Static Shock had many Very Special Episodes, including "Sons of the Fathers" (focusing on racism), "Frozen Out" (focusing on homelessness), "Jimmy" (focusing on school violence), and "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" (focusing on dyslexia).
Mercilessly spoofed in Drawn Together, in an episode appropriately named "A Very Special Drawn Together Afterschool Special". Started as a roleplay by the housemates to help Xandir decide how to inform his parents of his homosexuality, the effort quickly derailed, which resulted in nearly all of them getting killed by the end of the episode.
Also lampshaded in an earlier episode: ("Hi, I'm Toot Brownstein... In this episode, we awkwardly dealt with eating disorders.")
Gargoyles has two major Very Special Episodes, but tended to buck the trend by showing aftereffects in later episodes:
In "Deadly Force", the dangers of playing with a loaded gun are looked at, including a description of the path the bullet took inside the victim's body. The message may have been too graphic, however. It was initially banned from reruns due to its heavy subject matter. When it returned, the scene of Elisa getting shot was edited in such a way that the viewer could no longer see her bleeding while lying on the ground. In any case, it forced Broadway (the shooter) to mature as a character; he was initially a fan of violent cop shows and movies, but after this experience grew to prefer investigative work. His hatred of guns in this particular episode is tied directly to his personal guilt, rather than guns being wrong inherently. And, as a nice touch, Elisa spent a few episodes on crutches as she recovered; and - having noted that she shouldn't have left the gun out in the first place - was later shown making sure to keep it locked up.
Then there's "Lighthouse in the Sea of Time", the episode concerning illiteracy - though the gargoyles came from the Middle Ages, where the ability to read was very uncommon, it's still a little hard to credit a plot where the villain wants to throw away the personal diary of Merlin, and is stopped by heroes, who then deliver a speech about how stories are treasures. (Admittedly, the villain was just frustrated that Merlin's writings didn't include any magic spells, and quickly calmed down.) Again, Broadway's the one who got the major Character Development, becoming quite the fan of William Shakespeare - just look at that moment when he describes Castle Wyvern's kitchen, and then his eyes really light up when he describes the library. The blind author introduced in "Lighthouse" also becomes an occasionally recurring character.
Nickelodeon's As Told by Ginger was, as far as Nicktoons go, never one to shirk away from touching on real adolescent issues. Three notable episodes stand apart for their efforts to address particularly tough subject matter: "Stuff'll Kill Ya" (about caffeine addiction), "And She Was Gone"note an Emmy nominee for Outstanding Animated Program, Less Than One Hour (about depression, suicide, and how schools overreact to students who are allegedly depressed or suicidal by assuming what they write is a cry for help), and "Losing Nana Bishop" (about death and coping with loss).
The "big 3" American networksnote ABC, CBS and NBC united to air the special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, where cartoon characters from Looney Tunes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles try to teach a child called Mikey about the dangers of marijuana. Ludicrously. The point that breaks Mikey, other than his addiction forcing him to steal from his little sister and his family worrying about him, is that marijuana will turn him into a green-skinned zombie; it's quite obvious where Mikey's priorities are, and it's made even worse when you consider most marijuana users aren't, y'know, zombies. Stupidest of all is that cartoon characters who really have no business knowing about drugs are the ones preaching to Mikey, such as Huey, Dewey and Louie of DuckTales, Alvin and the Chipmunks and, of all people, the Muppet Babies. And seeing Bugs Bunny talking about a joint is really quite ironic, considering that Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes did not start out as children's cartoon characters (it was made that way through erroneously packaging and syndicating the classic Warner Bros. cartoons as children's entertainment). Its first US airing began with a live statement from then-President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, while airings in other countries similarly began with live statements from their respective heads of government.
Captain Planet is one big Very Special Show, telling children to not cause pollution (despite rarely going into why people polluted in the first place). However, it had many particular episodes that focused on more down to earth problems that children, teenagers and young adults may face. One of these was a drug episode "Mind Pollution" where Linka's cousin Boris gets addicted to a designer drug called "Bliss" created by Verminous Skumm (who appeared to specialize in "pollution of the body" in the show, so to speak). Another episode was about AIDS, involving Skumm spreading lies about a young AIDS sufferer such as the virus could be contracted just through casual contact (it also had implications that the AIDS sufferer was gay and in love with his friend, who was defending him from being bullied). The former episode is at least somewhat notable for breaking the Never Say "Die" rule by showing Linka's cousin die from throwing himself out the window and bleeding profusely.
