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See the tough issues TV sitcoms have tackled in the past

Shaun Harrison
1 of 17 ABC

"Cult Fiction," Boy Meets World

Issue: Cults Lonely and unsure about his future, Shawn gets brainwashed by a group full of lost souls called The Centre (slogan: "Are you centered?"), headed by the enigmatic Mr. Mack (Jerry Levine), who believes that a "hug is a burst of pure love." (Not a euphemism.) Cory, the Matthews, Mr. Feeny and Mr. Turner try to get Shawn to leave to no avail, but when Turner, his teacher/former guardian/mentor, is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, Shawn finds God and finally rejects The Centre. Lesson learned: Don't join a cult. Not even for the hugs.
2 of 17 NBC Productions

"Jessie's Song," Saved by the Bell

Issue: Jessie abuses caffeine pills Under the pressure of a geometry midterm and possible record deal, Jessie turns to caffeine pills to get everything done. Fortunately, Zack intervenes, but not before Jessie suffers a complete mental breakdown — Flashdance singing included. ("I'm so excited! I'm so… scared.") While her friends may have saved her from a pill addiction, Screech was unable to save Hot Sundae's record deal with his poor attempt to stand in for Jessie.
3 of 17 NBC/NBCU PhotoBank/Getty Images

"Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Issue: Will's dad abandons him… again Though Fresh Prince is famous for bringing the laughs, there was nothing funny about -Will's father running out on him for the second time. While Will does his best to brush it off, yelling about everything he learned to do and hopes to do without his dad around, the full situation soon hits him. "How come he don't want me, man?" Will asks Phil, before embracing his uncle, the only true father figure he's ever known. Judging by this scene, it's no surprise Will Smith went on to become one of his generation's most-beloved actors.
4 of 17 ABC/Getty

"Second Chance," Growing Pains

Issue: Drunk driving When goody two-shoes Carol sneaks out to hang out at a bar with her college boyfriend Sandy (Matthew Perry), she learns very serious lesson when Sandy has an accident while driving drunk. Although Carol apologizes to her parents for her poor judgment, Mike informs everyone that Sandy actually died. While Carol at first blames Mike for playing "a sick joke," she cries hysterically asking, "What happened to his second chance?"
5 of 17 NBC/Everett Collection

"The Bicycle Man," Diff'rent Strokes

Issue: Child molestation Beware of overly-friendly bicycle shop owners! The creepy Mr. Horton (Gordon Jump) plies Arnold and Dudley with pizza, wine and comic books... which quickly turns into watching "kinky cartoons" and playing a shirtless game of Tarzan. Fortunately, Arnold's conscience gets the better of him and the police are able to rescue Dudley from Mr. Horton's apartment (presumably) just in the nick of time. Then comes the not-so-subtle living room debriefing session, which addresses big questions like, "Are children too young to hear about this stuff?" and "Are all child molesters gay?"
6 of 17 CBS

"Say Uncle," Family Ties

Issue: Alcoholism After embezzling $4.5 million (!) from his last job, Uncle Ned (a pre-movie star Tom Hanks) shows up at the Keaton household hoping that Stephen can get him a job interview at the PBS station. But instead of preparing, Ned spends the night getting hammered. In fact, when Alex comes downstairs for a midnight snack, Ned's so desperate for booze that he chugs vanilla extract. Alex tries to reason with his uncle, who only throws a tantrum and talks about how his life is washed up. He makes a drunken fool of himself at the interview — his socks are in his pockets and he somehow ends up playing a clarinet! — and when the family confronts him, he slaps Alex. " Either you get some help... or you get the hell out of my house," Stephen warns. Good thing Elyse has the number for Alcoholics Anonymous handy!
7 of 17 ABC

"Steroids to Heaven," Dinosaurs

Issue: Steroid use Yes, even animatronic dinosaurs can teach life lessons. When Robbie decides that the "girl of his dreams" only like jocks and his attempts to get "buff" by working out takes longer than he likes, he starts eating spiky, insult-spewing creatures known as thornoids, which help dinos add muscle mass quickly. Pretty soon, Robbie becomes a jerk and a bully to both his family and friends, and the girl he hoped to impress rejects him. Turns out she liked skinny Robbie — he'd just never bothered to ask her out.
8 of 17 ABC/Getty Images

"Samantha's Growing Up," Who's the Boss?

