24: The show is not known for being subtle in making its points.
The show often featured Middle Eastern terrorists, and many Arab advocacy groups were uncomfortable with this, especially in light of current events. During the show's fourth season, Kiefer Sutherland recorded a PSA reaffirming that 24 was a work of fiction and was never intended to paint Arabs as terrorists. The show took it to the next level by having a store owned by Muslim Americans vandalized by anti-Muslim sentiment. The shop owner initially are angry with Jack, but eventually, they willingly help him in his efforts to stop the terrorist attack, proving that good and evil are questions of character, not religion or ethnicity.
24's second season featured a shadowy group of government and industrial interests trying to nuke three Middle Eastern countries for no other reason than war profiteering.
Their episode on video games ends with a statistic of how many children have died as a result of playing football, and closes with Penn saying "you have to pick and choose what you think is worth worrying about." This is even accompanied by a child crying after shooting a real assault rifle at a target, showing that video games don't make kids into killers.
Many of their episodes on religion (including one on The Bible) point out not that religion itself is evil, but blindly following dogma is.
Related to this are the episodes where they attack radical left-wing groups like PETA and ANSWER for engaging in policies that are self-defeating, and even pointing out massive amounts of hypocrisy behind them.
Their episodes on conspiracy theories (from 9/11 "truthers" to people who believe the moon landing was faked) tend to say that it's impossible to argue with them, since they only see what they want to see, and find evidence where there is none.
In the Charmed episode Morality Bites, the lesson the girls learn could easily be applied to any cop or soldier. Might does not equal right. Just because you have the power doesn't mean you get to judge what it is right and wrong, who gets to live and die. As Phoebe said: "The wrong thing done for the right reasons is still the wrong thing."... Come Season 5, though, the sisters actually allow a thief to be killed by demons keep Chris alive.
The episode "Sight Unseen" dropped a rather good one about stalkers. The possibility that Prue has a stalker is the episode's B-plot while the focus is on the Demon of the Week trying to steal the Book of Shadows. That plot gets resolved early on and then the stalker plot comes back to finish the episode off. The sisters are criticised for having barely any security at home (and allowing the stalker to easily get in) and of course the fact that a normal human was able to overpower a powerful witch shows how much threat a stalker can actually be. This was made even better by having the stalker turn out to be a recurring character on the show rather than one of Prue's men of the week. It also dropped an anvil when the stalker turned out to be a woman.
The 1977 ABC mini-series Roots. The biggest dropped anvil in the history of television.
The Stone/AIDS storyline on General Hospital. It took risks such as having a prominent character (Robin, who grew up on the show) get diagnosed with HIV. It was also very educational at a time when HIV/AIDS myths were still widespread. Myths such as "only gays get it", "HIV is a death sentence", "you can contract it from casual contact", and "failing an HIV test means you don't have it", just to name a few. It was also one of the most emotional, well-written, and well-acted storylines in television history.
The year before this had another masterful anvil drop with the organ donation storyline of BJ/Maxie. Seven-year-old BJ Jones was left braindead when her school bus was in an accident. BJ's father, Tony, knew BJ was a match for her cousin, Maxie, who was extremely ill and needed a heart transplant. Bobbie and Tony took their daughter off life support and donated BJ's heart to Maxie. This is often considered the best storyline on General Hospital, certainly one of the best (definitely up there with Stone's death). It was a risk because at the time, killing a child on a soap opera was considered taboo (and it's still a risk today).
The Masters Of Horror episode "Homecoming" is a brick-through-plate-glass rant against needless wars, and government corruption and duplicity. It doesn't just drop an anvil on the viewers, it drops a railroad car full of pig iron — and it only works because the message isn't hidden. Unfortunately, it spawned a Misaimed Fandom that were screaming about how Ann Coulter wasn't eaten by zombies...note But she WAS. They also have Karl Rove's ersatz having his eyes gouged out and his head repeatedly slammed on a metal table until he dies. This happens 10 minutes after he says,
Kurt Rand: The three of us sold a war, dammit! We sold a war based on nothing but horseshit and elbow grease! We are the best in the goddamn game!
