Tonight, on a very special article of TV Tropes ...
An episode, often in a sitcom, in which the lead confronts some highly emotional or forbidden issue from everyday life. Drug abuse, teenage sex, eating disorders... At the end of the episode, the protagonist is Enlightened, and the guest character with the Very Special Problem is never seen or heard from again. Often there is an 800 number to call, should you (or someone you love) actually have the Very Special Problem. Another key criterion is that side-effect, complications, or failure-rates of the official government mandated Very Special Solution the episode promotes are never mentioned. If the problem involves children in some way (and it almost invariably will), then it may also be promoted as something that "No Parent Should Miss". These often come about when networks or writers are bucking for awards, or may be caused by Writer on Board.
The tone will typically be much, much more serious than other installments of the series, although with sitcoms, there may still be a comedic subplot or occasional moments where the Laugh Track is needed. If Status Quo Is God is in effect, there is only a small chance of breaking with this practice, but that's the reason for the common tactic of introducing a new guest character who isn't protected by this consideration, and can therefore have anything bad or good happen to him without chaning the status quo.
Or, in other words: O.O.C. Is Serious Business for television shows.
These episodes were far more common in the 1980s, fueled by then-United States president Ronald Reagan's crackdown on drug use in America. They've largely fallen out of favor since then for most shows due in part to the increasing number of shows, particularly dramas, where issues such as drug/alcohol abuse, violence, sex and death are dealt with on an almost weekly basis, and then you have the Dramedy genre that regularly mixes comedy with serious issues.
There's a certain variety of shows where essentially every episode has a special message, such as Touched by an Angel, Joan of Arcadia, etc. However, it's not by any means a Dead Horse Trope yet due to Police Procedurals (i.e. Police Stop!, Police, Camera, Action!, Road Wars) and law enforcement dramas like Criminal Minds and Medium. Medical dramas will also do these, but for ethical not medical issues.
It is also a very ripe target for parody; these days, parodies are probably as common as seeing this trope played straight. May also be vulnerable to Détournement.
Compare Public Service Announcement. Too Smart for Strangers (about the danger of child abduction) and Drugs Are Bad (about Just Saying No to them) are two specific kinds of Very Special Episodes that reached their zenith in the 1980s. Descent into Addiction is a special case of the latter trope, in which the episode is all about a character's gradual slide into addictive behaviour. See Compressed Vice for when a character is saddled with an issue for just long enough to illustrate the aesop, and Long-Lost Uncle Aesop for when a new character is introduced solely for this purpose and never seen again. An Author Tract is when the entire work is used as an excuse to preach about a particular real world issue. Green Aesop is when the story focuses on environmental issues, but these aren't as common.
- The episode Vomiting Point from Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was extraordinarily depressing, and a satire on the pitiful, everyday lives of people living in a monotonous world, minus the main characters. The animation style is much more realistic in contrast to the show's normal Powerpuff Girls-esque style, and the titular characters (who are animated in the normal style) only show up at the end for about a minute. The rest of the episode follows a very put-upon office worker as he attempts to simply do his mundane job and get his daughter a present for her birthday. The ending is at least somewhat positive, as Panty and Stocking do give him an autograph to give to her.
- Himitsu No Akkochan, the original 1969 series, plays that straight with episode 32, aptly named "_____". The eponymous heroine, a school girl, meets a new deaf/mute kid, and, wishing to know more about his plight, she wishes to the spirit dwelling in her pocket mirror to make her deaf/mute as well. Upon a brief showcase of all the challenges her new altered state forces her to face, Akko-chan asks the magic mirror to be changed back... only to be mystically informed that, since she was enough impulsive to stress over the "mute" part of the ailment, and the mirror works only by vocal commands, she's going to be disabled for the rest of her life. Reaility fixes itself shortly before the final scene. Apparently, the magic mirror could have restored Akko-chan's voice and hearing as soon as she asked the first time, but it was simply proving its point, stating that Akko-chan got her Aesop all wrong: instead of feeling compassion for her new friend, she should have thought of how he's brave enough to get on with his condition without breaking down as she just did.
- In a Very Special Episode of Ojamajo Doremi, the eponymous elementary school witches have to help Kayoko, a little girl pushed on the brink of depression by the inherent competitive Japanese school system. Feeling inadequate, mercilessly bullied, teased by her peers, ignored by the teachers and witnessing her parents always arguing for her school problems, Kayoko starts to exhibit psychosomatic reactions (aka throwing up in fear) whenever she approaches school, ultimately choosing to become an hikikomori. The witches just decide, without any use of their powers, to be Kayoko's helping hand, going so far to offer their own hats for... Kayoko's use and offering their friendship to ease her feeling of inadequacy and loneliness.
