Very Special Episode / Live-Action TV

A "Very Special Episode" in television parlance is one with a much darker or serious storyline than usual, 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 it could 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).

Examples:

  • 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), the episode was broadcast without a laugh track, and the show's opening credits were never seen again. It marked the point in the show where the focus shifted from Paul to his wife Cate, who's now trying to keep the family together.
  • 21 Jump Street embodies this trope, as most episodes dealt with hot-button issues among American youths of the 1980s — gangs, drugs, bullying, child abuse, academic pressure, racial prejudice, suicide, rape, and sexual harassment.
  • A fourth-season episode of 24 had Jack Bauer hiding out in a gun shop owned by two 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 Arabs and East Indians living in America during The War on Terror.
  • Two Point Four Children was better known for Anvilicious moments rather than a whole episode, but it did sometimes use this trope.
    • One episode concerns Bill's desire to keep David from becoming friendly with a local Lower-Class Lout, only to learn about how rough the boy has it at home and how his mother is struggling as a single parent.
    • In another, Rona, who has struggled to get pregnant, takes home an abandoned baby she found, and has to learn the lesson that she's not entitled to a child just because she wants one.
  • This is more-or-less the premise of 3 Nen B Gumi Kinpachi-sensei. It was a Long Runner that ran for several decades about a middle school Psychologist Teacher dealing with various issues such as child abuse, cancer, gay students, and trans students.
  • The WB's 7th Heaven was notorious for virtually every episode being "very special." They often involved new friends who were never seen or mentioned again. For example, the episode "Cutters" is about a recently-befriended girl who is caught cutting herself and gets 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 shows that when an officer dies, he is more than just a statistic, but rather a comrade, friend, family man and much more. The end credits for that particular episode did not use the usual sequence or theme, but rather a black screen with no music (the vanity plates at the end were kept as usual).
  • 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, and mental illness. 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 LaSalle 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, 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 it took twenty takes to film this scene.
    • Two other episodes fit the broadest definition of "very special episode", in that they depart from the normal format and serve as Milestone Celebrations. "The Best of All In the Family", aired in December 1974, presented highlights, interviews, and mainstream media coverage from the show's first four seasons. It also had an announcement of the show's latest spinoff, The Jeffersons, which would debut a few weeks later. "All In the Family's 200th Episode Celebration", aired in March 1979, did effectively the same thing as well.
  • Archie Bunker's Place: The follow-up series to All in the Family had a number of episodes with Very Special topics, including pregnancy and drug abuse. But 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.
  • Ask This Old House on PBS has had a few episodes specifically dealing with one special topic:
    • One had a focus entirely on kitchens, because the show got the most mail about kitchen-related matters.
    • One dealt with do-it-yourself projects you could do with children.
    • An episode in the spring of 2009 dealt with that summer's U.S. government-mandated switch to digital broadcast television and focused on getting an entire neighborhood ready.
    • One focused entirely on winter weather, and another dealt with severe weather awareness.
    • One focused on renewable energy.
    • One dealt with home accessibility, namely outfitting a whole home for an elderly man bound to a wheelchair, and building new steps for a women with prosthetic legs.
  • Battlestar Galactica had an interesting subversion of the VSE when a young colonist snuck 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 with real life is that 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, they didn't match in tone, leading to Narmy results. One example is an episode in which one of the lifeguards gets skin cancer — and Hulk Hogan has to win a wrestling match to save a local youth center.
  • Discussed in the Big Wolf on Campus episode "The Sandman Cometh":
    They did four Very Special Episodes in a row... it was an emotional workout.
  • Blackish had one about police brutality that was even advertised as such.
  • Popularly attributed to Blossom, which had a lot of Very Special Episodes which were 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. It was enough to be the source of many parodies:
    • On Friends, Joey announces, "My family thinks I've got VD!" (the result of a PSA poster campaign he was in sending the wrong impression). Chandler sardonically replies, "Tonight on a very special Blossom!"
    • The American What Not to Wear had an episode billed as "a Very Special Episode" where the celebrity makeover target was revealed to be Mayim Bialik. She even seemed to dress like a grown-up Blossom gone to seed.
    • On The Venture Bros., Dr. Orpheus threatens to "make you believe you are a very special episode of Blossom."
  • 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 ten days after the Pentagon attack on September 11.
  • Boy Meets World had a couple of these.
    • Cory and Shawn become completely drunk sharing a small bottle of whiskey, leading to Shawn having a harrowing week of alcoholism solving it by "talking to some guy."
    • Shawn has a friend who is physically abused by her dad, so Shawn and Cory decide to hide her at Cory's house overnight. It ends with the Kids Help Phone Hotline number.
    • Shawn joins a cult disguised as a youth center, and he's so enamored with the companionship there and taken in by the cult leader that he cuts himself off from his usual friends and slowly turns insane — until Mr. Turner has a motorcycle accident that leaves him in critical condition. It aired not long after the Heaven's Gate suicides, although the cult leader on the show was portrayed somewhat more sympathetically, if a bit nutty.