David Murch: It's not a goddamn game, Kurt!
The basic premise of Scrubs means that Aesops are going to occur every episode, but that doesn't stop episodes like "My Old Lady", "His Story", "My Screw Up", "My Life in Four Cameras", "My Way Home", and "My Musical" from being widely loved.
The Twilight Zone is essentially a series of anvil drops, with some of the most didactic, moralistic writing you can imagine. And it almost always works. One of the best is "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street". Anvilicious? Yeah. Still amazing, though? Hell yes. Rod Serling's bit at the end is especially moving.
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own; for the children, and the children yet unborn.
The episode "He's Alive!" - in which Adolf Hitler comes back from the dead to 'mentor' an American fascist - can seem like Narm by modern standards... but when it first aired, the episode prompted more hate mail than any other episode - 4000 people wrote in protesting the show's depiction of Adolf Hitler as a villain. There's a reason Rod Serling called that episode the most important one he ever made.
Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare - Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami, Florida; Vincennes, Indiana; Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there's hate, where there's prejudice, where there's bigotry. He's alive. He's alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He's alive because through these things we keep him alive.
Rod Serling was especially worried about Nazism, and history's gone on to show that he had good reason. The Twilight Zone episode "Deaths-Head Revisited" not only gives a former concentration camp captain his just reward, but also ends with what seems like an anvilicious closing statement - but the surge of Holocaust denials since then has proven that this anvil can't possibly be dropped too hard.
There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes - all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.
"The Eye of the Beholder". So many anvils — one of which is in the title itself.
Now the questions that come to mind. Where is this place and when is it? What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? You want an answer? The answer is, it doesn't make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned... in the Twilight Zone.
"A Passage for Trumpet". The main character learns that while life can be a bitch at times, it also has plenty of good moments, if only you know where to look.
Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.
Another anvil gets dropped in-story by a Bad Santa, when the manager fires him for drinking and being belligerent to a customer - the quote can be read under the YMMV section of the Twilight Zone page.
Pick pretty much any monologue from Rod Serling at the end of any Twilight Zone episode, and it usually has some important message.
In-universe, the Community pilot has Jeff ask Professor Duncan for every answer to every test he is scheduled to write at Greendale. Unfortunately for Jeff, his old friend is determined to make him learn that "Cheaters Never Prosper", doing so by giving him a package of blank paper, thereby requiring him to actually pay attention in class and learn the value of hard work.
Star Trek is rarely subtle, but its messages are often important:
In the classic Star Trek: TOS episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", Kirk and co. pick up the last two survivors of a wartorn planet. Bele is an extraterrestrial cop who has been pursuing Lokai for thousands of years. When a perplexed Kirk questions Bele for the reason of their intense racial hatred, Bele replies, "Isn't it obvious? Lokai is white on the right side. All his people are white on the right side." Not subtle at all, but in 1969, an anvil that needed to be dropped, and hard.
Kirk: Death... destruction... disease... horror... that's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it neat, and painless. So neat and painless, you've had no reason to stop it.
Similarly, there are only two usual reactions to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Who Watches The Watchers": You either love it or you hate it. No matter which side you choose, it will likely be because of the episode's morals: Religions should be disproven wherever possible. Controversial? Yes. But for those for whom it works, it only works because of the anvil.
Another possible interpretation of that episode's moral is that you should rely on your own ingenuity, your own courage and your own strength to change and grow and learn, not rely on a god of any kind to come along and make things right for you. Religion itself is not necessarily a bad thing, it's only when you start using it as a reason to kill people or pass judgement in any other way that you have a problem.
You also have to consider that the most enthusiastic supporter of Picard as a god was a kind, likeable family man grieving the loss of his wife. His begging Picard to bring her back from the dead is genuinely heart wrenching. He's not a faceless extremist, and it's not difficult to have sympathy for people who think there might be more to life than what we see, and to understand that religion can serve as a source of hope that they might be reunited with loved ones they will otherwise never see again.