- Shima Shima Tora no Shimajirō has 3 episodes teaching kids about potty-training. The first was the one everyone knows and loves, the second was about public restrooms, and the third had a superhero named "Pants Man" in it, who's an anamorphic kangaroo.
- If potty-training episodes count, Pants Pankuro and Panpaka Pants are two other anime with these sorts of episodes, as well as the Hello Kitty and Cinnamoroll educational shorts that we're released in The '90s and 2008 in Japan.
- This is pretty much half of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Underneath the standard splatter horror and the occasional storyline devoted entirely to squick, the manga explores such diverse topics as abortion, suicide, the death penalty, the economic crisis, treatment of the elderly, burial culture, and Japan's actions during WWII that have been repressed by the public.
- Yo-Kai Watch has a web-exclusive episode on eye safety featuring Baddinyan trying to get Nate and Whisper to do bad things to their eyes.
- Cracked has an article called "6 Comics That Covered Serious Issues And Failed Hilariously." As is probably quite apparent from the title, the article explores the Fridge Logic and Narm of some of these attempts at Very Special Episodes.
- Also, The 6 Most Baffling PSAs Starring Famous Superheroes (though one is from Captain Planet and another, from the 1960s Batman show).
- 1971 was a watershed year for Very Special Episodes in comics, thanks to Marvel and DC publishing two such stories in short order. It also had a major impact on The Comics Code.
- Spider-Man came first, and this story became known for being one of the better Very Special Episodes. Stan Lee was asked to write a very special episode about drugs by the government, and, instead of creating a Long-Lost Uncle Aesop to focus the story on, he chose to use an existing character, with bonus points for being a rich white male with known emotional issues. The Comics Code Authority then refused to approve the comic, so Lee sent Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 to press without the CCA stamp. Though the Authority would continue for four more decades, it would never be the same.
- The month after ASM #98 was published, DC published Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (pictured at the top of the page), which introduced a heroin addiction for Silver Age Speedy Roy Harper. By this time, the CCA, having endured a backlash against them for refusing to approve the Spidey story, revised their standards to allow the Speedy story to be approved.
- Roy Harper, who would later be known as Arsenal and later still as Red Arrow, became a Very Special Character for much of his career due to that storyline. And while the original story was not especially Narmful, many of the later ones which mentioned his drug abuse were.
- His drug abuse is still part of his character like when Speedy lectured Nightwing in a very holier-than-thou way in one comic, Nightwing sneered that he was getting advice from a heroin addict.
- It's even more a part of his character after The Rise of Arsenal, where Roy had a Heroic B.S.O.D. following the death of the daughter. Not only did he get back on heroin, he's alienated most of his friends and family, readopted the Arsenal identity and became a Card-Carrying Villain. Considering his remaining friends and family didn't provide much support following Lian's death and the loss of his right arm, it's not that surprising.
- Treads into awkward territory when his mentor, Green Arrow, punched him and threw him out of the house for being a filthy junkie. Though Green Arrow learned later in the storyline how wrong he was, he never apologized for his behavior. When Speedy tells him off for this, Green Arrow weeps silently... in pride for his ward becoming a man.
- His drug abuse is still part of his character like when Speedy lectured Nightwing in a very holier-than-thou way in one comic, Nightwing sneered that he was getting advice from a heroin addict.
- Most of the other Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics written by Dennis O'Neil may qualify as Very Special Episodes and not just the one where it is revealed that Speedy was a heroin addict. For instance, the issue that introduced John Stewart had Hal Jordan (and by extension, the audience) learning a lesson about police harassment and institutional racism.
- The Modern Age Speedy, Mia Dearden, got her own Very Special Issue where it was discovered that she was HIV Positive.This issue was written by Judd Winick, who seems to have a thing for Very Special moments involving AIDS and gay characters, given how a close friend of his who was gay died from complications relating to HIV.
- Judd Winick also penned a very special issue with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner's assistant getting beaten up for his sexual orientation. Judd was the one who introduced the character and built up the homosexuality angle prior to this with a less Anvilicious issue, where Kyle discovered the assistant had a crush on him.
- Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern series wasn't entirely free of this before Judd Winick, with Ron Marz penning issues on alcoholism, racism, and hate crimes against lesbians.
- There's a Very Special Issue of the Robin comic book, wherein Tim Drake talks a kid down from jumping off the roof; it fits well in the story, as Robin himself had recently lost everyone he ever knew. It even came complete with a teen suicide hotline at the end of the issue. Another involves a classmate of Tim's being killed by another who brings a gun to school, which ended up having repercussions in future issues.
