Where’s The “Very Special Episode” In Today’s TV?
When it was announced Gary Coleman, 42, had passed away from a brain hemorrhage after a fall last week, those of us who remember his classic role as Arnold Jackson in ’80s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes reminisced on the “good ol’ days” of television.
Originally titled 45 Minutes From Harlem (while in pre-production), Diff’rent Strokes starred Coleman as Arnold and Todd Bridges as his older brother Willis. They played two children from a struggling Harlem neighborhood whose deceased mother previously worked for rich white widower, Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), who eventually adopted them. They lived in a penthouse with Mr. Drummond, his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato) and their maid.
While some lamented the concept of Diff’rent Strokes (a rich white man coming to the rescue of two disadvantaged African-American children) most of us appreciated the issues tackled in the storylines, particularly in the “Very Special Episodes.” When the “Very Special Episode” heading was announced at the beginning, as a child you knew you were in for a lesson—and for once in your life, you happily sat there to learn it. From a pedophiliac bicycle-shop owner who attempted to molest Arnold and his friend Dudley, to Arnold and Willis being rejected by Mr. Drummond’s old prep school because they didn’t meet the criteria of the entrance exam, and Kimberly’s new love Roger not allowing his sister to go to their school’s costume ball with Willis because of his race, viewers were glued to their screens to see what the outcome would be.
Here is part two of the “The Bicycle Man” episode:
I was very young when the show first aired but reruns continued throughout the ’80s and ’90s. As I watched all the way from my home in Australia, it gave me strong insight into the issues affecting America at the time. Is there a show today that tackles real-life issues as boldly as Diff’rent Strokes did? These same issues are as prevalent today as they were then, yet I’m scratching my head to think of TV shows that continue to shine light on society in such an unapologetic way.