They say laughter is the best medicine and for many viewers sitcoms are addictive. Comedies bring audiences over-the-top hilarity absent in the mundane routine of everyday life. Through a long-running show, audiences grow close to characters as they journey toward their goals or achieve their happy endings. On the flip side, there is nothing more cathartic than watching larger-than-life versions of people we recognize (and dislike) get their comeuppance.
But, occasionally, there are scenes in sitcoms where things get way too real and no one is laughing.
Some of these jarring scenes from beloved comedies can be genuinely impactful. Due to their nature they initiate a sudden change of gears, and tears and thoughtfulness can follow some of these darker or more realistic moments.
Other times, some scenes can take audiences off guard in a less positive way. There are moments when audiences have to question where the joke is, and what sort of person ever thought this was funny. Playing on stereotypes can be liberating and reveal something about society but making fun of those same stereotypes can become hurtful and inappropriate.
Whether you enjoy these real punches to the gut or wish your comedy would stick to being light-hearted escapism is down to personal taste.
Comedy is subjective, of course, but here are 15 Jarring Scenes That Take You Out Of Sitcoms.
15 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Will gets shot
Most ‘90s kids only need to hear the first few beats of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s opening song before launching into an impromptu rendition.
Starring a young Will Smith, more or less playing himself, it was a laugh-a-minute show about Will moving from his rough Philadelphia neighborhood to live with his wealthy Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian in Bel-Air.
It explored some hard truths about growing up but none so serious as the Season 5 episode “Bullets Over Bel-Air”.
While getting money out at an ATM, Carlton and Will are held up at gunpoint. Will takes a bullet for Carlton and is hospitalized. In response, Carlton visits Will and reveals that he's bought a gun so it will never happen again. A distraught Will tells Carlton to give him the gun, insisting that he saved his life so he owes him. Carlton leaves the gun and there is not a dry eye in the room as Will removes the bullets.
14 How I Met Your Mother – Marshall’s Dad
How I Met Your Mother is no stranger to sending its poor audience swerving from raucous laughter to uncontrollable sobbing.
The show has done sad storylines in the past but these were usually standard romantic stuff – break-ups, bust-ups, and rejections. In its sixth season, off Marshall’s dad.
In the middle of an ongoing plot around Marshall and Lily trying for a baby, the writers sent the story in a direction truly upsetting in its realism.
The actors themselves were kept in the dark about the final scene. The original script had Lily saying she was pregnant, but on the scene's actual shooting day, the producers reveal that the scene would turn out differently. The scene where Lily tells Marshall the terrible news was done in only one take.
It was a heart-wrenching twist at the end of an otherwise light episode.
13 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Geisha
After being trapped in a bunker for 15 years as part of a doomsday cult, the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt emerges to reclaim her life and explore modern New York City.
With a cult following of its own, it seems Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can do no wrong. Yet, there has been controversy surrounding its portrayal of race.
In “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” Titus goes full "yellowface" to star in a one-man show about the Japanese geisha he claims to have been in a past life.
When word of the show gets out, the internet is furious. Yet when the angry audience see him sing, it's so beautiful that they completely change their minds. It is an incredibly tone-deaf episode where the show censors any valid anger over racist casting. It may be silly to be angered over Titus’ show but, in real life, Asian actors are often overlooked in favour of American casting - Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell being just two recent examples.
12 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter – "Goodbye" to John Ritter
ABC’s 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter was a quietly popular family sitcom that starred a young Kayley Cuoco, alongside John Ritter and Katey Sagal as her on-screen parents. The couple play middle-class parents of three with have comedically strict rules for their teens in regards to dating, heralding predictably amusing antics.
Renewed for a second season, the cast were a few episodes into filming when actor John Ritter tragically passed away at only 54.
Some viewers thought there was no point continuing at all, while others suggested they simply replace the actor. The crew work hard to do justice to the loss of their co-star and friend by having Ritter’s character pass away in the show.
Rather than exploit the loss, the show try to deal with the tragedy with sincerity, making a one-hour episode, "Goodbye", as a tribute to Ritter's character.
11 Boy Meets World – Shawn's Father’s Ghost
The coming-of-age sitcom Boy Meets World by nature explores some truths about life and growing up.
