The Simpsons: ‘Old Money’
Okay, so The Simpsons is known for it’s family values just as much as it’s gags, but this Season 2 episode provided rare development of the usually crotchety and confused Abe ‘Grampa’ Simpson, and an ending as heartwarming as you could hope for.
When Abe falls for a fellow resident of Springfield Retirement Castle, Bea, the two embark on a whirlwind romance. That is until she sadly passes away on her birthday, which Abe misses as he goes on a day out with the family. Blaming Homer, a grieving Abe disowns his son. After Bea’s funeral, Abe discovers that she has left him $106,000 in her will, and ponders how to spend the dough.
When word gets out, Abe is visited by multiple Springfield residents who have various ridiculous and potentially dangerous ideas about how to spend the money. He is saddened by the selfish nature of these people, and the fact that even the large sum of money he has wouldn’t be enough to sort out all of Springfield’s problems.
After Homer stops his father from gambling all his money away, the two reconcile, and Abe decides the spend Bea’s money redecorating the dilapidated old folks’ home, naming the swish new dining room after his late beloved.
Name a sweeter Simpsons ending (ok, maybe the ‘Do it for her’ one).
Friends: ‘The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line/The One With Chandler in a Box’
Despite all the various heartbreaks and break-ups that made up the ten seasons of Friends, the saddest episodes were always the ones that featured a fall-out between long term bros Chandler and Joey.
In this Season 4 storyline, Chandler finds himself ridden with guilt after kissing Joey’s sort-of-girlfriend, Kathy. After confiding with his other friends, Chandler realises – a little too late – that if he had been honest with his roommate about his feelings, Joey would have likely stepped aside. Hoping for the best, Chandler confesses, and Joey is understandably furious.
In the following episode, Chandler attempts to repair their friendship by dutifully following Joey’s punishment of spending the day shut in a box. At first, Chandler doesn’t take the situation too seriously, but when Kathy comes by and breaks things off between them, he remains silent and doesn’t fight his cause out of respect for Joey. Touched by the gesture, Joey forgives his friend and tells him to go after her.
Admittedly, Chandler and Kathy’s relationship doesn’t last too long after this, but the storyline displayed the complex and compassionate nature of Joey’s usually daft character, as well as reminding us of the devastating reality of letting down a friend.
Scrubs: ‘My Lunch’
Scrubs is unique in managing to intertwine it’s surreal humour with (an often reasonably accurate) medical storyline in a 22 minute episode.
In ‘My Lunch’, JD is determined to have lunch with Dr Cox, who’s having none of it. He desperately tries to avoid an annoying ex-patient, Jill, after bumping into her at the grocery store and being bored by stories of her useless shrink and tragic dating life.
However, it turns out JD can’t avoid Jill forever, and she turns up unconscious at the hospital after apparently OD’ing on Cocaine. She is pronounced dead and Dr Cox donates her organs to several transplant patients, one of which he has built a close relationship with. JD blames himself for Jill’s death, but is cheered up slightly when Dr Cox agrees to take him for lunch, and tells him it isn’t his fault.
When they return to the hospital they find that Jill’s autopsy results are in: she died of rabies, not an overdose. One after another, the transplant patients die. JD pays back Cox’s favour and buys him lunch, telling the fellow doctor that there was no way they could have known about the rabies, it’s no ones fault. The patients would have died without the organs, regardless. Dr Cox seems almost convinced, until he gets a page – the patient he befriended is crashing. A patient who could have easily lasted a while longer without the transplant. He dies, and Dr Cox walks out.
My Lunch packs such a heavy punch because you’re not expecting it, particularly considering the ridiculous B storyline, which revolves around Elliot and Carla speculating that The Todd is gay. The ever-present wacky humour that accompanies the serious storyline helps provide that gut punch that comes with the devastating conclusion.
How I Met Your Mother: ‘Bad News’
Mostly known for it’s light-hearted dating storylines and wacky long running jokes, How I Met Your Mother was also good at dealing with the sad stuff.
Sometimes the most devastating moments occur when the audience is led up the wrong path, which happens in ‘Bad News’, when the interesting method of using an onscreen countdown leads us to make assumptions about what the episode’s big bombshell will be.
The episode follows Marshall and Lily’s attempts to get pregnant, as well storylines involving the fertility expert who looks just like Barney, and Robin’s problems at her new job, with the numbers counting down from 50 appearing hidden in various places as the story develops. The couple find out that Lily is fertile, but Marshall is reluctant to call his father as this could mean Marshall’s sperm is the problem, and he doesn’t know how to break the potentially bad news to his dad. After a surprise visit from his parents, the pair reveal the truth, and Marshall’s parents are supportive, to Marshall’s relief.
The viewers are left wrong-footed when, before the countdown has reached number 1, Marshall finds out that his sperm count is fine. He calls his father to tell him the good news but can’t get through. The penny drops when a teary Lily gets out of a cab labelled 1, and breaks it to Marshall that his dad has passed away.
I told you How I Met Your Mother was good at the sad stuff.
One Foot in the Grave: ‘Timeless Time’
Some of those most paired back episodes are the ones that pack the most emotion, as is the case with the Season 2 finale of One Foot in the Grave, which starred only the two leads, and was set entirely in the couple’s bedroom.
The episode has a simple premise: Victor can’t sleep, due to an ongoing car alarm and various other things, and so his poor wife is kept up also. They try various ways to get to sleep, but in the end give up, and spend the rest of the episode talking. When Victor makes a dark joke, his wife is reminded of Stuart, who, as the conversation seems to suggest, is their son who died as a small child, and has never been mentioned before. Margaret wonders how he would have turned out, as he would be an adult by now.
The simplicity of the episode makes this surprising moment all the more poignant, and deals with the tragedy of a dead child in a realistic and sympathetic way.
South Park: ‘You’re Getting Old/Ass Burgers’
After 15 seasons of toilet humour and gruesome Kenny deaths, South Park stunned viewers with it’s biggest twist of all; a genuinely emotional storyline. The Season 15 two-parter of ‘You’re Getting Old/Ass Burgers’ chronicled Stan’s mental health issues, and the crippling cynicism that envelops all of us as we get older.
When Stan turns 10, he suddenly finds that everything he used to like is, well…crap (this is South Park, remember, so everything turns into actual shit). To make matters worse, after another one of Randy’s mid-life crises, his parents separate. And just when we’re waiting for things to resolve themselves as they always do, the episode ends, with a shot of Stan lying solemnly on his bed while Landslide by Fleetwood Mac plays in the background.
Things don’t improve much in the following episode, when Stan reluctantly joins a group of Matrix style cynics who, like him, see everything in the world as shit. They dose Stan up on Jamesons’ so he can see the world through rose tinted glasses, and set him on a mission to try to convert the outside world to their way of thinking. It fails, and when Stan has an almighty bust-up with best bud Kyle, he returns, defeated. In the end, Stan realises that the the booze isn’t helping, and though his life has changed, he needs to take control and make a fresh start. However, as things in his life start to repair themselves, we see Stan sink back into his depressed self, and the episode ends with Stan taking a shot of whiskey before he meets his friends.
Told you it was emotional.