Then there was the episode where Wheeler in a dream discovered an island inhabited by greedy, foolish humanoid mice who refuse to stop having large families. Initially clueless American boy Wheeler is against government mandated population control, but he learns his lesson when the humanoid mice overpopulate to the point that their island destroys itself.
"King Scoopa Koopa" focuses on nutrition and obesity, with capitalist greed thrown in as well. King Koopa opens a fast food stand and the cave people are immediately hooked. Mario, Luigi and Yoshi visit the stand and enjoy the food so much that they gain a considerable amount of weight in one sitting. Princess Toadstool forces them to go on a diet, with Mario the only one to successfully wean himself off the food. Luigi and Yoshi aren't so lucky, as the food mutates theminto Chickadactyls. The episode also touches addiction when Luigi and Yoshi steal Toadstool's treasure chest out of desperation and trade it to satisfy their cravings.
In "Born to Ride," which centers around street gangs and peer pressure, Yoshi runs away from Dome City after being yelled at by the Mario Bros. He finds the Dino Riders, a motorcycle gang, who "initiate" him after he unwillingly vandalizes a cave person's house. They successfully exploit Yoshi's child-like personality to kidnap Mario and Luigi as ransom for Koopa. Yoshi eventually catches on and saves his friends but not before the Dino Riders give one last chase.
Unlike most VSE, Daria's "The Misery Chick" is about exploring grief from a teenager's perspective instead of a child's one. In the episode, a previous quarterback is praised as a hero despite being a egotistical Jerkass. Right after Jane and Daria joke about him dying, he actually is killed by his own goal post. Daria's classmates and teacher, viewing her as "the misery chick", come to her for advice on how to deal with their varying feelings on the tragedy, which Daria gets fed up with. Jane then goes out of her way to avoid her when she starts feeling that Daria isn't taking his death seriously. Finally, Daria explains believing that the world has its losses as well it's gains doesn't make her miserable, just "not like them", and that even though he was a jerk, it's still horrible that he had to die. At the end of the episode, Daria advises a guilt-stricken Sandi to "find some other way to feel, then you won't feel sad."
Disney's Doug played it straight in the episode when Patti Mayonnaise thinks she needs to go on a diet after lagging behind in gym class and overhearing Doug talk about her weight problem (in reality, he was talking about how big his Lucky Duck Lake monster lure is), but ends up purposely starving herself to the point that borders on anorexia. Considered one of the more highly-regarded episodes from this era of Doug.
Adventure Time has moments that smack of this trope. "Princess Cookie" is unusual, because it's played like a classic Very Special Episode, but isn't topical and doesn't have a moral. Baby Snaps is a cookie who holds up a convenience store and holds the customers hostage, demanding Princess Bubblegum's crown. In an unusually sombre flashback, he tells Jake about Bubblegum's visit to his orphanage when he was a child. She told him he could be anything he wanted, and, seeing how happy she made the other children, he told her he wanted to be a princess like her. She laughed at him, and he spent the rest of his life coveting her crown. Jake tells him he doesn't need her crown to be a princess, and that he can found his own kingdom where anyone can be what they want. Jake tries to help him escape, but when the law catches up to them, Snaps attempts suicide by jumping off a cliff. The last scene is set in a mental hospital, as Jake brings a crown made out of a flower to Snaps, declaring him an honorary princess. Between the toned-down humour, the flashback, the explicit suicide scene and all the emotional monologuing about being oneself, it feels like an intentional pastiche of cliched Very Special Episodes, but unlike a classic VSE, it's not explicitly about some particular social issue. It just seems to exist for its own sake.
Parodied in one episode where Blossom ends up being the perpetrator of a crime (namely, stealing a rare and expensive golf club set for the Professor). The episode title, "A Very Special Blossom," alludes to the Mayim Bialik sitcom Blossom on NBC, where practically every other episode was a "A very special Blossom."
This was played straight, however, in "Equal Fights" (focusing on sexism) where the town is terrorized by a feminist villain called Femme Fatale, who tricks the girls into hating boys with her propaganda. Ms. Keane and Ms. Bellum manage to bring the girls back to normal and they take Femme Fatale to jail after telling her that she has no idea what she's talking about.
The 2016 reboot has an episode where the girls discover a pony that wants to be a unicorn. The episode was promoted as being a metaphor for gender dysphoria, though its moral is shot in the foot somewhat due to the ending featuring said pony, after having undergone rigorous transformations via the Professor, being discovered to have been a unicorn the entire time (its horn was tucked away under its mane). Emily Brundige, the writer of the episode, later came out and stated that the gender identity allegory was not her doing, but that of the higher-ups who looked at the episode and thought that a transgender-friendly message could come out of it.