The show chronicles Cory and his friends moving from their middle-school days to college, and on to married life. Cory’s best friend, Shawn, serves as the secondary protagonist and foil for Cory, as Shawn has a rebellious personality that contrasts Cory’s awkwardness.
Shawn has the most heart-rending plotlines through the show. He was never close to his father, Chet, who left him to fend for himself most of the time, but was still stricken by his father’s death of a heart attack.
Chet returns as a kind of ghostly spirit guide to Shawn, only to inform him that the woman he thought was his mother was, in fact, not his biological parent. Rather, his mother was a dancer who had deserted him after birth. Are viewers still meant to be laughing?
10 Scrubs - Dr. Cox’s Breakdown
Although undeniably goofy, Scrubs never shied away from genuine emotion, with the friendship and romances of the main characters a shining light through the gags.
One episode stands out as having a raw and emotional scene that is impossible to watch without tearing up.
In “My Lunch”, a misdiagnosis causes the death of several patients. In an otherwise silly episode - revolving around the antics of the deviant "The Tod" and J.D.’s pitiful quest to have lunch with his reluctant mentor, Dr. Cox- the emotive scene is a real punch to the gut.
Dr. Cox is usually stoic and sarcastic so seeing him cut up over the misdiagnosis that costs the life of three patients is even more heart-wrenching.
The show absolutely nailed the use of music with The Fray’s "How To Save A Life" playing over the meaningful scene.
9 Friends – The One Where Siblings Kiss
Sibling love can be beautiful. Ross and Monica represent how close siblings shouldn't be - with their dancing, their wrestling, their tendency to sit in each other’s laps, and that time they made out with each other in the dark, the pair really push the envelope for sibling closeness.
In “The One Where the Stripper Cries”, one of the last episodes of the show, there comes an uncomfortable reveal.
In college, Monica and Rachel went to go visit Chandler and Ross. At midnight, Ross returned to his room and ended up sharing a kiss in the darkness with someone that he believed to be Rachel. Little did he know that the girl was, in reality, Monica. Monica referred to the man as her “midnight mystery kisser.”
Eventually the truth comes out and the siblings’ disgust is only eclipsed by the audience’s.
8 King of Queens – Slave Ownership
Another popular ‘90s sitcom, The King of Queens revolves around a working-class couple, their friends, and their eccentric father.
Arthur is Carrie's father who moves into their house in the basement after he (purposefully) burns down his own house by cooking on his old hotplate. An oddball who causes regular chaos for the working-class family, Arthur takes it to a new level in Season 6 episode “Affidavit Justice” when he begins tracing his ancestry.
Arthur learns that his ancestors owned slaves, so he tries to make "reparations" to Deacon, Arthur’s son-in-law’s friend and fellow delivery driver. To make things so much worse, when he then finds out his ancestors did not, in fact, own slaves after all, he demands repayment in unpaid labor from Deacon. There is such a thing as taking a gag too far.
7 The Office - Brian The Boom Guy
The Office hit US sitcom came in the guise of a mockumentary on a group of typical office workers experiencing relatable, if exaggerated, office clashes.
In "Customer Loyalty", the twelfth episode of the ninth season, audiences get to finally see behind-the-scenes of the documentary and not everyone was pleased.
The episode introduces the character of Brian the Boom Operator, who comes out from behind the camera for the first time in ten years to comfort Pam after an emotional scene.
This controversial moment broke the fourth wall and introduced a handsome character who became a love interest for the married office worker. It seemed a little odd Brian would suddenly come out to comfort Pam rather than for any of the more life-threatening antics in which the Dunder-Mifflin gang had engaged over nine seasons.
6 Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Racist Cops
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an over-the-top sitcom that hurls out cheeky one-liners at a rapid pace. Revolving around the NYPD detectives in Brooklyn's 99th Precinct, the show is often heart-warming but seldom serious. It has never claimed to be an accurate take on police work.
In the episode “Moo Moo” Sergeant Terry Jeffords, played by the incomparable Terry Crews, is arrested for "lurking" in his own neighborhood while looking for his daughter's lost blanket one night.
The white cop frisks and manhandles Terry. Terry tries to explain he is also a cop but is told not to raise his voice at the officer. Of course, he is swiftly free to go and the other officer explains apologetically that he looked like the sort that he is often called to investigate in the area (read: a black man).
