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12 Very Special 'Very Special Episodes'

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Some TV shows are custom-made for Very Special Episodes. With all those girls on the cusp of adulthood at the Eastland Academy on The Facts of Life, it was inevitable that at least one of them would lose their virginity before graduation, leading to a poignant, thought-provoking episode. But plenty of other hot-button issues were used as plot devices. From the creepy bicycle man on Diff'rent Strokes to Alex Keaton's alcoholic uncle, here are some of TV's most memorable teachable moments.

1. Diff’rent Strokes: “The Bicycle Man”

This episode was considered disturbing enough for Conrad Bain to present a parental warning at the beginning. Even the narrator who catches us up on the action from Part One of this two-parter sounds kinda creepy, setting the appropriately dark tone for Gordon Jump (loveable, bumbling “Big Guy” Mr. Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati) to portray a bicycle store-owning pedophile.

Mr. Horton lures young boys to his store with free accessories for their rides as well as free pizza, ice cream and … wine. (Cue the ominous music.) Arnold and his friend Dudley fall prey to his tactics and soon they’re shirtless, playing Tarzan, and posing for Polaroids. No amount of “whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout” could lighten up the slimy feel of this episode, but at least Mr. Drummond called the cops on the creep.

2. All in the Family: “Edith’s 50th Birthday”

All in the Family certainly never shied away from controversial issues, but did we really need to see sweet, naïve Edith Bunker get sexually assaulted in her living room?

The writers had actually already covered this topic in Season 3, when Gloria was attacked while walking home from work. But that assault wasn’t shown, just talked about, which was disturbing enough. In this episode Edith is home alone one afternoon while Archie is next door at Mike and Gloria’s house preparing for Edith’s surprise birthday party. Edith answers the door and allows the man who identifies himself as a detective to enter. Unfortunately, the rapist he is searching the neighborhood for (whom he describes in detail as he advances on Edith) is actually himself. After a lengthy and excruciating exchange of banter during which Edith tries her best to discourage him they both smell smoke and run to the kitchen. The cake she had in the oven was burning. A seemingly hysterical Edith removes it from the stove and then shoves it square in her attacker’s face, which prompted deafening cheers from the studio audience.

Some 20 years after this episode aired, David Dukes, the respected Broadway actor who’d played the attacker, was regularly recognized (and demonized) on the street as “the man who tried to rape Edith Bunker!”

3. Family Ties: “Give Uncle Arthur a Kiss”

Arthur was an uncle by virtue of friendship rather than kin; he worked with Steven at the TV station and was a Keaton family friend. One day when 15-year-old Mallory is helping out at WKS, Arthur corners her while she’s alone and comments on how grown-up she’s becoming (always a skeevy red flag when it comes to “funny” uncles). He embraces her but the hug is a little too tight for Mallory’s liking, and when he pats her on the backside she is definitely uncomfortable, but unsure if Good Ol’ Uncle Arthur actually did anything wrong … or if she just misinterpreted his camaraderie?

There’s no confusion, though, the next day when—after apologizing for frightening her that way—he pulls her close for an open-mouthed kiss. Even more unsettling is that once Mallory clues her parents in on what’s going on, all they do is give Arthur a severe talking-to, threatening to involve the police only if he ever does something like that again.

4. Punky Brewster: “Cherie Lifesaver”

Henry, Punky’s guardian, is forced to discard his WWII-era refrigerator when it finally conks out for good. He sets it out in the backyard, but a sudden light snowfall prompts him to delay removing the door until later. The snow doesn’t deter Punky and her pals from playing hide-and-seek, and Cherie chooses the ancient fridge as her hiding spot. When Henry finds her later, of course she is unconscious and not breathing. Luckily that very day Punky’s class had been taught CPR at school, so Cherie is revived in the nick of time.

(Of course, by law in the U.S. all refrigerators sold after October 30, 1958 have been required to be open-able from the inside to prevent such a tragedy, but thanks to parsimonious consumers like Henry, kids were still occasionally found suffocated inside those old built-to-last models until the mid-1980s.)

