4 Surprisingly Insightful Plots From TV Sitcoms

We're all quick to yell at TV shows that botch the handling of a sensitive subject (see: 13 Reasons Why), so it's only fair to stop and high-five the ones that rise way above any expectations we may have for them. These are shows that could have dismissed these topics with a few glib jokes or just avoided them altogether, but instead chose to go above and beyond.

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4
Family Guy Teaches You How To Talk to Suicidal Friends

If you're not a fan of Family Guy, aside from being shocked that it's still on the air (17 seasons and counting), you probably think of it as a pile of lame cutaway gags and punchlines that age about as well as a kiddie pool full of guacamole. But that's why the show's 150th episode, "Brian & Stewie," was such a surprise. We suddenly got a slow, intimate "bottle episode" in which Brian and Stewie are trapped in a bank vault. Near the end, Stewie asks Brian, a vocal anti-gun liberal, why he has a gun in his safety deposit box, and Brian admits that he has it in case he ever wants to commit suicide.

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That's a stunning moment of darkness from a show in which, just a few minutes earlier, Brian ate Stewie's shit. And it hit me pretty hard. I've talked to a few people over the years who've told me the same thing Brian tells Stewie, and I've made a point of learning what exactly you're supposed to say in that situation. Believe it or not, it's pretty much what we see in this episode. Though should you find yourself in a similar scenario, you probably shouldn't preface your reaction with "Your situation reminds me of something I saw on Family Guy ..."

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Stewie, who I remind you is an evil talking baby in a bawdy cartoon, starts by asking questions about Brian's suicidal thoughts. Now, this might seem counterintuitive, but apparently, doing so can often help the person talk themselves out of going through with it. That's why Stewie asks very open-ended and simple questions, like "Why do you want to kill yourself" and "Why are you unhappy?" This keeps Brian talking, and talking is good.

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The second great thing he does is never criticize Brian for feeling that way. Depressed people are already triple black belt world champions of beating themselves up; they don't need your amateur ass tagging in too. Stewie does at one point say something like "I don't like it when you talk like this," which is the wrong thing to say, but he then follows it up with reassurances that Brian is his friend and that he would be lost without him, giving him a personal reason to maybe stay alive.

Now, Stewie should have ended their talk by suggesting that Brian seek professional help, but for being put on the spot like that, he pretty much nails it. This kind of thing is like performing emergency first aid, with the goal of making sure a suicidal person can live to see a doctor later. It's the kind of thing they should teach in schools, but if our kids have to learn it from Family Guy, well, it's nice that they made sure to get it right.

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Related: 5 Life Lessons Learned From Old School Cartoons

3
The Amazing World Of Gumball Opens A Window Into Neurodiversity

The Amazing World Of Gumball is something I like to scream at people in response to them implying that newer Cartoon Network shows are stupid. When friends and family hold an intervention to make me stop doing this, I explain that Gumball is zany without being obnoxiously random, and is an overall great comedy. And man, the episode "The Weirdo" is an emotional sucker punch.

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Here, Gumball and Darwin are trying to help the bullied Sussie, a puppet with an upside-down human chin for a head and googly eyes. After failing to help Sussie not be "weird" (by suggesting she change literally everything about herself), Gumball and Darwin give up. That's when she gives them a pair of googly eyes so they can see the world like she does. Immediately the animation changes to chaotic crayon drawings, while Sussie explains that her childlike view of the world makes everything so much more interesting to her, allowing her to find joy and excitement in things that most people overlook.

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She is, in other words, literally processing the world a different way than they are. And when given the chance to see the world through her "eyes," Gumball and Darwin find themselves behaving the same as Sussie ... and getting bullied for doing it. You can see it as a metaphor for autism, mental illness, or just socially unacceptable habits in general, but the takeaway is the same: You can't understand "weird" people until you grasp the fact that no other brain is experiencing the world in the exact same way yours is.

What makes their lives hard isn't their differences, but that we insist on demanding they conform to what the rest of us have decided is normal. That's a lot to convey in an episode that runs all of 11 minutes.

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Related: Movie And TV Scenes That Landed On The Right Side Of History

2
Schitt's Creek Explores The Turmoil Of An Adult Accepting Their Own Sexuality

If you scroll through Netflix and see a listing for a sitcom called Schitt's Creek, you'll probably make some seemingly safe assumptions about what kind of show it is. But in truth, it's about a rich family of good-hearted neurotics who lose all their money and are forced to move to a small rural town. Thus, a group of people who've never really had to support each other are suddenly forced to learn how.

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Eventually, pansexual son David starts dating a guy named Patrick, who only realized he liked men after their meeting. Here is a man in his 30s with an established, comfortable life, forced to come to terms with who he's always been (he'd previously been engaged to a woman, and the ending of that relationship wasn't pretty). In the episode "Meet The Parents," David realizes that Patrick has been keeping their relationship a secret from his folks, but Dave's father accidentally outs him, because he is played by Eugene Levy, and that's exactly the kind of shenanigan you'd expect of him. Patrick's parents seem to take it badly ... only to later reveal they're only disappointed that their son lied to them. They're cool with his sexuality.

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In fact, Patrick has support all around. David doesn't shame him for staying in the closet, and even offers to pretend to be friends in the presence of Patrick's parents if he's still not ready to come out to them. He makes it clear that this journey is different for everyone, and that Patrick doesn't owe it to him or anyone else to come out in a certain way or on a certain schedule. David's own family is equally supportive. That's because Schitt's Creek is about the importance of emotionally supporting our loved ones when they need it most. It's definitely a "Don't judge a show by its thumbnail" situation.

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Related: 18 Adult Lessons You Missed In Famous Kids' Shows

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Roseanne And Daria Explore How To Grieve For A Terrible Person

Dramas love to mine the loss of a loved one for easy emotion. Nothing says "Everyone start crying now!" like the sight of the main characters standing in a rainy graveyard. But it took a couple of '90s comedies to dig into the complicated experience of losing someone and then realizing you're not feeling the right kind of sad.

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In the Roseanne episode "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home," Roseanne's terrifying father dies. Roseanne suffered intense physical abuse at his hands, which she tries to rise above so she can plan his funeral, while her sister seems to have repressed all of her bad childhood memories. At one point, Roseanne also learns that her father always felt his daughters weren't fair to him (hearing from her father's mistress how much he "spoiled" the girls), allowing him to torment his family from beyond the grave. That is, of course, the legacy of so many abusers in real life.

So when it comes time for Roseanne have a moment alone with the body, she tells him how angry she is, how her whole life has been defined by that anger. But also that she's forgiving him. Not because he's family, or because it's the right thing to do, but because she needs to move on. Finally, and most importantly, she also tells him that she is forgiving herself for feeling that way.

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Similarly, in the 1997 Daria episode "The Misery Chick," when an asshole jock dies, Daria and a few others students at her high school struggle with their feelings. They acknowledge that it wasn't "good" that a person died so young ... but they still can't make themselves feel bad about it. "You're sorry that he died," says Daria, "but you don't think that you feel sorry enough ... and you're worried that you're not as nice a person as you thought."

It's the same message, and one we don't get a lot in popular culture: You don't owe anybody your grief. It sounds harsh, and even selfish, the kind of thing friends maybe don't like to hear themselves say. Maybe some life lessons can only be delivered by a sardonic character in a sitcom.

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Cezary is a freelance writer and editor. You should follow him on Twitter.

For more, check out The 4 Worst Lessons Disney Movies Taught Us As Kids - After Hours:


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