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Tonight, on a very special article of All The 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, bulimia... 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. 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.
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 occassional moments where the Laugh Track is needed.
These episodes were far more common in the 1980s. They've largely fallen out of favor since then 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. 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, the police documentary genre (i.e. Police Stop, Police, Camera, Action!, Road Wars) and law enforcement dramas like Criminal Minds and Medium also use this trope fairly regularly, making this not quite a Dead Horse Trope.
Often ends up as an Anvilicious Narm, especially if it turns out to be a Clueless Aesop. Very ripe target for parody; these days, parodies of Very Special Episodes are probably more common than Very Special Episodes themselves. May also be vulnerable to Detournement. However they can also be handled with a great deal of respect and responsibility and outshine the rest of the regular season; though it's fairly rare that that happens.
See also Public Service Announcement and Too Smart for Strangers, a specific kind of Very Special Episode concerned with child abduction. 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. See Christmas Episode, Christmas Special, Prison Episode, and April Fool's Plot for other specially-themed episodes.
Anime and Manga
- Himitsu no Akko-chan, 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 Nagato, 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, Nagato starts to exibit psychosomatical 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 Nagato's helping hand, going so far to offer their own hats for... Nagato's use and offering their friendship to ease her feeling of inadequacy and loneliness.
- Cracked.com 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 of some of these attempts at Very Special Episodes.
- The Silver Age Speedy Roy Harper (later know as Arsenal and later still as Red Arrow) became a Very Special Character for much of his career, starting with a 1971 story in which he became a heroin addict. The original story was not especially Narmful, but many of the later ones which mentioned his drug abuse were.
- His drug abuse is still part of his character—when Speedy lectured Nightwing in a very holier-than-thou way in a recent 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 BSOD 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—when Speedy lectured Nightwing in a very holier-than-thou way in a recent 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 — not just the one where it is revealed that Speedy was a heroin addict.
- The Modern Age Speedy, Mia Dearden, got her own Very Special Issue where it was discovered that she was HIV Positive.
- 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.
- 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 hot line at the end of the issue.
- One of the most infamous of these stories was the Teen Titans 'Drug Awareness issue' mentioned in Pietà Plagiarism.
- Spider-Man has been very a 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. Fortunately, it wasn't as narmful as it could be, mainly the result of subplots about Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn.
- Spider-Man is also known for 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 new, Very Special Character, 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 then refused to approve the comic.
- 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 All This speech from Kitty Pryde about name-calling. Fortunately, it's so well-written that it's not really that Narmy.
- There was an Archie comic where a friend of his (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 The Incredible Hulk and Young Justice. In 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.
- 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 in an errand to find an hopeless boy and bring him hope. Captain Marvel spends his free time into 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."
- Captain America (comics) 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 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 drink 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."
- The fourth wall destroying quote above comes from the Lost Episode of Gap, which also served as a Take That, Critics! to all the people who protested against the many many (mostly) implied instances of teenage drug use and alcoholism.
- Popularly attributed to Blossom, which had a lot of Very Special Episodes, promoted as such. Frequently, episodes employing this trope were introduced by actress Mayim Bialik (who played the title character) intoning in a somber manner, "Tonight, on a Very Special Blossom ... ," followed by teaser scenes dramatically showing the conflict and cutting off before the most dire event reaches its climax.
- Parodied on Friends when Joey (who has just been chosen to appear on a poster warning against sexually transmitted diseases) walks into the flat and says "I've got VD." Chandler sardonically replies, "Tonight on a very special Blossom!"
- Subverted by an episode of the American What Not to Wear. Billed as "A Very Special Episode", the celebrity makeover target was revealed to be Mayim Bialik, the actress who used to play Blossom. And in fact she did seem to dress like a grown up Blossom gone to seed. As is common with many guests of the show, She Cleans Up Nicely.
- This was also parodied on The Venture Brothers when Dr. Orpheus threatened to "make you believe you ARE a very special episode of Blossom."
- One episode of The Brothers Garcia had Carlos finding out a girl at school wears a wig and delightfully plans to tell everyone...only for Sonia to take him to the hospital and show him into the oncology department, revealing that the girl in question has cancer. It was handled rather well and had a pretty touching ending (though with a bit of Fridge Horror / Unfortunate Implications that the girl never appeared on the show again).
- Another parody occurred on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. When Ryan portrays Drew as being lower on the evolutionary scale than apes (as a joke), Drew fires back by calling Ryan a "freak"—over and over again. After a while, though, he apologizes to Ryan and is obviously feeling sincerely guilty. Noticing the extremely unusual (for Whose Line) mood shift, Wayne chimes in with a sarcastically somber voice, saying "A very special Whose Line Is It Anyway?".
- Perhaps the most notorious show for very special episodes was the WB's Seventh Heaven where for a while, virtually every episode was "very special." This often involved new friends that were never seen or mentioned again.
- One example of this is the episode "Cutters" where a recently befriended girl is caught cutting herself. She is put on a bus at the end of the episode.
- Diff'rent Strokes had a few:
- The best known Very Special Episode was "The Bicycle Man," aired during the series' fifth season. In it, Arnold and Dudley befriend a genial bicycle shop owner (Gordon Jump, best known as Mr. Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati), unaware that he is a pedophile and is buttering them up for a possible sexual encounter. When the two are shown an X-rated "cat and mouse" cartoon, Arnold decides he's had enough and leaves, then lets slip some details about the bicycle shop owner (unaware that Dudley is still there, and has been given a pill). Not to worry: Dudley is saved in the proverbial nick of time, and the bicycle man is off to prison. On the FOX sitcom, American Dad, it was revealed that this actually happened to Principal Lewis and that his friend, Dudley, was traumatized over it.
- The other well-known Very Special Episode was "The Reporter," aired just weeks after "The Bicycle Man." Here, Arnold joins the school newspaper and writes an article about drugs being sold on school grounds. The school administration thinks Arnold is lying and won't allow such a fabrication to be printed in their newspaper ... that is, until First Lady Nancy Reagan shows up with ample proof and persuasion that such activities had (sadly) become the norm, and not just at Arnold's school. The episode was part of Mrs. Reagan's "Just Say No!" campaign.
- Other "very special" episodes of Diff'rent Strokes included Kimberley suddenly being bulimic, the show's resident Cousin Oliver Sam being abducted, the boys being refused entry into an elite school with a racist admissions agent, the family housekeeper revealing she's epileptic (prompted by Arnold and Sam making fun of a street performer they saw having a seizure), Willis having a health scare due to excessive stress (!) and several more. The show was the king of very special episodes long before Blossom came along.
- Family Ties had many of these, some of them incredibly Anvilicious like some other shows, and others actually effective at making tearjerking moments.
- The episode in which Alex loses a friend to drunk driving.
- The episode where Steven has a heart attack.
- The episode in which Alex gets addicted to diet pills.
- The episode in which Long-Lost Uncle Aesop is an "off the wagon" alcoholic. (Which is now Hilarious in Hindsight thanks to the fact that the uncle in question was played by Tom Hanks.)
Uncle Ned: (* sob* ) I hit Alex...
- The episode where Jennifer becomes a rabid environmentalist and falls into a deep depression over not being able to save the Earth in a half hour.
- The episode from the final season in which the Keatons' new black neighbors encounter racism.
- Family Matters did episodes about the following topics:
- Marrow donation.
- Gun and gang violence among youth, complete with PSA from the actors out of character at the end, and a catchphrase "Squash it" that was part of a national anti-violence campaign.
- It's obvious the actors were REALLY uncomfortable doing this PSA. See for yourself.
- Police discrimination—a cop pulls over and unfairly tickets Eddie because he was a black teenager driving in a white neighborhood.
- Black History Month—when Laura suggests that a black history class be put into the curriculum, she gets harassed by the white students, causes racial tension in the student body, and has her locker defaced (in the uncut version, Laura finds a note telling her to go back to Africa, then when she closes her locker, she finds the N word spraypainted on it; the edited version jumps to commercial break after she reads the note about going back to Africa).
- Another episode has someone spiking Urkel's drink at a party; Urkel almost dies as a result.
- In yet another, Carl had a heart attack.
