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The Five Spot: Five Seriously Moving Moments In Sitcom History

The Five Spot: Five Seriously Moving Moments In Sitcom History

Back when people still watched network sitcoms in big numbers in the previous century, they typically did so looking to have their funny bones tickled, rather than their heartstrings tugged.

Sure, we occasionally got the *NBC announcer voice* “this week, on a very special…” billing in some of the promotional ads prior to their shows broadcast.

Yet far too often, the end result was an uncomfortable train wreck. This usually left us begging to get back to the funny.  For example, try sitting thru the Diff'rent Strokes episode where Arnold’s friend Dudley gets molested. Or the episode when that literal red-headed stepchild Mr. Drumond took in during the later seasons of Diff'rent Strokes (when Arnold was way too old to be cute anymore) gets kidnapped.  Let's not even mention (oops) the Mr. Belvedere episode when Wesley’s young friend gets kicked out of school for contracting AIDS. Or the Alf where the wisecracking Melmac-muppet's presence in a pup tent scares a visiting Tanner family member (we're so sorry, Uncle Albert) to death via heart attack. Yes, all of these things happened but let's stay focused.

Almost as a litmus test to determine the true cream of the situation comedy crop, there have been a few shows good enough so a little bit of drama didn’t hurt. In the hands of a skillful writing team, a group of gifted actors or ideally a combination of the two…every once in awhile it could make for one of a series’ most memorable moments and maybe even make things a little misty for you. 

Submitted for your consideration, here are five surprisingly emotional and affecting scenes from the now long gone heyday of network TV sitcoms...

Family Ties, Season Two, “Say Uncle” aka Uncle Ned Smacks Alex and Needs AA ASAP

Tom Hanks’ acting career has become so long and legendary by this point that it’s easy to forget that his movie career began with screwball comedies like Bachelor Party and The Money Pit in the mid-eighties, let alone that his career was actually launched by cross-dressing on a silly early eighties sitcom called Bosom Buddies. People more likely do remember the show Family Ties, which launched the careers of Michael J. Fox, Courtney Cox and for a brief hot-flash of a moment, Justine Bateman. But the most successful alumnus of the show if we’re counting guest appearances was Tom Hanks, who first displayed his dramatic chops by making quite an impression in a two-part episode as “Uncle Ned”, Alex’s beloved and brilliant uncle on his mom’s side who comes to visit while his life is falling apart due to alcohol addiction. It all culminates in this open-fist-flying-n-crying finale scene.

Good Times, Season Five, “The Evans Get Involved” aka Please Save Little Penny From The OG Iron Lady

Some might say if we were gonna go with Good Times, the “Damn, Damn, Damn” Florida Evans dish drop at the end of the episode where they kill off her husband James earlier in the series was more iconic. And to a degree, they're right. That moment even birthed the hook of one of our favorite OutKast songs, "Spottieottiedopalicious" a couple of decades later. But we’d rather watch a cute child version of Janet Jackson + TV Sitcom Hall of Fine inductee Thelma than watch Esther Rolle smash some glass in the kitchen. Janet’s acting may not be a tour-de-force, particularly in the first part of this scene where it seems the audience doesn’t know whether or not to laugh or cry. However, she does actually get what looks like a real tear going in the corner of her eye. She's better in this than she is pretending to write Maya Angelou poems while dating Tupac-as-a-mailman on the believability scale. We’d later come to find out, child abuse may have been something Janet and her siblings were more accustomed to dealing with than we knew. Meanwhile it was Janet, not Michael filming a Pepsi ad a few years later, who was the first Jackson family member to create a stir by getting burned. 

Roseanne, Season Five, “Crime & Punishment” aka Aunt Jackie Gets Beaten aka Messing With Dan Connor’s Fam Is A Violation That Will Not Stand

If you weren’t around to watch Roseanne when it was on the air, it’s difficult to explain how revolutionary it felt or even how great the early-to-mid-years were back before it drifted along with its lead’s popularity and (at times) sanity into some weird Tom Arnold & Martin Mull-mucking mess. This episode was while it was still at its ratings-machine peak, however. This is a finally crafted, well-acted scene but the thing that stuck with us all these years later is the way this episode ends, which feels fully justified and wholly satisfying without potentially spoiling the moment by showing us more. John Goodman was always so good on this show. Encore. Bravo.

Cheers, Season One, “Coach’s Daughter”

No aka for this one. Not as heavy handed thematically as some of the other examples on this list. Not a lot of bells and whistles here, just one of the earliest examples of a “great, back office” Cheers scene takes place. These often felt like great stage plays over the course of this series’ life. And this is easily one of our favorites, it channels the inner sweetness of both the character of Coach and the late actor portraying him, Nicholas Colasanto. It was Colasanto’s untimely death while this series was just hitting its stride in terms of popularity that led to us meeting Woody Harrelson after he passed. It may have been this scene that led to Allyce Beasley (portraying Coach’s daughter) getting the gig as the secretary on Moonlighting a year or so later.

Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Season Four, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse” aka The Moment Any Remaining Doubt That Will Smith Was Going To Be A Huge Star Was Finally Removed aka Why Don't He Want Me, Man?

This also makes us miss the late James Avery (Uncle Phil), who puts in some strong work in this scene particularly in the front part when he confronts Will’s father (played by Broadway legend, Ben Vereen).  But really this is known for being the scene that showed the non-believers that this young version of Will Smith had the thespian skills that he would later display in Six Degrees of Separation and eventually Pursuit of Happyness.

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