"The Great MacGrady" has the kids finding out lunchlady Mrs. MacGrady has been diagnosed with cancer. It was dedicated to its writer, Leah Ryan, who passed away from the disease, to the point where Mrs. MacGrady's name was changed to Leah (it was usually Sarah) for the episode. Sadly, the episode rarely airs anymore as Lance Armstrong guest-starred in the episode, and after the doping scandal that cost him all of his Tour de France titles... However, the cancer actually goes away quite fast.
In "Binky Goes Nuts," it is revealed Binky is allergic to peanuts. His mom was very worried.
"Buster's Breathless": Buster finds out he has asthma.
Another VSE that comes to mind is the one where the show's resident Butt Monkey George is diagnosed with dyslexia.
A very strange case in an episode where there's a candy bar that makes sparkles come from your mouth that Buster covets. George and Fern keep eating it. The metaphor gets more obvious as Binky buys every piece from the local stores and becomes a sort of dealer, with George and Fern being regulars and going as far as to constantly buy from him despite him being a more expensive middle man. And then George and Fern are shown tired and depressed when they don't eat it. It seems to be a shallow drug metaphor, or at the very least an episode warning the dangers of addiction... until Buster investigates what the candy's made of, and finds out that it actually contains drugs. The effect is even illustrated, with the candy's "secret ingredient" attaching to the brain and making the consumer feel really good, until the material breaks down and the consumer feels really depressed and wanting more. Overall, the real Aesop seems to be about the lengths Corrupt Corporate Executives will go to get money. It ends with Buster's mom exposing the candy in the news.
Another episode featured George befriending a rabbit named Carl, who happens to have Asperger's Syndrome. The episode deals with George learning about Asperger's and autism in general. Unlike most VSE's, however, Carl averts the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop trope by appearing in later episodes.
One infamous episode titled "Bleep" featured DW learning a "swear" word and accidentally causing other kids in her class to say it. Rather than explaining that certain words may be considered offensive or rude, DW's mother basically says "It means I want to hurt your feelings". Not helped that the swear word is never given any context as to its meaning. (Granted, the beginning of the episode did explain how and why the bleep is used, so the episode was probably more of a demonstration of how the bleep is used than a VSE about swearing. The production team probably focused more on the bleeping.)
Yet another episode featured the Tibble Twins becoming obsessed with a Power Rangersparody series. The episode centers around the twins pretending that everything (including school) is part of the show's world and that they are the main heroes of said show. It ends with the twins hitting DW with a swing causing her to need stitches on her lip and learning two important lessons. First being that there's a time and place for playing pretend and that real life comes first. The second being that not everyone might want to play the same game as you, and that you should never do something that might hurt them.
"Shelter From The Storm" is similar to "April 9th" in that it's related to real life events - in this case, the episode is a response to Hurricane Sandy. One of the two main plots involves Brain becoming overly anxious after Hurricane Sadie and being sent to a therapist (Idina Menzel), and Muffy having to stay in a shelter instead of a hotel while traveling with her parents. The other two sub-plots have Arthur fundraising for pets abandoned during the hurricane and the other involves a character worried her father would be too busy working to come home for her birthday.
There's also a hilarious episode that sends up the VSE where the boys are forced to join a choir class whose teacher (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) is using them to spread the message of saving rainforests. When the group gets lost in a rainforest and nearly killed by everything but the kitchen sink, the teacher snaps and screams "That's it! F**K rainforests!" and proceeds to change their message to destroy them rather than save them. The whole thing caps off with a PSA urging viewers to help "join the fight to destroy all rainforests before it's too late." While the anti-environmentalist message may make viewers angry or upset, you have to admire the balls it took just to say that, when most other shows would go the pro-environmentalism route.
South Park also has the anti-bullying episode "Butterballs" that features Butters getting bullied by his grandma and played out like a schoolyard bullying story. It's not Played for Laughs in the slightest, though it does have its own subversion in the form of parodying anti-bullying programs when Stan's attempt at such a film goes south. The overall message of the episode is "Bullying is bad, but exploiting the victims of bullying for fame, money, and admiration is worse."
"Eat, Pray, Queef", one of the show's more Anvilicious episodes, played out like a 20-minute women's rights tract. However, it's hard to tell if it's a sincere pro-feminist message or a parody of it. It might be the latter, considering that Trey's track record with women includes an abusive sister and an unfaithful ex-fiancee.