- Another had Urkel saving Carl's life with CPR after he gets electrocuted by a lamp.
- The most Anvilicious episode of them all: The one where Eddie is chastised by every one of his gym classmates for still being a virgin. You can probably guess what happens afterwards...
- Step By Step toyed with this territory on occasion. Most memorable is an episode where J.T. learns he has dyslexia. Throughout the episode, his parents and siblings take note of his poor grades and blame them on his study habits and work ethic. The lesson begins to hit home after Cody has J.T. read a chapter out of a schoolbook and has him report on the contents:
Cody: So what'd it say?
- Once the seriousness is established, the episode scores a Crowning Moment of Funny when J.T. comes back from the doctor, exclaiming happily(?!) that he has dyslexia:
Carol: Oh, thank god, I knew you couldn't be that stupid!
- It gets even funnier when J.T. assumes dyslexia will get him a free ride, but realizes via Cody that he will have to work even harder now. J.T. laments he was better off with everyone thinking he was just stupid.
- The Cosby Show had a similar episode, where Theo was revealed to be dyslexic. As he's headed to take the test for it, his father helpfully coaches "I hope you fail with flying colors!"
- Adam12: A third-season episode had a very touching and insightful episode called "Elegy for a Pig," where Officer Pete Malloy (Martin Milner), the elder of the two regular officers, narrates a documentary about his one-time partner, who was killed while staking out a robbery. Malloy's emotional telling of the story sends shivvers down the viewer's spine, showing that when an officer dies, he is more than just a statistic ... he is a comrade, friend, family man and much more. The end credits for that particular episode did not use the usual sequence or theme—rather, a black screen with no music (the end logos for Mark VII Limited Productions and Universal Television were kept as usual).
- Punky Brewster had a special two-part episode. Part One had to do with Punky learning CPR, then in Part Two, her friend suffocated inside an old fridge, which allowed Punky to put her CPR skills to the test. A chroma-keyed text imposed atop a still of Punky's CPR class, along with a stern announcer, told us "CPR should only be performed by certified people" (of which Punky was not, incidentally).
- Another has her foster dad Henry becoming addicted to medication. Typically for a VSE, the problem is resolved in a single episode and never mentioned again.
- The second season finale (and also the last episode to be broadcast on NBC) in which Punky's dreams of becoming an astronaut are crushed witnessing the real life Challenger explosion. Soon, her teacher arranges a meeting with Buzz Aldrin, who encourages Punky to not give up on her dreams.
- "The Reading Game" episode deals with illiteracy: Cherie's cousin Paula can't read, and has been hiding it, despite being in seventh grade. However, she learns the importance of reading once she is left alone with her younger brother Bobby, who ends up drinking fabric softner and she can't read the warning label when instructed to by the 911 operator. Only when Punk and Cherie return, do they use reading and solve the problem.
- An early example is the "Maude Has An Abortion" episode of Maude. It wasn't done as a Very Special Episode, though, since it did not moralize. It simply shocked America. In fact, it might have inspired the very concept Very Special Episode by the massive ratings it received.
- The ending PSA about the Very Special Problem was parodied in an episode of Dinosaurs. Robbie and his friend, Spike, find a plant in the woods and become addicted to it; at the end of the episode, Robbie urged viewers "Don't do drugs — and help stop preachy sitcom episodes like this one."
- An episode of Home Improvement was billed as an episode where Randy might have cancer. Turned out he didn't and the whole thing was a false alarm. He did wind up with hypothyroidism, a thyroid condition that effectively requires a pill a day for the rest of his life. In fact, most of the emotional turmoil the characters experienced were, indeed, that he might have cancer, or several other things, and that they simply didn't know. The stress of waiting to find out was the linchpin of the drama.
- Home Improvement was a rare show that actually handled these kinds of episodes very nicely. For example, in another Very Special Episode, Brad smoked pot. Parents behaved in the typical matter, but the episode lacked the soap box feeling most episodes of that nature had. Nobody died when Brad smoked, nobody even got injured, no out of proportion hallucinations that pot doesn't actually have, and Jill came out later in the episode, admitting she experimented with it. They said Drugs Are Bad, but they didn't put an anvil on the drugs. Unlike comparable sitcoms, in which the presence of marijuana is implied by the presence of a paper bag or tiny white sausages (joints) but never shown in actual plant form, the marijuana in this show was actually a green herb inside of a plastic bag. (Al mistook it for oregano.) Also, somewhat cleverly, Brad was keeping his stash outdoors, hidden underneath a chair. Perhaps some astute young viewers took note.
- Although not promoted as such, All in The Family had numerous episodes that qualified for this trope, with several episodes during the 1977-1978 season (the eighth season, and the final one featuring the original foursome together as regulars) having some very adult themes:
- "Edith's 50th Birthday," where Edith is attacked by a serial rapist. Met with universal critical acclaim, the episode showed—through Gloria, who recalled her own near-run in with sexual assault more than four years earlier—that rape was about power and domination, not sex. It all ends with Edith (who, so shaken by the incident, had refused to press charges) slapping Gloria across the face after Gloria calls Edith a selfish coward unworthy of her respect; This helps Edith realize the rapist must be put behind bars for good; what would have been Narm-inducing ends up being a Crowning Moment Of Bittersweet.
- "Archie and the KKK," where Archie runs into an old buddy, who invites him to the Kweens Kouncil of Krusaders. Archie doesn't get (at first) that said organization is actually the local Klu Klux Klan chapter taking on a very-misleading name. Not only does Archie get a chance to reflect on his own viewpoints about people with backgrounds or ethnicities outside his comfort zone, it showed viewers that Archie does have a touch of decency in him and that his views reflected the times in which he grew up, not pure racism. (In the end, Archie thwarts a planned cross-burning when he realizes that Mike is the target of the intended act.)
- "Archie's Bitter Pill," where Archie—after buying the local tavern—realizes how stressful it is to run a business without an adequate education or help, and turns to speed to help him get through the day. In the end, Mike takes a part time job, while Archie hires a business partner.
- "Edith's Crisis of Faith," where Edith witnesses the brutal slaying of cross-dresser Beverly La Salle (during a failed robbery attempt), and is so shaken that she nearly renounces her faith in God.
- Welcome Back, Kotter: As close as it got when Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington, the athlete of the Sweathogs, begins taking painkillers to heal a basketball injury ... and almost gets Horshack hooked as well after he tells his friends that the pills are merely "vitamins."
- Another episode deals with attempted suicide, when new girl Mary Johnson nearly jumps off the school roof because she's tired of feeling alone and overlooked. Horshack is able to talk her down safely, and Mary averts the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop trope by appearing in several more episodes after, eventually marrying Arnold.
- The episode of Saved by the Bell in which Jessie becomes addicted to caffeine pills, leading to the infamous "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so... so scared!" scene (may be seen here).
- Also the very special episode where Zack's duck Becky is killed by an oil spill.
- Also the one where the gang meets their favorite actor and finds out that he smokes pot.
- And the one where they drink and drive during homecoming and they wreck the car and Slater breaks his arm.
- This is mentioned in an episode of Ugly Betty.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow's story arc throughout season 6 is frequently derided for being one long Very Special Episode all about the evil of drugs; it's the single biggest reason why many people tend to ignore everything after Tabula Rasa.
- As well, the fourth season episode "Beer Bad" attempted to have a moral lesson about drinking alcohol, mainly to take advantange of the Office of National Drug Control Policy giving shows money for doing anti-drug episodes. However, the show ended up not getting any money, mainly because the curse on the beer turned people into cavemen and because of this:
Xander: And was there a lesson in all this? huh? What did we learn about beer?
- The season 3 episode Earshot dealt with a fringe character planning to commit suicide and included a PSA after the episode aired.
- Also the season 3 episode Beauty and the Beasts dealt with the nature of boyfriends switching between nice and a jerk. Featured a pointed scene related to the villain abusing his girlfriend and the girlfriend excusing his actions.
- Also the season 2 episode Go Fish has the swim team being given a drug which is constantly referred to as steroids which ends up turning them into fish.
