Hannah Baker's suicide is absolutely horrifying. She slits her wrists in her bathtub, slowly and meticulously cutting herself and ensuring that she will bleed to death eventually, even quietly gasping in pain as she makes the cuts. It's slow, graphic, nauseating, and painful to watch, which is exactly the point — suicide is not painless, "cool", or relieving, it's an absolutely horrifying measure to resort to and should never be glorified or romanticized.
Her preferred method of punishing the people she blames for her suicide is also questioned as time goes on. Though many of her "tapes" did genuinely wrong her, the idea that she made tapes to punish these people posthumously is shown to be more than a little disturbing and does nothing but continue to hurt everyone involved long after she's dead. For Clay it's even worse, since she tells him he has a tape and yet he's only there because he's important to the story and he didn't actually do anything wrong.
Justin's entire season 2 character arc revolves around the idea that even people who know that Drugs Are Bad can still fall under their sway, as Justin keeps trying to get himself clean to improve his life and fails every time. If it weren't for the fact that such a story is still relevant in the modern day it would almost feel over the top
Season 3 begins to take a sledgehammer to the idea of an Asshole Victim. Yes, Bryce Walker and Monty de la Cruz are terrible people and audiences will agree that if anyone on the show deserved to die it was them. For the characters, though, the "he was a human being" argument gets brought up multiple times, no one is ever happy whenever someone begins to celebrate their deaths, and Bryce's killers are shown to be past the Moral Event HorizonIn-Universe. Bryce's death in particular is absolutely terrifying to watch, and Monty's offscreen death is heavily implied to have involved him being raped beforehand, alongside the fact that everyone involved in the Frame-Up to blame Monty for Bryce's death are shown to be in the wrong for it. Overall, people are sometimes absolutely horrible, but that doesn't mean you should want them to die.
2point4 Children ended one of its Christmas specials with Bill giving an extremely un-subtle speech about how easy it is to become homeless and doesn't just happen to "other people."
24: The show is not known for being subtle in making its points.
The show often featured Middle Eastern terrorists, and many Arab advocacy groups were uncomfortable with this, especially in light of current events. During the show's fourth season, Kiefer Sutherland recorded a PSA reaffirming that 24 was a work of fiction and was never intended to paint Arabs as terrorists. The show took it to the next level by having a store owned by Muslim Americans vandalized by anti-Muslim sentiment. The shop owners initially are angry with Jack, but eventually, they willingly help him in his efforts to stop the terrorist attack, proving that good and evil are questions of character, not religion or ethnicity.
24's second season featured a shadowy group of government and industrial interests trying to nuke three Middle Eastern countries for no other reason than war profiteering.
The second season also featured a radical Muslim group. When the leader of the radicalize group is hiding in a Mosque, Jack tells the Imam not to interfere, but the Imam says that the leader is a traitor to all Muslims and is more than happy to help Jack.
The seventh season has another set of unambiguously-heroic Muslims, ones who were set up as fall guys. Once they learn what is going on, they immediately help Jack stop the season's crises.
The premise of Adam Ruins Everything is for host, Adam Conover, to explain "why everything you know about tonight's episode is wrong." Just as the Audience Surrogate suffers a Heroic BSoD once the Awful Truth is revealed to them, Adam goes on to explain that just because we keep reciting accepted truths and myths, we should not dwell on self pity and abandon a part of our personalities once the truth is revealed, instead we should use this new information to move forward, and use critical thinking to determine what is true and what is false.
"I am the Walrus" depicted everyone (Except for Alice and the Queen of Hearts) being afraid of a walrus moving in despite having never met him. They even express fear more will move in. The racism isn't even flat out blatant hatred types - most of the characters just find reasons to exclude the Walrus instead of outright hating Walruses.
Another episode featured the Mad Hatter's cousin Hedda Hatter coming for a visit. However, Hedda is in a wheelchair, and the Mad Hatter's behaviour of being overly-accommodating and patronising and comes off as Innocently Insensitive. It ends with the cast being taught that yes, you should be considerate of people with disabilities, but not to the point you come off as downright patronising and rude. The Queen of Hearts even compliments Hedda's design, showing that Hedda's disability doesn't hinder her abilities at all.
It also comes off as an Accidental Aesop that people in wheelchairs can and do in fact complete in athletic activities.
"Double Bubble" is a Green Aesop in which the Rabbit explains that wastewater has to go somewhere (Thus you need to dispose of it properly, since it can even taint the ground or make its way into the groundwater). It takes only one person to taint it for almost everyone - but unlike most doom and gloom aesops, it ends on a positive note saying that they are fortunate since they could reverse the pollution that happens - completely by accident at that.
"Bah, Hamburger" is the usual stock "Eat healthy foods" aesop. But it manages to avoid the usual traps of these types of Aesops in two ways. The first is mentioning that there are other types of foods that are good for you instead of just vegetables. The second is that the episode ends with Tweedle Dum and all the other characters deciding that it actually is okay to eat a burger and fries every now and then rather than swearing off them forever.
"TV or Not TV?" takes the same tack as "Bah, Hamburger." The conflict of the episode sees Hatter, Hare, and the Tweedles doing nothing for three days but watch television. Both the Red Queen and the White Rabbit repeatedly point out that there's nothing inherently wrong with a little TV, with the former even reminding Alice that she likes to watch, too. Rather, the lesson is "Don't watch television in excess, to the exclusion of your friends, hobbies, and health." There are also smaller Aesops about the negative habits related to the guys' constant TV watching, like eating junk food non-stop (because they're too lazy to prepare proper meals) and not getting any exercise. All told, it's a positive lesson that doesn't come across as completely hypocritical (as many television shows that decry television feel, intentionally or otherwise).
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour had an episode involving alcoholism, "Hangover", at the end of which Hitchcock pointedly eschewed the usual joke to repeat how alcoholism was a problem.
For millions of years, Earth was fertile and rich. Then pollution and waste began to take their toll. Civilization fell into ruin.
J. Michael Straczynski was not shy about making Babylon 5 a big show with big messages. He wasn't shy about how he delivered the messages, either. But some of his best work involved these big messages. One example: "The Illusion of Truth" is a very effective demonstration of how Manipulative Editing can make the good guys look like the villains. So much so that the episode is used in college journalism classes as an illustration.
The Battlestar Galactica series is full of anvils. The similarities to the War on Terror are not subtle, but are all the better because of it. The reason is that, while the similarities are not subtle, they are ambiguous in their rightness or wrongness, which leads to some very thought-provoking moments.
Between the Lions has "The Queen who Wanted to Touch The Moon", which, strangely, is an inverted aesop when compared to the ones taught on similar edutainment shows. Because of the titular queen's determination to touch the moon, she ends up falling to her death. So instead of the usual "never give up on your dreams" schtick, it becomes "Chase your dreams as hard as you can, but remember to back down when you start endangering yourself or others."
The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth dropped the same who-would-notice-if-you-were-mad-in-war-because-all-generals-are-equally-mad anvil as Catch 22, but because it dropped it on the entire cast, mere minutes after the last joke, it achieved an epic anti-war message with its famed Downer Ending.
Black Mirror isn't subtle either. While it's possible to perceive this series as technophobic due to how it uses its machines in gritty, dark contexts, if there's a message to gather from the show as a whole, it would be that technology is only as disruptive and volatile to human life as humans themselves make it be.
"Nosedive": A society that classifies status and social standing by social media ratings and connections alone will ultimately become a fake one, where people will frown upon the smallest disapproval or deviation from the norm and get too accustomed to artificial happiness to be truthful or independent, even causing friendships and love to become shallow and entirely based off status and superficial interests. Furthermore, don't become a slave to public opinion just because you feel it necessary to ascend the corporate ladder. Being true to yourself will always bring more happiness and be more important than lying for the sake of your position.