- One of the most infamous of these stories was the Teen Titans 'Drug Awareness issue' mentioned in Pietŕ Plagiarism. And holding the victim was Speedy himself. Though this book is also infamous for its Captain Ersatz of Robin, the Protector, due to rights issues (the book was sponsored by a cookie company, but one that didn't have the licensing rights to Robin).
- Coming back to Spider-Man, he has been a very popular character for very special episodes, selected narmfilled issues shows our hero:
- Saving a young boy from being molested by his female babysitter by telling the tale about how he was molested as a kid by an adult friend named "Skip", who had an uncanny resemble to Uncle Ben.◊
- Foiling a plot to inflict the youth of America with teen pregnancy by giving advice about sexuality.
- Saving a stoner from jumping off a building. This mess was actually paid for with tax dollars, mind you.
- Teamed with Storm and Luke Cage to combat Smokescreen. Guess what this one is about.
- Stopped a Canadian drug ring in a story by Todd McFarlane. Naturally, they just had to be smuggling their drugs in hockey pucks.
- All these various issues would later be collected in a TPB "Spider-Man vs. Substance Abuse".
- J. Michael Straczynski's run had quite a few of those, through a lot of time the serious issues like bullying or school shooting were organic parts of the plot. Some of the straighter examples would be an issue in which Peter tries to help one of his students who has junkie brother and turns out they're both homeless (and in subversion to general rule this issue opens longer story arc and the girl is one of the central characters of it). The straightest example however would be an issue about 9/11 and it's still considered one of the better written comics about that tragedy.
- And finally, coming back to the subject of the original Amazing Spider-Man storyline, Harry Osborn's drug history would actually lead him to follow in his father's footsteps and become the second Green Goblin.
- New Mutants issue #45 was all about a new kid named Larry who was secretly a mutant. His classmates started teasing him about it (not knowing he really was a mutant) and stuck a flyer under his door that said "X-Factor [the mutant hunting team] is coming for you!" That freaked him out so badly that he ended up committing suicide. And the whole thing ends with a We Could Have Avoided This speech from Kitty Pryde about name-calling. Fortunately, it's so well-written that it's not really that Narmy. No, indeed.
- In the final story of Archie's Clean Slate, one of the licensed Christian religious Archie comics created by Al Hartley for Spire Comics, a friend of Archie (never seen or heard of before) gets into a drunk driving accident and experiences a spiritual reawakening.
- Death talks about life was a giveaway special produced by Vertigo at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It features Death directly addressing the reader about AIDS and sex related issues, and is probably the single most Anvilicious comic not written by Jack Chick. It's also probably the best Anvilicious comic of all time, as it makes up for its anviliciousness by featuring a scene in which John Constantine holds a banana while Death rolls a condom onto it. The AIDS epidemic was also a bit of a running motif in The Sandman itself, although never to the extent of having entire issues based around it.
- Spider-Girl issue #89, all about May's friend Sandra, who was being abused by her (now ex) boyfriend. Slight subversion in that it was the culmination of a long subplot and the abused character stuck around, but otherwise a textbook example.
- Peter David did quite a few of these in Incredible Hulk and Young Justice. In the former, he dealt with AIDS and abortion; in the latter he dealt with gun control and 9/11.
- Heroes for Hope, published in 1985, was a special one-shot starring the X-Men and written and drawn by dozens of notable comic book and genre fiction creators (conceived as sort of a comic book version of We Are the World), in which Marvel's mutant heroes confront famine in Africa (and an ancient demon that feeds on the despair it causes). Proceeds from the book were donated to famine relief.
- DC got it on it at about the same time, producing Heroes Against Hunger where Superman discovers his powers are useless against famine.
- Shazam: The Power of Hope is the comic book equivalent of a Very Special Episode. Penned by Paul Dini and drawn by Alex Ross, it mostly deals with Captain Marvel being sent on an errand to find a hopeless boy and bring him hope. Captain Marvel spends his free time in a child ward of the local hospital, dealing with terminally ill kids and various other hopeless cases. Only after helping the seemingly most hopeless kid of the bunch, in a Twist Ending moment, Captain Marvel is made aware that the hopeless boy was none other than Billy Batson, his alter ego, feeling doubts about his capacity to bring hope and needing to be confronted with the tragedies of human life and innocence of other kids.
- Around EC Comics, these kinds of stories were called "E.C. Preachies." One of the best known of these was "Judgment Day", which featured a representative of The Republic travelling to a planet of robots that segregates between functionally identical blue and orange robots, with one of them having having significantly worse facilities and less rights than the other and ultimately deciding not to admit them to the republic. The representative then takes his helmet off on the way back home, revealing him to be a black man. Notably, a reprint of the pre-Code story was denied approval by administrator Judge Charles Murphy, simply because of the aforementioned reveal. Editor William Gaines and writer Al Feldstein threatened the CCA with a lawsuit, after which Murphy asked them to remove the sweat from the protagonist's face in the last panel. Gaines and Feldstein's response was a literal "fuck you" and the story would be reprinted without Code approval in the very last comic EC ever published before shifting focus to MAD.