5. Too Close for Comfort: “For Every Man There’s Two Women”

This was one of those episodes that was so lowbrow, some folks think they’d only imagined it. The Rush’s wacky tenant Monroe (played by Jm J. Bullock, as he was known then) was kidnapped en route to work by two women and then forced to have sex with them. But, because Monroe was a male and his attackers female (and of the bulky persuasion), the writers somehow thought it was OK to squeeze some cheap laughs out of a rape.

6. Little House on the Prairie: “Sylvia”

Frustrated folks that long for the simpler life of Yesteryear should stop and consider the realities of pioneer life … Take Walnut Grove, for example. If kids weren’t going blind, they were being orphaned or dying in fires. And then there was the case of the town’s sinister blacksmith, who spent his days off stalking young girls while wearing a mime mask.

Fifteen-year-old Sylvia Webb is being raised by a puritanical father who believes she’s inherently evil just because she hit puberty earlier than her classmates. He forces her to bind her burgeoning bosom and is outraged to find the neighborhood boys peeping at her while she dresses. Poor Sylvia eventually is attacked by the Stalker Blacksmith and ends up “with child.” Albert Ingalls, who professes to love her though he’s only 14 himself and his voice hasn’t finished changing, wants to marry her. Before the star-crossed teens can elope, though, Sylvia suffers a fatal fall from a hayloft.

7. Diff’rent Strokes: “Sam’s Missing”

As if Sam McKinney wasn’t emotionally scarred enough by having his mom change from Dixie Carter to Mary Ann Mobley without explanation, he was also kidnapped in Season Eight by a despondent father whose own son has died in an off-screen accident of some sort. The kidnapper threatens to kill Mr. Drummond and his new wife if Sam doesn’t stop acting traumatized and behave like his loving new son. Meanwhile, Kidnapper has convinced his gullible grieving wife that he’d found homeless Sam living on the street in a cardboard box. After a week with his “new” family, Sam is finally found and rescued, and apparently none the worse for his adventure.

8. Family Affair: “Christmas Came a Little Early”

Usually on Family Affair, Uncle Bill’s endlessly deep pockets solved any crisis, but even after calling in a top specialist of some sort, he was unable to offer any hope to a pre-Brady Bunch Eve Plumb. Eve played a terminally ill friend of Buffy’s, but only the adults knew of her dire prognosis. Realizing that Eve might not make it ‘til December, Uncle Bill decided that she should still have a Christmas, even if it was several weeks early. Using the excuse that he would be in Venezuela come December 25th, he bought a tree and gifts and dressed Mr. French up as Santa Claus and held the party in Eve’s family’s apartment. Afterward he confided to Mr. French that the children didn’t suspect that anything was amiss, but as he headed off for bed for the evening he hears heart-wrenching sobs coming from Buffy’s bedroom. He poked his head inside the door to see her clutching Mrs. Beasley and crying.

9. Family Ties: “Say Uncle”

When Elise’s brother Ned (played by Tom Hanks) pays a visit, his newly developed drinking problem is played for laughs at first—Alex encounters Ned late at night in the kitchen draining the last of the liquor and then watches him guzzle vanilla extract and a bottle of maraschino cherries. When he shows up sozzled for a job interview it’s still pretty funny (for the audience, at least). But when Ned turns into a mean drunk and smacks Alex in the face, things take a serious turn. Hanks turns in a heartbreaking performance when he phones Alcoholics Anonymous and slowly goes from clowning around to admitting his problem.

10. Mr. Belvedere: “The Counselor”

In an unusual twist, it wasn’t some tertiary character who was the subject of the Very Specialness in this episode, but series regular Wesley T. Owens. Wes goes off to a summer day camp under protest. When he fakes illness to avoid a nature hike, he is left in the care of Counselor Perry. Perry takes Wes scuba diving and then gets a little too touchy-feely when helping to dry him off. To encourage the boy to keep their “little secret” Perry gives Wesley an expensive pair of binoculars as a gift, but even so Wes is uneasy about being around the counselor…

11. Leave It to Beaver: “Beaver and Andy”

The normally light-hearted show about childhood innocence took a somber turn when Ward hired Andy, a recovering alcoholic, to paint the outside of the Cleaver house. In order to protect young Beaver from the harsh realities of Life, they only refer vaguely to Andy’s “problem.” So when Beav is home alone one sultry afternoon while Andy requests a drink (preferably something stronger than lemonade), the clueless youngster offers a bottle of the stuff that Uncle Billy sends them every Christmas. Andy relapses, and Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver are shocked to discover that Theodore was the enabler. Beaver then wonders aloud how he was supposed to know that what he did was wrong, since his folks never explained what Andy’s “trouble” was. You can watch the episode here.

