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August 21, 2013 8:03 PM   Subscribe

A “very special” Diff’rent Strokes that’s terrifying for all the wrong reasons. The AV Club looks at a "very special" episode of Diff'rent Strokes as part of their TV Roundtable, which lately has been focused on controversial episodes: Ellen, Amos & Andy, South Park, I Love Lucy

Mental Floss on 12 Very Special "Very Special" Episodes.

The TV Tropes rabbit hole of Very Special Episodes.
posted by crossoverman (42 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
TV Tropes

Well there goes the rest of my evening life
posted by deezil at 8:35 PM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


I had to watch a bit of it.... for all the wrong reasons.
posted by markkraft at 8:40 PM on August 21, 2013


Great timing on this post. I was going to suggest a rousing game of Poseidon: King of the Sea for the next MeFi meetup. First prize is a bike radio.
posted by dr_dank at 8:43 PM on August 21, 2013


I saw "The Bicycle Man" during its initial airing, and even twelve-year-old me cringed at the juxtaposition of the toilet humor with the Very Serious Message. (The other Diff'rent Strokes VSE I remember was an anti-smoking PSA, which ended with a man who has already lost one lung striking up a cigarette. OMG! No laugh track! This must be bad!)
posted by thomas j wise at 8:47 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw the drinking one, where Arnold had one shot of vodka and blacked out the whole day.
posted by LionIndex at 8:49 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


oh god,no. I know exactly which one this is. This shit is burned into my psyche.

Best one was the one where Mister Drummond was turning his building into co-ops and kicking out renters. The high point was an old woman saying "people are eating cat food......Cat food Mister Drummond" to which he replied "No thank you"
posted by Ad hominem at 8:51 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Creepy.
Creepier.
Creepiest.

I have been bad touched with Diff'rent Strokes.
posted by markkraft at 8:52 PM on August 21, 2013


What did the ancients put radios on bicycles for? They didn't have satnav or 4G or anything like that, and anyway their display technology weighed about fifty pounds and drew like hundreds of watts and no touchscreens at all. And weren't bicycles made out of steel or bronze or something in those days? Wouldn't it have absorbed the signal anyway?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:53 PM on August 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


How about when Mr. Drummond made Willis knock back a big shot of booze and got loaded himself? "Willis, you're not as think as you smart you are."
posted by planetesimal at 8:58 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, and really rather hauntingly, Todd Bridges (Willis), the only surviving member of the Diff'rent Strokes core cast (less Charlotte Rae) at this point, had personal experience with sexual abuse at the age of 11. Apparently this happened with an abuser (his publicist) who slowly won his trust, including giving him a bicycle! Bridges wrote about this episode in his 2002 memoir:
"But it wasn't quite that simple. In addition to dealing with my complicated relationship with my father, I was still struggling with the repercussions of the abuse I had received from Ronald. I might think I had it together, but then something would happen to bring it all back up again. Diff'rent Sirokes was known for tackling big issues, not just race. In 1985, during season five, we did an episode called "Bicycle Man," in which a sexual predator stalks Arnold and his friend. We had already done an antidrug episode with guest star Nancy Reagan, who had recently launched her famous " Just Say No" campaign against drugs that was ironic, since I'm sure Dana and I went off together and just said "Yes" to getting high as soon as we had finished filming the show with her. Of course, the audience didn't know that. They thought we were the most wholesome role models there could be. It made sense for us to tackle sex abuse, too, and we got a lot of positive feedback for that episode. But any kind of attention around sexual molestation was the last thing I wanted. I didn't let on that the material in the script upset me. That was a very hard week for me, and I pushed my feelings down, hard."
So terrifyingly enough, this terrifying very special episode was most directly applicable to one of its very own young cast members. This episode is truly terrifying on so many levels.
posted by zachlipton at 9:06 PM on August 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


Man, I don't ever remember shit like this happening on Hello, Larry.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:51 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think one of the creepier memories from seeing "The Bicycle Man" was that it was the affable Gordon Jump. I mean Mr. Carlson would never be like that (Turkeys might think differently about him)
posted by birdherder at 10:02 PM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]




Of all the WKRP cast members... why Mr. Carlson, why not Dr. Johnny Fever?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:42 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


oneswellfoop: "Of all the WKRP cast members... why Mr. Carlson, why not Dr. Johnny Fever?"