- Captain America Goes To War On Drugs features Cap fighting drug dealing aliens, and then later, a team of villains that are actually powered by drugs by the aforementioned alien drug dealers.
- The "Streets of Poison" storyline in his main book had Cap taking on a drug ring after discovering that Avengers support staffer Fabian Stankiewicz had been taking a new type of illegal drug. Cap would be caught in a warehouse explosion that caused him to inadvertently inhale a substantial amount of said drug, which would interact badly with his Super-Soldier Serum, eventually forcing Cap to have to receive a complete transfusion of ordinary blood. Fabian had even called Cap out on the Serum, pointing out that he had basically benefited from a type of drug, and this caused Steve not to want to get his old blood back after it had been purged of the drug. Though that point would become moot, as the cells in his body basically regenerated the Serum into his bloodstream anyway.
- Associated Student Bodies is for the most part a light-hearted Coming of Age story about a young man discovering his sexuality at college. That said, there are two plots that are Played for Drama, the first being when Daniel is attacked by homophobic classmates. The second involves Daniel coming out to his conservative family, which causes alienation between them that isn't resolved for several issues.
- Muties was basically a mini-series of Very Special Issues, each one telling a story about a young mutant for whom mutant powers are the least of their problems. One was a child soldier in Africa, another was a pregnant bisexual girl from Brazil, another was an autistic Japanese boy with an abusive stepfather, etc. Almost every issue ended tragically, suggesting that there were some problems that even mutant powers couldn't solve.
- Superman had a 2-part story about domestic abuse in the early 90's called "Crisis at Hand," deconstructing the days when Supes was a Wife-Basher Basher from the early Golden Age comics, showing that early in his career when he once attempted to scare a man from beating his wife, only to later learn it failed and the man later killed her the next time he got violent; in the present day when he learns that one of his neighbors is the victim of abuse, Clark tries to find a way to help her without setting her husband off worse. Considered one of the better cases of a "very special issue" and was actually brought up a few times afterward in the Superman books.
- A lot of early FoxTrot storylines had these (for example, Peter taking up chewing tobacco; Paige and Jason finding a used syringe at the beach; Paige and Nicole considering shoplifting). But after a while the strip focused almost exclusively on the Rule of Funny, although there were a couple of exceptions.
- Also notable was the post-9/11 storyline in which Roger, who is afraid of needles, decides to donate blood. These storylines are impossible now that the strip is Sunday-only.
- After Funky Winkerbean began employing story arcs in lieu of the former "gag a day" storylines, many of the arcs had "very special" themes. The first came in 1988, when a teenager named Lisa became pregnant during her senior year of high school, and only nerdy Les was willing to support her (Lisa also being an outcast, although not to the same extent as Les). Many other serious themes were employed, with the most notable recurring during much of the 2000s when Lisa- by now, married to Les- developing (and ultimately dying from) breast cancer.
- Other "very special problems" various cast members have had to deal with included abuse (child and teen dating), alcoholism, war-related issues (including prisoners of war, land mines and post-traumatic stress disorder), pornography, juvenile fire setting and so forth. While lighter stories have continued in the strip, the dramatic stories have taken precedence.
- Parodied in this Pearls Before Swine strip, where Rat's head explodes. It ends advertising "A Very Special Sunday Strip": Coping With The Death Of An Unloved One Guess what ran next week?
- Baby Blues did the one where Wanda confronts a mother who struck her child in public.
- For Better or for Worse did a number of strips like this. Just to name a few:
- Lawrence admitting that he's gay.
- Farley dying from a heart attack after saving April from drowning in a river.
- The death of Elly's mother.
- Jeremy Jones, the boy who had been bullying April, getting hit by a car.
- April's pet rabbit, Mr. B, dying in her arms.
- Elizabeth being sexually assaulted by a co-worker.
- Grandpa Jim suffering from a stroke.
- Michael and Deanna's apartment being destroyed by a fire.
- In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, a secondary arc of Episode 7 involves Lynn finally dealing with her brother Castor's severe drug abuse, with some helpful advice from Mega Man. Castor is seen suffering drug withdrawals and is reluctant to recover. But, in the end, Castor breaks down in his sister's arms and finally agrees to seek treatment.
