Like any other kid who grew up in the 90s, my TV diet mainly consisted of Nickelodeon, Saturday morning cartoons, ABC’s TGIF block of programming, and the occasional free preview of the Disney Channel. Needless to say most shows were filled with slime, hijinks, hugs, laugh-tracks, and catchphrases, but every now and then an episode would drop a real life truth bomb on you. Here’s five episodes that chipped away at my childhood innocence.
1. Full House “The Last Dance” (1994)
The episode of Sesame Street where they tackle the death of Mr. Hooper is probably the hallmark episode of children’s television when it comes to dealing with loss and grief, but that episode aired in 1983 before I was born. So for me, the episode of Full House where Uncle Jesse’s grandfather Papouli dies is the one that I most remember for it’s heart-breaking sadness. Not a lot of Full House holds up upon in terms of quality, but this episode is still poignant.
2. Space Cases “On the Road to Find Out” (1996)
With the rare exception of a ‘grandparent’-type figure passing away, as was the case with Mr. Hooper and Papouli, children’s TV hardly ever broaches the subject of life and death. I mean even bad guys don’t really die. For that reason, the season one finale of Nickelodeon’s Space Cases hit me like a ton of bricks.
In the episode’s final minutes, main character Catalina is trapped on another ship when it explodes. I just remember thinking that wasn’t possible. Characters couldn’t die, let alone ones featured in the opening credits. And yet the ship blew up, right in front of my eyes, and it’s space so there was no where else to go.
But alas, she wasn’t really dead, not technically anyways. The show let’s you believe it for a few minutes, but in the end somehow the blast caused her and her ‘imaginary’ friend from another universe to switch places. So not actually dead, but no longer visible and not really on the show anymore.
Of course now as a fan of Game of Thrones and Joss Whedon’s many TV series I’ve gotten used to characters biting the bullet, but hot damn that was a hell of a wake up call.
3. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers “The Power Transfer: Part 2” (1994)
I feel like most TV shows aimed at children, that aren’t animated, rarely run long enough to see a lot of cast turnover. But part of the reason Power Rangers has had such a long lifespan is because it does just that. The first time change occurred was when Jason Trini, and Zach parted ways in “The Power Transfer: Part 1” (2×26).
Saying goodbye to these characters was a bummer and as a kid I couldn’t understand why anyone would give up being a Power Ranger to attend a teen peace conference, but looking back now it was probably one of the more realistic moments in the show. In real life, friends come and go and so do opportunities. Not everyone is on the same journey and that’s okay.
4. The Adventures of Pete & Pete “Farewell, My Little Viking: Part 2” (1994)
The Adventures of Pete & Pete’s grasp on reality was always a bit tenuous so I can see how one might balk at this example, but this episode is still a memorable one that brings all the feels. I can’t really explain why, so I’ll just leave you with this final voiceover:
This wasn’t just the story of being tricked by dad or hired by McFlemp or working for 10 percent commission. It was the story of a superhero and a kid who ruled at dodgeball, waltzed the lunar landscape, and beat up the Atlantic Ocean until one day the kid finally learned all there was to know from his friend, and now it was time for the superhero to move on… Was Artie gone for good? I guess we couldn’t know, but one thing was for sure: A part of Artie would always be with us, watching over us like the heroes in our dreams, like the stars in the sky.”
5. Ghostwriter “Over a Barrel: Parts 1-4” (1993)
This run of episodes wasn’t so much emotional as eye-opening. Ghostwriter, a PBS kids show, dedicated an entire episode arc to environmental pollution by way of illegal dumping. Talk about not talking down to your audience. I was eight years old when this aired and up until that point my knowledge of sustainability and conservation was pretty much limited to the practice of recycling and whatever I’d seen on Captain Planet.
Needless to say, I never thought people would consciously harm the environment or you know take such egregious shortcuts to save money. Nothing like coming home from school, turning on the TV, and learning about corruption and superfund sites!
What TV episodes or moments were most mind-blowing to you as a kid?