Parodied in "Sexual Harassment Panda", complete with a closing Public Service Announcement against suing people to make money.
Beavis And Butthead had one called "A Very Special Episode" where the duo find a baby bird (or as Beavis calls it, "a chicken nugget") and nurse it back to life. By complete accident, as in typical B&B fashion they actually wanted to see it die. When the two manage to restore the bird by feeding it, they actually thought that the bird would automatically die only after they fed it. They were told by the nurse that the bird was gonna die anyway no matter how much they try to help him. Of course, being stupid as they are, they thought she said to feed so it can die.
Batman Beyond had so many teen drug episodes it's hard to call them "very special", but they all have that tone to them that makes them seem to count. Then again, one of them was a 'excessive fashion statements = drugs' episode, and one of them was a 'video games = drugs' episode. And then there was the 'adoption / stalking' episode. And a couple of bullying episodes, although those are more just an excuse to have someone ELSE Terry knows from school go insane in a way that involves Batman.
Family Guy has some. Most of which are parodies, and some of which are serious:
The simply titled "Brian & Stewie" (the 150th episode, the only episode in which Seth MacFarlane is credited for doing all the voicework, and the only episode in which there are no cutaway jokes, flashbacks, or Take Thats against whoever's famous) where Brian and Stewie are locked in a bank vault for the entire weekend and Stewie discovers that Brian has a gun in case he wants to commit suicide. Sure, there was that really gross poop-eating scene and some musical numbers at the end (which were only in there in the first place because FOX had some gimmicky music-based episode line-up on Animation Dominationnote The Simpsons episode "To Surveil with Love", which premiered around the same time, had that Couch Gag with everyone in Springfield lip-syncing to Kesha's TiK ToK for this same reason; in all reruns and on the DVD, the musical numbers aren't there), but other than that, the episode was a serious look at the relationship between Brian and Stewie.
Another episode ends with this parody of what's found at the end of "very special episodes": "To learn more about drugs, go to your local library. There's probably someone behind it who sells drugs."
Parodied in the episode where Happy-Go-Lucky Toysnote The toy factory Peter used to work at before his boss died is merged with a cigarette company who uses the place as a front to get kids hooked on tobacco. First, it's played straight, with Peter enjoying the perks of being a company head and backing up his superiors — until Stewie starts smoking cigarettes, then Peter protests against them. In the end, the message was really about how it's wrong to kill strippers (a Call Back to a short scene where a Senator is freaking out over killing one of the dancers at a D.C. strip joint called "The Oval Orifice" and Peter calming him down by saying that, yes, choking her to death on dollar bills and beating her with a chair were horrible ways for her to go, but at least she didn't die of cigarette smoking), because strippers were put on Earth to entertain horny men and most of them are already dead on the inside from the life decisions that led them to this point, so physically killing them is redundant.
"Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.", aside from the traditional Black Comedy moments, was actually a very serious episode that dealt with Quagmire's sister being abused by her boyfriend (which was first mentioned in "Jerome is the New Black"note The episode featuring Quagmire calling Brian out on being a pompous asshole who pushes his atheist and liberal views on others), and is one of the few (if not only) times that Domestic Abuse is actually shown in a serious light on the show.
Earlier in the series, there was an episode where the Griffin family meet a family of nudists (Peter saved the father from being swept in an undercurrent while fishing, thinking he lost his trunks in the water). Meg ends up dating the son, and the family aren't too comfortable with that. They eventually warm up to the idea, even exhibiting their own tolerance for the practice by going nude when he comes over. Despite the ruthless amount of innuendo and situation gags, it's really quite touching.
"Brian Wallows and Peter Swallows" had some funny moments, but was really a very special episode (and one of the few episodes, according to Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein, that actually has human emotion in it) about coping with loss (Brian caring for the elderly shut-in who used to be a jingle singer and Peter caring for the baby birds that have nested in his newly-grown beard).
Parodied at the end of an early episode in which The Griffins go to an Indian casino and Peter and Chris go out in the woods on a spirit quest. After Stewie makes a racist comment about Native Americans, Lois launches into a "The More You Know" PSA about how Native Americans are people too (followed by Stewie stating the same thing about Mexicans, Meg saying the same thing about Swedish people, and Peter bashing Canadians, and concluding the episode with "Canada sucks!")
"Livin' on a Prayer" was about Lois kidnapping a baby so it can be given cancer treatment much to the disapproval of his Christian Scientist parents, who don't believe in letting doctors treat illnesses.
