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Very Special Episode: Live-Action TV
When people think of a "very special episode" in television parlance, it's thought of as having a much darker or serious storyline, especially if the series is a situation comedy or a lighthearted drama. But in its broadest sense, the "very special episode" is simply a television program that:
  • For a regularly scheduled program, airs at a time other than its regular timeslot. These can range from simply being reruns or new showings of run-of-the-mill episodes, to shows that feature guest stars or have a different non-"very special episode"-type storyline as a ratings stunt (such as the main cast going on vacation or a special guest star), subsequent parts of multi-part episodes, a Milestone Celebration ... or indeed be a "very special episode" aired at a time where the network believes said episode can reach a larger audience.
  • Is a one-off special that pre-empts regular programming. Originally, these were special theatrical presentations meant to appeal to high culture, such as a videotaped presentation of Peter Pan, but later evolved into one-time comedy specials (e.g., various Bob Hope specials) or cultural events (such as the Academy Awards).


  • One of the more famous modern ones is the 8 Simple Rules two parter entitled "Goodbye". This was a case of Real Life Writes the Plot as lead actor John Ritter collapsed on set during the second season and later died of an aortic dissection. The show killed off his character Paul Hennessy (implying that he had a heart attack) and the episode was broadcast without a laugh track and the show's opening credits were never seen again. This is considered a Jumping the Shark moment for the show as it had previously been about Paul trying to relate to his teenage daughters but its focus then shifted to Cate (played by Katey Sagal) dealing with his death and keeping the family together. It also featured the introduction of James Garner as Cate's father who would join the show as a regular cast member.
    • A similar Real Life Writes the Plot scenario was presented, with poignant seriousness, on Sesame Street when the death of Mr. Hooper was played out openly after actor Will Lee succumbed to a heart attack. Notable for averting Never Say "Die" on a show for very young children, it was lauded by the Daytime Emmys as "very special" even by this trope's standards.
  • A fourth-season episode of 24 had Jack Bauer hiding out in a gun shop owned by two foreign immigrants, who demonstrated that they were patriotic and wanted to serve for the good of the American people. This episode also featured a PSA by lead actor Kiefer Sutherland, who highlighted the discrimination faced by Arab and East Indian residents living in America, a situation caused by September 11th and the War on Terror.
    • This was partly an attempt at an Author's Saving Throw after earlier seasons had been criticised for depicting Arab-Americans and Muslims exclusively as terrorists.
  • Perhaps the most notorious show for very special episodes was the WB's 7th Heaven where for a while, virtually every episode was "very special." This often involved new friends that were never seen or mentioned again.
    • One example of this is the episode "Cutters" where a recently befriended girl is caught cutting herself. She is put on a bus at the end of the episode.
  • Adam-12: The third-season had a very touching and insightful episode called "Elegy for a Pig," where Officer Pete Malloy (Martin Milner), the elder of the two regular officers, narrates a documentary about his one-time partner, who was killed while staking out a robbery. Malloy's emotional telling of the story sends shivers down the viewer's spine, showing that when an officer dies, he is more than just a statistic ... he is a comrade, friend, family man and much more. The end credits for that particular episode did not use the usual sequence or theme — rather, a black screen with no music (the end logos for Mark VII Limited Productions and Universal Television were kept as usual).
  • The Afterschool Special, which at one point aired on all three networks (under various titles) frequently explored serious social topics, such as AIDS, bullying, censorship, child abuse (physical and sexual), crime, drunk driving, drugs, date rape, hitchhiking, mental illness and so forth. The idea was for adults and teenagers to watch the episode together and discuss the issues presented.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents did a couple of these, within the series format, during its "Alfred Hitchcock Hour" incarnation. The episodes "Hangover" (dealing with alcoholism) and "Memo from Purgatory" (dealing with teen gang violence) ended with Hitch putting aside his usual joking comments and addressing the seriousness of the issues.
  • All in the Family: Although not promoted as such, this landmark series had numerous episodes that qualified for this trope, with several episodes during the 1977-1978 season (the eighth season, and the final one featuring the original foursome together as regulars) having some very adult themes:
    • "Edith's 50th Birthday," where Edith is attacked by a serial rapist. Met with universal critical acclaim, the episode showed — through Gloria, who recalled her own near-run in with sexual assault more than four years earlier — that rape was about power and domination, not sex. It all ends with Edith (who, so shaken by the incident, had refused to press charges) slapping Gloria across the face after Gloria calls Edith a selfish coward unworthy of her respect; This helps Edith realize the rapist must be put behind bars for good; what would have been Narm-inducing ends up being a Crowning Moment of Bittersweet.
    • "Archie and the KKK," where Archie runs into an old buddy, who invites him to the Kweens Kouncil of Krusaders. Archie doesn't get (at first) that said organization is actually the local Klu Klux Klan chapter taking on a very-misleading name. Not only does Archie get a chance to reflect on his own viewpoints about people with backgrounds or ethnicities outside his comfort zone, it showed viewers that Archie does have a touch of decency in him and that his views reflected the times in which he grew up, not pure racism. (In the end, Archie thwarts a planned cross-burning when he realizes that Mike is the target of the intended act.)
    • "Archie's Bitter Pill," where Archie — after buying the local tavern — realizes how stressful it is to run a business without an adequate education or help, and turns to speed to help him get through the day. In the end, Mike takes a part time job, while Archie hires a business partner.
    • "Edith's Crisis of Faith," where Edith witnesses the brutal slaying of cross-dresser Beverly La Salle (during a failed robbery attempt), and is so shaken that she nearly renounces her faith in God.
    • Although it didn't have an adult theme per se, the season finale "The Stivics Move West" was also a very special episode, in that it was the last regular show featuring Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers as regulars. There was a very emotional farewell at the very end, after which a deeply saddened Archie forlornly watches the taxi (with Mike, Gloria and Joey inside) drive out of sight ... before he tearfully goes over to his armchair to sit next to an also deeply saddened Edith, before the camera fades out and the audience applauds. Word has it that the foursome had such a difficult time keeping their emotions in check that more than 20 takes had to be made before one was keepable.
  • Archie Bunker's Place: The follow-up series to All in the Family had a number of episodes with very special episode topics, including pregnancy and drug abuse. None were as special as "Archie Alone," the 1980-1981 season opener which saw Edith die of a stroke (offscreen; Jean Stapleton had resigned her role) and Archie release his pent-up grief, a month after trying to dodge the fact that his beloved "Dingbat" had died before he had a chance to say, "I love you" one last time.
  • Battlestar Galactica had an interesting subversion of the VSE when a young colonist sneaked aboard Galactica to get an abortion. All of the components for an allegory about American attitudes towards abortion were in place: Devout colonists considered it immoral, secular colonists considered it a fundamental right, and the single case was turned into a wedge issue during an election. But the critical difference between BSG and the real world trumped the allegory - with the human race reduced to less than 50,000 people, the survival of the species became paramount, and abortion was criminalized.