Issue: Puberty What's a dad to do when his little tomboy is growing up? Angela tells Tony that Sam needs her first bra. But when he has trouble picking out the right "foundation garment," Angela takes Sam to Bloomingdale's, where she gets a bra as well as a complete birthday makeover. Seeing his daughter as a young woman for the first time, Tony worries that the baseball mitt he bought her won't pass muster, but he's thrilled to learn that, despite the other changes in her life, the glove is the gift she loved the most. (If only so she can help Bobby, her cute new friend, work on his fielding!)
9 of 17 Warner Bros. Televison/Everett Collection

"Shape Up," Full House

Issue: Extreme diets Horrified by the idea of having to wear a bathing suit to Kimmy's birthday pool party, D.J. doesn't eat for three days and works out compulsively in an attempt to lose weight. After all, the models in her teen magazine don't have "chipmunk cheeks." When she passes out at the gym, however, Stephanie steps in and tells her father, Joey and Uncle Jesse what's really going on — and everyone learns an important life lesson in the process.
10 of 17 NBC

"Cherie Lifesaver," Punky Brewster

Issue: Refrigerator safety CPR Who knew there was a lesson to be learned with kitchen appliances? When Punky and her friends come home from playing hide and seek, they search high and low for Cherie. Finally, they decide to check outside again and ultimately find her passed out in her hiding spot — an old refrigerator. While Henry just stands by, Punky administers CPR (have they not heard of 911?), and Cherie starts to breathe again.
11 of 17 WB

"Strangers on the Net," Smart Guy

Issue: Online predators T.J. and Karen begin pirating games from a friend they meet online, but when they have to meet the bootlegger in person, T.J. is surprised that his "friend" is actually a middle-aged man. After their new pal invites them over to try his new green-screen surfing game, T.J. gets suspicious when the man tries to lure them into stripping down to their underwear. He even shows them a photo album of other kids he'd gotten to take off their clothes (because that's comforting!). In the end, T.J. proves that he really is a smart guy — he tells his dad and Olivia Benson the police arrests the man.
12 of 17 ABC

"Virgin Territory," Step by Step

Issue: Sex/virginity Always looking to score, J.T. asks out Kellie Peterson, an "easy" girl who never says no. When she only agrees to a double-date with her equally loose sister Kimmie, J.T. invites Cousin Cody along. But when the time comes for the boys to finally lose their V-cards, Cody has second thoughts, saying he wants his first sexual experience to be with "the dudette of his dreams." Although he's angry at first, J.T. eventually sees the wisdom in his usually dimwitted cousin's choice. At least there was one "first time" in this episode.
13 of 17 NBC

"Theo's Gift," The Cosby Show

Issue: Dyslexia No matter how hard he studies, Theo just can't seem to make better than a C in his history class, despite his mastery of the material. When he tells Cliff that he is often confused by the test questions, Theo becomes frustrated by his father's instructions to concentrate harder. Feeling a lack of support, he goes to a learning center, where a tutor suggests that Theo might have dyslexia. She offers him some organizational tips and refers him to some special classes, and sure enough, his grades start to improve.
14 of 17 ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

"The Longest Day," Home Improvement

Issue: Cancer It's every parent's worst nightmare: After a routine medical exam, middle Taylor brother Randy discovers that he may have thyroid cancer, and Tim and Jill try to keep calm during a tense 24 hours while they wait to get test results back from the doctor. At the end of the episode, they learn that Randy's going to be fine, but not after a touching scene in which Randy tearfully admits, "I don't want to die, Dad."
15 of 17 CBS

"The Gun," Family Matters

Issue: Gun violence After Laura is robbed by some gang members (over a jacket), she decides to buy a gun for protection. Just as Laura is about the make the purchase, the gang leader shoots her best friend, and Laura realizes that it's a bad idea. At the end of the episode, Laura and her friends hold a drive for people to turn in their guns without getting in trouble, while Urkel performs a rap.
16 of 17 NBC

"Blossom Blossoms," Blossom

Issue: Puberty "Tonight, on a very special Blossom…" our protagonist gets her period. Unfortunately, she's a little lost and embarrassed with no maternal figure to turn to — well, except for Six, who advises her to buy the tampon brand "with the best prize inside." Blossom even dreams up Phylicia Rashad as her mom, who explains the menstruation cycle with icing on a cake (anyone want a slice of that?), before she finally tells her dad that she's not a little girl anymore. Our advice, Blossom? Don't wear white pants when it's the time of the month.
17 of 17 ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

"A Stash from the Past," Roseanne

Issue: Marijuana Roseanne would never just do a traditional "very special episode," so leave it to the Conners to shrewdly turn the trend on its head and subvert expectations after a bag of pot is found in the house. Roseanne thinks it's David's, and he falsely takes the blame, thinking that it's Darlene's. But it turns out it was Dan and Roseanne's! Dan stashed it years back when Roseanne was pregnant with Becky and they wanted to clean up their act. So what to do with the pot? Indulge for old time's sake. Well played, Roseanne, well played.