The Disney Channel hasn’t been making its odd tween sitcoms very long, even though it feels like they’ve always been around. The channel has launched careers (and failed to launch others), but wasn’t even around for the glory years of the “very special episode”. You remember those — the “very special episode” would feature a big, important message like “don’t do drugs” or “tell a parent if you’re being bullied” or “stay out of the rain if you’re bringing a cake to a birthday party”. It feels like those episodes dominated my childhood, and it feels like they’ve gone away since then. That said, I dug around and found some recent Disney Channel shows that did teach us a little something… about ourselves. Here they are!
“Down A Tree”, Good Luck Charlie
Meet Taylor. Taylor is Charlie’s friend. She also has parents who are both women. That’s right, Disney finally got down with same sex parentage. The episode “Down a Tree” came out in 2014, so it feels weird including it here, except for that fact that people were outraged by the existence of lesbians, a thing literally every single person who gets the Disney Channel is aware of.
“Gotcha Day”, Jessie
Adoption — let’s talk about it! “Gotcha Day” is a reference to the anniversary of when an adopted child became a member of their family. Almost all the kids on Jessie were adopted, so the show already dealt with the subject quite a bit, but this episode was particularly explicitly about the complicated feelings that come with adoption.
“Been Here All Along”, Hannah Montana
APPRECIATE YOUR FAMILY, BECAUSE SOME PEOPLE DON’T HAVE ONE! Also, support the troops. That’s the moral of this very special episode, where Miley cancels a day with her Dad so she can hang out with Jessie, only to realize that Jessie’s Dad is stationed overseas and they never get to see each other, so she should appreciate time with her Dad more. Of course, if she hadn’t blown her Dad off in the first place, she never would’ve learned this lesson, so this creates quite a paradox, eh?
“Inner Beauty”, Lizzy McGuire
It’s weird that kid’s shows deal with eating disorders so much less frequently these days. In the ’90s, there were tons of specials about eating disorders. This episode of Lizzy McGuire doesn’t even use the word “anorexia”, even though that’s what it’s dealing with. While that’s a strike against it, one point for the episode is that it actually looks at the fact that eating disorders aren’t always about “looking thin”, it’s a mental illness that can be motivated by a ton of different factors.
“There Goes The Bride”, That’s So Raven
“There Goes The Bride” isn’t about a capital “I” issue, but it’s still the rare episode of That’s So Raven that deals with real feelings and situations. Raven’s “friend” Devon’s father is getting remarried, and that means Devon is moving to… SEATTLE! *Hordes of people begin screaming* But this means they aren’t going to see each other for at least a long time. The episode ends, and guess what! Devon leaves. Raven is sad. Loss is hard, especially when you’re young and don’t have much control over where you go.
“Beauties & Bullies”, Austin & Ally
Online bullying isn’t quite the cause it was a few years ago, but much like its offline counterpart, it’ll probably never stop being an issue. In this episode of Austin & Ally, Trish is bullied online because she got the lead in the school play, so she seeks revenge! But guess how many problems revenge has ever solved? That’s right, none! (Well, except on Game of Thrones. Then, maybe, one?) This “Very Special Episode” is so special that it actually ends with the cast giving a PSA about bullying, which feels like something from a bygone era.
“Girl Meets Farkle”, Girl Meets World
In this episode of Girl Meets World, Farkle starts up a new friendship with someone named “Smackle” (boy, this was a tough one to decipher) and starts to wonder if maybe she has Asperger’s syndrome. Of all the PSAs on this list, this one feels the most modern — the understanding of autism is growing, and twenty years ago the message of this episode might’ve been “Stop being weird, you difficult child.” It’s all a very positive affair about accepting the fact that everyone is different.
Have you learned any lessons from television?