Because, it was critical to have a likeable, relatively normal actor in the predator role.

Because, as we all know... PEDOS CAN BE ANYONE, ANYWHERE, AND AT ANY TIME.

Did I really need to explain that to you?

Off to eat a hamburger now.
posted by Samizdata at 12:05 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every time I read "Diff'rent Strokes" I interpret "Perfect Strangers".
posted by cromagnon at 2:47 AM on August 22, 2013


Every time I read "Diff'rent Strokes" I interpret "Perfect Strangers".

Whatchoo talkin' bout, dance of joy?
posted by DU at 4:02 AM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


These episodes were the apogee of what the American SitCom format could accomplish. This pretty much ties with the "Little House on the Prairie Clown-Rapist" as the most harrowing TV experience ever.
posted by Renoroc at 4:37 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of all the WKRP cast members... why Mr. Carlson

I don't know. There was always something a little ... off ... about the Big Guy. And that Mama Carlson? I'd rather not think of it.

Watch Breaking Carlson. This fall on AMC
posted by octobersurprise at 6:14 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


i know this is a joke post and i see your hamburger up there - but, uh, yeah - the message is that pedophiles are often normal, likeable family or other trusted adult. i mean - nothing sarcastic about that. it's the truth.
posted by nadawi at 6:54 AM on August 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Didn't Ellen out herself before the very special episode? I seem to remember that she had an HBO(?) special and a lot of the humor was about being gay. I was slightly puzzled at the build-up to The Puppy Episode.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2013


ellen's hbo special about being gay, the beginning, aired in 2000 (before that her comedy was very much "what's the deal with airplanes??" and such). her time cover/oprah interview/the puppy episode happened in 1997.

as it happens, my very favorite moment of maybe any stand up special happens at the end of "the beginning."
posted by nadawi at 7:09 AM on August 22, 2013


Then what the heck did I see beforehand? Gah, this has been bugging me for a decade now.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:39 AM on August 22, 2013


I saw this one when it aired, too, at my grandparents' house. I remember Conraid Bain's pre-show portents and warnings, and I remember up until Dudley's shirt came off, and then my grandmother snapped off the tv and said, "This is garbage."

In retrospect, this is probably the only time I agreed with her about anything related to pop culture.
posted by RakDaddy at 7:54 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually found the Family Affair "Early Christmas" episode (mentioned in the Mental Floss article) to be quite well handled and almost unbearably moving. Sometimes sitcoms got this sort of thing exactly right, like the Barney Miller episode where Fish freaks out over his retirement. There was some exceptionally fine writing on tv in the 70s. Come to think of it, I thought the Tom Hanks episode of Family Ties was quite good as well.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:01 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


ChurchHatesTucker - maybe you're mixing up the sitcom "ellen" with her later sitcom, "the ellen show"? also, as i remember, she's one of those people that in these conversations those who were in well connected communities or who were good at seeing that sort of thing reacted with, "well, yeah. duh." but, i also know that for vast swaths of america is was a complete surprise when the buzz started that it was on the horizon.
posted by nadawi at 8:18 AM on August 22, 2013


nadawi, that may be but I wasn't a part of any well connected community. Apparently it wasn't her HBO special, but I could swear I saw her do some standup on TV where she addressed it. That's why the whole media event about her coming out struck me as odd.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:55 AM on August 22, 2013


ChurchHatesTucker - i really think it must be a misremembering. i was a big fan of hers well before she came out and watched everything i could get my hands on (i've seen mr. wrong more than once). maybe she said something that seemed clear to you? but she made no public statement about it before time/oprah/her show as far as i know or can find.
posted by nadawi at 9:00 AM on August 22, 2013


It may have been a 'wink and nod' type thing, but it would have to have been pretty broad if I picked up on it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:22 AM on August 22, 2013


Because, it was critical to have a likeable, relatively normal actor in the predator role.
Because, as we all know... PEDOS CAN BE ANYONE, ANYWHERE, AND AT ANY TIME.