Guinan: Consider that in the history of many worlds there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that nobody else wants to do because it's too difficult or too hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable... You don't have to think about their welfare, you don't think about how they feel... Whole generations of disposable people.
Picard: ...You're talking about slavery.
Guinan: I think that's a little harsh.
Picard: I don't think that's a little harsh, I think that's the truth. But that's a truth that we have obscured behind a... comfortable, easy euphemism: Property. But that's not the issue at all - is it?
Another one from TNG is from 'The First Duty', about the importance of telling the truth:
"Muse" is basically a plea for understanding from the writers of the oft-criticized series Star Trek: Voyager, showing how they're pulled between the desire to create meaningful works of art, the need to satisfy those paying their wages, and the demands of the audience for action and romance - all told through the point-of-view of a struggling poet on a primitive world trying to create a play from the logs of a crashed Voyager shuttlecraft.
Hell, Nichols' entire character is an Anvil That Needed To Be Dropped, since it was so uncommon at the time for both women and black people to be portrayed on television in roles with authority. Her character inspired Whoopi Goldberg and Levar Burton into acting, and the first black female astronaut, Mae Jemison, into space.
To whit, Nichols had seriously considered quitting until she met a fan urging her to stay, saying she was a strong positive role model for African-Americans. Who was that fan? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
The TNG two-part episode "Chain of Command" drops a massive anvil against the use of torture. It shows the experience of torture is so absolutely dehumanizing and horrific that it can break even the strongest person. People like to quote Picard's "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!", but tend to forget that he said this after another Cardassian came in with orders for his release, and what he said to Troi after he was back on the Enterprise:
Picard: What I didn't put in the report was that at the end he gave me a choice - between a life of comfort or more torture. All I had to do was to say that I could see five lights when, in fact, there were only four. Troi: You didn't say it? Picard: No! No. But I was going to. I would have told him anything. Anything at all! But more than that, I believed that I could see five lights.
TNG's "The Drumhead" culminates in a fantastic Patrick Stewart Speech about the dangers of bypassing due process and personal liberties in the pursuit of justice.
Picard: You know, there are some words I've known since I was a schoolboy. "With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably." Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom, and warning. The first time any man's freedom is trodden upon, we're all damaged.
TNG's "Tapestry": Don't be too regretful of your past. Through better or worse, it helped shape you into who you are today.
Picard: There are many parts of my youth that I'm not proud of. There were... loose threads - untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I... pulled on one of those threads - it unraveled the tapestry of my life.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has "Far Beyond the Stars", an absolute primal scream of an episode. It wants you to know that racism existed, racism still exists, and goddammit, this is important. It's hard to call them wrong.
Also from DS9 is "Past Tense," when Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are sent back to Twenty Minutes into the Future when the United States has set up "sanctuary districts" for the homeless and long-term unemployed that have essentially become internment camps where the poor are sent to be forgotten by the rest of society. Conditions are awful and riots soon break out—as one character says, when you treat people like animals they soon enough act like it. Heavy-handed? Not so much when you learn that Los Angeles' mayor proposed something very like Sanctuary Districts while they were filming the episode. And a secondary aesop is the open-ended question Bashir asks: no matter how much progress humanity makes, it's always possible to revert.
M*A*S*H might have been a simple dark comedy/dramedy set in the Korean War if not for the fact that the show ran during the Vietnam War. Alan Alda and the other producers said that they never wanted the show to be a contemporary commentary, but they wanted it to be about all wars, how it is supposed to be a miserable experience. The Vietnam conflict only made the feelings stronger.
The first really big anvil came in the episode "Abysinnia, Henry": Anyone Can Die. And they didn't even rely on just the force of gravity to drop it, either.
The Introduction of Col. Sherman Potter dropped the "it's about all wars" anvil even harder. Potter has fought through WWI, WWII, and Korea, and often reminisces about his experiences. In one episode, he mourns some old comrades:
Here’s to you boys. To Ryan: who died in W-W-One; the war to end all wars. To Gianelli: who died in the war after that.
