There seems to be a television genre for every emotion known to man. Some are made to create suspense, others are meant to make you feel good about yourself, and some are even intended to make their viewers appreciate what they have in life. Then there’s the sitcom. The short, 30-minute stories are just enough to make us bust a gut laughing and then quickly disappear, leaving us wanting more. Some of them feature an overarching story-line while others are just random, singular scenarios every week. Either way sitcoms are a tent pole of the television industry. However, occasionally the sitcoms we know and love can take a more serious turn. Sometimes they hit us with a gut punch of sadness that makes us bawl our eyes out, or sometimes they give us a feeling of pure warmth that we can’t help but get misty eyed at. We’re not crying, you’re crying! Here are 15 Moments Your Favorite Sitcom Made You Cry.
15. Brian’s Death (Family Guy)
Family Guy was one of the rare cases of TV revivals that worked. After three initial seasons, the show was cancelled by FOX. Just a few short years later, strong DVD sales and vocal fans persuaded the network to bring Family Guy back to the airwaves. It was probably a good decision; the sitcom is still going strong to this day and has become one of the most beloved shows the network has ever created (well, minus that other family). Fans tune in every Sunday night to watch the crazy escapades of Peter, Lois, Stewie, Brian, Chris, and, um… what’s her name again?
In 2013, showrunner Seth Macfarlane decided it was time to shake things up. In the third episode of the twelfth season, entitled “Life of Brian,” the family dog Brian Griffin is struck by a car while playing field hockey with Stewie. He is rushed to the vet, but the doctor informs the family that his injuries are too much. What follows is a heartbreaking round of goodbyes from the family, ending with Brian telling them how much he loves them all before he passes away before their eyes. Of course, we all know now that Brian’s death was retconned just a month after the episode aired. But at the time, this was a devastating scene that came as such a shock in a show that had made its reputation on delivering laughs.
14. Chandler and Monica Find Out They Can’t Have Kids (Friends)
Chandler Bing and Monica Geller were the first of the group to pair off and get married on Friends. While Rachel and Ross kept flirting with their on-again, off-again relationship all the way up until the finale, Chandler and Monica’s loving relationship was the one people in the ‘90s looked up to. They started dating in season four, and got married in season seven.
Logically, the next step in the couple’s relationship was to start a family. After a long period of unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, the two go to the fertility clinic to solve the problem. Sadly the tests come back with grim results. Chandler is alone when the doctor calls, and instantly viewers can tell something is wrong. He goes from cracking jokes and smiling to somber in an instant. When Monica returns home, he informs her of the bad news by trying to inject a little bit of humor into the situation. Monica isn’t having any of it, her voice cracking as she asks, “What does this mean for us?” Chandler responds, “We can keep trying, but there’s a good chance this may never happen for us.” The two embrace and say that they’ll figure it out, but viewers are left crushed at the sight of the happy couple reduced to tears.
13. Abed’s Film (Community)
Community had a small viewership, but an enormous cult following. The status of the show always felt like a guessing game for fans – was the show canceled? How many episodes were there going to be? What character is getting written off this time? Even with its nebulous status, Community has endured through six highly-praised seasons (although we’re still waiting on the movie). One of the most popular characters on the show is Abed, a nerdy twenty-something who is obsessed with T.V. shows and films to the point of ridiculousness. Often times Abed makes meta, fourth-wall breaking jokes at the show’s expense.
In the third episode of the first season, “Introduction to Film,” the rebellious Brita defies the wishes of Abed’s father and signs him up for a film class. Throughout the entire episode Abed follows his friends around with a camcorder, filming them for his documentary. Naturally, this is a source of humor and annoyance throughout the episode. At the episode’s climax, Jeff, Brita, Abed, and his dad (though reluctantly) sit down to watch the completed product. Much to their surprise, Abed superimposed his mother and father’s faces over all of the footage, and uses it to tell the story of his life. According to the documentary Abed was a screw up who was nothing but a hindrance to his family, and his wacky antics are what led to his parents’ divorce. The film ends, and the camera cuts to Abed’s father with tears streaming down his face. He embraces his son, tells him how much he loves him, and says that he doesn’t blame him for the divorce. Seeing the normally angry and stoic papa Abed break down is a touching moment in an otherwise funny series.