The subject is handled well but it stands out as a very real issue to tackle in the slapstick show.
5 The Big Bang Theory – Penny and Leonard's Dungeon
It is many nerds' dream. Kayley Cuoco as Penny, dressed in fishnets, a tight red corset, whip in hand. Handcuffed to the wall beside her is Johnny Galecki’s Leonard, also giving audience’s an eyeful in a surprisingly skimpy leather harness number.
It turns out this dungeon is a nightmare being had by up-tight Sheldon. Poor Sheldon is convinced that Leonard and Penny are going to turn his bedroom into a den of debauchery.
So racy that it ended up being banned in the The Big Bang Theory’s run in the United Kingdom, the scene certainly felt out of place on the usually family-friendly comedy.
After ten seasons, perhaps the writers felt they needed to do something drastic to keep viewers coming back for more. Based on the media reaction, it looks like it worked.
4 Roseanne – Wishful Thinking
The most watched television show in the United States from 1989 to 1990, Roseanne is considered one of the first sitcoms to realistically portray a blue-collar American family. Then they won the lottery.
In the show’s ninth season, the previously struggling Connors now get to have increasingly ridiculous adventures with their newfound money. Everything changes, and not for the better. Roseanne and Dan are now rich, but they are no longer the relatable couple audiences grew to love.
However, in the series finale, the audience receives a shocking reversal.
The entire ninth season was a fantasy. In reality, Dan's heart attack near the end of season 8 was fatal and the Conner family did not win the lottery. To cope with her grief, Roseanne writes a book. Although based on her own life, she decided to change the things that she didn’t like.
What a fundamentally depressing scene to end the series on.
3 Blackadder Goes Forth – Goodbyeee
"Goodbyeee" is the final episode of the British historical sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth. The episode was first broadcast on BBC1 in 1989, shortly before Armistice Day.
The slapstick comedy, with Rowan Atkinson’s infamous Blackadder, Tony Robinson’s absurd Baldrick, and Hugh Laurie’s hapless George, portrays everything from the Middle Ages to Queen Elizabeth I. The fourth and final series is set in the least likely place for a comedy: the First World War.
The whole series revolves around Blackadder’s avoidance of fighting and tendency to do anything to save his own skin. The last scene has the characters being given the order to advance out of the trenches into no man’s land, towards machine gun fire and certain death.
Blackadder says, in an uncharacteristically sincere way, that he doesn't want to die.
It is one of the most devastating moments in sitcom history as, right up until the last moment, no one thinks they will actually go through with it.
2 Fawlty Towers – The Major's Racist Joke
John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, wrote and starred in Fawlty Towers, an eccentric British Comedy about the seethingly rude hotel owner and his disastrous staff.
Although it only ever ran for two seasons, it had a perfect storm of slapstick humour and irreverent dialogue. One of the most famous moments is a crazed Basil goose-stepping in the episode “The Germans” and shouting “Don’t mention the war!”
However, it was not this silly walk that jarred with viewers. A line from Major Gowen complaining about a woman referring to Indian Cricketers with a racist slur, only to find the joke was that he thought she was using the wrong racist slur, was removed from reruns of the show.
It is clear to many that the Major’s racism is what is being made fun of in the exchange, but it still perpetuates racist dialogue that should really be left in the past.
1 Saved By the Bell - Jessie's Song
Saved By The Bell originally only ran from 1989 to 1993 but this light high-school comedy is a must-watch.
One scene from “Jessie’s Song” stands out in fans’ minds.
The premise was simple: Jessie becomes addicted to caffeine pills as she struggles to be a perfect student.
In the original script, Jessie was hooked on something harder than caffeine pills, but the NBC censors vetoed that, thinking the moment too serious for Saturday mornings. Even after reducing the substance to caffeine, the emotion portrayed in that scene stayed with audiences.
The scene plays out in Jessie’s bedroom when Zack comes over to pick her up for a singing performance. Jessie is freaking out about how little time she has for all her commitments and runs to grab her pills. Zack tries to calm her and the two struggle over the pills. All the while Jessie repeats: “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! … I’m so, so scared.”
What scene jarred you out of your favorite sitcom? Let us know in the comments.