- Harpflank and Sweets: A Very Special Episode demonstrates the effect this trope can have on characters when it's applied without buildup.
- Hivefled; Sennir briefly breaks the fourth wall in a question-and-answer session to tell readers that death was not a reasonable price to pay for gaining a body which fit his gender, and assures them help is available.
- Several chapters of Fallout: Equestria are devoted to The Hero Littlepip trying to kick an addiction to mind-enhancing drugs.
- Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic My Time Of Dying addresses the issue of Scourge's severe depression in a strictly First Person manner, with Scourge addressing the reader. It's very serious about how complicated depression really is, how it is often hidden, discussing how it often stems from multiple issues and manifests in multiple ways, how addictive self-harm can be and how a person with depression may suffer a relapse even as they appear to be improving.
- Word of God is that it's written for those who have friends with depression, with emphasis on how much support they need from you.
- Christopher Reeve only agreed to do another Superman film if it contained a clear anti-nuclear message. And, so Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and its ridiculously hamfisted villain Nuclear Man were born.
- One ad among the many commercials in WNUF Halloween Special is for a "very special episode" of a sitcom, where the fun uncle character has a drinking problem.
- In the short film Cáca Milis, Paul proudly tells Catherine that when he was a little boy, he had been invited to appear on a radio program because in addition to being blind, he had a very severe form of asthma ("the worst case they'd seen").
- The Baby-Sitters Club series had Very Special Books dealing with different topics. Most involved characters that had never been mentioned before and some ended with information about related support groups, such as Students Against Drunk Driving. Topics included drunk driving, dealing with death, anorexia, scoliosis, parental abuse, racism, and homelessness.
- The Berenstain Bears Trouble With Strangers includes "Brother And Sister Bear's Rules For Strangers" on the last page. The rest of the book isn't heavy-handed, though, and sends the message that "most strangers aren't bad, but you should be careful just in case."
- Sweet Valley High ventured into this trope with several books that covered steroid abuse, anorexia, teen gambling, dating violence, that typically featured secondary characters or one-off characters who had the Very Special Problem and they were never mentioned again. However, the one book that even the most casual reader of the series will remember was #40: On The Edge. Regina Morrow, heartbroken over her breakup from Bruce Patman, goes to a party with a boy she recently met (and he is never mentioned again beyond book 41) tries cocaine, and dies almost immediately.
- Rosemary Wells, well-known for her animal-based books such as Max and Ruby, wrote a book called Yoko in 1998 which deals with racism and prejudice. The book is about a young kitten named Yoko who is Japanese. In the book, she's getting ready for her first day at school and everything goes fine. Until lunchtime, when Yoko reveals that she's having sushi for lunch, and every student in the school (except for Timothy) makes fun of her for it. This results in Yoko feeling very hurt and is later discovered crying by Miss Jenkins when class is over for the day. This being a children's book, they all accept her in the end. This made it into an episode of the Timothy Goes to School Animated Adaptation.
- There's also the Yoko book "Yoko Writers Her Name" from 2008, which deals with similar themes but also briefly touches upon the language barrier. Yoko realizes that she can't write English words and mostly writes in Japanese letters. The cat duo Sylvia and Olive make fun of Yoko and her Japanese lifestyle, making her so upset that she refuses to eat her favorite food (sushi) when she returns home.
- Jacqueline Wilson has written several books based around an issue that readers might face: The Story of Tracy Beaker (living in care), The Suitcase Kid (divorced parents), Vicky Angel (bereavement), Love Lessons (Teacher/Student Romance), Lily Alone (Parental Neglect), Clean Break (what happens when a parent walks out on the family), Bad Girls (the effects of bullying), The Bed and Breakfast Star (the stress of living in temporary housing), Falling Apart (suicide), Girls Under Pressure (eating disorders) and more.
- The Miffy books are usually lighthearted and cute, however, in 1997 a book entitled "Dear Grandma Bunny" was released, which deals with Miffy learning about her grandmother's death. The book is actually recommended by bereavement organisations as a way of helping to explain the death of a loved one to young children.
- Soul Asylum's Music Video for "Runaway Train" was interspersed with photos of missing children and ended with a phone number to call if the viewer had seen any of them. In unfortunate twists, it was eventually revealed that some of the now-adults shown in the video didn't want to be found, and at least one of them was a victim of abuse by the same Abusive Parents who sent the photo. Worse, a little girl shown in the original video had been murdered by her mother and buried in her backyard as the corollary of her parents's bitter divorce.
- The music video for Sarah McLachlan's "World on Fire" claims she was given $150,000 by the record company to film it. Interspersed between footage of McLachlan barefoot singing and playing the guitar, the video mentions it was filmed for only $15 and the rest was donated to a variety of charities all around the world.
