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Gully Rewind: 10 times retro sitcoms tackled social injustice

“And now, stay tuned for a very special episode of…”

This isn’t something commonly heard on television now days. In fact, while a lot of today’s sitcoms still take on social justice issues, they just aren’t done the same way they were in the past. Perhaps, it’s because we’ve made progress, or perhaps it’s because we face these issues now more than ever and we have become desensitized. Some sitcoms choose to shy away from sensitive issues all together, while others are so consistent in covering these topics that the episodes are no longer deemed, “special”. The following is a list of, what I feel, are some of the most powerful episodes that taught us the difference between right and wrong.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street first aired in 1969 and is currently on it’s 47th season.

Situation:

I want to start this one off by saying, in my opinion, Sesame Street has an EXCEPTIONAL history of always teaching children to do what’s right and educating them about things parent’s, may at times, not have thought about. I say this because they have touched on some VERY sensitive issues and done so in such a respectful and kid friendly way. In this “raw” episode, (in terms of Sesame Street go) the focus is on two friends of different races, Sabien and Gina. Gina returns to work after enjoying a stroll through the neighborhood with her friend Sabien. As she arrives, some one phones the shop in which she works, and though we can’t hear the other side of the conversation, it’s clear that she is hurt by what the person on the other end is telling her. After she hangs up the phone, her and Sabien let their friend Telly in on what’s going on.

Situation:

Episode: “Racism on Sesame Street” Season 25, Air date: November 25th, 1993

Family Matters

Family Matters aired for 9 seasons between 1989 and 1998

Situation:

In this episode, Eddie proves to his father through a few traffic violations that he’s not the most responsible new kid with a license. This makes it hard for Carl to believe him when he comes to him with news that he was treated unfairly for another violation during a traffic stop. This clip only shows Carl’s interaction with the police officers who had Eddie get out of his vehicle, lay down and proceed to get handcuffed, however, the moment in which Eddie comes to Carl is just as powerful. This episode is the epitome of racial profiling. I feel this episode treats our law enforcement fairly, as it shows that a few bad eggs do not represent all officers who truly serve and protect with the best intentions. I recommend watching the full episode streaming on Hulu right now.

Episode: “Good Cop, Bad Cop” Season, 5, Episode 15

A Different World

A Different World aired for 6 seasons between 1987 and 1993

WARNING: The “n” word is used in this clip

Situation:

Ron places a bet with some students from a rival University in the parking lot of the football field before a big game. As the 3 students from the competing school walk into watch the game, Ron makes himself comfortable in his car, choosing to listen to the play by play on the radio. After the game, in which Hillman wins, the 3 come back and give Ron his winnings. After Ron collects his cash, some harsh words are exchanged on both ends. Watch below and see how the situation plays out in 2 different versions.

Episode: The Cat’s in the Cradle”, Season 5, Episode 14

Growing Pains

Growing Pains aired for 7 seasons between 1985 and 1992.

Situation:

As a newly hired gas station attendant, Mike experiences a bout of “white privilege”, something he doesn’t seem to be clued in to until his parents explain this to him, thus opening his eyes and changing his attitude. Mike’s obliviousness gets to me, however, it was important that it be represented. Now is the time for more episodes like this in our current family sitcom lineup. Issues like this just aren’t represented the way they used to be, and I feel that’s one thing that could have been fast forwarded into the following decades.

Episode: “Fortunate Son” Season 4, Episode 16

Family Ties

Family Ties aired for seven seasons between 1982 and 1989

Situation:

When Stephen’s good friend Gus’s family moves in to the neighborhood, the Keaton’s are excited and assume the community will welcome them with open arms. However, as Gus himself, may have predicted, the welcome didn’t last long. It wasn’t soon after they had settled in, that the Thompson family started receiving threatening phone calls and were ultimately robbed with obscene, racist graffiti left on the walls inside their home.

Unable to gain access to a series of clips, we offer you the powerful 2 part episode entitled, “All in the Neighborhood” right here.

2 Part Episode: “All in The Neighborhood” Season 7, Episodes 17 and 18

Golden Girls

The Golden Girls aired for 7 seasons between 1985 and 1992

Situation:

Golden Girls, was a very progressive show for it’s time. This is not the first time it (and it’s 1 season spin off, Golden Palace) has taken on cultural injustice and other sensitive topics. In this episode, Dorothy soon learns that her “sophisticated” new friend, local author Barbara Thorndyke, isn’t as wonderful as she had made her out to be. As the girls and their respective dates are gathered at the house in anticipation for a night out at the upscale Mortimer Club, Barbara calls Dorothy into the kitchen to reveal her true colors…and Dorothy isn’t having it.

Episode: Dorothy’s New Friend, Season 3, Episode 15

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air aired for 6 seasons between 1990 and 1996

Situation:

There are a couple of clips from The Fresh Prince we would like to see on this list, but we will start with this one. In this episode, Carlton and Will are pledging a fraternity. We all know Carlton has his quirks that make up a part of who he is. In the following clip, one of the “frat bros” suggests that he isn’t necessarily the type of person they are looking for. What he means to say is he doesn’t “act” black enough, or in other words, “acts” white. Carlton isn’t always one to stand up for himself, so I LOVE watching him own who is….hopefully you will too!

Episode: “Blood is Thicker Than Mud” Season 4, Episode 8

Situation:

This clip shows Will and Carlton getting pulled over. What is asked of them isn’t warranted in this situation. Will tries to advise Carlton during the “procedure”, that Will, unfortunately seems to be very familiar with. Carlton is blind to what is going on in front of him. His naivety towards the situation is just saddening.

Episode: “Mistaken Identity” Season 1, Episode 6

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers aired for 33 seasons between 1968 and 2001

Situation:

In 1964, a group of both black and white people jumped into the pool of a Florida motel. Although segregation was no longer the law, it was unable to stop the manager of the establishment from pouring acid into the pool in which they were swimming. Intimidation tactics like this were often used to keep black people out of certain areas, despite the change in laws. We feel that the subtle kindness Mr. Rogers showed to his local policemen, Officer Clemons, deserves a top spot on our list. In this clip he invites the Officer to cool off his feet on a hot summer day and also extends the use of his towel to dry off when done. This clip plainly shows what would be common, human, decency, at a time when protests were still being held against basic human rights.

Episode: 1065. Air date: May 9, 1969

Designing Women

Designing Women aired for 7 seasons between 1986 and 1983

Situation:

Unless you’re a HUGE Designing Women fan, you may be surprised to see it on this list. I was never a big fan, however, after coming across this bold and powerful clip, I think it’s time to start watching. I am aware it had a HUGE following, and I may be one of the few who had never seen this powerful exchange of words between Julia Sugarbaker and a homophobic client. In this episode, a young man named Kendall Dobbs who is dying of aids has come to ask the women if they would design his funeral. Watch the fiery exchange below….

Episode: “Killing all the Right People” Season 2, Episode 4

Honorable mentions:

Happy Days

Gimme A Break!

WARNING: The “n” word is used in this clip

Mork and Mindy

I apologize in advance for the quality of this clip, but I thought it was too good not to share!

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