Children need privacy and to learn how to deal with fears, failures, and mistakes on their own. (For example, Sara eventually stops being scared of the neighbor's barking dog once Marie stops using the blur function.)
Eventually, your children will grow up and do stupid things you won't approve of (like staying out past curfew, have sex, and do drugs). That's normal. There's nothing you can do about it, and the best you can do is make yourself a trusted person they can turn to instead of trying to control every facet of their lives, which will only drive them away if not rebel harder against your rules.
If you smother and shelter your children and don't teach them the information they'll need to navigate adulthood, relationships, etc, they'll find it out anyway, and not always from the best source.
"Smithereens": Put your phone down and pay attention to the road when you're driving.
Bones; in the episode "The Patriot in Purgatory", while examining the remains of a homeless man who was at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Aratsoo Vasiri, a Muslim member of the team, dropped a beauty of an anvil, reminding Finn (and by extension the audience) not to judge all members of a faith by the actions of a few individuals:
"The Crusades, the Inquisition, are these events guided by a religion of peace? No, they were guided by self-important men who think they know more than the God they claim to worship. This was not the work of religion. It was arrogance. It was hypocrisy. It was hate. Those horrible men who hijacked those planes hijacked my religion that day, too. They insulted my God. So, no, this isn't too difficult. It's a privilege to be able to serve this victim, to show him the care and love that was so absent that day."
In general, the series makes no attempt to gloss over the effects that drugs have on not only the people who use and/or develop them, but the effects it has on their friends and families. If the show pulled its punches, it wouldn't be anywhere near as gripping.
It also deconstructs the idea that easy money actually exists. Walter's plan to get quick money by getting involved in the meth trade went wrong in so many ways, and even when things begin to look good economically for him, Failure Is the Only Option.
The concept of a Justified Criminal gets completely picked apart. While Walt keeps telling himself that he has to be involved in the meth trade to pay for cancer treatment and leave an inheritance for his wife and children, the show presents other legal routes that he could have taken, which he declined due to his own pride and selfishness. There are always alternatives to breaking the law that people can use to solve their financial problems and your excuses will not make up for the innocent people who will get hurt by your crimes.
The show's main premise is to take bad drivers and try and make them better. However, in the show's fourteen season run, several of them showed that they're not capable of driving at all whether it be medical conditions, mental/emotional problems, or being a danger on the road despite taking the lessons. A few nominees that came onto the show ended up quitting driving for good because of those reasons.
The show has an entire course dedicated to dropping an anvil about distracted driving, which by the time of Season 14's airing, is the cause of nearly a quarter of all Canadian auto accidentseven more than drunk driving. Andrew takes it Up to Eleven at the start of that season's fourth episode, bluntly and humorlessly calling anyone who obsesses over their cellphone while drivingeven after having accidents caused by being distracted by their cellphonesa "sociopath".
The episode Morality Bites, the lesson the girls learn could easily be applied to any cop or soldier. Might does not equal right. Just because you have the power doesn't mean you get to judge what it is right and wrong, who gets to live and die. As Phoebe said: "The wrong thing done for the right reasons is still the wrong thing."... Come Season 5, though, the sisters actually allow a thief to be killed by demons keep Chris alive.
The episode "Sight Unseen" dropped a rather good one about stalkers. The possibility that Prue has a stalker is the episode's B-plot while the focus is on the Demon of the Week trying to steal the Book of Shadows. That plot gets resolved early on and then the stalker plot comes back to finish the episode off. The sisters are criticised for having barely any security at home (and allowing the stalker to easily get in) and of course the fact that a normal human was able to overpower a powerful witch shows how much threat a stalker can actually be. This was made even better by having the stalker turn out to be a recurring character on the show rather than one of Prue's men of the week. It also dropped an anvil when the stalker turned out to be a woman.
"Charmed Again" drops a good anvil about taking justice into your own hands. Paige using her powers to punish who she thinks is an abuser is still portrayed as a wrong thing - and it would have turned her evil. The episode turns around and delivers the big reveal that it's the motherwho's the abuser (a big reveal for 2001) - which provides a good Aesop about assuming someone's automatically guilty.
Chernobyl: The series leaves no room for subtlety when telling its audience "This is the cost of lies," but it's a message that desperately needs to be heard by those in power to this day. The disaster didn't have to be as big as it was if only the Soviet government was more honest with itself about the dangerous design flaws of that reactor type, and if the emergency response was focused more on saving people than on covering up everything.
The Australian series Cleverman is not very subtle drawing parallels between treatment of the fictional Hairypeople, and how aboriginal peoples were historically treated. The series starts with the Hairies officially being referred to as Subhumans, despite being stronger, faster, and longer lived than (regular) humans. Second season sees the start of an 'assimilation' program.
The Cosby Show offered an important one in the episode "Denise's Friend." One of Denise's friends has a medical problem that could be an STD, and refuses to tell her parents because she doesnt want them to know that shes sexually active. Denise convinces her to get the issue diagnosed from her father, and thankfully it turns out that the medical problem is simply a minor bladder infection that can be easily cured with antibiotics. However, Cliff is upset by the girl's fear of her parents, so he and Clair sit their own children down and promise that they can always come to them with their problems, no matter what they are. To test the theory, the kids come up with some hypothetical situations that might upset Cliff and Clair (such as Theo borrowing Cliff's car without permission or Denise spending the night alone with a boy in his home). This is when the anvil drops: Cliff and Clair outright admit that in those situations, they'd be furious. In the sitcom genre, it's easy to slip into the "I'll love you no matter what" trope—but you know what? If you do really stupid, dangerous, or generally unsafe things, your parents are goingto be mad at you, and will probably punish you with good reason. That doesn't mean they don't love you—it means that they're doing their job as parents. It's not subtle, but it makes the point (and bucks the sitcom trend) clear as day.
The ID show "Deadly Women" has a great if an unintentional one. One episode has a woman send her son to a Christian camp. The boy gets molested by a worker and realizing how traumatizing her son testifying would be for him, she shoots the man in the midst of the trial. Sounds like an empowering story for standing up to an abuser right? Well, the woman gets arrested for shooting him and goes to prison. While she gets a short sentence and gets released, her son leads by his mother's example and kills a neighbor over an argument. He goes to prison right as she's released. The mother dies two years later and the two never see each other again. The lesson shows the dangers of going the Vigilante Man route and how as satisfying it might be or how much the victim deserves it, the long-term consequences just aren't worth it.
The school shooting in general. Rick (who in the previous season was a Domestic Abuser towards his girlfriend) was mercilessly bullied by the entire student body. He brings a gun to school with the intent on shooting someone, loses his nerve after an sincere apology from Paige, and then gets enraged enough to shoot someone after a tragic misunderstanding. The messages are clear: 1) All violence is senseless, 2) NO ONE deserves to be bullied, no matter what they maybe have done in the past and two wrongs don't make a right, 3) Never underestimate the power of an apology. It saved Paige's life.
LBGT teens and their relationships are treated with the same depth as their straight counterparts, and each character usually goes through a Coming-Out Story which highlights their struggles for acceptance and love. The message that LBGT teens are human and have feelings (not to mention can also be young) is a message that is not usually seen in children's/teen's programming, but a good message nonetheless.
Fiona gets addicted to Twitter and tweets 24-hours-a-day, and even tweets her current location. Her home is later burglarized (with her IN it) and while the show restrains itself on this one (not quite saying that Fiona's tweeting of her current location when she wasn't home led to the burglary), the anvil, while on the nose, is important: Be careful what you post online.