  • Baywatch tended to do two half-hour plotlines within a single hour-long episode, running them simultaneously in the episode's timeline. Sometimes, this had... possibly unintended results. Such as the hilarity of combining a Very Special Episode plot in which one of the lifeguards gets skin cancer, with a plot in which Hulk Hogan has a wrestling match against one of the WWF heels in order to save a local youth center or similar.
  • Given a nod in the Big Wolf on Campus episode "The Sandman Cometh": "They did four Very Special Episodes in a row... it was an emotional workout."
  • Popularly attributed to Blossom, which had a lot of Very Special Episodes, promoted as such. Frequently, episodes employing this trope were introduced by actress Mayim Bialik (who played the title character) intoning in a somber manner, "Tonight, on a Very Special Blossom ... ," followed by teaser scenes dramatically showing the conflict and cutting off before the most dire event reaches its climax.
    • Parodied on Friends when Joey (who has just been chosen to appear on a poster warning against sexually transmitted diseases) walks into the flat and says "My family thinks I've got VD!" Chandler sardonically replies, "Tonight on a very special Blossom!"
    • Subverted by an episode of the American What Not to Wear. Billed as "A Very Special Episode", the celebrity makeover target was revealed to be Mayim Bialik, the actress who used to play Blossom. And in fact she did seem to dress like a grown up Blossom gone to seed. As is common with many guests of the show, She Cleans Up Nicely.
    • This was also parodied on The Venture Bros. when Dr. Orpheus threatened to "make you believe you ARE a very special episode of Blossom."
    • Much like her somber introduction to these episodes, when a "very special Blossom" was a two-parter, Bialik would often introduce the second (and any subsequent installments) as "Last time ... on ''Blossom''", followed by scenes from the previous episode showing the most dramatic parts of the conflict, including the last scene where the most serious incident happened.
  • Bob Hope:
    • Texaco Presents Bob Hope in a Very Special Special: On the Road with Bing, which differed in format from most of the legendary comedian's specials. Aired shortly after Bing Crosby's death in 1977, this was more a celebration of Hope's longtime friendship and partnership with Bing Crosby, with clips from their Road to ... movies and comments from co-stars Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
    • Specials that were technically "very special" were usually Milestone Celebration-type shows, to either observe an anniversary in television (1975 and 2000, to mark his 25th and 50th years) or a milestone birthday (75th, 80th and 90th, aired in 1978, 1983 and 1993, respectively).
  • Bones did one about a homeless war veteran who died 10 days after the Pentagon attack on September 11.
  • Boy Meets World had a couple of these.
    • In one episode Cory and Shawn become completely drunk sharing a small bottle of whiskey, leading to Shawn having a harrowing week of alcoholism before it being solved by 'talking to some guy.'
    • Another is the episode where Shawn has a friend who is physically abused by her dad, so Shawn and Cory decide to hide her at Cory's house overnight. Ends with the Kids Help Phone Hotline number.
    • Or the one where Shawn joins a cult, which came out around the Heavens Gate suicides. It started with a lonely Shawn being invited to what was described as a youth center, where he is surrounded by new friends and an adult father figure, Mr. Mack, was ran the Center. The easy companionship is shown as addicting, to the point where Shawn stops hanging out with Cory and his regular friends, until Mr. Turner is left in critical condition because of a motorcycle accident and Shawn realizes just how much Mr. Turner and his friends mean to him. Strangely enough, Mr. Mack, despite being the episode's "bad guy", is shown somewhat sympathetically, accompanying Shawn when he visits Turner at the hospital, being civil with Mr. Feeney, despite Feeney's obvious dislike for him and his Center, and taking Shawn's decision to leave the Center gracefully. Also, the cult itself isn't very cultish except for having a leader and Shawn's estrangement from his friends. Everybody looks well rested and well fed, other people had no trouble finding the Center and there was no monetary or work aspect to it.
      • He was anything but a harmless human being, even though he wasn't causing physical harm. Instead he decided to prey on the minds of delicate teenagers until they lost their sanity, which is what was happening to Shawn before his friends helped him come to his senses. Without them, he wouldn't have even known about Mr. Turner's accident, that's how tight of a grip Mr. Mack had on him.
    • In one well-done episode, Cory makes a bet with Feeny that if he teaches one of the classes for a week, more students will pass the test at the end. After instituting anarchy and then realizing that he needs to do some actual teaching, Cory attempts without success to interest the class in The Diary of Anne Frank. At one point Cory finds Eric comforting his Asian girlfriend after she's been called by a racial slur. He finally gets the attention of the class by calling Shawn a wop, asking "What if we lived in a country where I could kill you just because of your mother's maiden name?" Though the same number of students as usual pass the test, Shawn scores a "B" instead of his usual "C," showing that he took the lesson to heart.
  • One episode of The Brothers Garcia had Carlos finding out a girl at school wears a wig and delightfully plans to tell everyone...only for Sonia to take him to the hospital and show him into the oncology department, revealing that the girl in question has cancer. It was handled rather well and had a pretty touching ending (though with a bit of Fridge Horror / Unfortunate Implications that the girl never appeared on the show again).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Willow's story arc throughout season 6 is frequently derided for being one long Very Special Episode all about the evil of drugs; it's the single biggest reason why many people tend to ignore everything after Tabula Rasa. If the message wasn't clear enough we get Rack, Willow's dealer. He's slimier than Alphonse Gangitano, Carl Williams, Jason Moran, Tony Mokbel and Mick Gatto put together.
    • The fourth season episode "Beer Bad" attempted to have a moral lesson about drinking alcohol, mainly to take advantage of the Office of National Drug Control Policy giving shows money for doing anti-drug episodes. However, the show ended up not getting any money, mainly because the curse on the beer turned people into cavemen and because of this:
      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.
    • The season 3 episode "Earshot" dealt with a fringe character planning to commit suicide and included a PSA after the episode aired.
    • The season 3 episode "Beauty and the Beasts" dealt with the nature of boyfriends switching between nice and a jerk. The Space Whale Aesop is stretched to the breaking point in this one, as it portrays the boyfriend as a literal monster, the abused girlfriend as a total basket case, and the onlookers as condescending jerkwads, thereby insulting just about everyone who could conceivably find themselves in such a situation.
    • The season 2 episode "Go Fish" has the swim team being given a drug which is constantly referred to as steroids which ends up turning them into fish.
    • The Season 3 episode "I Only Have Eyes For You" ended with a PSA about calling the suicide hotline, which would have been useful for some fans.
  • Canada's Worst Driver bordered on this during the episode of Ever when Angelina finally agreed to go into a mental health program. The episode ended with Andrew encouraging viewers to contact the Canadian Mental Health Association, "Silence is not the cure".
  • Chico And The Man: "Raul Runs Away," which was the show's way of explaining that main character Chico had died (off-screen). The episode aired two days short of the one-year anniversary of Freddie Prinze's 1977 suicide, and for viewers and his fellow cast members brought closure to his passing ... and the series, as Chico lasted only a few more episodes.
  • An episode of Clueless featured the death of Cher's boyfriend by means of drunk driving complete with a cast PSA at the end.
  • A few episodes of Cold Case dealt with Domestic Abuse, notably "A Perfect Day", "Churchgoing People" and "The Brush Man". The former was the show's highest-rated episode. Every other episode dealt with some hot button issue like gender, women's rights, race, mental health and even gun control.