The banned episode "Partial Terms of Endearment" was actually praised for showing realistic arguments for and against abortion — and, at least until the end where Peter flat-out tells the audience that the baby Lois was carrying was aborted, treated the subject matter with respect. No wonder it was banned from American TV (it is available on DVD and UK viewers have seen it on BBC3).
"Keeping Up With Our Joneses" is about the family - including Bobby - taking up smoking and then struggling but succeeding quitting. This episode was complete with a humorous PSA during the credits in which Boomhauer held up a clean white belt for his car engine next to a greasy black one and compared them to "your lungs on air" and "your lungs on smoke," then going on about "dang ol' ear hair, mang, low sperm count, talkin' bout, no good yo."
"Traffic Jam," which dealt with racial stereotypes in comedy, had a similarly funny PSA at the end.
The episode "My Own Private Rodeo," about Dale coming to terms with his father being gaynote (though it's revealed that he hated his father because he caught him kissing Nancy before their wedding, which his father did to cover up the fact that he was about to kiss a busboy), was nominated for a Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Award...and this was in 2001. As Mike Judge later pointed out when recounting letters about the episode, this was two years before Lawrence v. Texas legalized homosexuality throughout the United States. It's not as preachy as most other TV show episodes about coming to terms with homosexuality, but it does show that gays are people too, can be anyone in your family, and do need love and support, especially if they live somewhere where people aren't tolerant of the LGBT community.
"Death of a Propane Salesman" discussed Hank's fear of propane after being nearly killed in a propane explosion and his denial of the problem. Luanne's boyfriend, Buckley, did die in the explosion and most of the episode dealt with her coming to terms with her grief instead of hiding it - a lesson that "Wings of the Dope," when Buckley comes back as an angel, taught a Columbine survivor some months later.
If it's a Luanne-centered early episode, expect it to be or border on a VSE (see "Wings of the Dope," "Pigmailon," "Leanne's Saga").
Not just one, but two episodes about workplace sexual harassment: "Return to La Grunta" and "That's What She Said." Extra VSE points because both of these feature Hank on the receiving end of harassment (and both show that sexual harassment isn't just a man giving a woman unwanted attentionnote even though "Return to La Grunta" did go that route in the story of Luanne working as a drink server for golfers. For Hank in "Return to La Grunta," he was humped by a dolphin and the hotel staff bought him off with merchandise rather than take the event seriously while "That's What She Said" showed that telling raunchy jokes and trying to make every little thing a Double Entendre during work hours also counts as sexual harassment, no matter how clever or funny it may be).
"Pretty, Pretty Dresses," which deals with Bill's extreme suicidal depression. It becomes a Broken Aesop, though, when the way Bill's friends treat him is essentially a laundry list of what notto do when dealing with a suicidal person.
Even The Simpsons trotted one out, in the form of the episode "The Color Yellow." For Black History Month (which is celebrated by Springfield Elementary despite the fact that the has a low African-American population), Lisa - at first reluctantly, and then with increasing interest and obsession - investigates the mention in a 150-year-old Simpson family diary of a slave named Virgil. It eventually comes to light that Lisa's great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mabel, had helped Virgil to escape to Canada - and then married him. Grampa mentions that Mabel and Virgil's son was his great-grandfather, which makes Bart and Lisa one-sixty-fourth African-American. Marge wonders why this had been a family secret so long, pointing out that no one had ever complained about the family having French ancestry. Grampa's answer is that Homer's paternal side of the family is very racist and wouldn't have tolerated a black relative, much like Homer doesn't tolerate Marge's French side of the family.
The Emmy-winning "Homer's Phobia" has Homer making a new friend named John (played by guest-star John Waters), but when John turns out to be gay, he's horrified and Marge calls him out for it. Things get worse when Homer thinks Bart will end up gay because John spends more time with Bart than Homer does (and even begins wearing Hawaiian shirts and dancing to 1950s music while wearing a wig). Homer tries to "cure" Bart by taking him to a cigarette billboard (which is for slim cigarettes and features two scantily-clad women pillow fighting whilst holding a cigarette each), a steel mill (that turns into a gay disco after the work day is over), and a hunting lodge (which fails). At the end, Homer learns to accept Bart for who he is, and Bart doesn't know what Homer is talking about until Lisa spells it out for him: "He thinks you're gay."
