News Flash – the world is always changing. People’s devotion to colors change, their tastes in popular music and movies change. Certainly, taste in what is acceptable on television changes with just about every new season and new show. With the growth of social media, all of these changes seem to happen far more frequently. It probably hasn’t, we’re just more knowledgeable of these changes from day to day. There have been plenty of TV shows through the ages that once seemed tame, but the concept today would envelope pushing to downright deplorable. The Honeymooners is still heralded by plenty of fans, and that show threatened spousal abuse every episode.
But sometimes what’s acceptable changes in the blink of an episode. TV often tries to push boundaries. More often than not to great success. When fans and critics alike praise a radical episode, the landscape of what can work on TV shifts. These episodes and storylines often move the cultural zeitgeist further for its time. Sometimes though, an episode of a TV show is a little too rough around the edges for the masses to accept, that can happen too.
Even still, what’s acceptable for pop culture across the world can change and then time takes hold and changes, it effectively retroactively makes the episode no longer influential, but cringeworthy. The shows on this list all have had at least one episode or more that might have been controversial for its time but is way too outlandish to air nowadays.
Here are 25 Sitcom Storylines That Wouldn’t Fly Today.
25 Married...With Children – S02E13: “You Better Watch Out”
Already a season in and Married...With Children had established itself as a far cry from the sitcoms of the time. So when the raunchiest sitcom on TV puts a disclaimer before their first ever Christmas episode, you better heed the warning. As the Bundys get ready to celebrate the holidays, Al is lamenting the bigger better mall that opened up near his mall.
To ring in the holidays, the new mall had Santa parachute in to give out presents. Thanks to a mishap, Jolly St. Nick crashed and died in the Bundys yard, forcing Al to save Christmas as only he could.
24 Seinfeld – S04E11: “The Contest”
For a show that was supposedly about nothing, Seinfeld broke all kinds of new ground. This was a show that had laughs about shrinkage, male girdles, and the soup lines in New York. Nothing was off topic or off the table.
There’s no chance you could pull off an episode like “The Contest” today. We’ve grown increasingly more and more PC. So even with all of the different euphemisms that the group used for being the Master Of Their Domains, it wouldn’t be enough and initial premise would’ve never gotten out of the writer’s room.
23 Family Guy – S03E22: “When You Wish Upon A Weinstein”
Right out of the pipeline, Family Guy was not going to be Fox’s replacement for The Simpsons. Creator Seth MacFarlane’s crass comedy about the Griffins made Matt Groening look like Shakespeare.
The show was unceremoniously canceled several times during its early days, thanks to how far they were willing to push boundaries. One such episode was (at the time) only released as part of a DVD set. Peter basically takes a Jewish Man to try and help Chris with his math. All before thinking if Chris becomes Jewish, he’ll be smart.
22 The Simpsons – S13E15: “Blame It On Lisa”
Every so often when The Simpsons happen to offend someone, it was usually in an “oh no, you didn’t” sort of way. However, thirteen years into the show’s run, they found a way to upset the entire nation of Brazil.
In “Blame It On Lisa,” the family and Lisa head to the country to try and find her pen pal, they find all kinds of stereotypes that offended the Brazilian travel board enough to want to sue Fox, log before the army of rats showed up during the episode.
21 South Park – S05E04: “Scott Tenorman Must Die”
This episode is seldom mentioned on lists like this. Probably because of how much more outlandish the show got through the years. However, there’s a whole lot in this episode that you could never get away with today (unless you’re South Park).
Fifth-grader Scott Tenorman pulls a prank on Cartman that has him eat a part of his nether regions. Clearly, the punk had no idea who he was messing with and was met with Hannibal Lecter-like repercussions for his crimes.
20 How I Met Your Mother – S09E14: “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment In Slapmarra”
Besides the entire last season of How I Met Your Mother being a complete letdown, they also decided to offend several groups throughout the remaining episodes. The elderly might not have been too offended by being parodied as zombies, but an entire episode involving the final slap is the big offense here.
It was only a few years ago that this episode aired, and it incited some to create the Hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism. The ep was supposed to be in the vein of old Kung-Fu movies, and it was. However, someone forgot to tell the writers that it’s kind of wrong to put American actors in Asian roles.
19 Saved By The Bell – S03E13: “Running Zack”
When child sociopath Zack Morris was met with the task of having to make a presentation about his ancestors, he did what any irresponsible teenager would do. He shirked off his homework until the last possible second and then crafted an awful story about he hailed from a great tribe of Native Americans.
Zack pulled stuff like this all of time, but this bigotry towards what wound up being his own culture was a new low for him. Like the Funny Or Die series says, Zack Morris Is Trash.
18 Two And A Half Men – S12E15 & 16: “Of Course, He’s Dead”
Obviously, some of the shows on this list are always offensive and have always been known for being offensive. So, when they cross a line, that line is generally barbed wire. The entire concept of Two And A Half Men was offensive – putting a really young kid (at the time) in a house with complete hedonist that would make Caligula jealous.