12. And of course, this:

Were there any TV episodes that traumatized you as a child? Or that have stuck in your mind as being disturbing all these years later? It can be therapeutic to share, you know.

5 Film Transitions Worth Knowing

You see them every day, on TV shows, the news, and in movies, but how well do you know the most oft-used film transitions? Here are the big five:


The dissolve is an editing technique where one clip seems to fade—or dissolve—into the next. As the first clip is fading out, getting lighter and lighter, the second clip starts fading in, becoming more and more prominent. The process usually happens so subtly and so quickly, the viewer isn't even aware of the transition. The above video offers a great overview of the cut, with examples.


This transition is the opposite of the dissolve in that it draws attention to itself. The best example of the wipe is what's known as the Iris Wipe, which you usually find in silent films, like Buster Keaton's or the Merrie Melodies cartoons—the circle getting smaller and smaller. Other wipe shapes include stars, diamonds, and the old turning clock.

The Star Wars films are chock-full of attention-grabbing wipes. Here are two good examples from The Empire Strikes Back. The first shows the clock wipe; the second, the diagonal wipe (pay no attention to the broken blocks at the start of the second clip—that's a technical glitch, not part of the film).


As the name implies, in the basic cutaway, the filmmaker is moving from the action to something else, and then coming back to the action. Cutaways are used to edit out boring shots (like people driving to their destination—why not see what the character is seeing or even thinking sometimes?) or add action to a sequence by changing the pace of the footage. My favorite use of the cutaway is in Family Guy, where the technique is used to insert throwaway gags. Here's a great example:


The L Cut, also called a split edit, is a very cool technique whose name dates back to the old analog film days.

The audio track on a strip of celluloid film runs along the side, near the sprocket holes. In the L Cut transition, the editor traditionally cut the picture frames out of the strip, but left the narrow audio track intact, thus creating an L-shape out of the film. A different camera angle, or scene was then spliced into the spot where the old picture was, so the audio from the old footage was now cut over the new footage.

Of course, with digital editing, one doesn't need to physically cut anything anymore, but the transition is still widely used, and the name has remained the same.

Split edits like these are especially effective in portraying conversations. Imagine how a simple conversation between two people might look if all we ever got was a ping-pong edit back and forth between the two people talking. The L cut allows the viewer to read the emotion on the listener's face, as the dialogue continues over, as we see in this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:


The fade in and fade out usually signal the beginning or end of a scene, especially if the filmmaker is fading to/from black. This is the most common, of course, but fading to white has become trendy, too. The opening title sequence from the HBO series Six Feet Under featured many fades to black and a couple brief fades to white. The very last bit in the sequence fades slowly to white, and is my all-time favorite example of the transition:

King Features Syndicate
11 Things You Might Not Know About Blondie
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

For close to 90 years, Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie has been a constant in newspapers around the world, reaching an estimated 280 million readers in 55 countries. Despite its title, most readers are probably more familiar with Blondie’s husband, the sandwich-consuming Dagwood. Check out some facts about the comic’s origins, its feature film franchise, and a very unfortunate incident involving a dirty word that rocked Blondie's readership to its core.


An illustration of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead of 'Blondie' comics fame
IDW/King Features Syndicate

Before Blondie debuted in 1930, cartoonist Chic Young had attempted to create a female-driven strip without a lot of success. Titles like Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora were some of the more unfortunate ideas, with Young preoccupied by the notion of having a vapid leading lady. For Blondie, Young initially pursued the “dumb blonde” stereotype before dialing down the chauvinism and allowing the single, mingling Blondie Boopadoop to appear at least as intelligent as the succession of boyfriends courting her in the strip. Later, Blondie would become the voice of reason [PDF] to fiance Dagwood Bumstead’s bumbling presence, inverting the gender roles of Young’s previous strips.