    • Cory bets Feeny that he can get more students to pass a test if he teaches classes himself for a week. He immediately institutes anarchy in the classroom before realizing that it was a bad idea and deciding to do some actual teaching. He winds up trying to teach about racism and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl and makes no headway — except with Shawn, who does better than usual on the test at the end.
  • One episode of The Brothers Garcia has Carlos finding out a girl at school wears a wig. He 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.
  • 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, who'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 "I Only Have Eyes for You" also ended with a PSA about suicide and a suicide hotline number.
    • 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 a steroid but ends up turning them into fish.
  • 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, stating that "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.
  • Community: "Mixology Certification" showed issues with alcoholism, helplessness, adjustment to disability, dealing with adulthood, and questioning one's path in life. It was much heavier than other episodes in tone, although it retained the show's trademark humor.
  • Criminal Minds and Medium most notably do these, but without the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop factor.
  • Though nearly every episode of CSI covers something "Very Special", some stand out:
    • One episode, aired in the wake of Michael Vick's arrest for running a dogfighting ring, focused on dogfighting and how bad it is. It ended with a PSA from William Peterson (who plays Gil Grissom) and his own dog.
    • A whole are on CSI: New York dealt with Stella's fear that she had contracted AIDS. It was done in cooperation with KnowHIVAIDS.org, and a PSA aired after each episode.
    • CSI: Miami had an episode Ripped from the Headlines about a photographer suspected of being a killer; it ended with a PSA featuring photos of still-unidentified real life women, hoping that it would lead to someone identifying them.
  • 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.
  • Diff'rent Strokes had a few:
    • The best known Very Special Episode was "The Bicycle Man," aired during the fifth season. 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. American Dad! revealed that this actually happened to Principal Lewis and that his friend, Dudley, was traumatized over it.
    • In "The Reporter", which aired just weeks after "The Bicycle Man", 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 print the story — 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 had many episodes that 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."
    • The finale itself was a Very Special Episode about pollution. It wasn't very up-beat.
  • Doctor Who:
  • The Drew Carey Show parodied this with "A Very Special Drew", which tried to tackle every Very Special Problem at once. It 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.
  • Elementary had one where the sub-plot involved Thomas trying to start a relationship with someone who has recently been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It's not too thick on the coverage, and at the end of the airing there was a PSA from his actor about MS.
  • The Facts of Life:
    • There was an episode where Natalie almost gets raped. It's often confused with a later episode similarly billed as a VSE (but in which she sleeps with her boyfriend voluntarily) or a different VSE in which a boy spreads rumors that Natalie was easy and wrecked her reputation.
    • One episode featured Blair's cousin Geri, who has cerebral palsy. Blair is forced to admit that she's secretly jealous of her cousin, because Geri is praised for being able to do simple things while she herself rarely receives any recognition from her family despite working extremely hard to impress them. Mrs. Garrett calls her out on this without moralizing, instead telling her to consider the implications of what she just said. It helps that Geri returned for a few more episodes, which avoids the typical pattern for these episodes.
  • Fame has a number of these:
    • One particularly notable VSE on this show is "Go Softly Into The Morning", an episode about drunk driving that just so happened to have been brainstormed right around the time Nia Peeples (Nicole) was about to leave the show. The producers got her permission to kill off the character as the result of another student's carelessness. They later regretted offing Nicole, and said that they would have loved for her to come back for the Grand Finale.
    • "A Tough Act To Follow" formally killed off Mr. Crandall. It aired not long after his actor, Michael Thoma, died of cancer, so it doubled as a tribute to Thoma.
    • "Help From My Friends" is about Dwight finding a suicide note in a student's vandalized locker and everyone else tracking down the note's author.
    • In "Bottle of Blues", Doris reunites with a past boyfriend of hers who is an alcoholic. He swears that he's stopped drinking, but he shows up late and drunk to a rehearsal, so she's forced to give him up.
    • In "Childhood's End", Coco deals with the death of her grandmother.
  • Family Matters did episodes about the following topics:
    • Marrow donation.
    • Gun and gang violence among youth, complete with PSA from the actors out of character at the end, and a catchphrase "Squash it" that was part of a national anti-violence campaign. It's obvious the actors were kind of uncomfortable doing the PSA.
    • Police discrimination — a cop pulls over and unfairly tickets Eddie because he was a black teenager driving in a white neighborhood.
    • Black History Month — when Laura suggests that a black history class be put into the curriculum, she gets harassed by the white students, causes racial tension in the student body, and finds a note in her locker telling her to "go back to Africa". The broadcast version cut the scene right after showing her closing her locker and finding the word "NIGGER" spray-painted on it.
    • Someone spiking Urkel's drink at a party, with Urkel almost dying as a result.
    • Carl having a heart attack.