12. The Series Finale (Roseanne)
The show Roseanne, starring Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, was the epitome of the “blue collar” shows of the ‘90s. The Connors were just your average family, full of dysfunction and always striving to make a buck. They fought, they laughed, they cried; they were a family. Then came the final season.
In the show’s ninth season, Roseanne won the lottery. The often-struggling Connors now got to travel the world, renovate their house, and begin associating with the wealthy families of the neighborhood. Season nine is when many fans felt the show “jumped the shark.” Now that Roseanne and Dan were rich, everything we loved about them changed for the worse. However, in the series finale, the audience is dealt a gut punch – the entire show was a story that Roseanne had written in the her novel. Although based on her own life, she decided to change the things that she didn’t like. In reality, Dan had passed away from a heart attack and the Connors were still poor. She looks over her book one more time before depressingly sitting on her couch as the show fades to black. Depressing is almost too kind of a word for this scene; Dan is dead and Roseanne seems to be in a state of perpetual sadness. The worst part is that it’s the end. We are left to assume she lived out the rest of her days in her sad, unsatisfying life.
11. The Coach and his daughter (Cheers)
Ernie Pantusso (better known as just “Coach”) was Sam Malone’s old baseball coach turned bartender on the show Cheers. Coach was there since the beginning; he appeared in the show’s pilot, and continued to appear in every episode up until his actor’s death in 1985. He was a warm-hearted and wise man, always giving out life advice to the bar’s many patrons. His wife, who we are told has been dead for many years, never appears on the show. However, his daughter does.
In the fifth episode of Cheers’ first season the Coach’s daughter Lisa shows up to the bar with her new fiancé, Roy. Coach absolutely hates Roy. He’s rude to Lisa and acts obnoxious in everything he does. Finally having enough, Coach takes Lisa aside and tells her that he forbids her from marrying Roy because he’s no good for her. Lisa, reduced to tears, confesses that she knows her fiancé is horrible and that their relationship is a sham. The only reason she wants to marry him is because he is the first man to ever want her and she’s afraid that there will never be another. Coach scoffs at this idea and tells her that she’s beautiful and that she looks like her mother. Lisa agrees, saying, “Exactly! I look just like mom. And mom wasn’t…” before she can finish her sentence, her father gives her a heartbreaking look of confusion. His voice cracks as he tells Lisa that her mother got more beautiful every day and that she is the most beautiful kid in the world. This entry may not be as sad as a death or a farewell, but it brings us to tears every time.
10. “Good Luck, Everyone” (Blackadder)
Blackadder was Rowan Atkinson’s breakout role. This BBC show followed the somewhat villainous Edmund Blackadder and his sidekick through different historical periods. Although it is never stated outright, it is believed that each progressive series followed the descendants of the last Blackadder. The first series was set in the Middle Ages, the second in Elizabethan England, the third in the late 19th Century, and the fourth in World War I. Filled with typical across-the-pond humor, Blackadder was hailed as one of the greatest British sitcoms of all time.
Audiences will never forget the ending of the fourth series. Unlike the first three, this series of the show featured much more black humor and darker subject matter due to its setting. In the final episode, all seems to be lost. The four main characters meet at the surface level of their trench, ready to charge into battle against the Germans. Suddenly, there is silence. “The guns stopped! Perhaps the war is over!” one of the men exclaims. There is a brief moment of joy before Blackadder tells them, “I’m afraid not. The guns have stopped because we are going to attack.” The group tries to plan a way out of this situation as they inch closer and closer to their charge until finally, Blackadder wishes them all luck and blows his whistle. They all charge into battle, presumably to their deaths.
9. Marshall’s Dad dies (How I Met Your Mother)
How I Met Your Mother has been hailed as the Friends of the late 2000s. The show follows loveable loser Ted Mosby and his friends as he tells his children the story of how he met their mother (or so you’d think). If Ted and Robin were the Ross and Rachael of the show, then Marshall and Lily were the Chandler and Monica. Marshall was the doofus of the group, often getting himself into hilariously awkward situations or making stupid bets with his friends. The episode entitled “Bad News” is a rollercoaster of emotions for the beloved character.
