5 Lighthearted Family Sitcoms… That Began with a Horrific Tragedy the Characters Totally Forgot

    June 6, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Sometimes sitcoms don’t quite get the “escapism” thing right. In real life there are quirky families, but they are usually the product of severe tragedy or broken homes. Often, sitcoms seek to emulate this by having a sitcom open with people coming together under extremely averse circumstances. However, a show where everyone sits around grieving their dead loved one for half a season is a bummer. So in a swift move of Hollywood magic, the characters usually forget about the horrific tragedies that befell them, usually this happens by the second episode. We found 5 of our favorite sitcoms that are glaring examples of this:

    1.Punky Brewster

















    The Show Was Super Warm Because:

    Spunky young girl warms the heart of her foster dad

    But the Show’s Start Was Totally Messed Up, Because:

    Punky’s mom abandons her child at a supermarket

    Note that when we say, “abandons her child,” we don’t mean it in a wacky sitcom way. Punky’s mom didn’t write down a grocery list with “eggs, milk, candy for Punky” and misread it as “eggs, milk, abandon Punky.” No, the never-seen mother who was not mentally healthy enough to name her kid something other than Punky just bolted.

    Nothing gets Punky down, not even severe child neglect

    For a generation of television watching children, “going to the supermarket with mom” became a chore in abject horror. Like Punky, children were afraid they’d be forced to sleep in some broken down building until being adopted by some angry old man. But not our Punky, she kept staying sweet and sassy as always, even when she got to an age where living with some old strange dude is creepy (i.e. any age).


    2. My Two Dads

    The Show Was Super Warm Because:

    Two enemies come together to raise a child who may or may not be their own

    But the Show’s Start Was Totally Messed Up, Because:

    A child loses her slutty mom and then has to live with strangers who didn’t want her

    Let’s pretend that, hypothetically, your mother is pretty sexually loose. Hypothetically, mind you. Now, pretend that twelve years after you were born, your mother passes away (since it was 1987, we’re just going to assume this was from the A.I.D.S. virus). That sounds bad enough, right? But it only get more awful. Instead of going to live with relatives who love you or even a biological father who hates you, you are left as the ward of two men who banged your mom a lot. Also, for no apparent reason, a judge finds all of this legal.


    “If this doesn’t work, we’ll go on Maury”


    You are the lead character of My Two Dads, one of the most preposterous sitcoms of all time, where a teen girl gets sent to live with two dudes who banged her mom a while back. Oh, and they all have to live in an artists loft because those wacky dads got evicted for painting on the walls. The two men immediately fall in love with their new found fatherhood, even though one of them is not the father and they are not a gay couple. In fact, after three years one of the dads bails to go live with another family. He could have been the real father, leaving the daughter to live with someone who has no connection to her except an extreme sexual attraction to her mom. It’s like the judge legally ordered abusive indecisiveness to run in the family.

    3. Silver Spoons

    The Show Was Super Warm Because:

    Square teen is sent to live with his childlike father

    But the Show’s Start Was Totally Messed Up, Because:
    A boy is severely neglected for over a decade then dumped on his unknowing, unqualified dad’s doorstep

    It takes a lot to make an audience care for a 1% family. A common trick is to have one of those family members come from less-than-fortunate circumstances, so audiences can identify with the character more, like with the Fresh Prince. But nobody could identify with what young Ricky Stratton had to put up with from his nutso mom.

    First of all, she got pregnant while she was married but never told the father. Not to mention the father is soaking rich. Toting him around like a possession, Ricky is moved from one boarding school to another for over a decade. Finally, his mother decided to get married again, and having poor Ricky around will just muck up her style. So she drops him off at his father’s house and cold bails from the situation.

    “Toilet training was my favorite part of growing up, because I was chained to one”

    What makes this situation all the more baffling is that Ricky’s mom is portrayed as sweet, but slightly flighty and overburdened. When, in fact, people who do that to kids have severe and sick mental illness. As kids, we always tried to deintensify the situation by pretending Ricky’s mom was also Punky Brewster’s mom.

    4. Alice


    The Show Was Super Warm Because:

    A down-and-out single mom keeps her head up in a diner full of personalities

    But the Show’s Start Was Totally Messed Up, Because:

    Alice seems to hate her kid

    Folks remember the progressive show, Alice, as an underdog show which espoused positive values. The show’s general feel-good attitude was driven by the strength of the main character, who just wanted to make a better life for her son. Nice, except her parenting prowess is totally undermined by the opening credits:

    Recently left by her husband, Alice decides it’s time to “look for me,” and drives across country. Her goal: To become a singing sensation in Los Angeles. No mention is made of how she plans to look for her son, and that’s because she doesn’t have a plan. She apparently doesn’t even have a plan for budgeting for car repairs, as the car breaks down in Phoenix. This strands her, which is the scariest part of all. If she can’t even afford to rent a moving van and cart her things the remaining 8 hours to Los Angeles, how was she expecting to pay for lodging?

    alice foot bath
    Probably by making him walk the street, selling foot baths

    But Alice’s fear-nothing, take-life-as-it-may attitude refuses to let her situation get her down. She gets a sweet waitressing job and gets her boy an apartment in Phoenix. Which is almost as good as living on the streets of Los Angeles, we suppose.

    5. Full house (also the Brady bunch, Diff’rent strokes, Empty Nest, Family Matters, Gimme a Break, My Three sons, Partridge Family, Step by Step, Webster)

    The Shows Were Super Warm Because:

    People decide upon unusual living arrangements in order to provide support

    But the Shows’ Start Was Totally Messed Up, Because:
    The support was needed because of the tragic death of a main family member who is soon totally forgotten

    Sitcoms love to play off the fresh environment of opposite personalities living together. But frequently they do this by killing off a main character before the pilot. This is painfully hammered home by the forever depressing intro to the hit show, Empty Nest:

    Yes, the entire intro makes it look like the show is about using his dog to replace his wife. No, it doesn’t go there. But whether the tragic, horrific death of a loved one┬ácauses the family to move together, form a traveling band, or get adopted by white people, it’s always cheeky fun.

    We’re not trying to suggest that sitcoms add a heaping helping of downer into their plotlines. We’re just saying that sometimes the old strategy of “kill off a character before the show even began” is used to play upon our heartstrings with no real consequence. That makes us feel bad, and we don’t watch sitcoms to feel bad: We watch them because we are too drunk to reach the remote.

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