He drops one himself in an episode where a specialist is brought in to inform the gang of new weapons, and the usual Class Clown antics push him to the limit:
Col. Potter: Lemme ask you this, if they can invent new ways to mutilate the human body, why can't someone invent a way to end this... stupid war?!
The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth dropped the same who-would-notice-if-you-were-mad-in-war-because-all-generals-are-equally-mad anvil as Catch 22, but because it dropped it on the entire cast, mere minutes after the last joke, it achieved an epic anti-war message with its famed Downer Ending.
In the episode "Girl Fight' of the The George Lopez Show, deals with bullying. Carmen's ex-boyfriend calls her a slut, and she is being bullied by everybody. It would be Anvilicious, but by the end of the episode, Carmen is still being bullied, and has to be taken out of school. To this troper, it is a solid lesson on how damaging rumors can be, and how reputations can be easily broken. In the era of cyberbulling, it is especially important.
The episode also explains that sometimes, bullying can get so bad and too hot to handle, that you have to run away from it.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Olivia Benson's speech in the episode "Babes" about why teenagers shouldn't have babies is as anvilicious as they come. However, since the plot was Ripped from the Headlines about a club of teen girls who all wanted to get pregnant together, some viewers thought it a desperately needed anvil. (This was less true after the revelation that those headlines were false, the "pregnancy club" never existed, and the whole thing was made up by an assistant principal with an overactive imagination.) But that doesn't excuse the fact that 20% of all teenage pregnancies are planned.
Very similarly, the first season Law & Order episode "Life Choice" in which ADA Ben Stone prosecutes religious pro-life zealot Rose Schwimmer for bombing an abortion clinic and killing several people — including Mary Donovan, a teenage girl seeking an abortion who unwittingly carried the bomb into the clinic (having been working with Schwimmer's pro-life group, Schwimmer saw Donovan as a perfect patsy after learning she wanted an abortion). After Schwimmer proclaims on the stand that she believes murder is wrong and that abortion is a form of murder, Stone counters her ranting and raving with a very powerful line: "If abortion is murder, then no matter how you feel about Mary Donovan, aren't you guilty of the murder of her unborn child?" Schwimmer's face goes from a confident smile to a look of pure "Oh, shit" as she realizes just how badly Stone owned her. It's one of the best episodes of the entire L&O franchise, one of the most controversial episodes, and show creator Dick Wolf's favorite episode out of the entire series.
Another good anvil was dropped in an SVU episode, "Doubt", where the entirety of the case is a he-said/she-said... the actual verdict was omitted (filled in by a poll conducted among viewers and made canon from that), to highlight just how tricky some cases really are - particularly sexual crimes where the victim and the accused have known each other for a long time.
"Legitimate Rape" brutally blows apart the argument that women can't become pregnant from rape. The way it does so? Is by having the defense succeed with this argument and then following the consequences to their logical and incredibly depressing conclusion. Despite ADA Barba completely ripping apart the "expert" who testifies this idea is valid, one juror believes it, and this is enough to fail to secure a conviction against the rapist. The rapist, who had been stalking the victim prior to the rape and is convinced they "belong" together, proceeds to drag his victim through child custody hearings as an excuse to see her again and convince her that they should be raising "our baby" together. When he gets visitation, the rapist takes incredibly creepy, delusional joy in the fact that the target of his obsession will be forced to see him on a regular basis for 18 years. The victim, who had been a successful and confident reporter at the start of the episode, is an absolutely ragged, traumatized mess by the end of it thanks to the relentless harassment by her rapist, who isn't actually considered her rapist under the law and is completely free to get away with it. Again, all because of one dumbass believing the "legitimate rape" argument.
Quatermass And The Pit. "We are the Martians. And if we do not learn how to live together, this will be their second dead world". In the FIFTIES!