Degrassi: Next Class continues the tradition. Despite being buzzwords and rallying points for the "un-PC" movement, the show makes sure to educate that safe spaces and triggers are valid and real. Maya's depression is exacerbated by tragic, violent news stories that she eventually has to avoid in order to get better.
Also it makes the point about the rigidity of gender roles and how damaging it can be those those who don't conform; see Lipstick Lesbian Zoe, the genderfluid Yael and even Straight Gay Riley back in season 8.
Dinosaurs has a lot of episodes that give heavy-handed messages that are nevertheless worth learning.
The episode "Baby Talk" makes a lot of good points about what can happen when Moral Guardians protest over every little obscene thing on TV and in real life.
"Out of the Frying Pan" delivers a nice Aesop about the perils of child stardom, as well as a nice Take That! to stage parents everywhere.
"The Greatest Story Ever Sold" shows the consequences of letting one's religious beliefs influence their decisions and that it is wrong to discriminate against people for having different beliefs.
As depressing as the series finale, "Changing Nature", is, at the same time, it makes a very good point: We have to take good care of the environment and can't just take nature for granted, or else we'll end up going extinct just like everyone on the show.
Some of the episodes during the Third Doctor's era which have a very political stance. A good example of this is "The Mutants". While the message about not treating other races badly and of colonialism being bad seems obvious, at the time there was an apartheid regime in South Africa.
While a heavy-handed episode, "The Sun Makers" does highlight the oppressive nature of an out-of-control bureaucracy especially when it's revealed the Usurians are using the system to work and tax the human race to death.
The climax of "Battlefield" has the Doctor rant about how modern warfare can bring untold destruction, yet the person responsible never has to see the consequences because all they have to do is push a button. With the advances in technology since then, this scene is sadly just as relevant nowadays.
"Turn Left" is one of the most mature depictions of modern fascism that you'll ever see on mainstream television because it specifically avoids positioning an Obviously Evil dictator in a convenient villain role. As the episode points out, oppressive regimes don't just rise to power because of evil people with evil agendas, they rise to power when a populace becomes too scared and beaten-down to question its authority figures. Far too often, it just takes a few random disasters to rob people of their hope.
Sure, "Vincent and the Doctor" was basically a Very Special Episode about depression - even the monster that provides the plot can be read as a metaphor for van Gogh's mental illness - but it was handled so maturely that it falls squarely into this category. Even knowing that his paintings will be incredibly famous and loved in the future, Vincent still kills himself, because it's not a matter of cheering him up: he's got a disease that nobody in his time understands.
"Kill the Moon". Humanity gave up on space exploration, and then found they were in desperate need of it.
"The Zygon Inversion". The Doctor delivers an impassioned plea to Kate Stewart and Bonnie (a Zygon impersonating Clara) to avert war. It is a veritable anvil chorus, and it is awesome.
"Because it's not a game, Kate! This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it's always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who's going to die! You don't know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken. How many lives shattered. How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk!"
"Heaven Sent", once the sci-fi aspects are stripped away, is at its core a powerful examination of grief. Those who have lost spouses reported that the Doctor's eventual meltdown in the episode as he realized that no matter what he does his beloved Clara would not be there for him anymore, particularly resonated with them.
"Rosa". The Doctor and her companions end up in southern America in the '50s, right before the arrest of Rosa Parks. Ryan (who's black) and Yaz (who's Pakistani) end up subjected to all the racism of the time period (Ryan even more so), with the two of them lamenting how awful it is after it results in them having to hide behind a dumpster. It also points out how big of an impact Rosa Parks had on the future of civil rights, with the heroes bending over backwards trying to stop a time-traveling racist from stopping her fateful arrest.
Dragnet became more erratic in quality and heavy-handed in execution as the years went by, but it often had strong aesops worth recalling:
In the 1968 episode The Big Departure, Friday and Gannon deliver a grand speech to the young anarchists about just how much they have gotten from the society they grew up in, and how much it protects them, and how difficult it would be to recreate what they have from nothing.
Sergeant Joe Friday: I don't know, maybe part of it's the fact that you're in a hurry. You've grown up on instant orange juice. Flip a dial - instant entertainment. Dial seven digits - instant communication. Turn a key - push a pedal - instant transportation. Flash a card - instant money. Shove in a problem - push a few buttons - instant answers. But some problems you can't get quick answers for, no matter how much you want them. We took a little boy into Central Receiving Hospital yesterday; he's four years old. He weighs eight-and-a-half pounds. His parents just hadn't bothered to feed him. Now give me a fast answer to that one; one that'll stop that from ever happening again. And if you can't settle that one, how about the 55,000 Americans who'll die on the highway this year? That's nearly six or seven times the number that'll get killed in Vietnam. Why aren't you up in arms about that? Or is dying in a car somehow moral? Show me how to wipe out prejudice. I'll settle for the prejudices you have inside yourselves. Show me how to get rid of the unlimited capacity for human beings to make themselves believe they're somehow right - and justified - in stealing from somebody, or hurting somebody, and you'll just about put this place here out of business!
Officer Bill Gannon: Don't think we're telling you to lose your ideals or your sense of outrage. They're the only way things ever get done. And there's a lot more that still needs doing. And we hope you'll tackle it. You don't have to do anything dramatic like coming up with a better country. You can find enough to keep you busy right here. In the meantime, don't break things up in the name of progress or crack a placard stick over someone's head to make him see the light. Be careful of his rights. Because your property and your person and your rights aren't any better than his. And the next time you may be the one to get it. We remember a man who killed six million people, and called it social improvement.
Sergeant Joe Friday: Don't try to build a new country. Make this one work. It has for over four hundred years; and by the world's standards, that's hardly more than yesterday.
Drake & Josh: The episode "Josh is Done" gives an unintentional lesson about relationships. If you believe someone is holding you back or not valuing you in same way you do, it's perfectly healthy to just hit the brakes and say you're done with them. You don't have to hate them, it's just better to prioritise your own happiness over someone else's.
E to H
The Speculative DocumentaryEarth 2100 talks about the worst case scenario that could occur if we continue to pollute and waste resources. The Green Aesop basically says "The earth is our home, and we should not take it for granted."
Extras took on the "celebrity is bad" Aesop as well, but in a different way. The finale special is pretty darn heavy-handed in telling us that being a celebrity isn't worth it, if you've betrayed the only people who cared about you, celebrity or not. Making fun of Big Brother and their ilk in the process? Just bonus.
In "Mistaken Identity", Will and Carlton get arrested by a racist cop who thinks the boys are driving a stolen car. The episode ends with the message that while most police officers are good and honest people who just want to uphold the law and protect people, there are unfortunately several Dirty Cops who use their authority to pick on minorities. And no, being Black and Nerdy won't help you when you cross paths with those types of people.
"Blood Is Thicker Than Mud" speaks out against treating others who are a member of your ethnicity/race/religion as Category Traitors simply because they don't act like you or share your beliefs. Will and Carlton try to join a black fraternity, and they go through the typical hazing process, but the latter is treated much worse because "Top Dog", the pledge leader, considers him a "sellout" for being so rich and preppy. When Carlton finally confronts Top Dog, he tells him that even if he doesn't display any stereotypically black traits, he's still just as black as everyone else in the fraternity and being from a rich background doesn't mean he's automatically exempt from the social issues African-Americans have to go through. He calls Top Dog the real sellout for adhering to the belief that all black people have to act a certain way and mistreating those who don't despite claiming they all have to stick together. The aesop gets solidified when Will decides to not join the fraternity because he doesn't want to be part of a group that hates people like his cousin just for being themselves, and when Uncle Phil learns about what happened, he laments, "When are we going to stop doing this to each other?"
What makes this particularly poignant is the fact that Carlton is often mocked by Will and others as somehow being less than Black for his behavior, so for Will to stand up for him in this instance shows that, at the end of the day, Will's joking is just joking and he doesn't see Carlton as being less of Black man for his behavior.