    • Urkel saving Carl's life with CPR after he gets electrocuted by a lamp.
    • The most Anvilicious episode of them all: The one where Eddie is chastised by every one of his gym classmates for still being a virgin.
  • Family Ties had many of these, some of them incredibly Anvilicious like some other shows, and others actually effective at making tearjerking moments. In these episodes:
    • Alex loses a friend to drunk driving.
    • Steven has a heart attack.
    • A friend of the family makes a pass at Mallory.
    • Alex gets addicted to diet pills.
    • Long-Lost Uncle Aesop (played by Tom Hanks is an "off the wagon" alcoholic.
      Uncle Ned: (*sob*) I hit Alex...
      Uncle Ned: It may not be Miller time, but it is vanilla time! (downs an entire bottle of vanilla extract)
      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 Keatons' new black neighbors encounter racism.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did this regularly:
    • Will and Carlton are pulled over trying to get to a fancy party. They debate police racism; Will thinks they were only pulled over because they were two black kids driving a Mercedes, whereas Carlton thinks the officers were just doing their job.
    • Will recovers from a gunshot wound, which allowed the show to address gun violence (and briefly make Carlton Darker and Edgier).
    • Will's deadbeat dad comes back, only to abandon him again. The Tear Jerker ending shows Will breaking down over the realization that his real father just doesn't love him.
    • Will is given speed to help keep him awake, but he has no interest in it and just tosses it into his locker. Then Carlton finds it and mistakes it for acne medicine. He gets tripping high, dances wildly at the senior prom, and nearly dies. It ends with lots of hugging and crying.
    • A fraternity Will and Carlton are trying to join doesn't like Carlton because he's not "black enough".
    • Will's love interest's new boyfriend challenges him to a drinking contest; he gets drunk and passes out. Rather than say outright that alcohol is evil, the episode decries the stupidity of abusing alcohol for the sake of respect and machismo.
    • Carlton nearly becomes a victim of paternity fraud because he's too afraid to admit he's a virgin.
  • 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, 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. Unlike many Very Special Episodes, it wasn't narmy and was actually handled very nicely, if not a Tear Jerker.
    • "Silence is Not Golden", where Stephanie's never-seen-before and never-seen-again friend Charlie is abused by his dad. He insists he fell down the stairs, then admits the truth to Stephanie but makes her promise not to tell anyone. Stephanie wrestles with that promise before Uncle Jesse convinces her to spill the beans. The Aesop was meant to show the importance of reporting child abuse when one sees it. It also gave us a particularly Narmy line:
      I ran into a door. A door named Dad.
    • Played with in an episode where DJ's friends offer her a beer; she declines and derides them for stupidity, but a classic Third-Act Misunderstanding leads to no one believing her until her friend Kevin confirms her story for everyone.
    • DJ is invited to a pool party, is insecure about showing up in a swimsuit, and develops an eating disorder. She skips meals for three days before Stephanie catches her feeding her lunch to the dog; she makes her promise not to tell anyone, but sensing a trend, she breaks her promise after DJ passes out at the gym. Naturally, she's cured by a hug at the end of the episode.
    • In "Under the Influence", Kimmy drinks too much at a fraternity party and acts like a total Jerk Ass, before DJ forcibly takes her keys and drives her home. When Kimmy asks why she would care, DJ reveals that her Missing Mom was killed in a drunk driving accident before the start of the series.
    • Stephanie and a friend lie about their age to go joyriding with sixteen-year-old boys, who engage in all sorts of risky maneuvers on the road. DJ thwarts her plan to go again, and they later find out that the kids were in a serious car accident — and the only reason they survived with relatively minor injuries was because they were all wearing seat belts.
    • Stephanie and a friend are offered cigarettes in the school bathroom; Stephanie refuses, but only after much deliberation. She's so guilty about the fact that she even considered it that she causes a Third-Act Misunderstanding by calling into a teen radio show (run by her sister DJ) and explaining her predicament in a terrible fake accent.
  • 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.
  • Girls had a very special episode entitled "Close Up", in which Adam's girlfriend Mimi-Rose Howard reveals she had an abortion. Show creator Lena Dunham then retweeted praise for the episode for dealing with the topic.
  • Glee seems to have given every one of the show's Five-Token Band A Day in the Limelight, such as the Very Special Zaftig African-American Episode, the Very Special Gay Episode and the Very Special Disability Episode. There was also a Very Special Gun Control Episode, a Very Special Drinking Episode, and one about the dangers of abusing amphetamines (although the latter two have become much Harsher in Hindsight due to Cory Monteith's death from an overdose combination of alcohol and drugs). Monteith also got a special tribute episode called "The Quarterback" in the wake of his death.
  • 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 show was also notable for foisting Very Special Problems on the characters least likely to have them.