"The Cartridge Family" is an odd version of the very special episode. For one thing, it was a shift from the original set-up (which has The Simpsons trying to survive a soccer riot that erupted in town). For another, it was a big Series Continuity Error as Marge had a gun before on the episode where she becomes a cop and Marge never complained before about Homer having guns in the house note though most of the other guns Homer had were shotguns and rifles, and the gun Homer had was a handgun, which can easily be mistaken for a toy gun and is more likely to be misused by the children. For a final note, Homer learns his lesson about guns (and lying to his wife), but Marge ends up with the gun after seeing how good she looks with it, which leads to a Broken Aesop of "Yeah, guns are dangerous, but they make really good fashion accessories."
There was one about gender equality where Penny joins the football team, one where Penny greatly misuses her credit card, and an anti-piracy episode. Even the Christmas Episode kinda counts, since it was part Christmas and part the Proud Family learning about Kwanzaa, and subsequently learning to appreciate their heritage more.
Fat Albert had many of these, including episodes centered on smoking, homelessness, gun safety, pedophilia, stealing, racism, going to prison, etc. Lampshaded in Bill Cosby's standard episode intro ("if you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done").
The Amazing World of Gumball features a downplayed example in the form of "The Catfish". The basic plot is that Louie, Gumball and Darwin's step-grandfather, has 0 friends on Elmoreplus (the show's fictional counterpart to Facebook) and they decide to make a fake profile for a woman named Muriel and friend him. Eventually, Louie starts to become genuinely attached to the fictional woman, and "she" tells him to meet her at the mall so that Gumball and Darwin can eventually come clean about the whole thing. However, Granny Jojo, Louie's wife, eventually finds out about it and misinterprets a message he sent Muriel saying "I think I want to be more than just Elmore Plus friends" (when he really just meant being real-life friends) and goes to the mall with him. Gumball and Darwin then discover that the woman that Gumball used as an avatar works at the mall, and have to stop Jojo from essentially brutalizing an innocent woman. They succeed, Louie finds out the truth about Muriel, and tells Gumball and Darwin that what they did was called Catfishing and is illegal. It's one of the few times on the show where there is a genuine aesop that isn't undercut for laughs, but it's a downplayed example because the episode, tonally, is still as comedic and wacky as every other episode.
The American Dad! "The American Dad After School Special" focused on body image and eating disorders. When Steve falls for a chubby, Perky Goth named Debbie, Stan is appalled to find that Debbie isn't the skinny, model-cheerleader-popular girl-type that Steve always lusts after (with hilarious results), but rather than Debbie succumbing to self-esteem issues because of her body, it's Stan who does after Hayley and Klaus call him out on being meaty himself.
A lot of episodes of American Dad! (according to the DVD special about the creation of the show, seen on the volume one DVD set) can be seen as deconstructive parodies of the "very special episode" in which all conventions and expected twists, turns, and plot points seen in a "very special episode" are either mercilessly subverted, mocked, or played out realistically. Case in point: "A Jones for a Smith" (the episode where Stan becomes a crack addict). At the end when Stan is rehabilitated, Francine is the only one happy that he is cured, Steve is pissed at Stan for ruining his chances at hooking up with a hot high school virgin who is attracted to nerds (and whose father is willing to let Steve sleep with her), and Hayley is begging Francine to let her into rehab for her marijuana problem (with Francine ignoring her).
Completely parodied in the Animaniacs episode, "A Very Very Very Very Special Show". The Warner siblings try to win a humanitarian award, so they preach throughout the whole cartoon about smoking, violence, sexism etc. Once the award goes to a different cartoon, the Warners instantly revert back to their normal selves and go against everything they were preaching.
Played straight in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock", which features Slappy Squirrel going insane from watching too much daytime TV and getting put into the hospital. This eventually results in Skippy being taken away by a CPS agent. The whole thing reminds one of an older relative going senile, seeing how it was based on Tom Ruegger's memories of visiting his aunt in a nursing home.
The Pinky and the Brain episode, "Inherit the Wheeze" deals with the dangers of smoking and has a cigarette addicted Brain working along side a corrupt tobacco company. He does speak against the company at the end.
The Rocko's Modern Life episode "Who's For Dinner" has Heffer learning he was adopted and coming to terms with the fact.
The Hey Arnold! episode "Big Bob's Crisis" has Bob suffering a heart attack.
"Helga on the Couch" centered on child neglect and how bullies become bullies. The episode didn't explicitly touch on the subject outright, but given Helga's depressing story, it might as well be about that.