I actually think they handled that aspect of the episode pretty well. Instead of playing into the STRANGER DANGER! hysteria of the times, the molester is portrayed as a friendly, avuncular friend of the family. The show also went out of its way to stress that pedophilia does not equate to homosexuality, which is way more than any network family comedy would have done only one or two years later, when the Reagan retrenchment was at its peak.

Why are you people making me defend Diff'rent fucking Strokes, of all things??
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:45 AM on August 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Then what the heck did I see beforehand?

This episode of The Larry Sanders Show? From 1996, deals with a rumor about Ellen being gay.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:56 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, that could be it, Lentrhamsanin.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2013


Anybody else remember that Little House on the Prairie where Albert gets into the Doc's morphine? Then gets addicted? Then goes into withdrawal and vomits on himself, screaming, "Am I gon' die, Paw? Am I gon' die?"
posted by Zerowensboring at 1:16 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


(link)
posted by Zerowensboring at 1:20 PM on August 22, 2013


Dang, Little House on the Prairie is dark! I can't believe I've never watched it
posted by Mooseli at 2:41 PM on August 22, 2013


As my username implies, I was a huge fan of "Diff'rent Strokes" growing up, although it is now one in a long list of shows that also includes "Silver Spoons", "Facts of Life"and Family Ties" among others that I cannot watch as an adult without destroying the nostalgic, warm, comforting feelings I once had for them.

Having said that, Gordon Jump must have done an amazing job with his performance in this episode because I was never able to watch him in any other role, even something as innocuous as his series of commercials portraying a Maytag repairman, without getting the creeps.
posted by The Gooch at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Piffle. None of these got shit on the BraveStarr drug episode "The Price."

I saw this as a highschooler, babysitting some kids and, holy hell, did we have to watch some happy Disney shit after that so bedtime would go okay. I told my classmates about it and none of them believed me. Now I have YouTube to demonstrate that it actually happened and you can be as scarred as young, cynical teenage me once was. This and the Lovecraft Ghostbusters episodes were the lost chimeras of my highshool years.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a very vague memory (as I wasn't as big a fan as my sister, who watched it as much as possible) of a Quincy M.E episode that I'm sure was on a similar theme. The only bit I remember is a guy with two kids in a park, I think they were sat on a swing and he made them hold hands and maybe even kiss. He may have taken pictures with a big old camera. Anyone else remember this, or have I gone mad?
posted by marienbad at 6:46 PM on August 22, 2013


Dang, Little House on the Prairie is dark!

Yes, it is. But remember, little half-pint never lost hope.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:18 PM on August 22, 2013


The only bit I remember is a guy with two kids in a park, I think they were sat on a swing and he made them hold hands and maybe even kiss.

Seems legit.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:41 PM on August 22, 2013


I have a very vague memory (as I wasn't as big a fan as my sister, who watched it as much as possible) of a Quincy M.E episode that I'm sure was on a similar theme. The only bit I remember is a guy with two kids in a park, I think they were sat on a swing and he made them hold hands and maybe even kiss. He may have taken pictures with a big old camera. Anyone else remember this, or have I gone mad?
There was a scene like this in the made-for-TV movie Fallen Angel. Richard Masur was the affable youth league coach everyone loved, and a child pornographer on the side. He had two youngsters swinging side by side, holding hands, and then kissing, and then kissing nude during a photo shoot.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:43 PM on August 22, 2013


The Mental Floss list is missing the Family Ties where Alex gets addicted to amphetamines.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:15 AM on August 27, 2013


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