In the show’s finale, it is finally revealed that the crazy stalker Rose had not only faked her quarry, Charlie’s passing, but she’s actually had him locked up for four years. That might sound like a Law And Order episode, but it was always par for the course for this series.
17 Family Matters – S08E07: “Stevil”
As if creating a suave version of himself to get with Laura wasn’t bad enough! Family Matters Halloween show one year had the neighbor boy try his hand at ventriloquism. Then the dummy got hit by lightning and Stevil was born.
The dummy doesn’t just eliminate every one of the Winslows, he does so in a fashion that would make some horror movies look like sitcoms. While it was just a Halloween show, nowadays unless its Treehouse Of Horror, Halloween episodes are more treats than tricks.
16 Diff’rent Strokes – S05E16 & 17: “The Bicycle Man, Parts 1 & 2”
During the eighties, a lot of sitcoms would have “A Very Special Episode.” These episodes would go right for the jugular and try to address a real-world problem. Sometimes with the show’s sense of humor intact, other times the veneer was completely dropped in favor of the story.
One of the most famous instances of this was on Diff’rent Strokes. Mr. Horton, the owner of a bike shop lures Arnold and his friend Dudley in more and more with ice cream and girlie-mags. He asks Arnold to keep these meetings a secret. It’s all downright creepy because it should be, and it never should have been fair for a 22-minute happy go lucky sitcom. No matter how serious an issue the show wanted to tackle.
15 The Mindy Project – S03E04: “I Slipped”
Relationships have long been fodder for sitcom fuel. But The Mindy Project’s third season episode, “I Slipped” broke new ground (no pun intended). Trying new things has always been a topic of conversation for couples. So, when Danny decided to be adventurous and go for the gusto, so to speak, Mindy doesn’t buy his excuse “I slipped” and decides to investigate.
For over fifty years, sitcom relationships have never really delved into depictions of what positions the deed can be done in. Thanks to this episode and the current climate, it might be another fifty years before it happens again.
14 Tiny Toon Adventures – S02E03: “Elephant Issues, One Beer”
Out of all of the shows on this list, Tiny Toon Adventures is probably the most innocent. It’s just younger versions of our favorite Looney Tunes characters on their own madcap antics. For some reason, the writers decided to try and teach little kids about the dangers of driving under the influence.
In “One Beer,” Buster, Hampton, and Plucky get lit, drive off a cliff, and pass away. You read that right. The ep was banned in the US, because cartoons passing away due to this was a little too harsh for afternoon cartoons.
13 Ren And Stimpy – “Man’s Best Friend”
As one of the original Nicktoons, The Ren And Stimpy Show was inspired lunacy for adults, while disguised as a kids show. But it was so popular that Nick let well enough alone and let creator, John Kricfalusi have his fun.
Until an unaired episode from the second season forced Nickelodeon to not only reign in the show, but its creator as well. “Man’s Best Friend” would have had Ren beat the heck out of George Liquor with an oar. It led to John K. being fired and was not aired until the show returned on Spike in 2002, but it’s still pretty disturbing even for a cartoon.
12 The Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfeiffer – S01E05: “Pilot”
Similar to the knuckleheads who tried to put Heil Hitler, I’m Home on the air in the UK, several morons thought it would be a good idea to try and make another dark chapter of history into a light-hearted insensitive sitcom.
The Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfeiffer actually lasted four episodes before the plug was pulled in favor of good taste. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, the writers realized they could make a show like this, they never debated if they should.
11 You Can’t Do That On Television – S08E02: “Adoption”
“Kids can be cruel” is an old saying. Because they learn everything from their elders and have no filter as to what is completely wrong to say. But the writers behind kid’s sketch show, You Can’t Do That On Television should have known better when they wrote an episode about Adoption.
The thought of making fun of kids for being adopted is completely deplorable. Toss in jokes about abuse and neglect make this another bad mark for a Nickelodeon series. With all of the pain and anguish families go through just to be able to adopt a child, there is no way this episode would air today. The friggin’ thing actually aired twice before being pulled.
10 Too Close For Comfort – S05E10: “For Every Man, There’s Two Women”
There is an episode of Law And Order: SVU where a man claims that he was taken advantage of by two women. Somehow, it was a sitcom’s “Very Special Episode” that beat them to the topic nearly 20 years earlier. On the eighties series, Too Close For Comfort’s episode, “For Every Man, There’s Two Women,” Monroe states not only was he taken, but he was taken by two women. They demanded that he cooperate, and he had to cooperate all night.
The entire frightening ordeal is played up for laughs by the other characters, and even Monroe from time to time. But to watch this episode today would be a rough 22 minutes to get through and laugh about it.
9 Married…With Children – S03E10: “I’ll See You In Court”
Banned episodes are all over the TV landscape. An episode can be banned for a variety of reasons, but when there’s an episode banned of a series that just about every episode is worthy of banning, then you know you’re in for some insidious and nefarious subject matter. Submitted for your approval, “I’ll See You In Court,” the banned episode of Married...With Children.