- One episode of The Sopranos focusing on the soccer coach of Tony's daughter being a child molester played with the trope, in that given their general treatment of women, Tony and his crew come across as somewhat hypocritical in condemning his behavior—particularly in later seasons, the difference between the way Tony and his crew treat women and the way the coach did is that Tony and his crew wait until they're eighteen. Moreover, rather than the black and white morality of the usual Very Special Episode, the show is typically morally ambiguous, as Tony wants to kill the coach, feeling that he would be less of a man were he to rely upon the legal system to seek justice—and that even if he did, what the legal system would do could hardly be called justice. In the end, however, Tony gets very relaxed on both medication and alcohol, and seems quite content with the idea that "I din' hur' nobody".
- Friday Night Lights had a Very Special Two-Parter about racism that was actually very good and realistic. The racist coach even gets some amount of pity from the show as he privately admits to struggling with his own prejudices.
- A fourth-season episode of 24 had Jack Bauer hiding out in a gun shop owned by two foreign immigrants, who demonstrated that they were patriotic and wanted to serve for the good of the American people. This episode also featured a PSA by lead actor Kiefer Sutherland, who highlighted the discrimination faced by Arab and East Indian residents living in America, a situation caused by 9/11 and the War on Terror.
- The West Wing did something similar with, "Isaac and Ishmael", by having a staff member have the same name as a terrorist. While the rest of the team answered questions from schoolkids about the history of terrorism, and why it happens, Leo was with secret service agents and the accused, asking questions in a shockingly hostile manner. After it turns out that the man is innocent, Leo gets a sharp wake-up call from the accused, who reminds of the shooting in Rosslyn, and adds that it was because "one of [the staff] wasn't [white]".
- EVERY EPISODE of the Degrassi Junior High / Degrassi High / Degrassi the Next Generation franchise is a very special episode. From abortions to suicide to events ripped from Canadian headlines to rape to lesbianism to abuse to unwanted pregnancies to neglected friends to pedophilia to online stalkers to self-worth to HIV/AIDS to environmental awareness... it's all here. In fact, the "Degrassi Classic" franchise emphasized this in a series of short documentary features co-produced by the Canadian government called "Degrassi Talks", in which cast members talked about disturbing events that happened in their lives. 7th Heaven doesn't have s#$@ on this.
- Exception: Seinfeld is known for having never had a Very Special Episode, and just never being that sentimental in general.
- In fact, the rules the writers set for Seinfeld are "No hugging, no learning".
- One could argue that the popularity of Seinfeld led to other shows imitating the conceited superficial narcissism of its characters, spelling the death of the VSE in sitcoms.
- The third season episode "The Pez Dispenser" *did* include a never before seen Special Guest Character who was struggling with drug addiction, and was never seen again after the successful intervention got him into rehab. The intervention itself took place offscreen, the buildup was played for laughs, and the whole storyline was a secondary plot, and he apparently got addicted to *pez candy* right after.
- In fact, the rules the writers set for Seinfeld are "No hugging, no learning".
- From around the third or fourth season onwards, every other episode of MacGyver was a Very Special Episode.
- One unintentionally hilarious episode involved black rhino poaching in Africa. It starts out with a warning for the squeamish that they would show a "realistic" depiction of a rhino involving blood (it wasn't too convincing looking), then after the regular plot (just Strictly Formula MacGyver), Richard Dean Anderson gives an out of character speech for nearly a minute about the dwindling population of the black rhino. Most people were just laughing hysterically at it.
- Boy Meets World had a couple of these, including one in which Cory and Shawn become completely drunk sharing a small bottle of whiskey, leading to Shawn having a harrowing week of alcoholism before it being solved by 'talking to some guy.' (I kid, I kid, I love that episode.)
- Another is the episode where Shawn has a friend who is physically abused by her dad, so Shawn and Cory decide to hide her at Cory's house overnight. Ends with the Kids Help Phone Hotline number.
- Or the one where Shawn joins a cult, which came out around the Heavens Gate suicides.
- Strangely enough, this one was Better Than It Sounds. It started with a lonely Shawn being invited to what was described as a youth center, where he is surrounded by new friends and an adult father figure, Mr. Mack, was ran the Center. The easy companionship is shown as addicting, to the point where Shawn stops hanging out with Cory and his regular friends, until Mr. Turner is left in critical condition because of a motorcycle accident and Shawn realizes just how much Mr. Turner and his friends mean to him. Strangely enough, Mr. Mack, despite being the episode's "bad guy", is shown somewhat sympathetically, accompanying Shawn when he visits Turner at the hospital, being civil with Mr. Feeney, despite Feeney's obvious dislike for him and his Center, and taking Shawn's decision to leave the Center gracefully.
- Also, the cult itself isn't very cultish except for having a leader and Shawn's estrangement from his friends. Everybody looks well rested and well fed, other people had no trouble finding the Center and there was no monetary or work aspect to it.
- In one well-done episode, Cory makes a bet with Feeny that if he teaches one of the classes for a week, more students will pass the test at the end. After instituting anarchy and then realizing that he needs to do some actual teaching, Cory attempts without success to interest the class in The Diary of Anne Frank. At one point Cory finds Eric comforting his Asian girlfriend after she's been called by a racial slur. He finally gets the attention of the class by calling Shawn a wop, asking "What if we lived in a country where I could kill you just because of your mother's maiden name?" Though the same number of students as usual pass the test, Shawn scores a "B" instead of his usual "C," showing that he took the lesson to heart.
- The Drew Carey Show parodied this with "A Very Special Drew." The episode covered potential miscarriage, raising a child in poverty, irresponsible gun (and alcohol) ownership, obsessive-compulsive disorder, kleptomania (supplemented by a Freudian Excuse), anorexia, misdirected self-loathing, loved ones succumbing to unknown illnesses, illiteracy, unexpected death of a loved one, organ donation, last-minute marriage (failed due to said unexpected death), the Littlest Cancer Patient, and coming out of the closet (Spartacus-style). The whole episode was framed around the cast trying to win an Emmy.
- Waterloo Road does a few of these, complete with the phone number to call at the end of the show, but the acting is generally good enough to get away with it. The first season's Very Special Episode about homophobic bullying was nominated for an award by a major gay rights organisation.
- Sesame Street's Very Special Episode dealing 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.
- There was also an episode about racism. No, seriously.
- 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.
- Anyone else remember the episode of Mr. Belvedere where one of Wesley's classmates contracts HIV?
- There was also an episode about Alzheimer's disease, where Wesley has to deal with the failing memory of an old lady he visits in a nursing home.
- Yet another episode had Wesley getting molested by a summer camp counselor.
- And another which had Heather nearly getting raped by her prom date. What makes this a standout is that the scene ended with him pushing her down as she screamed "No!", then picked up with her at home, acting shaken and upset, leaving viewers to wonder if she had been raped (pretty heavy stuff, even for a VSE). Only after she finally confided in Mr. Belvedere (he had found her torn dress and asked her what happened) does the audience learn that she was able to fight him off. Even then, she's still reluctant to tell her parents what happened until the guy shows up at the house and tries to act like nothing happened.
- During a AIDS/HIV awareness month on American television, Star Trek: Enterprise aired an episode in which T'pol, the catsuited Vulcan first officer, entered an unprotected mindmeld with a rogue hippie Vulcan (played as an Anvilicious sexual metaphor), a scene which veered into Mind Rape territory, and as a result, T'pol contracted a rare Vulcan neurological disease that... oh forget it, she got Vulcan Space AIDS.
- Meanwhile, the B plot involved Phlox and one of his wives encouraging Tucker to engage in casual sex with multiple partners.
- The trope was played straight in the original episode, but the significant consequences of having the disease were played out long term over a number of episodes, though the Space AIDS parallels never went away.
- Walker, Texas Ranger takes these to their extreme. There are several episodes about racism, one about AIDS, and an episode about sexism where they even had a normally tolerant character act out of character just to hammer the point home.
- Another episode that takes it to a further extreme, for their message against gangs, they have a young girl killed, magically resurrected by an angel (special effect glow and all), and then 'blessed' with holy wisdom and the ability to talk to her angel, with the actors talking to the screen more often than to each other.
- Kyle XY had one about tolerating gays. See Fiction Is Not Fair.
- Also one about teenage drinking.