    • Dorothy, usually the strongest character, is the one dealing with a gambling addiction. She's also diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (after a number of doctors initially dismiss it as just age or laziness) — Truth in Television, as this had happened to one of the writers, and Dorothy's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her doctors seems much like a Character Filibuster — but a completely understandable one.
    • Sex-loving Blanche struggles to deal with her brother's homosexuality, and also has to deal with the ramifications of her hands-off parenting and how it's affected her children and grandchildren.
    • Sweet, slightly prudish Rose is the one who goes through an AIDS scare, a drug addiction, and the aftermath of a house robbery.
    • Sophia, the Cool Old Lady and Mama Bear, dealt with issues afflicting people in her age group. She befriended a man with Alzheimer's, had to talk a sick, old, lonely woman out of suicide, tried to break a (slightly senile) friend out of a substandard nursing home and care for her, dealt with her estrangement from her cross-dressing son Phil and his untimely death, and eventually got over her animosity toward 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:
    • One episode was about VD, complete with a disclaimer at the beginning. 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. They didn't even put up a hotline number.
    • A multi-episode arc about Penny being abused by her mother averted the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop trope by having Penny remain on the show once the Very Special Issue was resolved as Willona adopted Penny after her mom abandoned her.
  • One of the most memorable for a whole British generation was the "Zammo becomes a junkie" storyline on the school soap opera Grange Hill. It averted the usual Compressed Vice arc by lasting for months, and climaxed with the whole cast recording an anti-drug pop single called "Just Say No".
  • In the fall of 2007, NBC launched "Green is Universal" to focus on helping the environment. To coincide with this campaign, that November the network launched "Green Week," an entire week where every show had an episode focused on environmental issues, and often had Al Gore guest star. NBC continues this practice today, though on fewer programs, and "green" NBC programming nowadays almost always premieres during the week that Earth Day falls on.
  • Growing Pains:
    • Mike and his friends are offered drugs at a party. The episode's coda features 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.
    • An episode against drunk driving guest-starred 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.
    • "Been Here All Along" revolves around Miley cancelling a father-daughter afternoon so she can spend the day with her boyfriend, Jesse. During the date, Jesse gets a call from his own father, and to Miley's dismay, he spends a very long time talking. After the call is done, Jesse reveals that his father is stationed in Afghanistan. Realizing how foolish she was to blow off a day with her father, she organizes a Hannah Montana concert dedicated to military families. The original airing also featured messages to real-life deployed soldiers from their families.
  • Happy Days:
    • For a lighthearted, wacky comedy, the closest it had to a VSE 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.
    • One episode had Fonzie in a motorcycle accident that caused him to temporarily go blind. It centered 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 shows up and is later revealed to have a drinking problem.
  • The Hogan Family
    • "Bad Timing", the safe sex episode, was perhaps the most notable as it was not only one of the first sitcoms to touch on the topic of safe sex, but also marked the first primetime usage of the word "condom". As such, content warnings aired before the episode and during ads for it, as well as before commercials for birth-control products and safe sex PSAs. It was also the only official video release of the show, distributed exclusively to teachers and health educators, because it discussed safe sex so well that it was deemed appropriate for school discussions.
    • "Movin' On" which wasn't too much of a VSE in that it was mainly to get Sandy Duncan warmed up to her new TV role as the family's aunt. However, it did establish the death of Valerie Harper's character in a car accident.
    • "Burned Out", a follow-up to "Movin' On", features an accidental fire which severely damages the Hogans' house and forces them to stay with their neighbors, the Pooles. Notably, McDonald's helped finance the set damage and aired commercials relating to fire safety during the original airing. Also during the original broadcast, as this review proves, a few NBC affiliates ran text scrawls relating to local fire safety and preparedness activities, as the episode premiered during Fire Prevention Week.
    • In season 3, not long after Valerie died, David's friend Rich gets drunk during a house party, forcing David to lock him in a closet overnight and remind him that his mother had died in a car accident.
    • One of the last episodes, entitled "Best Of Friends, Worst Of Times", deals with David finding out that Rich has contracted AIDS. The majority of the episode deals with David coming to terms with this, and later getting Rich to help him with a documentary he and his other friend Burt are doing at the hospital. The last few minutes of the episode show David making a speech about AIDS at an assembly, dispelling various misconceptions about the disease and giving facts about how it can be prevented. Then he breaks the news of Rich's death, which had happened the night before.
  • Home Improvement was a rare example of a show that handled these things nicely, if only because people behaved more realistically than usual.
    • Randy had a cancer scare, which caused his family to worry incredibly about him and the uncertainty before the diagnosis. It turned out to be a false alarm, but he did wind up with hypothyroidism, a condition that effectively requires a pill a day for the rest of his life.