Titus, like Christopher Titus's stand up material, works to make every episode have some sort of moral to it. But it is never a Happily Ever After ending, they don't make any disposition to paint the world as anything but a crapsack kind. But if everything is going wrong, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh. And if you are so primed and ready to get upset over every little problem, then what has your life become? One of the best examples of that comes in "Deconstructing Erin", where Erin returned to her soul-sucking family because Titus returned to drinking. He quit drinking and tried to get her back, and she tore into him about how his behavior ruined her life. He snapped back that you can't blame someone else for your problems, and if the person you love screws up, you throw them in a sack and kidnap them. You don't let them become self-destructive and destroy you in the process.
And now that episode has become kinda useless in hindsight as Titus's first wife lied, cheated on, and stole from Titus, nearly ruining his life and her children's, and now that Titus is divorced from her, dating a woman who is actually mentally stable and has a wonderful, albeit overprotective, family, and trying to raise his kids in a world that seems to be getting worse every day, a woman like Erin is not worth being in a relationship with — much like the other deranged women Titus has dated, including his first girlfriend, Noelle, who, like his mom, was beautiful, had a genius IQ, and was prone to violent outbursts.
Another is "Tommy's Not Gay", that dealt with gay bashers and hate crimes. They hit everything from peer pressure to Matthew Shepard to Stupid Sexy Flanders moments to the social ramifications of coming out of the closet. By the end, Titus was explaining that everyone's a racist and we'd all prefer if the people we feel uncomfortable around were separated into their own little groups, pointing out "over there and over there and over there", eventually mimicking the Nazi salute. "You see how this can get out of hand."
Judge John Deed's episode "Popular Appeal" is very little other than one giant middle finger aimed at Big Brother (and shows of its ilk) and the perennial media circus that surrounds it. The BBC frequently airs repeats of it up against the Big Brother finale. The final summing up is what makes the episode, in which the producers of a reality show called Dungeon are made to face manslaughter charges after a contestant is killed on-screen (it's made fairly clear that that was the the producers' hope - Dungeon seems to amount to a more calculated version of the Stanford Prison Experiment). They were found guilty.
Deed: Celebrity! The pursuit of the talentless, by the mindless. It's become a disease of the twenty-first century. It pollutes our society, and it diminishes all who seek it, and all who worship it. And you must bear some of the responsibility for foisting this empty nonsense onto a gullible public.
His attack on the newspapers for devoting front pages to these shows is even less subtle. After rooting out the person who took photos of witnesses in court (by holding the press box in the cells for days until one of them owned up)...
Deed: Well, I suppose you feel that you've really flexed your crusading muscles by your silence, don't you? Unfortunately you report news less and less, and rarely fight for a better society. Instead most of you pander to everything that's bad in our society - in all this clamour around the TV Dungeon, the worse, the more oafishly people behaved, the more you pandered to them, providing them with the celebrity that they crave. Why don't you try resetting your targets to something worthwhile? Something that affects our lives, like this government - its ministers' sleazy relationships with big business. Try some hard targets with an independent voice, instead of vacuously doorstepping empty celebrity.
To their credit, the press in the show actually paid attention - they show the front page of the next day's Independent, which carries a headline about the episode's B plot (John's investigation of a minister taking bribes to look the other way during some dodgy accounting). The real press still thinks Big Brother is more important.
Extras took on the "celebrity is bad" Aesop as well, but in a different way. The finale special is pretty darn heavy-handed in telling us that being a celebrity isn't worth it, if you've betrayed the only people who cared about you, celebrity or not. Making fun of Big Brother and their ilk in the process? Just bonus.
Full House teaches us that any problem can be solved by talking it through, that your friends and family will be there for you no matter what, and that any situation can be improved by a hug.
Nearly every segment of Rescue 911 leaves the viewer with an Anvilicious message on how those accidents could've been prevented. But really, some of that advice can help you protect your friends and family from those similar scenarios. Nobody wants to learn the hard way on keeping medicine locked in cabinets or not driving drunk under any circumstances.
Two much-needed anvils are a constant theme in the Life After People series. One is the old "Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!" warning against human hubris, because nothing we're capable of creating is going to last forever. And the other is, do not look down on the millions of blue-collar workers who trim weeds and plug leaks and operate utilities, because they're the only thing keeping civilization's handiwork from turning to rubble.