- Jack & Bobby had an episode where Jack's ex-best friend Matt (who was only in this one episode) committed suicide. Through flashbacks in Jack's memory, the reason for Matt's suicide was revealed to be that Matt was gay, and in love with Jack. After confessing his feelings to Jack, the two eventually parted ways. Later, when Jack talks to Matt's parents, he finds out that Matt had tried to come out to his mother, but she had rejected him. At the end of the episode, there is a hotline number on the screen for LGBT teens who are depressed or suicidal.
- In a notable subversion, the TV show Titus framed every episode as a Very Special Episode, most notably because of the subject matter (drugs, suicide, abuse, infidelity, domestic violence, and insensitivity to others were common in the series). However, because they then took to the other extreme of the VSE, the subject matter was always presented as humorous and without redeeming qualities (people very rarely learned a lesson that was really worth learning). And it worked.
- Part of the effectiveness is a knowledge of what to make fun of. At no point do they say "Alcoholics are funny," when they staged an intervention to get Papa Titus to start drinking again. It Makes Sense in Context- They thought he was nicer when he was drunk, their mistake.) Also, they never say "You can make fun of sexual abuse," but they do say "Laughing is a way to deal with your problems."
- And part of it comes from real life experience. The real Christopher Titus drank a lot in his teen years until he was 17. Why? Because, during a beach party (which he wasn't allowed to go to because his dad had grounded him), he fell into a bonfire. Fortunately, his friends got him out, stamped out the flames, and left him to deal with a hard-assed doctor at a low-rent doctor's office on the beach. As Titus says, "Falling into a bonfire is a one step program."
- Possibly the only episodes that would be considered traditional VS Es would be: "The Smell of Success" (Titus turns to alcohol after his hot-rod business goes under and his father refuses to give him money to keep the shop afloat — though the second part of that episode — "Deprogramming Erin" — is more on par with how Titus subverts the typical Very Special Episode found in many sitcoms, "The Last Noelle" (Titus goes to the funeral of his first girlfriend — an abusive, manipulative woman named Noelle — and discovers that the only reason he ever liked her — and dated many women who were either unfaithful or mentally deranged — was because he was secretly attracted to women who acted just like his mom) and "The Protector" (in which Amy gets in trouble for beating up a boy who sexually harasses her, then confronts the man who sexually molested her as a child, with Titus thinking that she's lying to cover up her assault on his son...until Erin finds a poem about the rose tattoo Amy saw on the man's penis when she was a child).
- Part of the effectiveness is a knowledge of what to make fun of. At no point do they say "Alcoholics are funny," when they staged an intervention to get Papa Titus to start drinking again. It Makes Sense in Context- They thought he was nicer when he was drunk, their mistake.) Also, they never say "You can make fun of sexual abuse," but they do say "Laughing is a way to deal with your problems."
- Parodied like so many other things in Mr. Show, where they outright admit from the start that they're just doing it to get an award and improve their ratings. Then the "very special" event is David Cross coming out as bald.
- There was an episode of Lizzie McGuire dealing with anorexia, where Miranda "contracts an eating disorder" — she skips lunch once, one day, and learns her lesson after she almost faints.
- Hannah Montana has an episode about Oliver having diabetes, which had to be drastically retooled before being aired, since the original was inaccurate and had some offensive jokes about diabetics.
- There was also one where Miley misused her "for emergencies only" credit card and had to deal with the subsequent debt.
- The Secret Life of the American Teenager is practically a Very Special Series, though some episodes are very centered on a specific "issue". To name just a few examples: The episode where everyone gets a fake ID so they can go to the teen wedding (this was followed by an episode that was kinda about illegal underage marriage), two (almost) abortion episodes, and an episode about STD testing.
- A special mention goes to the fact that there's a message at the end of every episode telling teens to talk to their parents about sex and avoid teen pregnancy. It was replaced once by a message giving information about a sexual abuse help hotline. Naturally, this messsage was preceded by a very special episode where Ricky encounters his on-parole birth father, who used to sexually abuse Ricky.
- One Tree Hill, where Lucas' estranged friend Jimmy decides to shoot up the school? They could at least have made some token effort to point towards the whole gun control vs. right to bear arms issue, but no, it ultimately seemed to come down to "Lonely kids are crazy psychopaths who will kill you and themselves." I suppose the gun with which he initiated the shooting just appeared out of thin air, or something...
- Subverted on Roseanne. The show's arguable Crowning Moment of Funny was the episode dealing with marijuana. Dan and Rosie find a blunt and think it's David's, and threaten to throw him out if they catch him with drugs again, but it turns out to be one of theirs that Dan didn't have the heart to throw away when they were pregnant with Becky and wanted to be responsible parents. The rest of the episode shows them smoking it and acting blown out of their minds. Even the episodes that really did have serious themes like domestic violence, racism, infidelity, and Dan's heart attack weren't as out-of-place as these episodes tend to be, since they kept the dark humor that the show was famous for.
- An episode of Growing Pains involved Mike and his friends being offered drugs at a party. The episode's coda featured Kirk Cameron speaking directly to the viewers about the dangers of drug abuse.
"Boner wanted me to tell you that he didn't go to the bathroom"
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had this a bit regularly, ranging from questions on racial profiling (Will argues that the sole reason they were pulled over after trying to get to a fancy party was that they were two black kids driving a Mercedes, whereas Carlton argues the cops were just doing their job) to gun violence (an arc had Will recovering from a gunshot wound, which made Carlton briefly Darker and Edgier).
- And the one where Will's deadbeat dad (played by Ben Vereen) came back, then abandoned him again (with a very tear-jerking ending where Will just breaks down over the fact that his real father doesn't love him).
- There's also one where Will is given speed to help him study, but he tosses it in his locker since he has no interest, only for it to be found by Carlton, who mistakes it for acne medicine. Carlton, tripping high, goes to a party and nearly dies. It ends with lots of hugging and crying.
- There was also an episode where Carlton becomes a victim of discrimination from a member of a fraternity he's pledging due to not being "black enough".
- House with season 5's Kutner suicide.
- There were multiple Very Special Episodes for Full House (indicated by the longer version of the opening).
- "The Last Dance", where Jesse's grandfather dies, and unlike many Very Special Episodes for TV shows, it wasn't narmy and was actually handled very nicely, if not a Tear Jerker.
- They played it a little more straight with the child abuse episode, "Silence is Not Golden". Stephanie's never-before-introduced friend Charlie keeps coming into school covered in bruises and whatnot; when his teacher asked, Charlie replied that he fell down the stairs. Charlie's portrayed as a bit of a jerk from Stephanie's point of view, but becomes a lot more sympathetic when she finally pries the truth from him ("I ran into a door. A door named Dad."). She spends the greater part of the episode wrestling with her promise to not tell anyone else, until Uncle Jesse pries it out of her in turn. The episode ends with the usual lecture, this one about how Charlie's father won't be able to hurt him anymore, and that reporting such cases is far better than keeping a secret that gets someone hurt. In typical VSE fashion, Charlie was never seen again.
- Another episode played with this. Instead of the cliched scenario of "kid drinks and gets in trouble", the episode had DJ declining the beer that her friends were offering her and blasting them for how stupid they looked and acted. Unfortunately, Jesse completely misinterprets the scene and refuses to listen to her side of the story, as does her father, despite DJ's insistence that because he had already talked to her about such matters, she knew better. Not until Stephanie confesses do the adults believe her, even though Danny himself mentions that DJ has always been a good kid.
- In yet another episode, DJ gets an eating disorder because she's invited to a pool party and doesn't want to be seen in her swimsuit. She spends about three days skipping meals and swears Stephanie to secrecy after getting caught feeding her lunch to the dog, but Stephanie breaks her promise (sensing a trend) after DJ passes out during their family trip to the gym that afternoon. Naturally, she's cured by a hug at the end of the episode.
- "Under the Influence" where Kimmy drinks too much at a fraternity party and D.J. forcibly takes the keys from her and drives her back to her (D.J.'s) house. Kimmy, it turns out, was acting like a jerk and was going to be kicked out of the party. Kimmy asks why should D.J. care and D.J. reveals that her mother died in a drunk driving accident before the start of the series. Kimmy apologizes for what happened.