"Home Is Where The Heart Attack Is" has Uncle Phil having a heart attack and after his unhealthy lifestyle catches up with him. Carlton is too scared to see his father in the hospital. Will calls him out for not being there for his father when he needs him the most. Carlton refuses to accept his father nearly died, and Will tells him that at one point in life he's going to be at death's door and he needs to be there for him.
While not as emotional as the prior three, "Will Gets A Job" has a great anvil about independence. Will needs some money for homecoming, and Uncle Phil without complaint gives it to him. This along with a miscommunication between Aunt Vivian leads Will to fear he's becoming a spoiled rich kid so he gets a job to earn the money himself. When Uncle Phil finds out, he tells Will that getting help from someone who's willing to help is nothing to be ashamed of. Seeing as a common aesop in media is being independent and providing for yourself, this was a good reminder that being independent doesn't mean it's wrong to seek help if you actually do need it.
"Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse": While parenthood is a terrifying experience, there's no excuse for abandoning those who need you most. The world doesn't stop when you walk out the door and your actions will cause deep, lifelong scars on those you're supposed to care for.
Phil's analogy for Lou's abandonment cycle doesn't just apply to disappeared parents. You can't selfishly objectify people for your own benefit and you shouldn't expect people to easily forgive you or revolve their lives around you. If you've wasted an opportunity, then you shouldn't expect it to randomly happen again or for people to immediately throw their lives away for your benefit.
At the same time, there's also nothing wrong with still being sad that the parent decided to leave. You can hate them and not want them in your life all you want, but sadness over this situation is completely normal and must be dealt with in a healthy way.
"Not With My Cousin You Don't" has Will and Carlton overhear Ashley's plan to lose her virginity to her boyfriend before he leaves. Both men respond by trying to protect her whereas Ashley is furious with them for accidentally spying on her. This is a case where both sides have a legitimate anvil to tell: first, you should respect people's privacy and you should respect their personal decisions no matter how much you disagree with them. Secondly, losing your virginity is a highly intimate and irreplaceable moment. It's best to have sex if you think you're ready for it and you shouldn't rush to lose your virginity for social acceptance.
Shepherd Book from Firefly teaches Mal, and by extension, the audience, that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
The 2002-3 adaptation of The Forsyte Saga: Our modern abhorrence of rape, particularly marital rape, didn't come from nowhere. It is and has always been a despicable crime, no matter how "normalised" it may have been within society in the past.
Fraggle Rock absolutely mastered this trope, but the episode "Fraggle Wars" stands out in this regard. Mokey gets captured by another group of Fraggles, reigniting a long-lasting conflict between them and the main Fraggles that nearly erupts into an all-out war, thankfully thwarted when Red and another "enemy" Fraggle work together to stop it. That in itself sends a good message, but even more telling is the big reason for the conflict in the first place: the other Fraggles "have no sense of humor". This dialogue speaks for itself.
Red: How can you go to war over not liking the same jokes?
World's Oldest Fraggle: Well, it's as good a reason as any.
Full House teaches us that any problem can be solved by talking it through, that your friends and family will be there for you no matter what, and that any situation can be improved by a hug.
Glee: In "Grilled Cheesus", true Christians love their friends and support them. And non-theists may not embrace faith, but they can sure embrace loved ones and come to peace with others' faith.
In "Furt," the school system MUST deal with bullying seriously. Sue Sylvester sugarcoats nothing, knows its reality, and does use her bullying experience (as the victim) to make her stronger. Nothing is talked down, just the firm reality of it.
In "Theatricality", no matter how much one (gay) person is being annoying, homophobia is never justified. Also, please parents wake up because it is also your job not to let it slide, no matter what it costs you.
"On My Way" showed exactly what kinds of pain can drive somebody to suicide and how much it hurts everybody around them.
The Stone/AIDS storyline on General Hospital. It took risks such as having a prominent character (Robin, who grew up on the show) get diagnosed with HIV. It was also very educational at a time when HIV/AIDS myths were still widespread. Myths such as "only gays get it", "HIV is a death sentence", "you can contract it from casual contact", and "failing an HIV test means you don't have it", just to name a few. It was also one of the most emotional, well-written, and well-acted storylines in television history.
The year before this had another masterful anvil drop with the organ donation storyline of BJ/Maxie. Seven-year-old BJ Jones was left braindead when her school bus was in an accident. BJ's father, Tony, knew BJ was a match for her cousin, Maxie, who was extremely ill and needed a heart transplant. Bobbie and Tony took their daughter off life support and donated BJ's heart to Maxie. This is often considered the best storyline on General Hospital, certainly one of the best (definitely up there with Stone's death). It was a risk because at the time, killing a child on a soap opera was considered taboo (and it's still a risk today).
"Girl Fight": Sometimes the best solution to bullying is to run away from the problem, which doubles as a Hard Truth Aesop. Even though George and Angie get the leader of Carmen's bullies suspended and get her boyfriend to admit she hadn't slept with him, the people in her class still think she is a whore and are now mad at her for wronging the popular kids. Their only solution is to send her to private school. Per this trope, it is unfortunately Truth in Television.
Positive discrimination is bad and it is wrong to profit off of it. George is offered an important position at a company but only because he's Latino. Where the Anvil dropping really comes into play though is when the man offering him the position is black and talks about the whole process with a great deal of familiarity, suggesting he himself built his entire career out of being a minority and competent than actually being the best man for the job. George reasons they don't really want or need him and could just replace him with any Latino if they wanted.
The show is not at all subtle in delivering the message that a Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse. While Eleanor's parents wereutterly awful in every way imaginable, the narrative makes it clear that one can't continuously use a terrible childhood as an excuse for bad behavior and the main component of her character arc involves her rising above it.
People aren't just good or bad and shouldn't be dismissed as such and even the most jaded and cynical person is capable of growth if given the opportunity and being good is a process that requires trial and error, effort, and determination.
Sometimes, nothing you do will win you love or affection from people and it's best to just stop trying. Tahani's actions were motivated by a desire to win her parents' approval to no avail and her development is only truly possible when she accepts that she can't and doesn't want to earn their love and moves on.
The Golden Girls, as one of the first shows to depict middle-aged (and one elderly) women living together, dropped a number of important and groundbreaking Anvils:
In the 1990 episode "72 Hours," Rose receives a letter from a hospital where she once had gallbladder surgery; the letter states that she might have been infected with HIV. She's understandably upset, but crosses a line when she comments that, as a "good person," she shouldn't have to worry about AIDS. Blanche puts her in her place:
"AIDS is not a bad person's disease, Rose. It is not God punishing people for their sins."
In "Sister of the Bride," Blanche's gay brother Clayton announces that he's going to marry Doug, his boyfriend. Blanche, who already has a hard time dealing with Clayton's homosexuality, can't bring herself to accept this. Sophia then asks why Blanche married George, her deceased husband, and she responds that she wanted the world to know that she deeply loved this man. Sophia sums up the Aesop in a single statement: "Everybody wants someone to grow old with, and shouldn't everyone have that chance?" This episode aired in 1991—over a decade before same-sex marriage would be legal anywhere in the United States—but that argument is still made today.
"Not Another Monday" tackles the subject of euthanasia—Martha, one of Sophia's elderly friends who is fearful of dying slowly or painfully, decides to commit suicide with pills. There's nothing subtle about the episode, but it presents Martha's decision as not a whim, but a carefully considered decision, and points out how loneliness, fear, and a desire for human connection don't fade with age.
"The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo" is more lighthearted than the above examples, but it still offers an important Aesop: becoming feeble and inactive as you grow older is often a choice, not a necessity. Sophia leads an extremely busy and fulfilling life, and doesn't let her advanced age get in the way of that.