- Megadeth's "99 Ways to Die" music video shows small children and infants carrying around guns, statistics for gun violence against youth and pictures of children that were killed, paralyzed or shot.
- Moist's video for "Believe Me" depicted Biff Naked and her friend Violet moping around the Los Angeles River and giving each other FTW tattoos and later Violet somehow drowns herself in said nasty river. It's kind of confusing, really. Aaaanyway, the video does end with the number for the Kids Help Phone.
- Michael Jackson's video for the huge Green Aesop that was "Earth Song" ended with the phone number for his Heal the World charity organization. On the HIStory on Film: Volume II compilation, there was also a text scroll detailing the locations the video was shot in and how "man and his technology" had ravaged them.
- Motörhead released a song called "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me" which touches upon incest.
- Ozzy Osbourne has a song of his No More Tears album called "Mr. Tinkertrain", which is about pedophilia. Ultimately subverted in that the titular pedophile winds up being a Karma Houdini.
- Martina McBride has a few:
- "Independence Day" is about domestic violence.
- "Concrete Angel" is about child abuse.
- "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" is about breast cancer.
- "Cheap Whiskey" is about drunk driving and alcoholism.
- Simple Plan has "Untitled [How Could this Happen to Me?]," a song which describes a car accident victim's last moments after a crash with a drunk driver. The music video shows loved ones' worlds literally crashing in and was produced in cooperation with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
- Fall Out Boy recorded their video for "I'm Like a Lawyer...(Me & You)" in Africa, centering around a love story between two young teens, along with shots of the band playing in a field and a group of locals watching, laughing and dancing with the video for "Dance, Dance." The boy is kidnapped to be part of an army; at the end, text is displayed with statistics about child soldiers in Uganda and information about Invisible Children, Inc., an organization helping kids who are forced into war.
- Boards of Canada have their song "One Very Important Thought", about freedom of speech. It's actually far less Narmy than it sounds
- "Hell Is For Children" by Pat Benatar deals with child abuse.
- "No Man's Land" by Tanya Tucker deals with rape trauma syndrome by telling the story of rape victim Molly Marlowe who will have no man after her rape.
- Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" serves as one; frontman Mark Foster stated that the purpose of the song was to raise awareness of and provide a platform to talk about gun violence among youth, particularly with regard to the factors that drive young people to violence.
- The music video for the song "Stress" by the French group Justice deals with the violence associated with young inhabitants of banlieues or slums of major French cities, particularly those from North African immigrant backgrounds. The video was directed by Romain Gavras, cofounder of the Kourtrajmé collective, whose members were, for the most part, born in banlieues.
- Disturbed's music video for "Inside the Fire" deals with suicide, with lead singer David Draiman plugging the National Suicide Prevention Hotline before the start of the video.
- Every Charity Motivation Song ever recorded is a typical VSE in song form.
- Although by its very nature professional wrestling does not have "very special problem" plots in the vein of most sitcoms and such, WWE has aired very different types of "Very Special Episodes," most notably after the death of a prominent current member of its roster or after a notably tragic event. Current storylines will be dropped, and wrestlers will be invited to do "out-of-character" tributes to their fallen comrade. The most famous "death" examples were tribute shows aired for Owen Hart (who was killed after a stunt gone horribly wrong), Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Benoit (aired live, before the details of his murders of his wife and son, and his suicide became definitively known). WWE also aired a show two days after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, as a salute to victims killed in the terrorist attacks.
- In October, WWE superstars wear pink to raise awareness on the battle against breast cancer and to promote their partnership with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
- Sesame Street
- A very famous Very Special Episode dealt with the death of Mr. Harold Hooper, which was entirely justified as the man who played him had actually died. Not a shred of Narm this time, this Very Special Episode headed straight into Tear Jerker territory. A similar scenario, in which Elmo deals with the death of his uncle Jack, was produced in The New '10s.
- There was also an episode about racism.
- They also made an episode dealing with Mr. Snuffleupagus's parents getting divorced, but the test screening showed that the kids didn't get the right messages from it (such as them becoming more worried about their parents getting divorced), so it was scrapped and never aired.
- There is a very special book out there about Elmo's parents being deployed. It's sometimes passed out to military kids at family events.
- There was also 2 special episodes aired after 9/11. The first one was about a grease fire at Mr. Hooper's store. Elmo gets very terrified about this, until some real firefighters come and tell him everything will be just fine. The second one was about Big Bird dealing with Gulliver, his pen pal who believes birds should not be friends with any other species.
- There was an episode which centered around Big Bird's nest, which had been destroyed by a hurricane.
- Another episode deals with kids who have parents that are incarcerated.