- The Professionals. "Klansmen" sees Bodie attacked by a gang of blacks, then racially abusing the black doctor and nurses who are trying to save his life. He apologizes at the end, saying they'll never hear that language from him again. This being The Professionals, he then goes off on a date with the pretty black nurse. Ironically the episode is now banned in Britain because of its racist content.
- The George Lopez Show had a lot of these involving Carmen. Every teen sex related thing happened to her, just short of getting an STD or getting pregnant.
- Little House On the Prairie in almost every episode. Walnut Grove had a never-ending line of suffering citizens needing help from the Ingalls.
- M*A*S*H had the infamous one where Henry Blake goes home, where the show utterly destroyed the convention for comedies never letting any main character die. Also, torpedoed the idea of meaningful deaths in war.
- A Different World had an episode on date rape co-starring Tiamak.
- And one about AIDS starring Tisha Campbell.
- Then again, many episodes of A Different World ventured into this trope. AIDS, Apartheid, racism, dating violence, pregnancy scares, interracial dating, gang violence, to name a few all visited the Hillman College campus. In Living Color parodied this in the skit "A Different Message".
- Every Smallville episode that guest starred Christopher Reeves ended with him and Tom Welling telling people to donate to the Christopher Reeves Treatment For Spinal Injury Foundation.
- Glee seems to give every one of the show's Five-Token Band A Day in the Limelight. So far we've had the Very Special Zaftig African-American Episode, the Very Special Gay Episode and the Very Special Disability Episode, and a seemingly complete lack of awareness of the Unfortunate Implications of giving the Pretty White Kids With Problems the solos by default.
- Good Times had one with the VD episode, complete with a disclaimer at the beginning. It did not give a number for viewers to call for information at the end like most VS Es. During the episode, a then-unknown Jay Leno tells JJ that if people weren't ashamed to come to the clinic to get treatment, then VD wouldn't be so rampant. It would have helped if they told people how VD was spread and how it could be prevented.
- The multi-episode arc about Penny being abused by her mother has Penny remain on the show once the Very Special Issue was resolved Willona adopted Penny after her mom abandoned her.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is a show about sex crimes and child abuse, two rather hot-button issues, and it had a Very Special Episode. What about? Teenaged binge drinking. Complete with a title card PSA at the end about the prevelance of underaged drinking. And the Narm did flow like a mighty stream...
- Victorious has Rex Dies, which is about Robbie's puppet Rex being injured and while Tori tries to make amends, Jade and the rest of the gang attempt to make Rex die so Robbie will move on from him. In the same episode, Cat gets put into a mental ward. On the Victorious Wiki, it was called (at the moment) the most serious and emotionally toned episode the show had to date.
- Ghostwriter had a whole story arc where one of the characters befriends a marijuana user.
- The Very Special Episode was viciously subverted, parodied, mocked, mooned, and otherwise brutalized with the kind of glee generally only reserved for children on Christmas Morning in every episode of Strangers with Candy.
- Symbiosis from Star Trek: The Next Generation included this exchange between Wesley Crusher and Tasha Yar about the evils of doing drugs. Something along the lines of:
Wesley: Golly, gee, tawillekers, I don't know why anyone would do drugs.
- The series did a couple a season, in addition to the quaint '90s anti-sexism dialog throughout (continually undermined by the gender-normative characters). The Outcast is another episode, where Riker falls for a (female) gendered "deviant" from a mono-sexed race. The episode is a not-at-all-thinly-veiled commentary on the oppressive treatment of gay and transgendered persons. It's actually a rather clever postmodern inversion, whereby OUR norms are constructed as transgressive by this culture, although it's rendered in the series' typical heavy-handed style.
- It's also very much a Clueless Aesop. An obviously female-acted alien — to the point that her genderlessness is an Informed Attribute (you'd never think her something other than a 'her' before you're told that no, really, she isn't) — decides to start considering herself female, and her love interest is male. Homosexual tolerance episodes do not work that way — imagine if a show with a cast that was all blond-haired and blue-eyed white people had been hounded by fans to include one minority, and so one day they do the Big Racism Episode, and we meet... a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl from a world of the same who is being discriminated against due to contemplating dyeing her hair a different shade of blonde. They stumbled upon a transgender story a time 'transgender' was not a household word — it was almost certainly unintentional, and at the time, just made The Powers That Be look twice as homophobic as simply being one more of a gazillion shows to not touch sexual orientation made them look. Nowadays, it can be mistaken for a transgender tolerance episode.
- The Golden Girls did this periodically, and remarkably well. There were episodes touching on common VSE subjects like drug abuse, AIDS, and homelessness, but they also touched on some other issues that were unusual. The episode in which Dorothy was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a good example; the aesop was about the behavior of some medical professionals toward their patients (the doctor Dorothy saw first was unfamiliar with CFS, and dismissed her as delusional). The general lack of Narm was part of the reason for the show's enduring popularity.
- What really sold these episodes was which characters the writers chose to write them around. Sex-loving Blanche is the one that has to learn that accepting her brother's homosexuality means accepting everything that goes with it. Blanche also served as an example of Parents as People, and had to deal with the ramifications of her hand's off parenting and how it's affected her children and grandchildren. Sweet, slightly prudish Rose is the one that goes through an AIDS scare, a drug addiction, and the aftereffect of a house robbery. Strong, stable Dorothy is the one that has to cope with a gambling addiction and a mysterious disease that's completely upended her life. It was the use of the unexpected characters that really sold the overrall message that these issues can affect anyone.
- There were also the episodes where Sophia, a Cool Old Lady and Mama Bear, dealt with issues afflicting people in her age group. She befriended a man who had Alzheimer's, had to talk a woman out of her killing herself because of how sick, old, and lonely she was, and tried to break a friend out of a substandard nursing home and care for her, even though the friend is slightly senile. She's also dealt with the death of her cross-dressing son Phil, whom she was estranged from because she felt that his desire to wear dresses was because of something she did, and was angry at his wife for not stopping it. Only after she realizes that her son was a good man and a loving husband does she truly begin to grieve and drop her animosity with her daughter-in-law.
- Given a nod in the Big Wolf on Campus episode The Sandman Cometh: "They did four Very Special Episodes in a row... it was an emotional workout."
- The Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor" is set during Vincent van Gogh's final days and thus touches closely on issues of chronic depression which the man suffered from in real life. In its original UK airing, the episode closed with a plug for a BBC website about depression and a counselling hotline.
- The episode "The Hungry Earth" has an anvilicious aesop about dyslexia as a minor subplot. Also with a web link at the end of the episode.
- My So-Called Life does this with the Anvilicious episode "So-Called Angels" that deals with the issues of teen runaways/homelessness. Complete with a PSA at the end and Juliana Hatfield as a magic homeless angel strumming her guitar.
- What's particularly strange is that, in an earlier episode, Angela admits (to the audience) that she's not even entirely sure of whether or not she believes in God. Although one could argue that, given all her personal development over the course of the series, she began finding God at around this time.
- That's So Raven had "True Colors" in which Raven finds out she has been passed over for a job at a clothing store because the manager doesn't like hiring black people. During the episode Eddie relates a story from his childhood where he had a white friend who got yelled at by his dad for hanging out with a black kid so they couldn't see each other anymore.
- Although Party of Five was a drama show there were two episodes in particular where the show's opening credit sequence was not shown and had a noticeably more serious plot than the rest of the season. In season 2 an episode revolves around Julia discovering that she is pregnant and debating whether or not to keep it. It presents two opposing views on the subject of abortion with Charlie wanting Julia to abort the baby since she is only 16 and therefore not ready to be a mother while Claudia wants Julia to keep it since she considers abortion to be the same as murder. At the end of the episode Julia ended up having a miscarriage but the episode did have an effect on her development for the rest of the season, particularly in her relationship with Justin (the father).
- From season 3 there was The Intervention which was the culmination of a storyline in which Bailey became an alcoholic. The family members try to have an intervention for Bailey and are forced to lure him to the house under false pretences. The episode is considered one of the most powerful in the show's run as one scene has Bailey criticising the others for their past mistakes such as Julia's pregnancy, Charlie's cheating on Kirsten and Sarah's failed attempt to lose her virginity. It also drops a huge bombshell that their deceased father was also an alcoholic.
