Very Special Episode

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Analysis of the "Very Special Episode"

In past decades, situation comedies and dramas were often known for their "very special episodes." These stories took a break from more lighthearted fare to discuss serious topics or issues, often those facing young audiences of the day. Special episodes could often be categorized thus:
-Featuring "special" characters (often disabled), who rarely if ever appeared again but existed to educate audiences and teach the main characters lessons about compassion and tolerance
-Analyzing the dangers of teen life (peer pressure, drugs, drunk driving, child/teen molestation)
-Focusing on particular current events (the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, etc.)
-Teaching young audiences when and how to give or seek help in serious situations (eating disorders, abuse, CPR, etc.)

Pick a few "very special episodes" to focus on from sitcoms or sitcom/dramas (Diff’rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, Seventh Heaven, Full House…) How has the "very special episode" evolved? Why are they often mocked, even by those who enjoyed their affiliated shows? Is the "very special episode" still around now, and what does it look like?