Another Sophia-centric episode, "Older and Wiser," features an anvil similar to the one in "The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo," only played much more seriously. Dorothy gets Sophia a job as the activities director of Cypress Grove Retirement Home; all of the elderly people there are completely inactive, watching television all day and barely talking to each other. Sophia decides to shake things up and starts taking them on field trips; the place bursts with energy, but the short-tempered director announces that Sophia is out of line, and reveals the truth: Dorothy only got Sophia her "job" so her mother would be tended to after a bout with the flu. Sophia is badly offended and returns home, and becomes just as listless and apathetic as the residents of Cypress Grove were before she got there. In the end, she returns to the retirement home and throws a huge party, bringing life back to it; when the director complains, a long-mute resident explains that with Sophia around, he (and his friends) finally feel as if someone is listening to them and treating them like human beings, rather than old, useless junk. Sophia outright declares that "You're only as old as you feel," and that often, people become feeble when they're told they're feeble. It's not subtle, but it works.
The above show's spinoff Golden Palace had an episode in which Roland (a then little-known Don Cheadle) objected to Blanche hanging a Confederate flag over the front desk and allowing a group of women calling themselves Daughters of the Traditional South to stay at the hotel. Blunt discussion of America's racist history wasn't common in a mostly white sitcom then and still isn't now, and unfortunately it hasn't dated.
House: The running theme of the show is that it's better to be completely honest with your doctor, even if it's embarrassing or comes at some great emotional cost, than it is to suffer and/or die.
The episode "Heavy" deconstructs the argument on body imagery and fat shaming. Not all fat people are fat because they overeat - they can have genuine medical/psychological problems that affect their bodies, and when doctors fixate on weight or the supposed causes of obesity, they can miss what's really wrong with the patient.
A similar one in "Que Sera Sera", which features a patient who makes the patient from "Heavy" look trim, and in his case it absolutely is a result of his lifestyle choices — but the ultimate diagnosis has nothing to do with his weight. Being overweight or even morbidly obese may be a risk factor for health problems, but overweight and obese patients can also develop medical conditions that are completely separate from their weight issues, and as such, doctors who assume every problem in an overweight person is weight-related are doing their patients a huge disservice; the team would likely have diagnosed the patient's real problem (lung cancer) much sooner if not for the fact that they were convinced it was an obesity-related condition like diabetes.note In this case it didn't matter because the patient's condition was already too advanced to treat by the time he was admitted to the hospital, but the real-life manifestation of these assumptions has contributed in some cases to patients' conditions becoming much more serious than they needed to be.
In "Babies and Bathwater", House chews out a pair of vegan parents for forcing their baby to live on almond milk, tofu, and raw vegetables. Although they did consult a nutritionist to make sure the diet was appropriate for a baby, cluing House in there was another reason for her illness, the point nonetheless stands.
House: Raw food. If only our ancestors had mastered the secret of fire. Babies need fat, proteins, calories. Less important, sprouts and hemp. Starving babies is bad. Not to mention illegal in many cultures. I'm having her admitted.
On a similar note, there's the scene in the episode "Paternity" where House calls out a mother who isn't vaccinating her baby daughter.
House: You know what's a good business? Teeny tiny baby coffins.
How I Met Your Mother has basically been telling us in no uncertain terms that you have to accept all the bad moments in life, as they will guide you towards the best times.
Also, that physical attraction is not the same as real love. All of Ted's previous relationships were based on the fact that his girlfriends were pretty and single when he met them. The 100th episode had Ted learn about the woman he would eventually marry before he met her, thus establishing that she wasn't just another girlfriend, but someone he could spend the rest of his life with.
"Happily Ever After": The episode takes place after Stella left Ted at the altar and it's about the gang trying to get Ted to unleash his anger at Stella, whereas, Ted tries to swallow his anger and talk it out with her. Ted finally explodes when he discovers that Stella has moved in with Tony, despite forcing Ted to make that same choice between New York and New Jersey. After witnessing Stella and Tony being happy together, Ted decides to walk away and move on with the rest of his life. While being angry is a warranted response, it's healthier to just let go of your grudges before they consume you. In later episodes, Ted still hates Stella for abandoning him at the altar, further showing that you don't need to forgive your enemies to move on.
The finale had a few:
Marriage won't automatically fix all your problems. Your spouse is a person too and they need care and attention.
Even the most tightly-knit group of friends will eventually grow apart, but that doesn't make the time you spend together any less special.
You may lose the love of your life, but your capacity to love again is as strong as you make it.
I to O
Judge John Deed's episode "Popular Appeal" is very little other than one giant middle finger aimed at Big Brother (and shows of its ilk) and the perennial media circus that surrounds it. The BBC frequently airs repeats of it up against the Big Brother finale. The final summing up is what makes the episode, in which the producers of a reality show called Dungeon are made to face manslaughter charges after a contestant is killed on-screen (it's made fairly clear that that was the the producers' hope - Dungeon seems to amount to a more calculated version of the Stanford Prison Experiment). They were found guilty.
Deed: Celebrity! The pursuit of the talentless, by the mindless. It's become a disease of the twenty-first century. It pollutes our society, and it diminishes all who seek it, and all who worship it. And you must bear some of the responsibility for foisting this empty nonsense onto a gullible public.
His attack on the newspapers for devoting front pages to these shows is even less subtle. After rooting out the person who took photos of witnesses in court (by holding the press box in the cells for days until one of them owned up)...
Deed: Well, I suppose you feel that you've really flexed your crusading muscles by your silence, don't you? Unfortunately you report news less and less, and rarely fight for a better society. Instead most of you pander to everything that's bad in our society - in all this clamour around the TV Dungeon, the worse, the more oafishly people behaved, the more you pandered to them, providing them with the celebrity that they crave. Why don't you try resetting your targets to something worthwhile? Something that affects our lives, like this government - its ministers' sleazy relationships with big business. Try some hard targets with an independent voice, instead of vacuously doorstepping empty celebrity.
To their credit, the press in the show actually paid attention - they show the front page of the next day's Independent, which carries a headline about the episode's B plot (John's investigation of a minister taking bribes to look the other way during some dodgy accounting). The real press still thinks Big Brother is more important.
The new ABC military thriller Last Resort poses some pretty heady questions about doing what is right vs. what you're told. A very touchy subject in the modern political landscape of the 21st century.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Olivia Benson's speech in the episode "Babes" about why teenagers shouldn't have babies is as anvilicious as they come. However, since the plot was Ripped from the Headlines about a club of teen girls who all wanted to get pregnant together, some viewers thought it a desperately needed anvil. (This was less true after the revelation that those headlines were false, the "pregnancy club" never existed, and the whole thing was made up by an assistant principal with an overactive imagination. But that doesn't excuse the fact that 20% of all teenage pregnancies are planned.)
Very similarly, the first season Law & Order episode "Life Choice" in which ADA Ben Stone prosecutes religious pro-life zealot Rose Schwimmer for bombing an abortion clinic and killing several people — including Mary Donovan, a teenage girl seeking an abortion who unwittingly carried the bomb into the clinic (having been working with Schwimmer's pro-life group, Schwimmer saw Donovan as a perfect patsy after learning she wanted an abortion). After Schwimmer proclaims on the stand that she believes murder is wrong and that abortion is a form of murder, Stone counters her ranting and raving with a very powerful line: "If abortion is murder, then no matter how you feel about Mary Donovan, aren't you guilty of the murder of her unborn child?" Schwimmer's face goes from a confident smile to a look of pure "Oh, shit" as she realizes just how badly Stone owned her. It's one of the best episodes of the entire L&O franchise, one of the most controversial episodes, and show creator Dick Wolf's favorite episode out of the entire series.