  • In Community episode "Contemporary American Poultry" was mentioned by Abed, but ultimately averted.
    • Played pretty straight in "Mixology Certification", which shows issues with alcoholism, feeling helpless, adjustment to disability, dealing with adulthood and questioning your path in life. Played very realistically without Narm, while still retaining the shows charm and humour
  • Criminal Minds and Medium most notably do these, but without the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop factor.
  • Though nearly every episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation covers anything to make it "Very Special", there was one episode in particular that was created in the wake of the Micheal Vick case. The episode was focused around dogfights and how terrible they are for both the dogs and the people. The episode (not sure of later airings, but it's initial one on CBS at least) even had a PSA announcement after the credits by William Peterson, who plays Gil Grissom in the series. To add to that, he even had his own dog with him on screen to show his support in opposing dogfighting.
    • Csi Ny had an arc of this, where Stella feared she'd contacted AIDS. It was done in cooperation with Know HIV, and a PSA aired after each of the eps.
    • CSI: Miami had an episode based on the real life story of a photographer suspected of being a killer-one of the photographs found in his possession was of the sister of the actress who plays Natalia Boa Vista, though she was not a victim. The episode was followed up by a PSA featuring the photos of the women who are still unidentified, in hopes it would lead to some ID's.
  • Series 3 of The BBC childrens' sitcom Dani's House features an episode in which the eponymous heroine becomes addicted to a driving video game, after becoming frustrated at having to rely on public transport and finding she can't afford to have proper driving lessons. There is the possibility that it might be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the cast play it straight throughout (allowing for moments of humour, obviously).
  • Practically every episode of the Degrassi franchise is a very special episode. From abortions to suicide to events ripped from Canadian headlines to rape to lesbianism to abuse to unwanted pregnancies to neglected friends to pedophilia to online stalkers to self-worth to HIV/AIDS to environmental awareness... it's all here. In fact, the "Degrassi Classic" franchise emphasized this in a series of short documentary features co-produced by the Canadian government called "Degrassi Talks", in which cast members talked about disturbing events that happened in their lives. 7th Heaven doesn't have shit on this.
  • Diff'rent Strokes had a few:
    • The best known Very Special Episode was "The Bicycle Man," aired during the series' fifth season. In it, Arnold and Dudley befriend a genial bicycle shop owner (Gordon Jump, best known as Mr. Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati), unaware that he is a pedophile and is buttering them up for a possible sexual encounter. When the two are shown an X-rated "cat and mouse" cartoon, Arnold decides he's had enough and leaves, then lets slip some details about the bicycle shop owner (unaware that Dudley is still there, and has been given a pill). Not to worry: Dudley is saved in the proverbial nick of time, and the bicycle man is off to prison. On the FOX sitcom, American Dad!, it was revealed that this actually happened to Principal Lewis and that his friend, Dudley, was traumatized over it.
    • The other well-known Very Special Episode was "The Reporter," aired just weeks after "The Bicycle Man." Here, Arnold joins the school newspaper and writes an article about drugs being sold on school grounds. The school administration thinks Arnold is lying and won't allow such a fabrication to be printed in their newspaper ... that is, until First Lady Nancy Reagan shows up with ample proof and persuasion that such activities had (sadly) become the norm, and not just at Arnold's school. The episode was part of Mrs. Reagan's "Just Say No!" campaign.
    • Other "very special" episodes included Kimberly suddenly being bulimic, the show's resident Cousin Oliver Sam being abducted, the boys being refused entry into an elite school with a racist admissions agent, the family housekeeper revealing she's epileptic (prompted by Arnold and Sam making fun of a street performer they saw having a seizure), Willis having a health scare due to excessive stress (!) and several more. The show was the king of very special episodes long before Blossom came along.
  • A Different World
    • An episode on date rape co-starring Tiamak.
    • And one about AIDS starring Tisha Campbell.
    • Then again, many episodes ventured into this trope. AIDS, Apartheid, racism, dating violence, pregnancy scares, interracial dating, gang violence, the L.A. Riots, to name a few all visited the Hillman College campus. In Living Color! parodied this in the skit "A Different Message".
  • Dinosaurs
    • The ending PSA about the Very Special Problem was parodied when Robbie and his friend, Spike, find a plant in the woods and become addicted to it; at the end of the episode, Robbie urged viewers "Don't do drugs — and help stop preachy sitcom episodes like this one."
    • And the finale itself was a Very Special Episode about pollution. It wasn't very up-beat.
  • The Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor" is set during Vincent van Gogh's final days and thus touches closely on issues of chronic depression which the man suffered from in real life. In its original UK airing, the episode closed with a plug for a BBC website about depression and a counselling hotline.
  • The Drew Carey Show parodied this with "A Very Special Drew." The episode covered potential miscarriage, raising a child in poverty, irresponsible gun (and alcohol) ownership, obsessive-compulsive disorder, kleptomania (supplemented by a Freudian Excuse), anorexia, misdirected self-loathing, loved ones succumbing to unknown illnesses, illiteracy, unexpected death of a loved one, organ donation, last-minute marriage (failed due to said unexpected death), the Littlest Cancer Patient, and coming out of the closet (Spartacus-style). The whole episode was framed around the cast trying to win an Emmy.
  • A season 1 episode of Early Edition dealt with gun violence.
  • The Facts of Life episode where Natalie almost gets raped.
    • Not to be confused with a later episode in which the same character voluntarily slept with her boyfriend. It too was billed as VSE, but the rape episode came much earlier. Also, the VSE in which a boy falsely spread rumors that Natalie was easy, causing her to gain a bad reputation, was separate.
  • Family Matters did episodes about the following topics:
  • Family Ties had many of these, some of them incredibly Anvilicious like some other shows, and others actually effective at making tearjerking moments.
    • The episode in which Alex loses a friend to drunk driving.
    • The episode where Steven has a heart attack.
    • The episode in which a friend of the family makes a pass at Mallory.
    • The episode in which Alex gets addicted to diet pills.
    • The episode in which Long-Lost Uncle Aesop is an "off the wagon" alcoholic. (Which is now Hilarious in Hindsight thanks to the fact that the uncle in question was played by Tom Hanks.)
      Uncle Ned: (*sob*) I hit Alex...
      Uncle Ned: It may not be Miller time, but it is vanilla time!
      Uncle Ned: C'mon, Alex, are you too good to sit down and have a glass of maraschino cherries with your uncle?
    • The episode where Jennifer becomes a rabid environmentalist and falls into a deep depression over not being able to save the Earth in a half hour.
    • The episode from the final season in which the Keatons' new black neighbors encounter racism.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had this a bit regularly, ranging from questions on racial profiling (Will argues that the sole reason they were pulled over after trying to get to a fancy party was that they were two black kids driving a Mercedes, whereas Carlton argues the cops were just doing their job) to gun violence (an arc had Will recovering from a gunshot wound, which made Carlton briefly Darker and Edgier).
    • And the one where Will's deadbeat dad (played by Ben Vereen) came back, then abandoned him again (with a very tear-jerking ending where Will just breaks down over the fact that his real father doesn't love him).