Marshall and Lily are trying to figure out why they are struggling to have children. The initial tests find that Lily is extremely fertile. Marshall wants to call his father, but then reconsiders after he fears that his sperm are the problem (he only calls his father to talk to his father when there’s good news). Later, his mom and dad appear at his apartment for a surprise visit. Marshall explains the situation to his parents, who reiterate that they will love him no matter what happens. After providing a sample for the fertility clinic, Marshall goes to have a drink at his favorite pub and await any news. He gets a call from the clinic telling him that his count is fine and he instantly tries to call his dad to tell him the news. However, his dad doesn’t answer. Lily pulls up in a cab and tearfully informs Marshall that his dad suffered a heart attack and that he didn’t make it. What makes the scene so powerful is Marshall’s confused and painful, “My dad’s dead?” as he tries to take in exactly what’s happening. The couple embrace as Marshall admits that he wasn’t ready for this. This scene was famously one improved by the cast, making it all the more real.
8. Mike and Gloria Move Out (All in the Family)
What else can be said about All in the Family? Archie Bunker is arguably the greatest sitcom character of all time. He left such an impact on the modern American comedy that his chair is enshrined in the Smithsonian. Unlike most sitcom protagonists at the time, Archie was mean, bigoted, crude, and unsympathetic. But that’s why America loved him – Archie Bunker was a sharp detour from the squeaky-clean characters that every other TV comedy portrayed.
These factors all make the scene in which his daughter Gloria and her husband Mike finally move out a real tearjerker. At first, Archie tries to be his usually grouchy self by cracking jokes and acting like he’s ecstatic. Then Mike sits him down and gives him a heart to heart. Throughout the entire show, the two were at odds, as Archie was a hardcore Republican and Mike was a “hippie.” He always acted like Mike was a bum and wasn’t good enough for his daughter. You can’t help but tear up with emotions when Mike says that he’ll miss Archie and he can only reply with, “listen…well listen…you just take very good care of Gloria and Joseph” through his cracking voice. Then Gloria says her tearful goodbyes, with Archie barely choking out “Daddy certainly loves you, little girl.” Once the couple has left and his wife runs into the other room to sob, Archie takes out his handkerchief and begins to tearfully wipe his eyes. Seeing Archie Bunker reduced to tears makes this one of the most heartwarmingly sad moments in any sitcom.
7. “Class Dismissed” (Boy Meets World)
Boy Meets World was the coming of age story of Cory Matthews and his friends as they traveled through their teenage years, getting themselves into hilarious situations along the way. Arguably the main antagonist of the show was Mr. Feeny, Cory’s neighbor and teacher since the sixth grade. Feeny acted as a mentor to the kids while also trying to keep them in line (aka the job of a high school teacher). His role progressed through the series from middle school teacher, to high school teacher, to college professor as the kids grew up.
In the final episode of the show, Cory and all of his friends are set to go their separate ways; some of them are moving to New York, while another is going overseas to live with her dad and others have joined the Peace Corps. As a sort of last hurrah, they decide to meet Mr. Feeny back in his sixth grade classroom. What follows is one of the most touching moments in TV history. Feeny lets the class know that he has one final lesson for them – he goes on to tell them to follow their dreams and do good in the world. When asked if he loves them, he tries to divert the question by claiming that he’s a teacher and values all of his students equally. The students all line up, one by one, and tell Mr. Feeny how much he means to them and how he has helped them through the years. After the tearful goodbyes, Feeny is left alone in his old classroom. He longingly touches one of the desks and admits, “I love you all. Class dismissed.”
6. “Do it for her” (The Simpsons)
On a list consisting of the biggest sitcoms in history, it was only a matter of time before we got to The Simpsons. This show has been on for almost three decades with a movie, multiple video games, and countless comic books created to capitalize on its popularity. Homer, Marge, Bart, Maggie, and Lisa are all household names both in the U.S. and across the entire world. Fans get a rare look into the titular family’s past with one of the most touching episodes, “And Maggie Makes Three.”