    • In one episode, Brad's secret pot stash is discovered (in a clever place, outdoors hidden under a chair — too bad his dad invented Tim Taylor Technology and crashed right through it on another one of his escapades). It notably averts tropes like Marijuana Is LSD, and Brad's parents are much more understanding of what pot does and why he would smoke it, with Jill even admitting to having experimented with it when she was younger. Interestingly, the pot was also showed in plant form as a green herb in a plastic bag (Al mistook it for oregano); this was unusual, as most VSEs don't like to show the substance itself (if anything, they'll only show a joint).
  • House had one in season 5 when Kutner commits suicide.
  • Tyler Perry's House of Payne loved this trope, tackling drug addiction, cancer scares, STDs, Teen Pregnancy, postpartum depresssion, gun violence, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. Some episodes ended with an actor telling viewers that they can get help for the Very Special Problem through an 800 number or a website.
  • Jack & Bobby had an episode where Jack's ex-best friend (and Long-Lost Uncle Aesop) Matt commits suicide. Through flashbacks in Jack's memory, the reason for Matt's suicide was revealed to be that he 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:
    • One episode dealt with gang violence and how it affects youth.
    • One episode features a blatantly racist Klansman who woves into the building. He uses racial epithets and plans to kick every black tenant out of the building. He then has a heart attack and George and Tom save him, but when he realizes who saved his life, he tells his son, "You should've let me die." The episode is saved from falling into Narm territory by injecting humor about the Klan's ridiculousness, including one scene where a miscommunication leads Tom to think they're just planning to evict a couple of thieves — and crash their Klan meeting looking to help.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger had one when the heroes meet a woman who is extremely prejudiced against aliens in an obvious allegory for xenophobia. She ends up falling in love with and eventually marrying the reformed Zangyack alien Jerashid.
  • Kamen Rider Double:
    • One episode 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 says that the power gives them a high and they've been using it to cope with stress. In another episode, Isaka/Weather Dopant dies from overuse of the Gaia Memories, which is presented very much as an allegory for drug overdose.
  • Kyle XY had one about teenage drinking and another about tolerating gays. Fiction Isn't Fair is in full force here.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is a show about sex crimes and child abuse, two rather hot-button issues. USA Network even aired a marathon of the show as part of a campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault. But the show's own Very Special Episode turned out to be about teenage 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.
  • This was done as early as the 1960s on Leave It to Beaver.
    • In one episode, Beaver learns that his family's gardener is an alcoholic. Bizarrely, he gets drunk from eating a rum cake, which is possible, but only if the thing has been soaking in alcohol for months.
    • One VSE dealt with the topic of divorce.
  • Life On Mars has one about the evils of Football Hooligans. While it was notably well-done, Sam's impassioned speech was met with quite a bit of giggling in other countries, perhaps because the viewers weren't familiar with the Hillsborough Disaster, a football match stampede which killed 96 fans — many of whom were mistaken for hooligans and thrown back into the crowd when they tried to escape onto the field.
  • 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 a 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 comedic. Additionally, "The Little House Years" movie aired on a Thursday night (and supposedly independently of the regular series, although the movie is canon with the show), whereas regular episodes aired on Mondays.
  • One episode of Lizzie McGuire deals with anorexia; Miranda "contracts an eating disorder" when she skips lunch once and 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 blaming it on poor body image, 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.
  • M*A*S*H had a Very Special Episode billed as a light-hearted send-off for Henry Blake, as he left Korea and flew home. In the last 30 seconds, it utterly destroyed this convention for comedies by having his plane shot down and killing him off. It largely worked because people always die senselessly in war.
  • From around the third or fourth season onwards, every other episode of MacGyver was a Very Special Episode.
    • One unintentionally hilarious episode involves 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). 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.
  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is, in broad terms, always a VSE, as it pre-empts most of NBC's daytime programming and is one of the few programs the network can count on to attract the entire family. But some parades were particularly special:
    • In 1963, the parade was held a week after the Kennedy assassination, and as such was a tribute to the late president.
    • The 1990 parade included a tribute to the recently-deceased Jim Henson. The 2003 parade was a similar tribute to Bob Hope.
    • The 2001 parade was held only a couple of months after 9/11.
    • The 2005 parade was a tribute to the city of New Orleans after it had been hit by Hurricane Katrina.
  • An early example is the "Maude Has An Abortion" episode of Maude. It was so early that although it didn't moralize, it still codified the VSE — it was so shocking and received such ratings that it produced a winning formula.
  • Subverted with Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Not long after the Oklahoma City bombing, a series of promos started airing for a special entitled Talkin' It Out, with the Rangers explaining that the scary situations they get into are all just pretend, and that there are much scarier events in the real world. However, this turned out to be a case of Never Trust a Trailer; Talkin' It Out was actually a standalone Fox Kids special and the Rangers only appeared at the very beginning to discuss what we were about to see. The remainder of the special involved John Walsh interviewing children about the then-recent bombing and how it affected them. Since it was a one-off special, preempted Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, and aired commercial free, it is a VSE in a broad sense.
  • Monk: Parodied in "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man" which explains his prejudice towards nudists. He even has a silly Freudian Excuse.