A future episode took aim at this idea as well with another attacked abortion clinic, this time through McCoy. A former abortion doctor who has since gone on to become pro-life is testifying and states that she believes she was committing murder in the clinic, attempting to justify the attack. In response, McCoy orders her to stand up and asks the court officers to arrest her, claiming she has just confessed to murder. He keeps piling on and riling up the witness until the judge finally steps in to remind him that abortion is not murder, to which McCoy thanks him for the reminder and ends the questioning. The entire sequence lasts for about 45 seconds but manages to perfectly tear the argument to shreds.
Another good anvil was dropped in an SVU episode, "Doubt", where the entirety of the case is a he-said/she-said... the actual verdict was omitted (filled in by a poll conducted among viewers and made canon from that), to highlight just how tricky some cases really are - particularly sexual crimes where the victim and the accused have known each other for a long time.
"Legitimate Rape" brutally blows apart the argument that women can't become pregnant from rape. The way it does so? Is by placing this argument (which is usually brought up specifically in regards to abortion rights) in another context entirely and then following the consequences to their logical and incredibly depressing conclusion. Despite ADA Barba completely ripping apart the "expert" who testifies this idea is valid, one juror believes it, and this is enough to fail to secure a conviction against the rapist. The rapist, who had been stalking the victim prior to the rape and is convinced they "belong" together, proceeds to drag his victim through child custody hearings as an excuse to see her again and convince her that they should be raising "our baby" together. When he gets visitation, the rapist takes incredibly creepy, delusional joy in the fact that the target of his obsession will be forced to see him on a regular basis for 18 years. The victim, who had been a successful and confident reporter at the start of the episode, is an absolutely ragged, traumatized mess by the end of it thanks to the relentless harassment by her rapist, who isn't actually considered her rapist under the law and is completely free to get away with it. Again, all because of one dumbass believing the "legitimate rape" argument.
Stabler's exit from Special Victims Unit also drops another anvil. Stabler had been previously forced to shoot a teenage girl in self defense when she walked into the precinct and shot four people (three of them, and the ones she was targeting, were connected to the death of her mother but one was an innocent bystander who spooked her), a moment that is as equally tragic as it is justified. The next episode, Olivia learns that the day after the incident, Stabler quietly turned in his badge and gun and quit the force entirely. It drives home the message that no matter how much of a badass cop someone is, a job like that requires people to make decisions they may not be able to stomach, even if they're justified, and there's nothing wrong with realizing you can't handle the job you currently have.
Two much-needed anvils are a constant theme in the Life After People series. One is the old "Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!" warning against human hubris, because nothing we're capable of creating is going to last forever. And the other is, do not look down on the millions of blue-collar workers who trim weeds and plug leaks and operate utilities, because they're the only thing keeping civilization's handiwork from turning to rubble.
M*A*S*H might have been a simple dark comedy/dramedy set in the Korean War if not for the fact that the show ran during the Vietnam War. Alan Alda and the other producers said that they never wanted the show to be a contemporary commentary, but they wanted it to be about all wars, how it is supposed to be a miserable experience. The Vietnam conflict only made the feelings stronger.
The first really big anvil came in the episode "Abysinnia, Henry": Anyone Can Die. And they didn't even rely on just the force of gravity to drop it, either.
The Introduction of Col. Sherman Potter dropped the "it's about all wars" anvil even harder. Potter has fought through WWI, WWII, and Korea, and often reminisces about his experiences. In one episode, he mourns some old comrades:
Heres to you boys. To Ryan: who died in W-W-One; the war to end all wars. To Gianelli: who died in the war after that.
He drops one himself in an episode where a specialist is brought in to inform the gang of new weapons, and the usual Class Clown antics push him to the limit:
Col. Potter: If they can invent better ways to kill each other, why can't they invent a way to end this... stupid war?!
And then there's the episode in which it's lamented that no one's written any rousing songs about the Korean War like they did for the two World Wars. Father Mulcahey decides to write one but the result is...less than rousing:
Father Mulcahey: There's no one singing war songs now, like people used to do /
No 'over there', no 'praise the Lord', no 'Glory halelu' /
Perhaps at last we've asked ourselves what we should have asked before /
With the pain and death this madness brings, what were we ever singing for?
The Masters of Horror episode "Homecoming" is a brick-through-plate-glass rant against needless wars, and government corruption and duplicity. It doesn't just drop an anvil on the viewers, it drops a railroad car full of pig iron — and it only works because the message isn't hidden. Unfortunately, it spawned a Misaimed Fandom that were screaming about how Ann Coulter wasn't eaten by zombies...note But she WAS. They also have Karl Rove's ersatz having his eyes gouged out and his head repeatedly slammed on a metal table until he dies. This happens 10 minutes after he says,
Kurt Rand: The three of us sold a war, dammit! We sold a war based on nothing but horseshit and elbow grease! We are the best in the goddamn game!
David Murch: It's not a goddamn game, Kurt!
My Name Is Earl: The episode Robbed A Stoner Blind gives a lesson in activism: when you support a cause, it's best to find equilibrium and perform your activism in moderation. Do too much, then you'll overexert yourself or do just as much damage as a negligent person; if you do too little, then you're just leaching off the good deeds of others. Do your part for the cause, but not at the risk of your own health and wellbeing.
Noah and Saskia: Online relationships can be positive and meaningful. While the eponymous characters' friendship has its fair share of hurdles to get over, all of them are caused by their unwillingness to be honest with each other- not because Internet communication is inherently soulless and self-destructive. Given how often YA stories portray it as the latter, the series was a welcome breath of fresh air.
The Office (UK): Don't try to be something you're not. If David Brent had spent less time trying to be the center of attention and more time acting like a boss he would never have lost his job.
With regards to the Tim-Dawn-Lee love-triangle: Don't stay in an unhappy relationship just because your partner is financially stable. Odds are there's someone out there much more deserving of your love.
And Never Give Up.
The Newsroom: Jeff Daniels' climactic speech from the first episode became a major viral sensation almost immediately after it aired—precisely because of this trope. In a nutshell: the United States is a flawed nation that has just as many problems as any other country, and those problems deserve to be taken seriously and dealt with. Americans have much to be proud of, but they shouldn't ignore their country's myriad problems while taking solace in the notion that it's "the greatest country in the world".
"First step in solving a problem is recognizing that it exists. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore."
Once Upon a Time: Just because you've made mistakes before, doesn't mean you can't try to fix them and change for the better.
Love is not a weakness, it's strength.
No matter what, if you love someone and they love you... they will always find you.
Trust in your family.
Orange Is the New Black is not at all subtle in its messages on the American prison system, but they're also very desperately necessary.
Even though Litchfield is a playground compared to maximum-security prison (and this is without even including men's prisons, which are a nightmare), the show is clear that the prison system in general really needs to be reformed. However, it's also clear that there's no easy answers to the problem; bureaucracy can put a damper on any attempted reforms, well-meaning staff can't fix the problems they see, the public essentially doesn't care about prisoners, and even if reforms were put in place, it's hard to balance rights with the punishment that prisoners are there for.
Additionally, as noted in Season 3: prisons cannot be run effectively and humanely on a for-profit basis.
Noted in Piper Kerman's (the basis for series protagonist Piper Chapman) book and a running theme throughout the show: Drugs Are Bad. No one in the series does drugs or is involved with the drug trade without some kind of consequence, to varying degrees of awfulness. It's the ones like Nicky who keep going back that you want to slap, but there is a lot of Truth in Television there, in that most addicts have a lifelong relationship with drugs.
Some of the show's messages on the validity of different gender and sexual identities, and of different viewpoints in general, can be rather heavy-handed at times, but the fact that these are still issues after so many years means you can only be so subtle.