- One of the more famous modern ones is the 8 Simple Rules two parter entitled "Goodbye". This was a case of Real Life Writes the Plot as lead actor John Ritter collapsed on set during the second season and later died of an aortic dissection. The show killed off his character Paul Hennessy (implying that he had a heart attack) and the episode was broadcast without a laugh track and the show's opening credits were never seen again. This is considered a Jump the Shark moment for the show as it had previously been about Paul trying to relate to his teenage daughters but its focus then shifted to Cate (played by Katey Sagal) dealing with his death and keeping the family together. It also featured the introduction of James Garner as Cate's father who would join the show as a regular cast member.
- Green Week (which focuses on environmental issues and often has Al Gore guest star) makes NBC the Very Special Network.
- Though nearly every episode of CSI covers anything to make it "Very Special", there was one episode in particular that was created in the wake of the Micheal Vick case. The episode was focal around dogfights and how terrible they are for both the dogs and the people. The episode (not sure of later airings, but it's initial one on CBS at least) even had a PSA announcement after the credits by William Peterson, who plays Gil Grissom in the series. To add to that, he even had his own dog with him on screen to show his support in opposing dogfighting.
- CSI: NY had an arc of this, where Stella feared she'd contacted AIDS. It was done in cooperation with Know HIV Aids.org, and a PSA aired after each of the eps.
- CSI: Miami had an episode based on the real life story of a photographer suspected of being a killer-one of the photographs found in his possession was of the sister of the actress who plays Natalia Boa Vista, though she was not a victim. The episode was followed up by a PSA featuring the photos of the women who are still unidentifed, in hopes it would lead to some ID's.
- This was done as early as the 1960s on Leave It to Beaver, in an episode where Beaver learned that his family's gardener was an alcoholic. (Bizarrely, the man became drunk after eating a cake. A rum cake, but still...a cake.)
- A proper rum cake will have been soaked in alcohol for up to a month. It's possible to get drunk eating one.
- Another VSE dealt with the topic of divorce.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch had a moral in almost every episode, and it occasionally strayed into VSE territory. A bizarre one featured Sabrina battling an addiction to pancakes (which, according to how witches function on the show, is considered as addictive as any drug).
- The Facts of Life episode where Natalie gets raped.
- Not to be confused with a later episode in which the same character voluntarily slept with her boyfriend. It too was billed as VSE, but the rape episode came much earlier. Also, the VSE in which a boy falsely spread rumors that Natalie was easy, causing her to gain a bad reputation, was separate.
- An episode of Clueless featured the death of Cher's boyfriend by means of drunk driving complete with a cast PSA at the end.
- Criminal Minds and Medium most notably do these, but without the Long-Lost Uncle Aesop factor.
- However, it's sometimes daytime TV in the United Kingdom that's a frequent user of this trope. British daytime show This Morning occasionally uses this trope to get across issues in a somewhat heavy-handed manner, on things like cancer etc.
- Has there ever been an episode of Quincy without the title character fighting evil bureaucrats to cure the disease of the week? It gets so tiresome that even his sidekick complains that he's tilting at windmills.
- Actually, there are quite a few which put aside soapboxes in favour of actually entertaining the viewers, like "Dead Last" (involving a jockey killed by a horse — or was he?) and "To Kill In Plain Sight" (with Quincy and Monahan racing to stop a political assassination — not very connected to Quincy's day job, but in no way a Very Special Episode).
- Taxi had the first season episode that dealt with animal abuse.
- Baywatch tended to do two half-hour plotlines within a single hour-long episode, running them simultaneously in the episode's timeline. Sometimes, this had... possibly unintended results. Such as the hilarity of combining a Very Special Episode plot in which one of the lifeguards gets skin cancer, with a plot in which Hulk Hogan has a wrestling match against one of the WWF heels in order to save a local youth center or similar.
- Parodied in "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man" which explains his prejudice towards nudists. He even has a silly Freudian Excuse.
- The reimagined Battlestar Galactica had an interesting subversion of the VSE when a young colonist sneaked aboard Galactica to get an abortion. All of the components for an allegory about American attitudes towards abortion were in place: Devout colonists considered it immoral, secular colonists considered it a fundamental right, and the single case was turned into a wedge issue during an election. But the critical difference between BSG and the real world trumped the allegory — with the human race reduced to less than 50,000 people, the survival of the species became paramount, and abortion was criminalized.
- Series 3 of the BBC childrens' sitcom Dani's House features an episode in which the eponymous heroine becomes addicted to a driving video game, after becoming frustrated at having to rely on public transport and finding she can't afford to have proper driving lessons. There is the possibility that it might be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the cast play it straight throughout (allowing for moments of humour, obviously).
- "The Good Wound" from The Sarah Connor Chronicles obliquely dealt with spousal abuse.
- A season 1 episode of Early Edition dealt with gun violence.
- In Community episode Contemporary American Poultry was mentioned by Abed, but ultimately averted.
- Tyler Perry's TV show, House of Payne LOVED this trope! Drug addiction, cancer scares, STD's, Teen Pregnancy, postpartum depression, gun violence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc. Some of the episodes ended with an actor (usually whoever the VSE was about) telling viewers that they can get help for the Very Special Problem through an 800 number or a website.
- Life On Mars has one about the evils of Football Hooligans; notably well-done.
- Suddenly Susan had a unique one that dealt with the Actor Existence Failure of David Strickland.
- Seven Swordsmen a Chinese Wuxia series, has an episode that reveals why Swordsman Mu is so interested in learning to read—his entire family was killed by their illiteracy when they were tricked into putting up anti-government banners for a festival.
- During the first run of That '70s Show on Fox, promos for the episode "Happy Jack" promised that it would be a very special episode. Since this was the episode where Donna caught Eric masturbating and everybody treated him like he was a diseased pervert, the promos were both a subversion and a parody of this trope.
- 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 an unfortunate twist, it was eventually revealed that some of the now-adults shown in the video didn't want to be found.
- 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.
- Motorhead 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.
- 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 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 teen-ager 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 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?
- Although by its very nature professional wrestling does not have "very special problem" plots in the vein of most sitcoms and such, World Wrestling Entertainment 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 six days after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, as a salute to victims killed in the terrorist attacks.
- In what might be the Trope Maker, a 1945 episode of the comedy series Fibber McGee and Molly dealt with cancer. After the episode, the American Cancer Society received so may donations that they didn't know what to do with all the money.
- 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-libs.
- Osu! Tatake! 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".
- Ctrl+Alt+Del. One word: Miscarriage. This set off a slew of mockery and debate, including biting parody from Zero Punctuation and VG Cats.
- Parodied in one of the best Penny Arcade strips ever. Found here.
- Not really a Very Special Episode in the clinical sense, but in the very title of Gabe's proposal to Kara.
- 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.
- Awkward Fumbles parodied it on this page.
- 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:
- Parodied in Avatar: The Last Puppet Bender. Toph hosts a special episode speaking out against...people pronouncing your name wrong. Naruto even showed up.
- The Game Heroes 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 through out the interview and at the end of the video stated that he was quite shocked at these people.
- Discussed in an episode of Loading Ready Run Commodore HUSTLE 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."
- The Brows Held High 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.
- Static Shock had many Very Special Episodes, including "Sons of the Fathers" (focusing on racism), "Frozen Out" (focusing on homelessness), "Jimmy" (focusing on school violence), and "Where the Rubber Meets The Road" (focusing on dyslexia).
- Mercilessly spoofed in Drawn Together, in an episode appropriately named "A Very Special Drawn Together Afterschool Special". Started as a roleplay by the housemates to help Xandir decide how to inform his parents of his homosexuality, the effort quickly derailed, which resulted in nearly all of them getting killed by the end of the episode.
- Also lampshaded in an earlier episode: ("Hi, I'm Toot Brownstein... In this episode, we awkwardly dealt with eating disorders.")