  • Mr. Belvedere has VSEs in which:
    • One of Wesley's classmates contracts HIV.
    • Alzheimer's disease is tackled, and Wesley has to deal with the failing memory of an old lady he visits in a nursing home.
    • Wesley is molested by a summer camp counselor.
    • Heather is nearly raped by her prom date — and the way it's filmed, we're left wondering if she really was raped before she finally confides to Mr. Belvedere that she was able to fight him off.
  • 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.
  • The Muppets has "A Tail of Two Piggies", which deals with body positivity. When Miss Piggy's tail sticks out of her dress at a Zootopia screening, she becomes a laughingstock, and sets out to prove that pig tails are beautiful... by planning to show it off on her talk show Up Late with Miss Piggy. Naturally, due to network objections she isn't allowed to do so. But there's no rule saying that other animals can't show their pig tails on network TV.
  • My So-Called Life does this with the Anvilicious episode "So-Called Angels" that deals with the issues of teen runaways and homelessness. Complete with a PSA at the end and Juliana Hatfield as a magic homeless angel strumming her guitar.
  • 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.
  • The episode of One Tree Hill where Lucas' estranged friend Jimmy decides to shoot up the school. You'd think it would address the gun control debate, but it really focused on Jimmy's relationship with his friends, which left it somewhat less impactful.
  • 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.
    • A season 2 episode revolves around Julia discovering that she is pregnant and debating whether or not to keep the baby. Charlie wants her to get an abortion because she's 16 and too young to be a mother; Claudia is morally opposed to abortion and insists that she keep the baby. It's resolved when Julia has a miscarriage at the end of the episode, although it did develop her relationship with her father Justin.
    • Season 3's "The Intervention" 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, in particular a scene in which Bailey gives the family a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and criticizes their handling of other issues, including Julia's pregnancy. It also drops a huge bombshell that their deceased father was also an alcoholic.
  • Police, Camera, Action! has done some exceptionally well-done examples that notably avert 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:
    • A special two-part episode had Punky learning CPR, which she gets to put to the test on a friend who suffocates inside an old fridge. A chroma-keyed text imposed over a still of Punky's CPR class, along with a stern announcer, reminded us that "CPR should only be performed by certified people" (which Punky was not). The plot was in fact submitted by a kid who had won a contest.
    • Henry's dad becomes 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) showed Punky's dreams of becoming an astronaut crushing while witnessing the real-life Challenger explosion. Her teacher then arranges a meeting with Buzz Aldrin, who encourages Punky not to give up on her dreams.
    • "The Reading Game" 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 when she is left alone with her younger brother Bobby, he ends up drinking fabric softener, and she can't read the warning label when instructed to by the 911 operator. Only when Punky 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, and handicaps.
  • 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. It's easier to list the episodes that have less of a VSE bent, including:
    • "Dead Last", where a jockey is killed by a horse — or is he?
    • "To Kill in Plain Sight", where Quincy and Monahan race to stop a political assassination — not very connected to Quincy's day job, but in no way a VSE.
    • "Next Stop, Nowhere", which was a VSE but quite ridiculous, since it was half Quincy solving a murder in LA's punk scene and half Quincy warning about the moral scourge of punk rock.
  • Raising Dad has an episode where Sarah decides she wants a nose job. In a twist, it's the other characters who learn An Aesop; Stuart and Emily discover that a perfectly nice-looking girl like Sarah can have a bad self-image and that constant teasing can push her over the edge, and Emily 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 whose Crowning Moment of Funny was the episode dealing with marijuana. Dan and Roseanne find a bag of weed 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 theirs. Back when Roseanne was pregnant with Becky, she and Dan agreed to kick the stoner habit and be responsible parents, only he never had the heart to throw it away. The rest of the episode shows them smoking it with Jackie 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.
  • Roundhouse, an early 90's Nickelodeon Sketch Comedy, has the following VS Es:
    • In "The Feminizer", the mother believes she'll get more respect at work if she becomes a feminist.
    • In "Paper Hat Head", the son drops out of school to pursue his budding skateboarding career.
    • In "A Single Spot", the family endures several natural disasters after moving to Hollywood.
    • In "Thing a Thong", the family tries to help the environment.
    • In "Step-Family Feud", the son fakes his own parents' divorce.
    • The "Cruds and the Gimps" was perhaps the most compelling VSE; the son gets caught up in gang violence at school. It turns out to be All Just a Dream, but since the gangs still exist in the real world, the show's Signing Off Catch Phrase "reprise the theme song and roll the credits" doesn't work this time. The son wanders off confused, and we're left with a text reminder that "gang violence is no joke" and Silent Credits.
  • 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 Doctor Who Spin-Off series The Sarah Jane Adventures had two consecutive stories in its final season:
    • In "The Curse of Clyde Langer", one of the characters becomes homeless after an alien artifact rouses a specifically-targeted Hate Plague against him.