    • There's also one where Will is given speed to help keep him awake, but he tosses it in his locker since he has no interest, only for it to be found by Carlton, who mistakes it for acne medicine. Carlton, tripping high, dances wildly at the senior prom and nearly dies. It ends with lots of hugging and crying.
    • There was also an episode where Carlton becomes a victim of discrimination from a member of a fraternity he's pledging due to not being "black enough".
  • Friday Night Lights had a Very Special Two-Parter about racism that was actually very good and realistic. The racist coach even gets some amount of pity from the show as he privately admits to struggling with his own prejudices.
  • While never exactly played straight on Friends , some episodes, particularly those that involved Chandler smoking, definitely felt like this.
  • There were multiple Very Special Episodes for Full House (indicated by the longer version of the opening).
    • "The Last Dance", where Jesse's grandfather dies, and unlike many Very Special Episodes for TV shows, it wasn't narmy and was actually handled very nicely, if not a Tear Jerker.
    • They played it a little more straight with the child abuse episode, "Silence is Not Golden". Stephanie's never-before-introduced friend Charlie keeps coming into school covered in bruises and whatnot; when his teacher asked, Charlie replied that he fell down the stairs. Charlie's portrayed as a bit of a jerk from Stephanie's point of view, but becomes a lot more sympathetic when she finally pries the truth from him ("I ran into a door. A door named Dad."). She spends the greater part of the episode wrestling with her promise to not tell anyone else, until Uncle Jesse pries it out of her in turn. The episode ends with the usual lecture, this one about how Charlie's father won't be able to hurt him anymore, and that reporting such cases is far better than keeping a secret that gets someone hurt. In typical VSE fashion, Charlie was never seen again.
    • Another episode played with this. Instead of the cliched scenario of "kid drinks and gets in trouble", the episode had DJ declining the beer that her friends were offering her and blasting them for how stupid they looked and acted. Unfortunately, Jesse completely misinterprets the scene and refuses to listen to her side of the story, as does her father, despite DJ's insistence that because he had already talked to her about such matters, she knew better. Not until Stephanie confesses do the adults believe her, even though Danny himself mentions that DJ has always been a good kid.
    • In yet another episode, DJ gets an eating disorder because she's invited to a pool party and doesn't want to be seen in her swimsuit. She spends about three days skipping meals and swears Stephanie to secrecy after getting caught feeding her lunch to the dog, but Stephanie breaks her promise (sensing a trend) after DJ passes out during their family trip to the gym that afternoon. Naturally, she's cured by a hug at the end of the episode. To be fair, the show doesn't say that D.J. has an "eating disorder", but, rather that her crash-dieting can eventually lead to developing one.
    • "Under the Influence" where Kimmy drinks too much at a fraternity party and D.J. forcibly takes the keys from her and drives her back to her (D.J.'s) house. Kimmy, it turns out, was acting like a jerk and was going to be kicked out of the party. Kimmy asks why should D.J. care and D.J. reveals that her mother died in a drunk driving accident before the start of the series. Kimmy apologizes for what happened.
    • There's an episode where Stephanie and a friend lie about their age (claiming sixteen when they were thirteen or fourteen), and decide to go for a ride with a couple of (actually) sixteen year old boys. The boys engage in risky driving behaviors such as speeding, racing other cars, driving on the other side of the road, and playing chicken because it's "cool". When Stephanie is preparing to go on another ride with the same group, DJ confronts her on the risk taking behaviors and lying about her age, and when Stephanie insists on going anyway, threatens to tell Danny, forcing Stephanie to cancel. Later, her father tells Stephanie that he received a phone call that her friends had been involved in a car accident, where they took a turn too fast and wrecked the car (possibly by flipping it), and cites that the only reason the crash was survived with relatively minor injuries is due to the fact that everyone in the car had on a seatbelt.
    • There was another episode in which Stephanie and a friend are offered cigarettes by some other girls in the school washroom; after some indecision Stephanie refuses. Later DJ and some friends are hosting some sort of teen help radio segment and Stephanie, using a false name and a bad accent calls in for some advice about the washroom incident. DJ, apparently not recognizing her sister's voice, tells her she did the right thing by refusing and gives her some advice on resisting peer pressure. A bit later Stephanie is in her room pondering the advice she was given when Danny (who had been listening to the radio show and apparently hadn't recognized her voice either) comes in to talk about something and Stephanie accidently answers him with her fake voice leading him to recognize her from the radio show. Stephanie thinks he'll be mad at her for almost taking a cigarette but he hugs her and says that he is proud of her for saying no and that she shouldn't be afraid to come to him in that type of situation.
  • The George Lopez Show had a lot of these involving Carmen. Every teen sex related thing happened to her, just short of getting an STD or getting pregnant.
  • Ghost Writer had the story arc "What's Up With Alex?" where one of the characters befriends a marijuana user.
  • Glee seems to give every one of the show's Five-Token Band A Day in the Limelight. So far we've had the Very Special Zaftig African-American Episode, the Very Special Gay Episode and the Very Special Disability Episode, and a seemingly complete lack of awareness of the Unfortunate Implications of giving the Pretty White Kids With Problems the solos by default.
  • The Golden Girls did this periodically, and remarkably well. There were episodes touching on common VSE subjects like drug abuse, AIDS, and homelessness, but they also touched on some other issues that were unusual. The episode in which Dorothy was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a good example; the aesop was about the behavior of some medical professionals toward their patients (the doctor Dorothy saw first was unfamiliar with CFS, and dismissed her as delusional). The general lack of narm was part of the reason for the show's enduring popularity.
    • What really sold these episodes was which characters the writers chose to write them around. Sex-loving Blanche is the one that has to learn that accepting her brother's homosexuality means accepting everything that goes with it. Blanche also served as an example of Parents as People, and had to deal with the ramifications of her hand's off parenting and how it's affected her children and grandchildren. Sweet, slightly prudish Rose is the one that goes through an AIDS scare, a drug addiction, and the aftereffect of a house robbery. Strong, stable Dorothy is the one that has to cope with a gambling addiction and a mysterious disease that's completely upended her life. It was the use of the unexpected characters that really sold the overall message that these issues can affect anyone.
    • There were also the episodes where Sophia, a Cool Old Lady and Mama Bear, dealt with issues afflicting people in her age group. She befriended a man who had Alzheimer's, had to talk a woman out of her killing herself because of how sick, old, and lonely she was, and tried to break a friend out of a substandard nursing home and care for her, even though the friend is slightly senile. She's also dealt with the death of her cross-dressing son Phil, whom she was estranged from because she felt that his desire to wear dresses was because of something she did, and was angry at his wife for not stopping it. Only after she realizes that her son was a good man and a loving husband does she truly begin to grieve and drop her animosity with her daughter-in-law.
  • The second-to-last episode of Good Luck Charlie, named "Down a Tree", has Amy and Bob inviting Charlie's friend's parents for a visit. They turn out to be a lesbian couple.