- Gargoyles has two major Very Special Episodes, but tended to buck the trend by showing aftereffects in later episodes:
- In the "Deadly Force", the dangers of playing with a loaded gun are looked at, including a description of the path the bullet took inside the victim's body. The message may have been too graphic, however. It was initially banned from reruns due to its heavy subject matter. When it returned, the scene of Elisa getting shot was edited in such a way that the viewer could no longer see her bleeding while lying on the ground. In any case, it forced Broadway (the shooter) to mature as a character; he was initially a fan of violent cop shows and movies, but after this experience grew to prefer investigative work. His hatred of guns in this particular episode is tied directly to his personal guilt, rather than guns being wrong inherently. And, as a nice touch, Elisa spent a few episodes on crutches as she recovered; and — having noted that she shouldn't have left the gun out in the first place — was later shown making sure to keep it locked up. Even better, the Aesop here wasn't the old Guns are dangerous/bad/evil and should never, ever be dealt with crap that was popular then (and still crops up today), but Guns are helpful, but should only be handled by those responsible and mature enough to handle them.
- Then there's "Lighthouse in the Sea of Time", the episode concerning illiteracy — though the gargoyles came from the Middle Ages, where the ability to read was very uncommon, it's still a little hard to credit a plot where the villain wants to throw away the personal diary of Merlin, and is stopped by heroes, who then deliver a speech about how stories are treasures. (Admittedly, the villain was just frustrated that Merlin's writings didn't include any magic spells, and quickly calmed down.) Again, Broadway's the one who got the major Character Development, becoming quite the fan of Shakespeare — just look at that moment when he describes Castle Wyvern's kitchen, and then his eyes really light up when he describes the library. The blind author introduced in "Lighthouse" also becomes an occasionally recurring character.
- Nickelodeon's As Told by Ginger was, as far as Nicktoons go, never one to shirk away from touching on real adolescent issues. Three notable episodes stand apart for their efforts to address particularly tough subject matter: "Stuff'll Kill Ya", "And She Was Gone", and "Losing Nana Bishop" provided commentary, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, on addiction, depression/suicide, and coping with death, respectively. "And She Was Gone" was nominated for an Emmy Award in Outstanding Animated Program (Less Than One Hour).
- The "big 3" American networks united to air the special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, where cartoon characters from Looney Tunes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles try to teach a child called Mikey about the dangers of marijuana. Ludicrously. The point that breaks Mikey, other than his addiction forcing him to steal from his little sister and his family worrying about him, is that marijuana will turn him into a green-skinned zombie; it's quite obvious where Mikey's priorities are, and it's made even worse when you consider most marijuana users aren't, y'know, zombies. Stupidest of all is that cartoon characters who really have no business knowing about drugs are the ones preaching to Mikey, such as Huey, Dewey and Louie of DuckTales (1987), Alvin and The Chipmunks and, of all people, the Muppet Babies. And seeing Bugs Bunny talking about a joint is really quite a childhood-killer. And ironic, considering his normal behaviour. Its first US airing began with a live statement from then-President George H.W. Bush, and airings in other countries similarly began with live statements from their respective heads of government or other persons of similar importance.
- Captain Planet is one big Very Special Show, telling children to not cause pollution (despite rarely going into why people polluted in the first place). However, it had many particular episodes that focused on more down to earth problems that children, teenagers and young adults may face. One of these was a drug episode "Mind Pollution" where Linka's cousin gets addicted to a designer drug called "Bliss" created by Verminous Skumm (who appeared to specialize in "pollution of the body" in the show, so to speak). Another episode was about AIDS, involving Skumm spreading lies about a young AIDS sufferer such as the virus could be contracted just through casual contact. The former episode is at least somewhat notable for breaking the Never Say "Die" rule by having Linka's cousin die from overdosing on the drug... Then again, the fact he leapt through a glass window and sliced his arms, causing him to bleed profusely on the floor might've had something to do with it too.
- Then there was the episode where Wheeler in a dream discovered an island inhabited by greedy, foolish humanoid mice who refuse to stop having large families. Initially clueless American boy Wheeler is against government mandated population control, but he learns his lesson when the humanoid mice overpopulate to the point that their island destroys itself.
- Parodied in "A Very Very Very Very Special Cartoon" Animaniacs" in which the Warners attempt to win the Humanitarian Award by shoehorning every social issue they can think of into their next cartoon.
- The complete list is saving the whales, car engine pollution, reading educational books (about Gandhi), planting trees, walking instead of driving, anti-smoking, nursing orphaned owls, not littering, helping for no reason, non-fattening foods, no gratuitous violence, the goodness of being a vegetarian, respecting women for their minds rather than their...well, you know. In other words, it's absolutely nothing like a normal episode.
- Then, when the award goes to "A Panda Called Pookie", they spend the last minute of the show going back to normal, involving committing acts of gratuitous violence, eating fattening cheesecake, wasting gas, chopping down trees, wasting time, and admiring Hello, Nurse! for...well, you know.
- Oddly enough, Pinky and The Brain had one about cigarette smoking. It was not very Narm-y, but it was kind of weird to have a Very Special Episode in a show about two lab mice trying to conquer the world. Even weirder was the fact that Pinky was the voice of reason (well, as reasonable as he could get, anyway).
- Nonetheless, the episode's humor and style did not suffer (by much) and the episode won an award for its anti-smoking messages
- The Bravestarr episode "The Price" deals with drug use.
- Clone High made fun of the concept by having its episode-end Eyecatches for the next ep promote every episode as "a very special Clone High".
- And every single episode is transformed into a humongous squiggly ball of Narm. Deliberately.
- 'I was so deprived of sleep I got THIS tattooed on my ankle!'
- Shall we remember that episode 9, Raisin the Stakes, was about the danger of getting high... on raisins?
- And every single episode is transformed into a humongous squiggly ball of Narm. Deliberately.
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command did an anti-drug episode, though due to the show's sci-fi setting the popular genre convention that Radiation gives you superpowers is used as a metaphor for it.
- Tiny Toons had the requisite Very Special Episode, but, being Tiny Toons, they hung lampshades on everything in sight.
- Why Dizzy Can't Read is about... well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It turns out that he was addicted to television. He overcomes this by finding analogies to food within the stories. The ending of this short played Broken Aesop for laughs by having a shot of children at home reading books and ignoring their TV, prompting Dizzy to poke his head out of their set and turn it off.
- "One Beer" sees Buster coercing Hamton and Plucky into a cold one and admitting it's radically out of character for him in the same breath. They proceed to get entirely sloshed on 1/3 a beer each, become smelly, slurring hobos, steal a cop car, joyride it off a cliff into a graveyard, and die. At the end of the episode, it pulls back to the studio as they pull off their "angel" costumes, mention that a very important lesson has been taught, and hope they can be funny again in the next episode. However, it's preceded by an Anvilicious short about smoking that seems to be less about the actual health hazards posed and more about how to harass people you think are doing something objectionable into giving in to your nagging.
- Why Dizzy Can't Read and One Beer are both part of an episode titled Elephant Issues, along with another short, C.L.I.D.E. and Prejudice, which features Montana Max discriminating against a robot named C.L.I.D.E. Funny enough, the episode has been pulled from circulation by every network that has aired the series in the US.
- "Disney's Doug" played it straight on the episode when Patti Mayonnaise thinks she needs to go on a diet after lagging behind in gym class and overhearing Doug talk about her weight problem (in reality, he was talking about how big is Lucky Duck Lake monster lure is), but ends up purposely starving herself to the point that borders on anorexia. Considered one of the more highly-regarded episodes from this era of Doug.
- There was even a message at the end where Patti (in voiceover) encourages the viewer to call a number if they have a similar problem. This is edited in later airings, covering it up with Skeeter and Roger arguing (from the episode's B-plot about Doug and Skeeter trying to find the Lucky Duck Lake monster).
- Teen Titans
- An episode centered around racism, which has Action Girl Starfire repeatedly put down by an alien that called her "Troq", which means "nothing". And it's implied that other alien races act this way toward Tamaranians as well.
- Somewhat lampshaded when Cyborg goes on to tell Starfire that he knows what it feels to be put down like that. But not because he's black, because he's part-robot.
- There's also the episode "Overdrive", where Cyborg gets a new chip installed in him and develops an addiction to doing incredible things with his new power-up.
- Arthur is quite prone to this.
- The Great MacGrady has the kids finding out lunchlady Mrs. MacGrady has been diagnosed with cancer.