Prison is no substitute for mental healthcare. Besides the obvious (see: Suzanne), Morello and Nicky are clearly more in need of psychiatric care than punishment, and quite a few others (particularly Lolly, whose story arc is brutal) have pretty obvious psychological problems that simply go unaddressed.
One of the main themes of season 4 is racism, and how pervasive and harmful it continues to be in society, with prison being no exception. The minority inmates (the Latin-American prisoners in particular) are singled out by the guards for frisking after Piper tips off Piscatella, and the white inmates are completely above suspicion despite the fact that Piper herself had been running a criminal enterprise for a while before the guards got there. In the midst of worrying about the prisoners forming gangs, they completely ignore the creation of a white supremacist gang which frequently agitates and provokes the other prisoners.
The aftermath of Poussey's death show two sides of the controversy surrounding race-based complaints with the justice system. On one hand, the business execs who own the prison don't allow Caputo to call the police and leave the body there for hours all so they can come up with a good cover story to protect the prison's reputation, even attempting to find a photo of her that make her look like a thug or make her death look justifiable. It's not helped when the guards try to lie and say that she had a weapon and attacked first to protect the killer who is a fellow guard, and then the PR execs try to flip the script to make Poussey's killer (a perfectly nice kid who is racked with suicidal guilt) look like a racist loose cannon. On the other hand, her death was a complete accident at the hands of a guard never got proper training and was just trying to restrain her while having to deal with Suzanne, who is having a violent freak out. Then, because of no one giving the inmates any information when they're trying to cover it up, the black inmates and most of the others assume it was cold blooded murder and Taystee overhears that Bayley is not getting punished for what he did, she starts a riot with the other inmates which ends up in a hostage situation and one of the guards in the situation is one of the good ones. Basically, the plot ends up showing how sometimes those highly publicized deaths of African-Americans at the hands of the police actually are accidents and how easy it is to paint everyone in a position of power as the villain and let your emotion get the best of you.
P to Z
The episode of Party of Five where Julia discovers she's pregnant has a very powerful line from Justin:
"You know, just once it would be nice if someone asked if I was okay. This is my baby we're talking about as well"
It's a given in any episode dealing with unplanned pregnancy that the mother-to-be will get a lot of drama but how often do you see the father's side? The father is normally either portrayed as a deadbeat or the one responsible for the whole mess, but how many examples are there where the Anvil gets dropped that the father is just a kid as well.
Their episode on video games ends with a statistic of how many children have died as a result of playing football, and closes with Penn saying "you have to pick and choose what you think is worth worrying about." This is even accompanied by a child crying after shooting a real assault rifle at a target, showing that video games don't make kids into killers.
Many of their episodes on religion (including one on The Bible) point out that religion itself is not evil, but blindly following dogma is.
Related to this are the episodes where they attack radical left-wing groups like PETA and ANSWER for engaging in policies that are self-defeating, and even pointing out massive amounts of hypocrisy behind them.
Their episodes on conspiracy theories and vaccines (from 9/11 "truthers" to people who believe the moon landing was faked) tend to say that it's impossible to argue with them, since they only see what they want to see, and find evidence where there is none.
They point out that some things that might be seen as harmless beliefs - psychics communicating with the dead, or beliefs in alternative therapies - aren't quite so innocuous when bereaved or seriously ill people rely on them instead of seeking professional psychiatric or medical help. And conspiracy-mongering is much less endearing when it concerns real life tragedies with survivors and families of victims having to listen to people saying their friends and loved ones are somehow still alive and involved in a vast conspiracy.
Speed (1998 series): You should not drive at high speed as you never know who you will hurt, and in icy weather, don't drive unless you really need to, and even then, if you must, know your destination and tell others first. Also, car cloning is not just something from the movies, it's real and can have very dangerous consequences.
Life in the Fast Lane (2002 series): In wet weather, reaction times are impaired, and the road is not a racetrack.
Quatermass and the Pit. "We are the Martians. And if we do not learn how to live together, this will be their second dead world". In the FIFTIES!
The episode of Raising Dad where Sarah decides she wants a nose-job. Even The Beautiful Elite can have bad self-images and constant teasing and joking can push someone into trying to change themselves when it's not needed. Think of that stunningly beautiful popular girl who wanted her ears pinned back, her jawline altered and fuller lips (and this is after she'd already gotten a nose job) and remember how fragile someone's self-esteem can be. Emily constantly teases Sarah about having a big nose but she then hears exactly what happens during plastic surgery and is horrified that Sarah wants to do that to herself.
The kids' game show Raven has a few, mainly relating to facing one's fears and that failure is not something to be ashamed of as long as you learn from it.
The ABC mini-series Roots (1977). The biggest dropped anvil in the history of television: slavery was fucking horrible.
Nearly every segment of Rescue 911 leaves the viewer with an Anvilicious message on how those accidents could've been prevented. But really, some of that advice can help you protect your friends and family from those similar scenarios. Nobody wants to learn the hard way on keeping medicine locked in cabinets or not driving drunk under any circumstances.
The Rookie (2018): Like a lot of cop shows, they start bringing in themes about holding fellow officers to account for excessive force or racial profiling, and that there are systemic problems which simply arresting people alone won't fix in Season 3. After nation-wide protests around these issues in 2020, it's deemed highly necessary by many people, however blatant they may be on the show.
Runaways (2017): During Alex's brief relationship with Livvie, she takes him to a farmers market in South LA and talks about her own dreams of opening a store. The point of this scene was to show Alex, as well as the audience, that South LAnote Formerly known as South Central LA, but the city changed it to move away from the negative connotations is now a thriving community and not the Wretched Hive it was in the 90's when Alex's father Geoffrey and Livvie's brother-in-law Darius were growing up.
The basic premise of Scrubs means that Aesops are going to occur every episode, but that doesn't stop episodes like "My Old Lady", "His Story", "My Screw Up", "My Life in Four Cameras", "My Way Home", and "My Musical" from being widely loved.
Sherlock: The title character asserts, "Alone is what I have. Alone protects me." Watson retorts, "No, Sherlock.Friends protect people." This is reinforced when when Moriarty threatens Sherlock's friends unless he commits suicide and Sherlock's trust in Molly (who escaped Moriarty's notice) is what makes it possible for him to fake his death.
The Disney Channel movie 16 Wishes is about a teenage girl on her 16th birthday and wishing that she would be treated like an adult. This results in a Be Careful What You Wish For story where she actually becomes an adult and learns that adulthood is not all it's cracked up to be. In our modern society where kids are growing up too quickly, especially with what's popular on the Disney Channel of all things nowadays, this could not be a more important lesson for kids and "tweens" to take to heart.
Smallville: The episode "Unsafe" which is about teenage sexual activity. Chloe reveals she lost her virginity at 15 and regrets it and tells Lana not to do it just because she is afraid of losing her boyfriend. The producers even had Allison Mack (who plays Chloe) do a public service announcement before the episode on teenage pregnancy.
Supernatural: Lying to your family about super-serious affairs or secret deals is no good, okay?
You are not your father. You are not your family. Love your family, but don't ever feel like you have to be like them.
In Tales of the Gold Monkey, the episode "Escape from Death Island" involves Jake and Corky drawn into helping a convict in a Penal Colony where the prisoners are being brutalized. Even though the young man turns out to be guilty of the crime for which he was convicted, the episode makes it clear that no one deserves to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
Titus, like Christopher Titus's stand up material, works to make every episode have some sort of moral to it. But it is never a Happily Ever After ending, they don't make any disposition to paint the world as anything but a crapsack kind. But if everything is going wrong, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh. And if you are so primed and ready to get upset over every little problem, then what has your life become? One of the best examples of that comes in "Deconstructing Erin", where Erin returned to her soul-sucking family because Titus returned to drinking. He quit drinking and tried to get her back, and she tore into him about how his behavior ruined her life. He snapped back that you can't blame someone else for your problems, and if the person you love screws up, you throw them in a sack and kidnap them. You don't let them become self-destructive and destroy you in the process.