  • Good Times had one with the VD episode, complete with a disclaimer at the beginning. It did not give a number for viewers to call for information at the end like most VSEs. During the episode, a then-unknown Jay Leno tells JJ that if people weren't ashamed to come to the clinic to get treatment, then VD wouldn't be so rampant. It would have helped if they told people how VD was spread and how it could be prevented.
    • The multi-episode arc about Penny being abused by her mother has Penny remain on the show once the Very Special Issue was resolved Willona adopted Penny after her mom abandoned her.
  • Green Week (which focuses on environmental issues and often has Al Gore guest star) makes NBC the Very Special Network.
  • An episode of Growing Pains involved Mike and his friends being offered drugs at a party. The episode's coda featured Kirk Cameron speaking directly to the viewers about the dangers of drug abuse.
    "Boner wanted me to tell you that he didn't go to the bathroom"
    • It also had one against drunk driving, guest starring a young Matthew Perry, who snatches death from the jaws of recovery.
  • Hannah Montana
    • An episode about Oliver having diabetes had to be drastically retooled before being aired, since the original was inaccurate and had some offensive jokes about diabetics.
  • Happy Days:
    • The closest things got was the Season 5 episode "Richie Almost Dies," where Richie suffers a severe concussion after a motorcycle accident, rendering him in a coma, and it is initially feared he might die. Two scenes in this Very Special Episode, meant to underscore the serious tone of the episode, are frequently panned as laughable: a montage of Richie clips set to a Suzi Quatro's very late-1970s-sounding "Find Strength in Your Friends," and Fonzie's emotional breakdown at the hospital where he begs God to let Richie live.
    • There was also an episode where a motorcycle accident causes Fonzie to (temporarily) go blind. The episode centers around him having to cope with losing his sight and him learning how blind people deal with everyday life.
  • Hey Dude had an episode where Melody's brother showed up and it is later revealed that he has a drinking problem.
  • Home Improvement
    • The premise of one episode was Randy might have cancer. Turned out he didn't and the whole thing was a false alarm. He did wind up with hypothyroidism, a thyroid condition that effectively requires a pill a day for the rest of his life. In fact, most of the emotional turmoil the characters experienced were, indeed, that he might have cancer, or several other things, and that they simply didn't know. The stress of waiting to find out was the linchpin of the drama.
    • It was a rare show that actually handled these kinds of episodes very nicely. For example, in another Very Special Episode, Brad smoked pot. Parents behaved in the typical matter, but the episode lacked the soap box feeling most episodes of that nature had. Nobody died when Brad smoked, nobody even got injured, no out of proportion hallucinations that pot doesn't actually have, and Jill came out later in the episode, admitting she experimented with it. They said Drugs Are Bad, but they didn't put an anvil on the drugs. Unlike comparable sitcoms, in which the presence of marijuana is implied by the presence of a paper bag or tiny white sausages (joints) but never shown in actual plant form, the marijuana in this show was actually a green herb inside of a plastic bag. (Al mistook it for oregano.) Also, somewhat cleverly, Brad was keeping his stash outdoors, hidden underneath a chair. Perhaps some astute young viewers took note.
  • House in season 5 when Kutner commits suicide.
  • Jack & Bobby had an episode where Jack's ex-best friend Matt (who was only in this one episode) committed suicide. Through flashbacks in Jack's memory, the reason for Matt's suicide was revealed to be that Matt was gay, and in love with Jack. After confessing his feelings to Jack, the two eventually parted ways. Later, when Jack talks to Matt's parents, he finds out that Matt had tried to come out to his mother, but she had rejected him. At the end of the episode, there is a hotline number on the screen for LGBT teens who are depressed or suicidal.
  • The Jeffersons had an episode where Louise and Helen are called niggers by a Klansman who just moved into the building. George and Tom later save the man's life when he has a heart attack (but when he realizes George was the one mainly responsible for saving him, he tells his son "You should've let me die").
  • Kamen Rider Double has one episode that takes the Fantastic Drug aspects of the villains Gaia Memories Up to Eleven. It deals with a bunch of teenage runaways sharing a single memory in a way that's very reminiscent of sharing needles. The "actual" memory user actually says that the power gives them a high and they've been using it to cope with stress.
  • Kyle XY had one about tolerating gays. See Fiction Isn't Fair.
    • Hilarious In Hindsight since Matt Dallas is gay.
    • Also one about teenage drinking.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is a show about sex crimes and child abuse, two rather hot-button issues, and it had a Very Special Episode. What about? Teenaged binge drinking. Complete with a title card PSA at the end about the prevelance of underaged drinking. And the Narm did flow like a mighty stream...
    • In April 2014, Usa Network aired a marathon of episodes about domestic violence and sexual assault, called the "No More Excuses" marathon, that feared the stars giving PSAs during the marathon.
  • This was done as early as the 1960s on Leave It to Beaver.
    • In an episode, Beaver learned that his family's gardener was an alcoholic. (Bizarrely, the man became drunk after eating a cake. A rum cake, but still...a cake.) A proper rum cake will have been soaked in alcohol for up to a month. It's possible to get drunk eating one.
    • Another VSE dealt with the topic of divorce.
  • Life On Mars has one about the evils of Football Hooligans; notably well-done. YMMV on that, as Sam's impassioned speech was met with quite a bit of giggling in other countries, perhaps because the viewers had never experienced something or didn't know of the Hillsborough Disaster.
  • Little House on the Prairie in almost every episode. Walnut Grove had a never-ending line of suffering citizens needing help from the Ingalls.
    • The three-hour special "The Little House Years" is an example of the broadest definition of the term Very Special Episode, as it was a celebration of the show's success. Much of the episode is compiled from seven of the series' best-loved and acclaimed episodes to that point in the show's run, ranging from highly dramatic and tragic to comedy. Additionally, "The Little House Years" movie aired on a Thursday night (and supposedly independent of the regular series, although the movie is canon with the show), whereas regular episodes aired on Mondays.
  • There was an episode of Lizzie McGuire dealing with anorexia, where Miranda "contracts an eating disorder" - she skips lunch once, one day, and learns her lesson after she almost faints. Surprisingly for a Disney Channel tween sitcom, the episode handles the reasoning behind why people develop eating disorders in a mature way. Instead of the typical "I'm anorexic/bulimic/etc. because I think I'm fat and ugly" explanation most shows use, the episode has Miranda realize that her eating disorder is due to severe anxiety.
  • Every episode of Lou Grant. The show often deals with such issues as nuclear proliferation, mental illness, gay rights, child abuse and chemical pollution.
  • Mash had the infamous one where Henry Blake goes home, where the show utterly destroyed the convention for comedies never letting any main character die. Also, torpedoed the idea of meaningful deaths in war.
    • Really more of a subversion. The episode itself was a lighthearted sendoff of an actor who was leaving the show... until the last 30 seconds.
  • From around the third or fourth season onwards, every other episode of MacGyver was a Very Special Episode.
    • One unintentionally hilarious episode involved black rhino poaching in Africa. It starts out with a warning for the squeamish that they would show a "realistic" depiction of a rhino involving blood (it wasn't too convincing looking), then after the regular plot (just Strictly Formula MacGyver), Richard Dean Anderson gives an out of character speech for nearly a minute about the dwindling population of the black rhino. Most people were just laughing hysterically at it.