- A large potion of all episodes are a Very Special Episode. One that comes to mind is the one where the resident Butt Monkey that is George is diagnosed with dyslexia.
- A very strange case in an episode where there's a candy bar that makes sparkles come from your mouth that Buster covets. George and Fern keep eating it. The metaphor gets more obvious as Binky buys every piece from the local stores and becomes a sort of dealer, with George and Fern being regulars and going as far as to constantly buy from him despite him being a more expensive middle man. And then George and Fern are shown tired and depressed when they don't eat it. It seems to be a shallow drug metaphor, or at the very least an episode warning the dangers of addiction... until Buster investigates what the candy's made of, and finds out that it actually contains drugs. The effect is even illustrated, with the candy's "secret ingredient" attaching to the brain and making the consumer feel really good, until the material breaks down and the consumer feels really depressed and wanting more. Overall, the real Aesop seems to be about the lengths Corrupt Corporate Executives will go to get money. It ends with Buster's mom exposing the candy in the news.
- Parodied in South Park where one of Kenny's many deaths was played as a Very Special Episode. Also a subversion of their own Running Gag.
- Beavis and Butthead had one called "A Very Special Episode" where the duo find a baby bird (or as Beavis calls it, "a chicken nugget") and nurse it back to life.
- Batman Beyond had so many teen drug episodes it's hard to call them "very special", but they all have that tone to them that makes them seem to count. Then again, one of them was a 'excessive fashion statements = drugs' episode, and one of them was a 'video games = drugs' episode. And then there was the 'adoption / stalking' episode. And a couple of bullying episodes, although those are more just an excuse to have someone ELSE Terry knows from school go insane in a way that involves Batman.
- Batman Beyond always seemed to operate on addiction is easy, not something equals drugs. It always felt more like the special episodes were saying don't get too involved in something, not this equals drugs.
- Batman: The Animated Series had a very special episode in the form of "It's Never Too Late", which features two brothers: one grew up to become a priest, the other a criminal. Flashbacks reveal that, as a child, the priest sacrificed his leg to save his brother, as such the criminal never lived it down. A very special episode about second chances and brotherly luv. (And, as a Parental Bonus, a Shout-Out to the 1938 film classic Angels with Dirty Faces.)
- Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law spoofed an episode where they used Peanut "discovering" his super-powers as an euphemism for... growing UP.
- Another episode was a play on gun violence. Except the guns were "guitars".
- The Powerpuff Girls
- In one episode, Chemical X was giving kids super powers temporarily, and causing an addiction.(Mojo Jonesin'). Its all tongue in cheek, and the kids were all diverse (black, handicap, hispanic, etc) and the PPG ended the episode with how power addiction is bad.
- "A Very Special Blossom", detailed and lampshaded the consequences of Blossom stealing golf clubs for a Father's Day present. Thankfully, the cartoon carried off this plot with its usual mixture of cuteness, sharp wit, and kick-assery.
- Family Guy
- The simply titled "Brian & Stewie" (the 150th episode, the only episode in which Seth MacFarlane is credited for doing all the voicework, and the only episode in which there are no cutaway jokes, flashbacks, or Take Thats against whoever's famous) where Brian and Stewie are locked in a bank vault for the entire weekend and Stewie discovers that Brian is planning his own suicide. Sure, there was that really gross poop-eating scene and some musical numbers at the end, but other than that, the episode was a serious look at the relationship between Brian and Stewie.
- Another episode parodies the trope. "To learn more about drugs, go to your local library. There's probably someone behind it who sells drugs."
- Another episode ends with a parody of the Trope where Peter addresses the audience about a serious issue brought up in the episode. However, instead of talking about the dangers of smoking (which was the focus of the episode) he talks about not killing strippers, because strippers are people too (and there'd be no point to kill them, since most of them are dead on the inside).
- "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.", aside from the traditional Black Comedy moments, was actually a very serious episode that dealt with Quagmire's sister being abused by her boyfriend.
- Earlier in the series, there was an episode where the Griffin family meet a family of nudists (Peter saved the father from being swept in an undercurrent while fishing, thinking he lost his trunks in the water). Meg ends up dating the son, and the family aren't too comfortable with that. They eventually warm up to the idea, even exibiting their own tolerance for the practice by going nude when he comes over. Despite the ruthless amount of innuendo and situation gags, it's really quite touching.
- Parodied at the end of an early episode in which The Griffins go to an Indian casino and Peter and Chris go out in the woods on a spirit quest. After Stewie makes a racist comment about Native Americans, Lois launches into a "The More You Know" PSA about how Native Americans are people too (followed by Stewie stating the same thing about Mexicans, Meg saying the same thing about Swedish people, and Peter just stating that "Canada sucks!")
- Even The Simpsons trotted one out.
- For Black History Month (which is celebrated by Springfield Elementary despite the fact that the school has, oh, about three or four black kids), Lisa — at first reluctantly, and then with increasing interest and obsession — investigates the mention in a 150-year-old Simpson family diary of a slave named Virgil. It eventually comes to light that Lisa's great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mabel, had helped Virgil to escape to Canada — and then married him. Grampa mentions that Mabel and Virgil's son was his great-grandfather, which makes Bart and Lisa one-sixty-fourth African-American. Marge wonders why this had been a family secret so long, pointing out that no one had ever complained about the family having, for example, French ancestry. Typical of the series's oddball humor, this only prompts Homer to proclaim: "C'est la vie!" and down a large bottle of wine.
- The Emmy-winning "Homer's Phobia" has Homer making a new friend named John (played by guest-star John Waters), but when Johnturns out to be gay, he's horrified and Marge calls him out for it. And when Homer think's Bart's turing gay bfrom the influence (wearing a hawaiian shirt and a wig), Homer tries to "cure" Bart by taking him to a cigarette billboard, a (gay) steel mill and a hunting lodge (all of which fail). At the end, Homer learns to accept Bart for who he is (Bart was unaware of what Homer thought until Lisa told him).
- Even Courage the Cowardly Dog had such an episode. "The Mask" indirectly takes on the issues of racism ("Dogs are eeeevil"), "passing" and homophobia.
- The Proud Family had a few.
- There was one about gender equality where Penny joins the football team, one where Penny greatly misuses her credit card, and an anti-piracy episode. Even the Christmas Episode kinda counts, since it was part Christmas and part the Proud Family learning about Kwanzaa, and subsequently learning to appreciate their heritage more.
- And the episode in which Penny makes friends with a Muslim girl who is being targeted for racism (even though the most blatant example to come from that is the infamous scene in which Penny and the Muslim family come home to find that someone spraypainted "GO HOME TOWELHEADS!"  on the Muslim girl's house — which was forgotten about in Act Three...until Penny mentioned it en passant in a speech about what she learned during her week with the Muslim girl).
- In its 2nd (technically 3rd) season, some episodes of Jem talked about things such as literacy, however "Alone Again" is one that qualifies best as a very special episode, as it involves a one-off Starlight Girl who falls victim to a drug dealer at her school.
- One Darkwing Duck episode (Dead Duck) let Darkwing die after driving (and crashing) with his motorcycle. That's right: After all the other cartoon violence (like falling from increadibly high buildings, classic anvils, etc.) leaves him with some temporary scars at best, it's driving without helmet that kills him off. The episode centers about him trying to solve the case as a ghost, protecting Gosalyn from being the next victim and making deals with the Grim Reaper. Although in the end it turns out to be All Just a Dream and the episode still is funny, it's still pretty dark.
- Fat Albert had many of these, including smoking, homelessness, gun safety, pedophiles, stealing, racism, etc.
- Invoked In-Universe on Phineas and Ferb: Candace calls in to a TV show called Bust 'Em to catch her brothers in the middle of one of their crazy schemes. When the show's host sees the giant thing they built, she says, "I think we finally have our Very Special Episode!"
- The 101 Dalmatians: The Series episode "Smoke Detectors", which focused on the puppies trying to stop Cruella from smoking.
- In 1935, Fleischer Studios made two cartoons speaking out against animal cruelty: "Be Human" and "Be Kind To 'Aminals'"
- Later changed to "GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!" in reruns thanks to some piss-poor digital editing