Helicops (both the 1995 and 2007 episodes of the same title) - about why you should not play on railway lines. Anvils dropped HEAVILY.
Life in the Fast Lane (2002 series) - why speeding is bad.
Under Surveillance - Possibly the most Anvilicious episode of the series.
Deathwish Drivers - Dropping an anvil on viewers like a ton of bricks.
Glee: In "Grilled Cheesus", true Christians love their friends and support them. And non-theists may not embrace faith, but they can sure embrace loved ones and come to peace with others' faith.
In "Furt," the school system MUST deal with bullying seriously. Sue Sylvester sugarcoats nothing, knows its reality, and does use her bullying experience (as the victim) to make her stronger. Nothing is talked down, just the firm reality of it.
In "Theatricality", no matter how much one (gay) person is being annoying, homophobia is never justified. Also, please parents wake up because it is also your job not to let it slide, no matter what it costs you.
"On My Way" showed exactly what kinds of pain can drive somebody to suicide and how much it hurts everybody around them.
The Battlestar Galactica series is full of anvils. The similarities to the War on Terror are not subtle, but are all the better because of it. The reason is that, while the similarities are not subtle, they are ambiguous in their rightness or wrongness, which leads to some very thought-provoking moments.
Dragnet became more erratic in quality and heavy-handed in execution as the years went by, but it often had strong aesops worth recalling:
In the 1968 episode The Big Departure, Friday and Gannon deliver a grand speech to the young anarchists about just how much they have gotten from the society they grew up in, and how much it protects them, and how difficult it would be to recreate what they have from nothing.
Sergeant Joe Friday: I don't know, maybe part of it's the fact that you're in a hurry. You've grown up on instant orange juice. Flip a dial - instant entertainment. Dial seven digits - instant communication. Turn a key - push a pedal - instant transportation. Flash a card - instant money. Shove in a problem - push a few buttons - instant answers. But some problems you can't get quick answers for, no matter how much you want them. We took a little boy into Central Receiving Hospital yesterday; he's four years old. He weighs eight-and-a-half pounds. His parents just hadn't bothered to feed him. Now give me a fast answer to that one; one that'll stop that from ever happening again. And if you can't settle that one, how about the 55,000 Americans who'll die on the highway this year? That's nearly six or seven times the number that'll get killed in Vietnam. Why aren't you up in arms about that? Or is dying in a car somehow moral? Show me how to wipe out prejudice. I'll settle for the prejudices you have inside yourselves. Show me how to get rid of the unlimited capacity for human beings to make themselves believe they're somehow right - and justified - in stealing from somebody, or hurting somebody, and you'll just about put this place here out of business!
Officer Bill Gannon: Don't think we're telling you to lose your ideals or your sense of outrage. They're the only way things ever get done. And there's a lot more that still needs doing. And we hope you'll tackle it. You don't have to do anything dramatic like coming up with a better country. You can find enough to keep you busy right here. In the meantime, don't break things up in the name of progress or crack a placard stick over someone's head to make him see the light. Be careful of his rights. Because your property and your person and your rights aren't any better than his. And the next time you may be the one to get it. We remember a man who killed six million people, and called it social improvement.
Sergeant Joe Friday: Don't try to build a new country. Make this one work. It has for over four hundred years; and by the world's standards, that's hardly more than yesterday.
The Disney Channel movie Sixteen Wishes is about a teenage girl on her 16th birthday and wishing that she would be treated like an adult. This results in a Be Careful What You Wish For story where she actually becomes an adult and learns that adulthood is not all it's cracked up to be. In our modern society where kids are growing up too quickly, especially with what's popular on the Disney Channel of all things nowadays, this could not be a more important lesson for kids and "tweens" to take to heart.
The Wire has been hailed by many television critics as one of the best TV shows ever made, in large part because of how well and honestly it drops its anvils, showing the ridiculousness and futility of the War on Drugs. As it points out, many drug dealers are just inner-city teenagers to trying to get by, police officers are flawed human beings with just as many selfish motivations as the rest of us, and the world is not Black and White.