Jem had several. Jem's love for talking about "faith and love and brotherly love" is even mocked by Pizzazz in one song:
One infamous one is their anti-drug episode. As the episode begins, a girl named Laura Halloway is brought to the Starlight House following the deaths of her parents in a car accident. Still reeling from the tragedy and feeling that no one really understands her, Laura meets another student named Bobby, who gives her drugs claiming that they'll make her feel good and help her play the guitar better. As a result, Laura hallucinates, nearly jumps from a high window believing she can fly, gets insomnia, keeps the whole house up with her horrible guitar playing, and generally acts like a jerk to everyone. Only after she gets caught stealing from Jerrica's purse and after she sees Bobby going after Ashley with the same lines he used on her, Laura goes to a support group meeting at Jerrica's suggestion and begins to recover. At the end of the episode Laura and Ashley help the police catch Bobby.
"Roxy Rumbles" is thick on its aesop about how reading and literacy are awesome in laid thick. Despite this it's a fan-favorite because it doubles as a Roxy-centric episode. We learn Roxy is illiterate (something foreshadowed but not obvious until you rewatch the episodes) and she abandons the band after Jetta and Pizzazz mock her for it. Roxy finds a lottery ticket that is a winner and she becomes a millionaire. She leaves the band, changes her wardrobe, and runs back to her hometown of Philadelphia to show all the people who thought she wouldn't accomplish anything in her life otherwise. To her disappointment Jem And The Holograms are in town on a tour promoting literacy. Roxy tries to outshine Jem by throwing a carnival with free food however it bombs in her face. Because Roxy couldn't read contracts she ends up losing all of her money, in addition to taxes for the lottery and the carnival fees. When Eric and her bandmates find her they remind her she has a contract and couldn't leave even if she wanted to. In the end Ba Nee, a foster girl The Holograms take care of, gives her a book for beginning readers and despite Jetta mocking her it ends on the bright note Roxy is finally learning to read.
The episode is not themed around him but one episode has a boy with an Abusive Parent (who according to Word of God is also an Alcoholic Parent) being kicked out of his house. He meets with a few of the Starlight Girls who have runaway. After the girls return home, the boy is told to get help instead of living by himself on the streets.
Sid the Science Kid had an episode done in the midst of the swine flu epidemic in 2009. "Getting A Shot: You Can Do It!" shows Sid's grandmother, who's also a nurse, coming to school to give the kids a flu vaccination. The kids then learn, sing songs, and play games about the flu vaccination's benefits.
While not in the same vein as most other VSE, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo had one episode where the gang deals with a headless skateborder ghost. As they're putting the clues together, they discover a cache of drugs which earns disapproving tones from Velma and Scooby (Velma says the word "drugs" with plenty of venom in her voice while Scooby responds "Drugs? YUCK!") In the end, they find out that the ghost was a former skateboarding champ who had been disgraced for using drugs.
The Centsables: Downplayed, but every episode features some surprisingly dark moments of subtext such as "vitamins" being used to make a character feel adequate in life, running away with a "child-like genius" to get a perfect life, identity theft gangs, and pretty decent people willing to look the other way for one reason or another enabling crime to happen.
The Venture Bros. did a parody of one. Interestingly, the parody doesn't come from the issue not being taken seriously, or the issue being something unimportant, but rather the issue being something so awkward most shows wouldn't talk about it: testicular torsion. At the end of the episode everyone looks extremely awkward as they're made to talk to the camera about a serious medical condition affecting male genitals.
The My Life as a Teenage Robot episode "Victim of Fashion" deals with female body issues in a half-hour format, instead of the usual Two Shorts. It has Jenny competing against the Crust Cousins to see who can be more fashionable and as Jenny realizes she can't "slim down" due to her metal body, she has Sheldon and Brad disassemble her into nothing more than a skeleton (an obvious metaphor for anorexia). This also leads to some combat issues for Jenny though, becoming too weak to fight anything.
The episode "My Fair Mandy" is The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy take on this trope. Once again female body issues are dealt with in a half-hour format instead of Two Shorts as Mandy enters a beauty pageant to outdo Alpha Bitch Mindy. Despite the well-known Gainax Ending, the show makes their subject clear as shown in a scene where Grim questions why anyone would participate in beauty pageants. Cue several moms encouraging their daughters to win for the sake of their love.
Parodied in Tiny Toon Adventures with the episode "Elephant Issues", where the cast does an episode involving "pressing issues" so they can win another Emmy. The three shorts presented are "Why Dizzy Can't Read" (illiteracy), "C.L.I.D.E and Prejudice" (racism), and "One Beer" (alcoholism/drunk driving). When parents complained about the ending of "One Beer", it was banned from the original Fox run of the show but returned to circulation for the Hub/Discovery Family reruns.