  • An early example is the "Maude Has An Abortion" episode of Maude. It wasn't done as a Very Special Episode, though, since it did not moralize. It simply shocked America. In fact, it might have inspired the very concept Very Special Episode by the massive ratings it received.
  • Parodied in "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man" which explains his prejudice towards nudists. He even has a silly Freudian Excuse.
  • Mr. Belvedere
    • Anyone else remember the episode where one of Wesley's classmates contracts HIV?
    • There was also an episode about Alzheimer's disease, where Wesley has to deal with the failing memory of an old lady he visits in a nursing home.
    • Yet another episode had Wesley getting molested by a summer camp counselor.
    • And another which had Heather nearly getting raped by her prom date. What makes this a standout is that the scene ended with him pushing her down as she screamed "No!", then picked up with her at home, acting shaken and upset, leaving viewers to wonder if she had been raped (pretty heavy stuff, even for a VSE). Only after she finally confided in Mr. Belvedere (he had found her torn dress and asked her what happened) does the audience learn that she was able to fight him off. Even then, she's still reluctant to tell her parents what happened until the guy shows up at the house and tries to act like nothing happened.
  • Parodied like so many other things in Mr. Show, where they outright admit from the start that they're just doing it to get an award and improve their ratings. Then the "very special" event is David Cross coming out as bald.
  • My So-Called Life does this with the Anvilicious episode "So-Called Angels" that deals with the issues of teen runaways/homelessness. Complete with a PSA at the end and Juliana Hatfield as a magic homeless angel strumming her guitar.
    • What's particularly strange is that, in an earlier episode, Angela admits (to the audience) that she's not even entirely sure of whether or not she believes in God. Although one could argue that, given all her personal development over the course of the series, she began finding God at around this time.
  • Occasionally parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000. One example comes after the showing (and riffing) of the road safety short Last Clear Chance. Immediately afterwards, "Trooper" Tom Servo gives a heavy-handed rant on the dangers of steam irons, sandwiches and lint filters..
  • One Tree Hill, where Lucas' estranged friend Jimmy decides to shoot up the school? They could at least have made some token effort to point towards the whole gun control vs. right to bear arms issue, but no, it ultimately seemed to come down to "Lonely kids are crazy psychopaths who will kill you and themselves."
    • That episode focused on the emotional ramifications on Jimmy because of getting left behind by his friends, that was a much more impactful message than anything political would have been.
  • Although Party of Five was a drama show there were two episodes in particular where the show's opening credit sequence was not shown and had a noticeably more serious plot than the rest of the season. In season 2 an episode revolves around Julia discovering that she is pregnant and debating whether or not to keep it. It presents two opposing views on the subject of abortion with Charlie wanting Julia to abort the baby since she is only 16 and therefore not ready to be a mother while Claudia wants Julia to keep it since she considers abortion to be the same as murder. At the end of the episode Julia ended up having a miscarriage but the episode did have an effect on her development for the rest of the season, particularly in her relationship with Justin (the father).
    • From season 3 there was "The Intervention" which was the culmination of a storyline in which Bailey became an alcoholic. The family members try to have an intervention for Bailey and are forced to lure him to the house under false pretences. The episode is considered one of the most powerful in the show's run as one scene has Bailey criticising the others for their past mistakes such as Julia's pregnancy, Charlie's cheating on Kirsten and Sarah's failed attempt to lose her virginity. It also drops a huge bombshell that their deceased father was also an alcoholic.
  • Police, Camera, Action! does these, but they're very well-done. The show notably avoids the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop factor.
  • The Professionals. "Klansmen" sees Bodie attacked by a gang of blacks, then racially abusing the black doctor and nurses who are trying to save his life. He apologizes at the end, saying they'll never hear that language from him again. This being The Professionals, he then goes off on a date with the pretty black nurse. Ironically, the episode is now banned in Britain because of its racist content.
  • Punky Brewster had a special two-part episode. Part One had to do with Punky learning CPR, then in Part Two, her friend suffocated inside an old fridge, which allowed Punky to put her CPR skills to the test. A chroma-keyed text imposed atop a still of Punky's CPR class, along with a stern announcer, told us "CPR should only be performed by certified people" (of which Punky was not, incidentally).
    • Another has her foster dad Henry becoming addicted to medication. Typically for a VSE, the problem is resolved in a single episode and never mentioned again.
    • The second season finale (and also the last episode to be broadcast on NBC) in which Punky's dreams of becoming an astronaut are crushed witnessing the real life Challenger explosion. Soon, her teacher arranges a meeting with Buzz Aldrin, who encourages Punky to not give up on her dreams.
    • "The Reading Game" episode deals with illiteracy: Cherie's cousin Paula can't read, and has been hiding it, despite being in seventh grade. However, she learns the importance of reading once she is left alone with her younger brother Bobby, who ends up drinking fabric softener and she can't read the warning label when instructed to by the 911 operator. Only when Punk and Cherie return, do they use reading and solve the problem.
  • Quantum Leap had many of these throughout its run, with Sam having to tackle things like racism, teen pregnancy, handicaps, etc.
  • Has there ever been an episode of Quincy without the title character fighting evil bureaucrats to cure the disease of the week? It gets so tiresome that even his sidekick complains that he's tilting at windmills.
    • Actually, there are quite a few (especially in the first half of the run) which put aside soapboxes in favour of actually entertaining the viewers, like "Dead Last" (involving a jockey killed by a horse - or was he?) and "To Kill In Plain Sight" (with Quincy and Monahan racing to stop a political assassination - not very connected to Quincy's day job, but in no way a Very Special Episode).
    • And then there's the infamous "Next Stop, Nowhere," which was half about Quincy solving a murder in LA's punk scene and half about Quincy warning the parents of LA about the moral scourge of punk rock.
  • Raising Dad had an episode where Sarah decided she wanted a nose job. In a twist, it's the other characters that learn An Aesop such as Stuart and Emily discovering that a perfectly nice looking girl like Sarah can have a bad self-image and that constant teasing can push them over the edge. Emily in particular is horrified when she finds out exactly what happens during plastic surgery. The episode is resolved by Sarah learning a Double Aesop when a popular girl she wanted to be like talks about all the surgery she still wants to get.
  • Subverted on Roseanne. The show's arguable Crowning Moment of Funny was the episode dealing with marijuana. Dan and Rosie find a blunt and think it's David's, and threaten to throw him out if they catch him with drugs again, but it turns out to be one of theirs that Dan didn't have the heart to throw away when they were pregnant with Becky and wanted to be responsible parents. The rest of the episode shows them smoking it and acting blown out of their minds. Even the episodes that really did have serious themes like domestic violence, racism, infidelity, and Dan's heart attack weren't as out-of-place as these episodes tend to be, since they kept the dark humor that the show was famous for.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch had a moral in almost every episode, and it occasionally strayed into VSE territory. A bizarre one featured Sabrina battling an addiction to pancakes (which, according to how witches function on the show, is considered as addictive as any drug).
  • "The Good Wound" from The Sarah Connor Chronicles obliquely dealt with spousal abuse.
