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Nightmare Fuel / Diff'rent Strokes

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Diff'rent Strokes was often derided for its frequent Very Special Episodes, which sometimes awkwardly mixed comic one-liners (often from Arnold) with some very non-comedic topics. Child molestation, kidnapping, sexual assault, epilepsy ... the list goes on.

  • "The Bicycle Man": Disturbing at several levels, and not just because the Guest Star that played Mr. Horton, the seemingly genial owner of a successful bicycle shop with a sinister secret, was Gordon Jump, the Lonely Repairman from the Maytag commercials and Mr. Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati (a top-rated hit in syndication, at the time of the original airing of "The Bicycle Man" on NBC). But consider that: 1. Mr. Horton's character never changes — he's just a nice guy who invites boys he's made friends with into his apartment for some male bonding (pizza, ice cream, wine and eventually, some adult videos), and uses this to his advantage; 2. The slow softening up and reveal of Mr. Horton's motives, ever covered up by his genial character, is not noticed by Arnold until later and never noticed by Dudley; and 3. After Arnold leaves the bicycle shop and admits what's been going on, he also lets on that Dudley is still with Mr. Horton ... and Mr. Drummond arrives with the cops Just in Time — literally, as Horton was seconds away from locking up the shop to retire to his bedroom to touch a drugged-up Dudley. What's worse: Dudley never caught on that things weren't quite right until Horton did start advancing on him (off-screen), and when Dudley objected Horton (in an apparently genial way, as this was also off-screen) gave him a pill, saying it would "make him feel good."
  • "The Hitchhikers": Kimberly and Arnold are shopping downtown in cold weather when they run short of money for taxi fare; rather than call home and admit they needed money (Drummond had counseled the kids about not wasting money on video games and junk) ... they learn first-hand why never to accept a ride from a stranger. This time, the kids' new friend, Bill, quickly reveals his true colors as a career rapist; Bill, under the guise of being a commercial artist who's doing layouts of new experimental designs for an air and space company, gets Kimberly to pose ... until she starts feeling uncomfortable with some of his requests and then he begins advancing on her. Arnold — locked in Bill's bedroom — eventually escapes and manages to spill out some details about his harrowing experience ... and that Kimberly is in trouble. Meanwhile, the nightmare is just beginning for Kimberly, as every trick she uses to escape Bill fails (Indeed, as revealed by a comment Maggie makes later, Bill is experienced and has kidnapped and raped women many times in the past). He eventually takes her to the darkroom in the apartment building where he lives and tries to rape her. Fortunately, the cops arrive Just in Time.
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  • "Sam's Missing": What becomes a weeklong nightmare is set into motion when bossy Arnold sends Sam to the store for party favors to celebrate Drummond's birthday, and Sam meeting a seemingly nice guy named Donald Brown at the store asking for help in looking for a missing dog. The nightmare for everyone begins when Sam is late coming home ... and then never comes home, leading everyone to fear the worst ... that he might be with someone, and that who knows what might be happening to him. When Drummond offers a reward that someone is only a little too eager (and uncaringly so) to collect, that only makes things worse; Sam may not only be dead, but they may never know if he's dead. That's all child's play compared to what Sam is going through. Mr. Brown reveals his true self, taking Sam on a two-hour ride to their home in upstate New York ... to his new home. (Because see, Don's 8-year-old son, who looked almost exactly like Sam, had died in a tragic accident a few months earlier, and wifey was so distraught note , and adopting a Street Urchin note  might make things better. Yeah, right!) And goddamnit, he'd better get used to it, because if he doesn't ... "I will kill your parents! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME????!!! DAMNIT DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME????!!!!!!????" The fact that Sam has literally been shaken to the core by such a "nice" guy and intimidated into not doing anything to help himself is bad enough. But when he literally will not become emotionally attached to his "new family", Mr. Brown repeats his admonition, and he's getting even meaner with his warning ... and patience, never a virtue with him, is starting to run razor thin. Not to worry, of course: Sam is rescued by Drummond. It so happened that while nobody was home, Sam called home and gave out the telephone number; a bit later, Sam seemed to start perking up, which Mr. Brown takes note of that night at supper ... unaware of the fate that was awaiting him and his wife.
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  • "A Special Friend": Arnold and Sam become friends with a street performer and act as her assistants while she tries to make money through panhandling. After Mr. Drummond asks them to not hang out with her anymore, they go to the park to tell her the bad news. While doing so, she suffers an epileptic seizure and starts jerking around uncontrollably. Arnold and Sam stand by horrified as police try to help her.
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