Why, Charlie Brown, Why? is an entire TV special dedicated to this. Linus's new friend and crush Janice has been diagnosed with leukemia, and the special concerns Janice's coping with the disease, as well as how friends, family, and strangers react to it as well (it's not all positive). The special was created out of a request for the Peanuts characters to explain how cancer works (Janice explains to Charlie Brown and Linus when they visit her in the hospital), and Janice as a character was praised by critics for handling the situation with bravery and dignity.
The Busy World Of Richard Scarry has an episode called "Little Fixit" which has Huckle and Sally learning about pregnancy since Mr Fixit and his wife are about to have a baby, who they name Little Fixit. (It's a VSE because like potty training, pregnancy is rarely touched upon in kids shows, making Scarry one of very few kids shows to discuss it along with Sesame Street.)
Defenders of the Earth has three such episodes, two of which incorporate their respective issues into storylines where it is otherwise business as usual for the Defenders, while the third is entirely focused on the issue and contains almost none of the usual science fiction and fantasy elements. The episodes in question are One of the Guys (attitudes to disability), 100 Proof Highway (teenaged alcoholism) and The Deadliest Battle (drugs). All three episodes focus on the younger Defenders, especially 100 Proof Highway, where no adult characters are shown onscreen, apart from a brief appearance by Mandrake, who uses his powers to show Kshin the dangers of alcohol. Does not, however, include A Demon in His Pocket; though Kshin's run-in with the school bullies sets the events of the episode in motion, the subject of bullying is not a major theme in the storyline.
Bobby's World has "The Music" which discusses the death of a loved one or a friend. The episode features Bobby befriending an elderly crossing guard named Abe. Near the end of the episode, Bobby heads off to school only to learn that Abe passed away over the weekend. Bobby is in denial at first, because he likely has never had this happen to him before and doesn't understand the concept of death, but Bobby's father later tells him that Abe will never come back. Bobby is heartbroken over this, but then gets better when he remembers how good of a friend and how much fun Abe was, as well as the lessons that Abe taught him. Bobby's teacher then gives him Abe's whistle, knowing that Abe would have wanted him to have it, and Bobby then decides to use it as he reprises the Serendipitous Symphony-type song Abe sang earlier in the episode. The last shot shows Abe as an angel in heaven commenting on how good of a singer Bobby is.
The Valentine's Day Episode also counts as it teaches kids not to hit other people. It starts with Bobby's female friend telling him that she made her Valentine's Day gift for him, but Bobby gets annoyed as the rest of the class mocks him. When the friend apologizes, he gets a little agitated and pushes her, making her cry. When Bobby returns home, his mother scolds him by telling him not to hit a girl. The scene then transitions to a game show appearance where the hosts tell Bobby that he hit his friend, but Bobby says that he didn't hit her but pushed her - and then another guest enlightens him by stating that hitting and pushing are basically the same thing. Bobby then gets inspired to apologize to his friend.
Another episode in the series has Bobby learning about where babies come from, since he's just found out that his mother is pregnant. Throughout the episode, Bobby asks this question to his father, his uncle and (near the end of the episode) his mother. Before the closing credits roll, Bobby endorses some books that parents can use to teach their kids about birth, such as How You Were Born. This would later start a one season arc of Bobby's mother being pregnant and eventually going into labor and giving birth.
The Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "Cookie Chomper III" also teaches about death, this time that of a pet. The Sevilles take in a lost kitten, which they name Cookie Chomper III or Cookie. The chipmunks spend the first few minutes adjusting to life with their new friend, but things take a tragic turn when Cookie gets out of the house and is run over by a car. The rest of the episode shows how the chipmunks deal with their loss - Theodore refuses to accept that the cat is dead, Alvin tries to get rid of all the houseplants and replace them with artificial plants (so that nothing else can die on them), and Simon is too miserable to do anything. Dave later convinces the chipmunks to think about the happy memories they have of Cookie. The episode ends with Dave and the chipmunks going to the animal shelter to get a new pet; Dave tells the chipmunks that, though this pet won't be the same as Cookie, they will love it just as much. (Rather than choosing another cat, they choose a dog which they name Lily.)
"Braap Braap Pew Pew". Diane, after finding out she was pregnant the previous episode, decides she's not ready to have a child and decides to get an abortion and tweets about her decision to a friend. Unfortunately Diane is in charge of ghost-tweeting for Teen Idol Sextina Aquafina, causing the public to believe that the latter is getting an abortion instead.