    • "The Man Who Never Was" uses a story about aliens to make heavy-handed points about human trafficking and the abuse of workers by outsourced manufacturers in the tech industry.
  • Saved by the Bell had several, 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, which you can see here.
    • Zack's duck Becky is killed by an oil spill.
    • Gang meets their favorite actor and finds out that he smokes pot.
    • They drink and drive during homecoming and wreck the car, with Slater breaking 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", including:
    • One episode has everyone get a fake ID to go to the teen wedding, followed by an episode about illegal underage marriage.
    • Two episodes dealt with (almost) abortion, and another deals with STD testing. And every episode ends with a message telling teens to talk to their parents about sex and avoiding teen pregnancy (later replaced with a sexual abuse help hotline message).
    • One episode saw Ricky encounter his on-parole birth father, who used to sexually abuse him.
    • A season 4 episode dealt with LGBTQ issues, in particular Ricky's mother coming out as a lesbian and Grace dressing like a stereotypical Butch Lesbian and pretending to be gay just to get attention.
  • Seinfeld, as the series whose philosophy was "no hugging, no learning", is largely credited for killing the Very Special Episode, as other shows imitated its characters superficial narcissism. Oddly, though, it rarely outright made fun of the VSE; it even featured a guest character who was struggling with drug addiction and whose intervention was played completely straight (albeit offscreen). Well, before he got addicted to pez candy.
  • 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. 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 the usual standards of the trope. The show dealt with the topic again for a primetime PBS special called When Families Grieve.
    • 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.
    • A week-long Story Arc from 2001 deals with a hurricane blowing though Sesame Street and destroying Big Bird's nest. The arc was re-aired in 2004, 2005, and 2012 after several high-profile hurricanes (although they were compressed into a single episode for 2012).
    • An episode made in response to the 9/11 attacks has Elmo becoming traumatized after a fire at Hooper's Store. The adults then arrange a meeting with some Real Life firefighters, who remind Elmo that there is nothing to worry about. The firefighters dedicated their appearance to a fellow comrade who died on 9/11.
    • A Direct-to-Video project has Rosita dealing with her father being confined to a wheelchair due to a war injury. It was done as part of the show's "Talk, Listen, Connect" initiative for kids with deployed parents.
    • The show tried dealing with divorce twice, but it's a particularly tricky subject to explain to young children. The first saw an episode produced where Snuffy deals with his parents' divorce; after negative test screenings, it was never aired. The second did air years later, and it involved Abby Cadabby revealing that her parents were divorced; the fact that she still gets to see them both and was on good terms with them softened the blow.
    • Lead Away was an educational kit for adults dealing with the dangers of lead poisoning and keeping lead away from children. One memorable segment involves "The Lead Police", a group of Anything Muppets who sing about lead poisoning In the Style of... The Police.
    • One educational kit was specifically for kids with incarcerated parents.
    • A primetime special, Families Stand Together, directly addresses parents on how to raise their families during tough economic times. It was available in full on the show's website for a few years, but it seems to have been removed since then. A trailer is still available on YouTube, and can be found here.
    • The episode aired on Halloween 2013, while not featuring any specific "very special" topics, fits this trope because it was made in response to the passing of longtime Muppeteer Jerry Nelson. It revolved around his most famous character, the Count, missing out on an award ceremony where he will be rewarded for his counting. The other cast members impersonate him to stall the awards committee, but they fail, and his award is forfeited to a handheld calculator in Beijing. Then the Count texts the cast and reminds them that it's more important to count friends than prizes, and how honored he was for them to care about him even in his absence. Then the Count himself swoops in aided by his bats and counts everyone on the street, thanks to some of Nelson's pre-existing audio.
  • Sisters was practically a Very Special Series. It showed nearly every issue present in shows of The '90s, and often multiple issues in a single episode.
  • Every Smallville episode with guest star Christopher Reeve ended with him and Tom Welling telling people to donate to the Christopher Reeve 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.
  • The Sopranos handled this without the usual Black and White Morality; when Tony discovers his daughter's soccer coach is a child molester, he tries to solve the problem in this vein and fails because (a) Tony and his crew don't treat adult women much better, and (b) he thinks A Real Man Is a Killer and doesn't think the justice system would solve the problem even if he deigned to go to them. So he gets very relaxed on medication and alcohol and seems quite content with the idea that "I din' hur' nobody".
  • During an AIDS/HIV awareness month on American television, Star Trek: Enterprise aired an episode in which T'pol, the catsuited Vulcan first officer, enters an unprotected mindmeld with a rogue hippie Vulcan (played as an Anvilicious sexual metaphor). After a scene which veers into Mind Rape territory, she contracts a rare Vulcan neurological disease that...oh hell, she got Vulcan Space AIDS.