For the debut of Blondie, Young’s syndicate, King Features, launched an aggressive mailing campaign in an effort to entice newspaper editors to pick up the strip. Editors first received a letter “announcing” the engagement of Blondie and Dagwood, which was followed by protestations from the Bumstead family and eventually a cardboard suitcase that cautioned them not to peek inside. Naturally, everyone did. Inside was a paper doll cutout of Blondie wearing lingerie, with her “wardrobe” (more paper doll clothing) included.


He might strike you as incapable of tying his own shoes, but there was a time when Dagwood Bumstead carried real potential. Instead of his current working-stiff incarnation, Dagwood was originally heir to his billionaire father’s railroad fortune. But when he married Blondie in 1933, the Bumstead family effectively disowned him, fearing Blondie was only out for his money. The couple’s move to the middle class was Young’s way of acknowledging the fallout of the Great Depression.


With the Bumstead family highly skeptical of Dagwood’s plans to marry Blondie, the would-be groom decided to earn their blessing by going on a hunger strike that played out in real time. For 28 days, Dagwood refused to eat and grew frail until his family finally consented to the marriage. The narrative stunt drew the attention of new readers, raising Blondie’s profile on the comic pages.


A 'Blondie' comic strip with Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead in bed together
King Features Syndicate

For a good portion of the 20th century, it was seen as proper to depict married couples on television or in comics as sleeping in twin beds, eliminating any hint of carnal activities happening off-screen. (Or in this case, off-panel.) But Young thought this was juvenile and insisted that Blondie and Dagwood appear sleeping in the same double bed. Perhaps not coincidentally, the two had their first child, Alexander, in 1934.


While Blondie and Dagwood got along without incident, the same couldn’t be said for another couple featured in the strip’s early years. One of Blondie’s earlier suitors, Hiho, married girlfriend Betty and the two became supporting characters in the strip. Hiho and Betty had what could be considered a tumultuous relationship, with each threatening to punch out the other on a regular basis [PDF]. Young eventually phased the two out, replacing them with far less volatile Bumstead neighbors Herb and Tootsie Woodley.


After the atomic bomb was dropped twice to bring an end to World War II, American citizens understandably grew skittish about the ramifications of wielding such power. To ease their minds, the U.S. military partnered with Young to produce 1949’s Dagwood Splits the Atom, a “fun” booklet that sees the character shrunk down in size to help readers understand atomic power and nuclear fission. Although other comic characters like Popeye appear, it’s Dagwood who has the honors of blowing a neutron into a uranium atom in order to split it.


Although Young’s son Dean had been working on Blondie and was prepared to take over writing duties when his father passed away in 1973, newspapers weren’t so sure. According to Young, more than 600 papers canceled the strip when his father died, fearing it would suffer a drop in quality. Young persevered and eventually won over the naysayers, reclaiming space in the papers and adding several hundred more. (Currently, Young writes the strip and artist John Marshall illustrates.)


In 1938, with Blondie firmly entrenched on the comics pages, King Features and Young agreed to license the strip to Columbia Pictures for a series of live-action feature films. The movies were shot quickly and economically with stars Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake portraying Blondie and Dagwood, respectively. The studio produced 28 features between 1938 and 1950. Attempts to adapt the comic to television were less successful. A 1954 pilot was unaired, while a 1957 series lasted just one season. Another 13-episode iteration was produced in 1968-69, with Bruce Lee appearing as a karate instructor in the last episode.


With their relatively trivial subject matter, comic strips rarely have the potential to offend. A 2004 Blondie entry proved to be an exception. In the strip, a character uses the word “scumbag” to describe a baseball umpire. Readers wrote in to Dean Young to lodge complaints, with Mr. Young and his proofreaders apparently unaware that “scumbag” is a euphemism for a used prophylactic.


A 2005 'Blondie' comic strip featuring a number of other comic characters
King Features Syndicate

Before shared universes were a thing, Blondie’s 75th anniversary strip published September 4, 2005 had a cameo from virtually every notable comic strip character past and present. As Dagwood and Blondie hold up a cake—shaped like a sandwich, naturally—they’re surrounded by Ziggy, Garfield, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Dilbert, and dozens of others. In the weeks leading up to the strip, the comics pages were full of Blondie references and sight gags.


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