- Then there's "Meet Julia!", which teaches the viewers about autism.
- According to this article, Bear in the Big Blue House's "When You've Got To Go!", which taught about potty training, was a very special episode. Why? Because back in the 90's, and even still today, potty training was rarely addressed in children's shows. It even was released on home video!
- Since the first wave, the stories of Hero Factory amount to this (if the animated series is anything to go by): the Fire Lord arc is a drug PSA using fuel as a metaphor for drugs, and the Witch Doctor arc is about environmentalism.
- Parodied in Sam & Max Season 2: Night of the Raving Dead. The pair film a "Very Special Episode" of Midtown Cowboys in which they confront their landlord about his addiction... but the episode is really a massive product-placement ad, because who wouldn't be addicted to the great taste of Old Gutsmack brand Malt Liquor?
- And then they replace the liquor with cigarettes containing garlic, causing a German vampire who is a big fan of the show to smoke them. You can also replace the liquor with a brand of water that you find in the castle, leading to some hilarious ad-lib moments.
- Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, its sequel, and its American counterpart Elite Beat Agents each have a level with a more serious story than usual behind it, involving a person/family coping with the death of a loved one. These levels are set to slower, quieter songs than the other stages. In Elite Beat Agents, the song used is Chicago's "You're the Inspiration".
- High School Story features a quest line called "Hope's Story" about cyberbullying; due to the long time waits required to complete quests, it functions much as a days-long Public Service Announcement. The cynic may also describe it as a days-long Product Placement for the Cybersmile Foundation.
- Parodied in the intro to Cel Damage:
Tonight, on a very special episode of Cel Damage: Will Violet ever learn of the disease that's slowly killing her? Will Sinder ever become house-trained? .....NAH! We'll just drive around way too fast and blow up everything in sight like we do every week!
- Dragon Age: Inquisition features Dorian, a homosexual companion, whose personal quest (involving his family attempting to "cure" him of his orientation via potentially-dangerous blood magic) is rather blunt in its message. Note that while there is some in-game justification for the shift (Dorian is from a culture that had not yet been featured in-depth in previous games and its rulers are engaging in a Super Breeding Program, discouraging non-procreative unions), previous Dragon Age titles hadn't portrayed homosexuals as very controversial or discriminated-against in-setting.
- At least in context, it isn't that Dorian's parents think being gay is wrong. It's that he won't play by the Imperium rules and agree to an Arranged Marriage Super Breeding Program. His parents would probably be fine if he engaged in extramarital homosexual relations so long as it's behind closed doors so long as he marries the proper girl and produces an heir first. Word of God is Dorian's parents hate each other and as a result only had one child which is why they can't turn to another kid to continue the family line. This gives credible in-universe justifications for their actions, but doesn't work as a Real Life allegory for parental homophobia as the basis for Dorian's fictional discrimination is vastly different to what people face in the real world.
- There is also a book discussing Sexuality in Thedas that comes off as rather... hamfisted in how it points out that such discrimination practically doesn't exist in the setting. However, the Dragon Age setting has plenty of its own unique social issues—particularly those regarding elves, mages, and religious extremism—that make homophobia seem quaint in comparison.
- Watch_Dogs 2 has the side mission Bad Publicity where Marcus is sent to take down a recent recruit to DedSec, a streamer called Pr 0-Lapz for abusing his skills and getting his opponents SWATtednote for an advantage, with Marcus doing the same to him. While usually the mission dialogues is often humorous throughout the game, this one is treated very seriously due to the number of SWATting incidents over the years as a result of online gaming and streaming, due to how easy it is to SWAT someone, how illegal it is and how dangerous this is!
- The DLC has one mission about cyberattack targeting hospitals (similar to a certain cyberattack that attacks public sectors, including hospitals, occasionally and, incidentally, the DLC was released before the infamous May 2017 global-scale cyberattack), even the Dedsec announces urges taxpayers voice to prioritize update on the vulnerable hospital computers.
- The ARMA 3 DLC campaign The Laws of War, which was co-developed with the International Red Cross, focuses on depicting an NGO working to clear an abandoned village of unexploded ordinance and features comparatively little combat, all of it told In Medias Res. The story focuses on not only the tragic consequences of war to both combatants and civilians, but also goes into detail about the dangers of both unexploded ordinance and anti-personnel landmines to civilian populations.
- Expect at least one or two sidequests at least to take on various forms of this in the Yakuza series. While a lot of these are universal, several others focus on issues that are fairly unique to Japanese society, such as the dangers of cults, confronting the need to lay off employees when business is hard (which is a huge cultural taboo in Japan) and helping a school girl confront one of her peers who has roped her into selling her used panties to strangers. Unlike most examples, these are usually thoughtfully approached and well-written, enough so that Extra Credits dedicated an episode giving praise to how Yakuza 0 handled the topic of sexuality.