  • 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 an infamous example. Riker falls for a female "deviant" from a One-Gender Race which considers expressions of gender evil. It was meant to be a way to showcase how "deviant" is really a point of view. However, the casting and costuming made the alien look very obviously female, which caused a bit of a Clueless Aesop (or worse, a reactionary "feminine heterosexual rebels against separatist Butch Lesbians" kind of plot). Jonathan Frakes realized this and argued strongly for the alien to be played by a man, but he was overruled.
    • "Angel One" was meant to be a commentary about sexism by showing a female-dominated society where women tended to be bigger and stronger than men. Again, Riker falls in love with the woman, and it turns into a Clueless Aesop by just making the strong women look bad.
  • Star Trek had several also, typically veering into Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped territory.
    • "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" is particularly notable, given when it aired. It showed a race of Human Aliens, half of whose body was black and the other half white. It illustrated the inherent absurdity of racism by showing a conflict between aliens whose left half was white and whose right half was black, and aliens whose left half was black and whose right half was white. They were all stunned that Kirk and Spock couldn't tell right away that the other is inherently inferior. The conflict culminated in an offscreen war that wiped out both races altogether.
  • Step by Step wandered into this territory on occasion, most memorably in an episode where J.T. learns he has dyslexia. His poor grades are originally blamed on his study habits and work ethic, but then Cody discovers that he can't make sense of the things he reads. J.T. further assumes that dyslexia will give him a free ride, before Cody teaches him he'd have to work harder now. It does, however, give us the following line on J.T.'s diagnosis:
    Carol: Oh, thank God, I knew you couldn't be that stupid!
  • Strangers with Candy, in every episode, takes the Very Special Episode, and viciously subverts, parodies, mocks, moons, and otherwise brutalizes it with the kind of glee generally only reserved for children on Christmas morning.
  • 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
    • "Alex's Old Buddy" involved the death of Buddy, Alex's dog.
  • "The Good Wound" from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles obliquely dealt with spousal abuse.
  • 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
    • Several, one of which actually has a Downer Ending.
    • An episode during Black History Month had Raven and Chelsea apply for a job at a clothing store. Raven is clearly in her element, while Chelsea is not. Chelsea gets the job, and Raven has a vision of the manager flat out stating, "I don't hire black people." Raven then goes undercover to expose the racism. Meanwhile, Corey has a dream that teaches him how important black history is after he complained about having to write an essay on it.
  • Titus: In a notable subversion, the show framed every episode as a Very Special Episode. Drugs, suicide, abuse, infidelity, domestic violence, and insensitivity to others were all common in the series. It took great delight in playing those things for Black Comedy. The closest to a tradition VSE are:
    • "The Smell of Success", in which Titus turns to alcohol after his hot-rod business goes under and his father refuses to give him money to keep the shop afloat.
    • "The Last Noelle", in which 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 like his mom.
    • "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.
  • Victorious has "Rex Dies", in which Robbie's puppet Rex is injured. 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. The Victorious Wiki called it the most serious and emotionally toned episode the show had to date.
  • This Old House on PBS has had a few mid-season projects that fell into this category. The series spent a few episodes visiting New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the Jersey Shore post Sandy. One three-episode project focused on the ground-up construction of new homes for U.S. war veterans. By far the most special full-length season remembered by fans was in 1999, when Master Carpenter Tom Silva and his family lost their home to a fire and the show helped them rebuild.
  • 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. Perhaps the most anvilicious is an episode where a young girl killed by gang crossfire is resurrected by an angel and then "blessed" with the ability to talk to the angel.
  • 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, tells his friends they're just "vitamins", and nearly gets Horshack hooked as well. At least one critic, Tom Hill, decried the episode for throwing away the opportunity to become a VSE, making it simply another one of Gabe Kaplan's throwaway jokes about his relatives.
  • The West Wing: "Isaac and Ishmael" explored racism against Arabs and South Asians in the wake of 9/11, similar to 24. A staff member has the same name as a terrorist, and Leo and the Secret Service interrogate the heck out of him. When it turns out he's innocent, he gives Leo a big "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? parodied it. 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?".
  • WKRP in Cincinnati: The 1980 Ripped from the Headlines episode "In Concert" centers around the real-life events surrounding concert-goers being trampled to death at a rock concert headlined by The Who at Riverfront Stadium (set in the fictional WKRP's town of Cincinnati). In the show's fictional universe, station employees gleefully promote the concert and talk about what a great time they plan to have at the show, but on the morning after the concert, the staff is wrought with guilt upon learning of the incident — in which several of the victims were under the age of 18 — and resolve to call for action to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. Even Les, the otherwise grossly incompetent news director who doesn't know a news story from a wristwatch, has a shining moment here, knowing that something needs to be done to prevent future similar tragedies. The episode ends with employees leaving to go to a candlelight vigil for those who were killed.
  • Zoom has two 9/11-related VSE's, entitled "America's Kids Respond" and "America's Kids Remember".
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VerySpecialEpisode/LiveACtionTV