In what seems like the makings of a police procedural, Al and Peg head to a hotel for some husband and wife relations. They decide to watch a movie to get them in the mood, and are shocked when they realize it’s the neighbors, Steve and Marcy. Once all four realize the hotel is taping them, they decide to sue.
8 All In The Family – S08E03: “Edith’s 50th Birthday”
You could never even have a show like All In The Family today. Archie Bunker is a relic from another time - the lovable bigot with a heart of gold. Most episodes involved all kinds of crass comments from Archie that are challenged by his “Meathead” son-in-law. But perhaps a family’s worst nightmare happened when the Bunkers celebrated Edith’s 50th Birthday.
While the family is prepping for her surprise birthday, she is taken and hurt. The second half of the episode has Edith and the entire family going through all of the motions that you might find a family go through on SVU.
7 Beavis And Butt-head – S03E01: “Comedians”
As if smashing frogs with a bat for fun wasn’t bad enough Beavis And Butt-head pushed moronic mayhem to new heights in the first episode of the third season. The idiots decided to try their hand at stand-up comedy. They inadvertently burn the place down. Literally one month later, a 5-year-old kid burned down the family trailer, eliminating his little sister in the process.
Gallows humor is great and all, but when it supposedly inspires real-life incidents, perhaps it’s time to quit while you’re ahead.
6 Curb Your Enthusiasm – S08E03: “Palestinian Chicken”
Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm whole point was to see how offensive the character of Larry David could be while the entire audience was in on the joke. Fans all knew the show was in good-nature, if not occasionally mean-spirited fun (much like David’s previous Seinfeld). The episode in question that ventures a little too far, even by HBO standards is “Palestinian Chicken.”
Larry begins the ep by not believing his friend, Marty when he decided to rededicate himself to Judaism. Things get a little more racially charged when Larry muses how it’d be easy for a Jewish man to be unfaithful to his wife in a Palestinian restaurant, which is what exactly what he does. He gets down with a Palestinian woman while the two hurl racial epithets at each other.
5 That 70’s Show – S06E05: “I’m Free”
In today’s current political climate, you would never see a character like That 70’s Show’s Fez, much less the show’s patriarch, Red. The end of the show’s fifth season had Fez (which is short for Foreign Exchange Student) marry Red’s baby girl, Lori in order to stay in the country. Red had a heart attack at the news.
What would now be a very controversial topic continued a few shows into the next season. An INS agent comes to town to check on the validity of their marriage. All the while Red keeps taunting Fez the whole time that he’s going to spill the beans.
4 Friends – S07E04: “The One With Rachel’s Assistant”
A man picking his jaw up off the floor at the sight of a beautiful woman or a woman sheepishly fawning over a man. Both situations have long been rife for quick laughs on sitcoms, but when it’s a person in a position of power leering at their subordinate, that could be misconstrued several ways from Sunday.
Rachel Greene was certainly not above falling head over heels for men on Friends. However, in “The One With Rachel’s Assistant,” she hires a dude to be her assistant, just because he’s cute. Then she gets annoyed when he takes a shine to Phoebe instead.
3 Married...With Children – S03E06: “Her Cups Runneth Over”
Women all over the world probably can understand Peg Bundy’s plight when her favorite brand of bras is discontinued. Steve explains to Al that there is a specialty shop that might have her support system and off the duo go on Married’s raunchiest (and one of its funniest) episodes ever.
Some of the jokes might not play so well these days, but two men trying to find the perfect bra for one of their wives, it’s not at all PC anymore (and it wasn’t then; a protest started because of this ep). Like some of the other entries on this list, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t pretty funny.
2 Seinfeld – S04E19: “The Implant”
“You double-dipped the chip,” sure as the driven snow wasn’t the only memorable line in this episode of Seinfeld. Guest-starring the vivacious Teri Hatcher as Jerry’s girlfriend, Sidra, “The Implant” dove into territory never before seen on TV. Like the old commercial says “is it real, or Memorex?”
There would be about 973 protests about this episode and its depiction of women. Much less the scenes where Elaine and Sidra are in a schvitz together. Take the main storyline, George’s attempt to get discount airline tickets for a funeral, and Kramer swearing he saw controversial author Salmon Rushdie; and you have the makings of a huge hashtag #CancelSeinfeld campaign should this ep be released today.
1 South Park – S14E05 & 06: “200/201”
Comedy Central censored images of the prophet during the South Park episode, “Cartoon Wars.” Several years later, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were at it again, this time celebrating their 200 and 201st episodes.
The ep featured everyone the show has ever ripped into come back for revenge. As for the subject matter of the show, these two were fairly tame. However, because of the imagery of Mohammed and the threats of radical groups, they stand as the only two eps to never be repeated on Comedy Central.
Do you know of any other sitcom storylines that wouldn't fly today? Let us know in the comments!