Season 2, which focused on the Baltimore docks, dropped an equally important anvil with its depiction of the Baltimore stevedores and their indirect involvement in the drug trade: as technological advances change American industry from the bottom up, the working classes will end up displaced and disenfranchised along the way, and the government ignores that fact at its peril.
Also the overarching Aesop about the drug war, most prominent in Season 3, which reminds the audience why a nation should never be eager to declare war on its own people. Declaring a war is far easier than governing a populace, since governing a populace depends upon actually knowing a populace and earning its trust, whereas declaring a war only depends upon looking for the next battle. Any thug can win a fight on a street corner, but being a police officer requires intelligence and good judgement.
Arguably the most effective anvil is the one dropped in Season 4, which shows how screwed up the city school systems are. It points out that America's schools can never help America's disadvantaged children if they're run by bureaucrats who care more about test scores than about well-rounded educations. When education becomes a rigidly structured system run by statistics instead of principles, it can actually prepare kids for life on the corners, since it teaches them that every system can be cheated.
The school shooting in general. Rick (who in the previous season was a Domestic Abuser towards his girlfriend) was mercilessly bullied by the entire student body. He brings a gun to school with the intent on shooting someone, loses his nerve after an sincere apology from Paige, and then gets enraged enough to shoot someone after a tragic misunderstanding. The messages are clear: 1) All violence is senseless, 2) NO ONE deserves to be bullied, no matter what they maybe have done in the past and two wrongs don't make a right, 3) Never underestimate the power of an apology. It saved Paige's life.
LBGT teens and their relationships are treated with the same depth as their straight counterparts, and each character usually goes through a Coming-Out Story which highlights their struggles for acceptance and love. The message that LBGT teens are human and have feelings (not to mention can also be young) is a message that is not usually seen in children's/teen's programming, but a good message nonetheless.
Fiona gets addicted to Twitter and tweets 24-hours-a-day, and even tweets her current location. Her home is later burglarized (with her IN it) and while the show restrains itself on this one (not quite saying that Fiona's tweeting of her current location when she wasn't home led to the burglary), the anvil, while on the nose, is important: Be careful what you post online.
Breaking Bad makes no attempt to gloss over the effects that drugs have on not only the people who use and develop them, but the effects it has on their friends and families. If the show pulled its punches, it wouldn't be anywhere near as gripping.
It also deconstructs the idea that easy money actually exists. Walter's plan to get quick money went wrong in many ways, and even when things begin to look good economically for him, Failure Is the Only Option.
Supernatural: Lying to your family about super-serious affairs or secret deals is no good, okay?
You are not your father. You are not your family. Love your family, but don't ever feel like you have to be like them.
Sherlock "Alone is what I have. Alone protects me." "No, Sherlock. Friends protect people."
Double subverted. Moriarty threatens Sherlock's friends unless he commits suicide, but Sherlock's trust in Molly is what makes it possible for him to fake his death.
The Speculative DocumentaryEarth 2100 talks about the worst case scenario that could occur if we continue to pollute and waste resources. The Green Aesop basically says "The earth is our home, and we should not take it for granted."
The episode of Party of Five where Julia discovers she's pregnant has a very powerful line from Justin:
"You know, just once it would be nice if someone asked if I was okay. This is my baby we're talking about as well"
It's a given in any episode dealing with unplanned pregnancy that the mother-to-be will get a lot of drama but how often do you see the father's side? The father is normally either portrayed as a deadbeat or the one responsible for the whole mess, but how many examples are there where the Anvil gets dropped that the father is just a kid as well.
The episode of Raising Dad where Sarah decides she wants a nose-job. Even The Beautiful Elite can have bad self-images and constant teasing and joking can push someone into trying to change themselves when it's not needed. Think of that stunningly beautiful popular girl who wanted her ears pinned back, her jawline altered and fuller lips (and this is after she'd already gotten a nose job) and remember how fragile someone's self-esteem can be. Emily constantly teases Sarah about having a big nose but she then hears exactly what happens during plastic surgery and is horrified that Sarah wants to do that to herself.