- Ctrl+Alt+Del. One word: Loss. This set off a slew of mockery and debate, including biting parody from Zero Punctuation and VG Cats.For context, CAD up to that point had been a fairly humorous webcomic, but since it was a humor comic first and foremost, the jarring switch to drama with Lilah's miscarriage combined with how infamous CAD already sort of was at that point resulted in the above Internet meme mocking how poorly handled the subject matter was, one that has endured to this day, to the point that Buckley himself acknowledged the meme on its tenth anniversary by temporarily changing Ethan's sad expression into a smug smirk.
- Parodied in one of the best Penny Arcade strips ever. Found here.
- Parodied in the comic-within-a-comic Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, wherein The Big Man wants that us all to keep it real about... AIDS.◊
- Alternate History Hub's video on the Armenian Genocide certainly counts. Instead of exploring alternate history what ifs, the video is dedicated to a summary of the genocide and raises awareness of its denial by numerous nations, including the perpetrator. Cody's voice is pretty somber and serious, and no lighthearted snark, comedic elements or background music (even during the outro) are present.
- Parodied in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, episode 17, which features a commercial for a Very Special Episode of Zorc and Pals:
Announcer: Next week, in a very special episode of Zorc and Pals:
Yami-BakuraFlorence: Zorc, what's wrong? Why haven't you destroyed the world?
Zorc: Because I have a terminal disease!
Florence: But you can't die! What about our adopted daughter? Who is going to take care of her when you're gone?
Zorc: She also has a terminal disease!
Announcer: Don't miss this very special award-winning episode of Zorc and Pals. Because we really need the ratings.
- Parodied in Avatar: The Last Puppet Bender. Toph hosts a special episode speaking out against... people pronouncing your name wrong. Naruto even showed up.
- 8-Bit Mickey interviewed a member of the Westboro Baptist Church at one of their protests, the Holocaust Museum. Why yes, they are Anti-Semitic among being Anti-War, Anti-Gay, Anti-Sith, Anti-White and Pro-Oil Spill. He kept level headed throughout the interview and at the end of the video stated that he was quite shocked at these people.
- Discussed in an episode of LoadingReadyRun commodoreHUSTLE where they think about filming a "Very Special" episodes of warriors of darkness to explain why Paul has lost his beard.
- Extra Credits, normally a Visual Pun-centric commentary on video games, did this with the second part of an episode on game addiction. Instead of the show's normally minimalist art, the writer, James Portnow, sat down in front of a camera and talked about his previous experiences with gaming addictions and the harm it did to his life. It even came with a moral: "Life will always welcome you back."
- Brows Held High
- The review of Angels in America for World AIDS Day in part of the Red Ribbon Reviewers project was mostly a PSA about HIV and AIDS, and praise for the play and TV miniseries.
- His review of Melancholia. The movie deals with themes of severe depression, and when it starts as a fun Milestone Celebration, it quickly grinds down and becomes less funny until Film Brain calls him out for focusing on easily mocked but ultimately irrelevant aspects of the movie instead of facing the Elephant in the Room. At this point, Kyle stops the review to talk for a moment about real-life depression and his battles with such.
- The Nostalgia Critic had "The Top 11 Simpsons Episodes" and "The Top 11 Batman Episodes". Neither episode had much humor, so the failure at school and Domestic Abuse talks stood out better.
- Atop the Fourth Wall: The episodes where Linkara reviews Very Special Episode comics have been given the moniker "PSA Hell". Additionally, in one episode, Linkara explains that he was asked to do an episode dealing with bullying, particularly that relating to geeky interests, but he then states that he wasn't able to approach the subject because, while he was bullied as a child, it was because he had an unusual surname, not because he liked comic books. He then goes on to discuss a few Spider Man comics that discussed the issue, but didn't do a very good job at it.
- Todd in the Shadows' episode on "Turn Up the Music" only barely mentions the song. Instead it's a long rant on how its performer, Chris Brown, still acts like a despicable human being despite all the backlash against him in the past.
- Parodied and deconstructed in the fifth Don't Hug Me I'm Scared video. A gang of talking foods sing a common children's cartoon aesop about eating healthy. It soon becomes obvious they're very factually incorrect and spouting nonsense. Things such as how "plain foods" such as "bread, cream, white sauce, and aspic" are good for you while "fancy foods" like "cooked meats, fruit salad, soil foods, and yolk" are bad for you. The Anthropomorphic Food characters are also Faux Affably Evil and condensending towards Duck Guy and his friends.