easily the most heartrending thing the show has ever produced.
Season 5's Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? had Big Macintosh turning himself into an Alicorn princess during the Dream Sequence. It was seen as nothing more than a funny gag at the time... then later that season, Brotherhooves Social reveals that Big Mac developed an inferiority complex as a result of Applejack becoming a hero of Equestria and being adored by his baby sister Apple Bloom, while he was ignored. This puts his dream in a very different light.
In one episode where Jay becomes a trucker, he leaves Miami as a sign is shown saying, "You are now leaving Miami. We'll get you next time." The sign also contains a picture of an alligator holding a shotgun. Fast-forward to 2012 with the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida and the controversy of its "stand your ground" law, and this becomes not so funny.
Another episode has a banner advertising the New York City Marathon, which Jay later runs in, with the slogan "It's More Fun to Run When it's Not From a Gun". Terrorism at a marathon was unthinkable until the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 that left three dead and more than two hundred and fifty injured, making this one hit a bit close to home.
Jokes about Doris' smoking habits are this ever since her voice actress, Doris Grau, died in 1995 from respiratory failure. A notable one is when she blows a smoke cloud of an evil figure telling her that her time is coming soon.
The Duck Dodgers episode "The Menace of Maninsuit" (first aired in 2004) had Dodgers fight the titular kaiju on the Japan-like planet of Nippono in a mecha, who eventually crashes into a nuclear power plant and comments on how it's a bad idea to have one near the ocean. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, along with the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster, show how it's a bad idea.
In a bad naming coincidence, the organization which the protagonists of Archer work for is named ISIS, the International Secret Intelligence Service. Among other things, they have engaged in counter-terrorism and espionage, unintentionally racking up high body counts and causing international incidents. The group is a parody of intelligence agencies, and allows the writers, usually through Lana or Mallory, to give their opinions on the fubared nature of covert geopolitics, and the horrible things that happen when said politics go wrong. Unfortunately, in early 2014, an organization known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, rose to prominence, the result of several geopolitical disasters in the Middle East. Among other things, they have engaged in terrorism and mass murder, purposefully causing an international incident and racking up a high body count. The trouble caused by the real life ISIS has lead to the creators to drop the name from the sixth season onwards.
One episode, SpongeBob shouts "Holy Oil Spill!" as Mermaid Man's rivals appear.
In an earlier episode where SpongeBob and Patrick steal a balloon, it pops and they panic. Patrick says this little gem right here. A few months after the episode aired, 9/11 and the anthrax letters occurred:
Patrick: "We're not talking about some dumb mail fraud scheme or a hijacking! WE STOLE A BALLOON!"
Sandy Cheeks has become one after a hurricane bearing her name tore through New Jersey.
In "SpongeBob vs. The Big One", The Flying Dutchmen gets sent Davy Jones' Locker. It then shows him sitting in a locker full of Gym socks with the musician Davy Jones (of Monkees fame) standing next to him, taunting him. Considering who Davy Jones is in both maritime mythology and Pirates of the Caribbean, the Visual Pun becomes much darker after Davy Jones' death in 2012.
The "Remembering SpongeBob" montage from "The Sponge Who Could Fly" is rather heartbreaking if you think about it as remembering pre-Seasonal Rot SpongeBob.
In Steven Universe, a lot of the jokes made at Amethyst's expense (such as Garnet's "We kept Amethyst" tidbit) become a lot harsher when The Reveal shows us that Amethyst is one of many "parasites" created by the Gems from the homeworld, which are made by sucking the essence out of the Earth, and will have the end result of leaving it barren. Made even worse when it reveals Amethyst's dead-seated inner turmoil about this and how Pearl was oblivious to how torn up Amethyst felt inside.
Littlest Pet Shop (2012): The episode "Lotsa Luck" has a flashback scene where Mrs. Twombly's retirement from kung fu quilting overshadows Neil Armstrong's moon landing. Considering that the episode was likely written around the time of Armstrong's death, the news retroactively comes off as this.
Rugrats: In "The Santa Experience", Angelica meets a shopping mall Santa and one item she tells him she wants is a "911 working emergency stethoscope kit", pronouncing "911" as "Nine-Eleven".
The relationship between demon dragon and Big Bad Shendu and his son Drago in the final season of Jackie Chan Adventures starts carrying more weight when the real Jackie Chan became estranged from his own son Jaycee, which culminated in Jaycee being arrested for drug possession, which in the People's Republic of China could have given him the death penalty. The relationship between the cartoon Chan and his niece Jade falls into this as well, and the strainedrelationship between Shendu and his ownsiblings has the possibility of qualifying. All of these may be Harsher in Hindsight instead.
The short "Magic Time" features expies of Sigriend & Roy who mistreat their animals and wind up getting attacked by them at the end. Six years after it aired, Roy Horn got attacked by one of his own tigers.
One episode of Muppet Babies, "Scooter's Uncommon Cold," had a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot in which the babies imagined themselves going inside a sick Scooter's body and learned about the immune system by seeing how Scooter's was working to make him well. Richard Hunt, the puppeteer who performed Scooter in the original Muppet Show and movies, basing the character on his own teenage self, died of AIDS (i.e. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in 1992.
On Kids Next Door, Numbuh 5's father is a very clear parody of Bill Cosby, which might be a little uncomfortable after the multiple allegations against him of sexual assault.
A dropped pilot for Constant Payne has a scene where the daughter squeezes a balloon plane in between two buildings, shattering the windows. This came out in 2001 and is a theory for why the pilot didn't pass (though in reality, it was because the creator was pushing for unionization in the animation industry).
Moral Orel's early episodes in general. The show got considerably darker around the middle of the first season and put a lot of focus on how miserable most of the main cast are. A lot of these traits (Clay's drinking, Blobert'a Stepford Smiler tendencies, etc.) are still present in the early episodes though. They're just played for laughs and not explored very deeply. Making those scenes a little cringe-worthy if you watch them after you've seen season 2 and especially season 3.
Uncle Grandpa had a gag in "Pizza Eve" involving an awards show where Uncle Grandpa wins every single award. The gag ends with Uncle Grandpa telling the stars of the other Cartoon Network shows that they're not getting picked up for another season. Not long before this episode aired, it was established that no new Uncle Grandpa episodes would be made anymore and the crew had already been fired. Whoops.