  • Saved by the Bell
    • The episode in which Jessie becomes addicted to caffeine pills, leading to the infamous "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so... so scared!" scene (may be seen here).
    • The very special episode where Zack's duck Becky is killed by an oil spill.
    • The one where the gang meets their favorite actor and finds out that he smokes pot.
    • There was the one where they drink and drive during homecoming and they wreck the car and Slater breaks his arm.
  • The Secret Life of the American Teenager is practically a Very Special Series, though some episodes are very centered on a specific "issue". To name just a few examples: The episode where everyone gets a fake ID so they can go to the teen wedding (this was followed by an episode that was kinda about illegal underage marriage), two (almost) abortion episodes, and an episode about STD testing.
    • A special mention goes to the fact that there's a message at the end of every episode telling teens to talk to their parents about sex and avoid teen pregnancy. It was replaced once by a message giving information about a sexual abuse help hotline. Naturally, this message was preceded by a very special episode where Ricky encounters his on-parole birth father, who used to sexually abuse Ricky.
    • An episode of season 4 had an episode about LGBTQ acceptance/sensitivity. Adrian's mother gave her a speech about how hard LGBTQ teens have it and that pretending to be gay or bisexual to get attention could be deemed offensive to others who are actually struggling with it, a lesbian student from her school gives her the same speech and calls out Grace who decided to come to school dressed like a stereotypical Butch Lesbian. In the same episode, Ricky calls Amy out for being an insensitive Jerkass to her mother who recently identified as a lesbian.
  • Exception: Seinfeld is known for having never had a Very Special Episode, and just never being that sentimental in general. In fact, the rules the writers set for Seinfeld are "No hugging, no learning". One could argue that the popularity of Seinfeld led to other shows imitating the conceited superficial narcissism of its characters, spelling the death of the VSE in sitcoms.
    • The third season episode "The Pez Dispenser" *did* include a never before seen Special Guest Character who was struggling with drug addiction, and was never seen again after the successful intervention got him into rehab. The intervention itself took place offscreen, the buildup was played for laughs, and the whole storyline was a secondary plot, and he apparently got addicted to *pez candy* right after.
  • Sesame Street
    • The groundbreaking 1983 episode where Big Bird learns of Mr. Hooper's death and has to understand that his friend is never coming back.
    • A 1993 episode dealing with racism has Gina and Savion receiving a racist call at Hooper's Store and explaining to Telly that there are "really stupid people" who hate to see people of different races being friends, which Telly has trouble understanding given Sesame Street's rather diverse population of ethnic humans, not to mention animals and monsters (including a eight-foot-tall yellow bird).
    • A week-long Story Arc from 2001 deals with a hurricane blowing though Sesame Street and destroying Big Bird's nest.
    • An episode made in response to the 9/11 attacks has Elmo coping with disaster after a fire at Hooper's Store.
    • There was also an episode where Rosita deals with her father being confined to a wheelchair due to a war injury.
    • An episode with Snuffy dealing with his parents' divorce was produced, but it was never aired after negative reaction from test audiences.
  • Every Smallville episode with guest star Christopher Reeve ended with him and Tom Welling telling people to donate to the Christopher Reeves Treatment For Spinal Injury Foundation.
  • Seven Swordsmen a Chinese Wuxia series, has an episode that reveals why Swordsman Mu is so interested in learning to read—his entire family was killed by their illiteracy when they were tricked into putting up anti-government banners for a festival.
  • One episode of The Sopranos focusing on the soccer coach of Tony's daughter being a child molester played with the trope, in that given their general treatment of women, Tony and his crew come across as somewhat hypocritical in condemning his behavior—particularly in later seasons, the difference between the way Tony and his crew treat women and the way the coach did is that Tony and his crew wait until they're eighteen. Moreover, rather than the black and white morality of the usual Very Special Episode, the show is typically morally ambiguous, as Tony wants to kill the coach, feeling that he would be less of a man were he to rely upon the legal system to seek justice—and that even if he did, what the legal system would do could hardly be called justice. In the end, however, Tony gets very relaxed on both medication and alcohol, and seems quite content with the idea that "I din' hur' nobody".
  • During a AIDS/HIV awareness month on American television, Star Trek: Enterprise aired an episode in which T'pol, the catsuited Vulcan first officer, entered an unprotected mindmeld with a rogue hippie Vulcan (played as an Anvilicious sexual metaphor), a scene which veered into Mind Rape territory, and as a result, T'pol contracted a rare Vulcan neurological disease that... oh forget it, she got Vulcan Space AIDS.
    • Meanwhile, the B plot involved Phlox and one of his wives encouraging Tucker to engage in casual sex with multiple partners.
    • The trope was played straight in the original episode, but the significant consequences of having the disease were played out long term over a number of episodes, though the Space AIDS parallels never went away.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation did a couple of these a season, in addition to the quaint '90s anti-sexism dialog throughout (anti-racism dialogue didn't get the same treatment for whatever reason).
    • Symbiosis included this exchange between Wesley Crusher and Tasha Yar about the evils of doing drugs. Something along the lines of:
      Wesley: Golly, gee, tawillekers, I don't know why anyone would do drugs.
      Tasha: Drugs make you feel good. They are an escape.
    • The Outcast is probably the most (in)famous - Riker falls for a (female) gendered "deviant" from a mono-sexed race that considers expressions of gender to be evil. The episode is a barely-veiled commentary on the treatment of gay and transgender persons. It's actually a rather clever postmodern inversion, whereby OUR norms are constructed as transgressive by this culture, although it's rendered in the series' typical heavy-handed style. The point was to show a culture where the "homosexual analogy" majority is oppressing the "heterosexual analogy" minority, but ended up a Clueless Aesop to many, partially due to the lack of gender of the genderless alien who announces herself to be female is an her an Informed Attribute, partially due to the shoehorned love story of the obviously-female alien to the most studly male character, and partially because of the attempt at inversion made it look like "heroic heterosexual escapes lesbian tyranny". Jonathan Frakes realized this would happen and strongly argued for the "deviant female" to be played by a man, and failing in that wanted the portrayal to be more masculine or at least more androgynous, but he was overruled.
    • They attempted a similar style of inversion with Angel One, making commentary about sexism by showing a female-dominated society where women tended to be bigger and physically stronger than men. Like The Outcast, it also showcased Riker falling in love with one of the women on the planet, and zig-zagged between an intelligent inversion saying "Here's how misogyny looks when you flip-flop the gender" and a Clueless Aesop that, by turning the "oppressed" side into the "oppressors", just made them look like bad guys and blowing the point.
  • Star Trek had several also, typically veering into Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped territory.
    • Most notable is probably Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, a "racism is bad" episode where an alien species that looks like humans except for their skin hue has two races - one of which is black on the right side and white on the right side (literally the colors black and white, not the skin tones that we call "black" or "white") and the other of which is black on the left side and white on the right side. The black/white alien is shocked that Kirk and Spock don't understand that the white/black man is "obviously" inferior, and each race hates the other, culminating in a war for extermination that wipes out both races altogether.