And now that episode has become kinda useless in hindsight as Titus's first wife lied, cheated on, and stole from Titus, nearly ruining his life and her children's, and now that Titus is divorced from her, dating a woman who is actually mentally stable and has a wonderful, albeit overprotective, family, and trying to raise his kids in a world that seems to be getting worse every day, a woman like Erin is not worth being in a relationship with — much like the other deranged women Titus has dated, including his first girlfriend, Noelle, who, like his mom, was beautiful, had a genius IQ, and was prone to violent outbursts.
Another is "Tommy's Not Gay", that dealt with gay bashers and hate crimes. They hit everything from peer pressure to Matthew Shepard to Stupid Sexy Flanders moments to the social ramifications of coming out of the closet. By the end, Titus was explaining that everyone's a racist and we'd all prefer if the people we feel uncomfortable around were separated into their own little groups, pointing out "over there and over there and over there", eventually mimicking the Nazi salute. "You see how this can get out of hand."
The Twilight Zone is essentially a series of anvil drops, with some of the most didactic, moralistic writing you can imagine. And it almost always works. One of the best is "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street". Anvilicious? Yeah. Still amazing, though? Hell yes. Rod Serling's bit at the end is especially moving.
The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own; for the children, and the children yet unborn.
The episode "He's Alive!" — in which Adolf Hitler comes back from the dead to 'mentor' an American fascist — can seem like Narm by modern standards... but when it first aired, the episode prompted more hate mail than any other episode — 4000 people wrote in protesting the show's depiction of Adolf Hitler as a villain. There's a reason Rod Serling called that episode the most important one he ever made.
Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare — Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami, Florida; Vincennes, Indiana; Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there's hate, where there's prejudice, where there's bigotry. He's alive. He's alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He's alive because through these things we keep him alive.
Rod Serling was especially worried about Nazism, and history's gone on to show that he had good reason. The Twilight Zone episode "Deaths-Head Revisited" not only gives a former concentration camp captain his just reward, but also ends with what seems like an anvilicious closing statement — but the surge of Holocaust denials since then has proven that this anvil can't possibly be dropped too hard.
There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes — all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.
"The Eye of the Beholder". So many anvils — one of which is in the title itself.
Now the questions that come to mind. Where is this place and when is it? What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? You want an answer? The answer is, it doesn't make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned... in the Twilight Zone.
"A Passage for Trumpet". The main character learns that while life can be a bitch at times, it also has plenty of good moments, if only you know where to look.
Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.
Another anvil gets dropped in-story by a Bad Santa, when the manager fires him for drinking and being belligerent to a customer — the quote can be read under the YMMV section of the Twilight Zone page.
Pick pretty much any monologue from Rod Serling at the end of any Twilight Zone episode, and it usually has some important message.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: In the fourth and final season, the show decided to amp up its already rather loud feminist message to new levels. The timing however, goes hand in hand and even mentions the accusations of sexual harassment in Hollywood, focus on the fact that women are strong human beings that deserve to be respected, that some men try to deflect guilt, declaring that there's a war against masculinity and accuse gender equality of being Political Correctness Gone Mad. The series is also very clear on the fact that men aren't naturally evil, but that society doesn't teach young men to respect women or to take responsibility for their actions, as well as teaching that they are entitled to women. This last one message is particularly poignant as the season's first half was launched soon after a school shooting caused by a man that tried to take revenge for a woman turning him down.
Jacquelyn: Let me explain something, you flip-flop-to-church toddler, women are human beings! And they deserve your respect! If you hear a little voice in your head saying that you are more important because you can pee standing up and drive a car in Saudi Arabia, DON'T BELIEVE IT!
The West Wing was known for its dogged sense of political idealism, but it wasn't afraid to tackle political issues head-on—especially not during the Sorkin years. Almost all of its most highly-regarded episodes got that way because they drop some important anvil regarding political issues in the 21st century, making it impossible to misread their political intent. Most of them wouldn't be nearly as effective if they were subtle about it.
"Ellie": Telling the truth is a moral responsibility, even if the truth isn't always politically convenient. The aesop comes up in a story where the Surgeon General of the United States accidentally causes a PR fiasco when she honestly answers a question about marijuana use, telling someone (truthfully) that the drug is not addictive, and doesn't carry as many health risks as heroin or cocaine. She nearly loses her job for seemingly endorsing an illegal drug, leading people to accuse the Bartlet administration of planning to legalize marijuana. But as she repeatedly points out, she's a doctor who has devoted her entire life to educating the public about health, and it's her job to tell people the truth—which has no political bias.
"In this White House" and "And It's Surely to Their Credit": Serving your country as a public servant is always a noble undertaking, even if you may not always agree with the administration in charge. Also, political differences are never an excuse for refusing to treat someone with dignity and respect; if two people really love their country, they can find common ground and work together.
"A Proportional Response" and "Lord John Marbury": Being the most powerful country on Earth is a responsibility and a burden, not a distinction to be flaunted in the faces of one's enemies. When entrusted with the power to rule the world, a nation has a duty to use that power for good. That means acting with restraint and mercy, resisting the temptation to seek revenge, and always ending wars before they start.
"In Excelsis Deo": If a country can afford to send its soldiers to die in wartime, it can afford to keep those same soldiers fed and clothed in peacetime. Veterans' devotion to their country deserves to be repaid.
When They See Us: The tactics used by the police to extract the confessions were blatantly coercive; the prosecutors and police acted with malice when they ignored the glaring holes in their case. The media essentially acted as a lynch mob, and the entire thing was motivated due to racism since the boys were black and Latino.
The Wire has been hailed by many television critics as one of the best TV shows ever made, in large part because of how well and honestly it drops its anvils, showing the ridiculousness and futility of the War on Drugs. As it points out, many drug dealers are just inner-city teenagers to trying to get by, police officers are flawed human beings with just as many selfish motivations as the rest of us, and the world is not Black and White.
Season 2, which focused on the Baltimore docks, dropped an equally important anvil with its depiction of the Baltimore stevedores and their indirect involvement in the drug trade: as technological advances change American industry from the bottom up, the working classes will end up displaced and disenfranchised along the way, and the government ignores that fact at its peril.
Also the overarching Aesop about the drug war, most prominent in Season 3, which reminds the audience why a nation should never be eager to declare war on its own people. Declaring a war is far easier than governing a populace, since governing a populace depends upon actually knowing a populace and earning its trust, whereas declaring a war only depends upon looking for the next battle. Any thug can win a fight on a street corner, but being a police officer requires intelligence and good judgement.
Arguably the most effective anvil is the one dropped in Season 4, which shows how screwed up the city school systems are. It points out that America's schools can never help America's disadvantaged children if they're run by bureaucrats who care more about test scores than about well-rounded educations. When education becomes a rigidly structured system run by statistics instead of principles, it can actually prepare kids for life on the corners, since it teaches them that every system can be cheated.
At the end of his arc, Bubbles delivers a message for all bereaved: "Ain't no shame in holding on to grief, as long as you make room for other things too."
Wonder Woman (1975), campy as it was, managed to drop one about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The villain of the week was a Japanese man who was interned as a child, trying to take revenge on Wonder Woman in the belief she was responsible for his brother dying when they attempted to escape from the camp they were held in. While she had to stop him, Diana acknowledges that the internments were wrong. For some younger viewers, this might have been the first time they'd even heard of such camps.