The Golden Girls, as one of the first shows to depict middle-aged (and one elderly) women living together, dropped a number of Aesops:
In the 1990 episode "72 Hours," Rose receives a letter from a hospital where she once had gallbladder surgery; the letter states that she might have been infected with HIV. She's understandably upset, but crosses a line when she comments that, as a "good person," she shouldn't have to worry about AIDS. Blanche puts her in her place:
AIDS is not a bad person's disease, Rose. It is not God punishing people for their sins.
In "Sister of the Bride," Blanche's gay brother Clayton announces that he's going to marry Doug, his boyfriend. Blanche, who already has a hard time dealing with Clayton's homosexuality, can't bring herself to accept this. Sophia then asks why Blanche married George, her deceased husband, and she responds that she wanted the world to know that she deeply loved this man. Sophia sums up the Aesop in a single statement: "Everybody wants someone to grow old with, and shouldn't everyone have that chance?" This episode aired in 1991—over a decade before same-sex marriage would be legal anywhere in the United States—but that argument is still made today.
"Not Another Monday" tackles the subject of euthanasia—Martha, one of Sophia's elderly friends who is fearful of dying slowly or painfully, decides to commit suicide with pills. There's nothing subtle about the episode, but it presents Martha's decision as not a whim, but a carefully considered decision, and points out how loneliness, fear, and a desire for human connection don't fade with age.
"The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo" is more lighthearted than the above examples, but it still offers an important Aesop: becoming feeble and inactive as you grow older is often a choice, not a necessity. Sophia leads an extremely busy and fulfilling life, and doesn't let her advanced age get in the way of that.
Smallville: The episode "Unsafe" which is about teenage sexual activity. Chloe reveals she lost her virginity at 15 and regrets it and tells Lana not to do it just because she is afraid of losing her boyfriend. The producers even had Allison Mack (who plays Chloe) do a public service announcement before the episode on teenage pregnancy.
The new ABC military thriller Last Resort poses some pretty heady questions about doing what is right vs. what you're told. A very touchy subject in the modern political landscape of the 21st century.
Shepherd Book from Firefly teaches Mal, and by extension, the audience, that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
Once Upon a Time, Just because you've made mistakes before, doesn't mean you can't try to fix them and change for the better.
Love is not a weakness, its strength
No matter what, if you love someone and they love you...they will always find you
Trust in your family
Bones; in the episode "The Patriot in Purgatory", while examining the remains of a homeless man who was at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Aratsoo Vasiri, a Muslim member of the team, dropped a beauty of an anvil, reminding Finn (and by extension the audience) not to judge all members of a faith by the actions of a few individuals:
"The Crusades, the Inquisition, are these events guided by a religion of peace? No, they were guided by self-important men who think they know more than the God they claim to worship. This was not the work of religion. It was arrogance. It was hypocrisy. It was hate. Those horrible men who hijacked those planes hijacked my religion that day, too. They insulted my God. So, no, this isn't too difficult. It's a privilege to be able to serve this victim, to show him the care and love that was so absent that day."
2point4 Children ended one of its Christmas specials with Bill giving an extremely un-subtle speech about how easy it is to become homeless and doesn't just happen to "other people."
How I Met Your Mother has basically been telling us in no uncertain terms that you have to accept the all the bad moments in life, as they will guide you towards the best times.
Also, that physical attraction is not the same as real love. All of Ted's previous relationships were based on the fact that his girlfriends were pretty and single when he met them. The 100th episode had Ted learn about the woman he would eventually marry before he met her, thus establishing that she wasn't just another girlfriend, but someone he could spend the rest of his life with.
The finale had a few:
Marriage won't automatically fix all your problems. Your spouse is a person too and they need care and attention.
Even the most tightly-knit group of friends will eventually grow apart, but that doesn't make the time you spend together any less special.
You may lose the love of your life, but your capacity to love again is as strong as you make it.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour had an episode involving alcoholism, "Hangover", at the end of which Hitchcock pointedly eschewed the usual joke to repeat how alcoholism was a problem.