  • Step by Step toyed with this territory on occasion. Most memorable is an episode where J.T. learns he has dyslexia. Throughout the episode, his parents and siblings take note of his poor grades and blame them on his study habits and work ethic. The lesson begins to hit home after Cody has J.T. read a chapter out of a schoolbook and has him report on the contents:
    Cody: So what'd it say?
    J.T.: I didn't make any sense.
    Cody: Come on, man, stop fooling around.
    J.T.: I'm not fooling around!
    • Once the seriousness is established, the episode scores a Crowning Moment of Funny when J.T. comes back from the doctor, exclaiming happily(?!) that he has dyslexia:
      Carol: Oh, thank god, I knew you couldn't be that stupid!
      • It gets even funnier when J.T. assumes dyslexia will get him a free ride, but realizes via Cody that he will have to work even harder now. J.T. laments he was better off with everyone thinking he was just stupid.
    • The Cosby Show had a similar episode, where Theo was revealed to be dyslexic. As he's headed to take the test for it, his father helpfully coaches "I hope you fail with flying colors!"
  • The Very Special Episode was viciously subverted, parodied, mocked, mooned, and otherwise brutalized with the kind of glee generally only reserved for children on Christmas Morning in every episode of Strangers with Candy.
  • Suddenly Susan had a unique one that dealt with the Actor Existence Failure of David Strickland.
  • In spite of its usually wacky humor, Taxi was full of serious topics:
    • The very first episode ("Like Father, Like Daughter") dealt with Parental Abandonment and single parenthood.
    • The sub-plot of "Bobby's Acting Career" involved animal abuse.
    • "Blind Date" dealt with obesity and how society usually sees it.
    • "Men Are Such Beasts" featured Tony's girlfriend, Denise as a drug addict.
    • In "Elaine's Strange Triangle", the cabbies find out that her new boyfriend is actually bisexual and attracted to Tony.
    • "Jim and the Kid" featured Iggy taking care of a runaway boy.
    • "Alex Goes Off The Wagon" dealt with his gambling addiction
    • Probably the clearest example is "Alex's Old Buddy", which involved the death of Buddy, Alex's dog.
  • During the first run of That '70s Show on Fox, promos for the episode "Happy Jack" promised that it would be a very special episode. Since this was the episode where Donna caught Eric masturbating and everybody treated him like he was a diseased pervert, the promos were both a subversion and a parody of this trope.
  • That's So Raven
  • However, it's sometimes daytime TV in the United Kingdom that's a frequent user of this trope. British daytime show This Morning occasionally uses this trope to get across issues in a somewhat heavy-handed manner, on things like cancer etc.
  • In a notable subversion, the TV show Titus framed every episode as a Very Special Episode, most notably because of the subject matter (drugs, suicide, abuse, infidelity, domestic violence, and insensitivity to others were common in the series). However, because they then took to the other extreme of the VSE, the subject matter was always presented as humorous and without redeeming qualities (people very rarely learned a lesson that was really worth learning). And it worked.
    • Part of the effectiveness is the knowledge of what to make fun of. At no point do they say "Alcoholics are funny," when they staged an intervention to get Papa Titus to start drinking again. It Makes Sense in Context- They thought he was nicer when he was drunk, their mistake.) Also, they never say "You can make fun of sexual abuse," but they do say "Laughing is a way to deal with your problems."
      • And part of it comes from real life experience. The real Christopher Titus drank a lot in his teen years until he was 17. Why? Because, during a beach party (which he wasn't allowed to go to because his dad had grounded him), he fell into a bonfire. Fortunately, his friends got him out, stamped out the flames, and left him to deal with a hard-assed doctor at a low-rent doctor's office on the beach. As Titus says, "Falling into a bonfire is a one step program."
    • Possibly the only episodes that would be considered traditional VSEs would be: "The Smell of Success" (Titus turns to alcohol after his hot-rod business goes under and his father refuses to give him money to keep the shop afloat — though the second part of that episode — "Deprogramming Erin" — is more on par with how Titus subverts the typical Very Special Episode found in many sitcoms, "The Last Noelle" (Titus goes to the funeral of his first girlfriend — an abusive, manipulative woman named Noelle — and discovers that the only reason he ever liked her — and dated many women who were either unfaithful or mentally deranged — was because he was secretly attracted to women who acted just like his mom) and "The Protector" (in which Amy gets in trouble for beating up a boy who sexually harasses her, then confronts the man who sexually molested her as a child, with Titus thinking that she's lying to cover up her assault on his son...until Erin finds a poem about the rose tattoo Amy saw on the man's penis when she was a child).
  • Tyler Perry's TV show, House of Payne LOVED this trope! Drug addiction, cancer scares, STD's, Teen Pregnancy, postpartum depresssion, gun violence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc. Some of the episodes ended with an actor (usually whoever the VSE was about) telling viewers that they can get help for the Very Special Problem through an 800 number or a website.
  • Victorious has Rex Dies, which is about Robbie's puppet Rex being injured and while Tori tries to make amends, Jade and the rest of the gang attempt to make Rex die so Robbie will move on from him. In the same episode, Cat gets put into a mental ward. On the Victorious Wiki, it was called (at the moment) the most serious and emotionally toned episode the show had to date.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger takes these to their extreme. There are several episodes about racism, one about AIDS, and an episode about sexism where they even had a normally tolerant character act out of character just to hammer the point home.
    • Another episode that takes it to a further extreme, for their message against gangs, they have a young girl killed, magically resurrected by an angel (special effect glow and all), and then 'blessed' with holy wisdom and the ability to talk to her angel, with the actors talking to the screen more often than to each other.
  • Waterloo Road does a few of these, complete with the phone number to call at the end of the show, but the acting is generally good enough to get away with it. The first season's Very Special Episode about homophobic bullying was nominated for an award by a major gay rights organisation.
  • Welcome Back, Kotter: As close as it got when Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington, the athlete of the Sweathogs, begins taking painkillers to heal a basketball injury ... and almost gets Horshack hooked as well after he tells his friends that the pills are merely "vitamins." At least one critic Tom Hill, who wrote a book about the TV Land cable network and rated classic sitcom episodes criticized the execution of the show's tag; it ends up being, instead of Freddie reflecting on his addiction to painkillers, simply another of Gabe Kaplan's throwaway jokes about his relatives.
  • The West Wing did something similar as the 24 example with the episode "Isaac and Ishmael", by having a staff member have the same name as a terrorist. While the rest of the team answered questions from schoolkids about the history of terrorism, and why it happens, Leo was with secret service agents and the accused, asking questions in a shockingly hostile manner. After it turns out that the man is innocent, Leo gets a sharp wake-up call from the accused, who reminds of the shooting in Rosslyn, and adds that it was because "one of [the staff] wasn't [white]".
  • Another parody occurred on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. When Ryan portrays Drew as being lower on the evolutionary scale than apes (as a joke), Drew fires back by calling Ryan a "freak" — over and over again. After a while, though, he apologizes to Ryan and is obviously feeling sincerely guilty. Noticing the extremely unusual (for Whose Line) mood shift, Wayne chimes in with a sarcastically somber voice, saying "A very special Whose Line Is It Anyway?".
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