When asked why there aren’t any pictures of Maggie in the Simpsons household, Homer recounts the story of Marge’s pregnancy. When Homer received a large sum of money clearing him of all his debts, he quit his awful job at the nuclear plant and started working his dream job at a bowling alley. However, not long after this development he discovers that Marge is pregnant with a third child. Not long after, Marge and Homer realize that this new baby is going to be a larger burden than they had imagined (much to the dismay of Homer). In desperate need of money, he returns to the nuclear plant and begs Mr. Burns for his old job back. As punishment, Burns puts up a plaque that reads “Don’t forget, you’re here forever” in front of his work space. Homer wasn’t happy about the pregnancy, even acting disinterested when Marge goes into labor. His demeanor changes the second he gets to hold his new baby girl. Back in the present, Bart asks Homer to elaborate on why there were no pictures of Maggie. Homer responds that there are, but he keeps them where he needs them the most. It then cuts to the plaque, where pictures of Maggie now cover up the sign to make it read “Do it for her.” Is somebody cutting onions in here?
5. Henry Blake’s Death (M*A*S*H)
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake was the commanding officer over the 4077th M*A*S*H unit during the Korean War. As a leader he was a fun-loving, down to earth kind of guy who had the respect of his subordinates in a way that most military commanders didn’t. Although he wasn’t the most intelligent or strategic leader, he was a successful one, keeping the 4077th at a 97% survival rate through all the craziness they endured. Henry Blake remained as a regular on M*A*S*H until the end of the third season, when the actor who portrayed the character decided to call it quits.
Instead of recasting Blake, the writers decided to have him be honorably discharged and sent back home. In a last minute change, the show runners changed his fate. They secretly wrote an additional scene in which Radar O’Reilly appears before his comrades to deliver a grim message. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors. It’s an iconic line that even the lesser television enthusiasts know. Henry Blake’s death is so tragic because it’s so shocking; he was there, set to have a happy ending. He was going to get out of the hell-like war zone and go back to his family, but the war wouldn’t let him. This iconic sitcom moment easily makes the top five in our list.
4. “Best Boss I Ever Had” (The Office)
Ah, The Office. As American versions of British sitcoms go, it doesn’t get any better than this. This beloved show, which aired from 2005 to 2013, gave us some of the funniest characters to ever grace the small screen. At the center of it all was Michael Scott (portrayed beautifully by Steve Carell). Michael was that boss that workers loved and superiors hated. He constantly took time out of the busy workday for parties and unplanned meetings in an effort to boost employee morale. The heart of Michael Scott came from his desire to be loved by everyone, and the horribly awkward extremes he would go to accomplish the goal (we’re looking at you, Scott’s Tots). In 2011, after six years of being everyone’s favorite boss, Steve Carell decided that it was time to leave the show.
His final episode, “Goodbye, Michael,” definitely isn’t short on tear jerking moments. His recommendation letter to Dwight, his goodbye to Pam, and the office’s realization at the end of the episode are all moments that make us misty-eyed. What really gets us every time is the final interaction between Michael and Jim. Michael tells everyone that he is leaving tomorrow when in reality he planned to leave that night. Jim eventually discovers the plan and corners him in his office. He tells Michael that he knows, and that he understands why he’s doing what he’s doing. When Michael begins to say a blubbering goodbye, he’s cut off. Jim tells him to save it for tomorrow, when the two will go to lunch and Jim will tell Michael that he’s the best boss he’s ever had. This was the final scene that Steve Carell filmed, and the tears from both actors are genuine. This was an emotional gut punch in an episode that was already filled with them.
3. “Jurassic Bark” (Futurama)
This is the go-to answer for most people when asked what they think is the saddest moment in all of Futurama, if not television history. For an animated comedy show about a futuristic alien delivery service, Futurama isn’t without its more serious moments. “Luck of the Fryrish” and “Meanwhile” were strong contenders for this spot on our list. However, we have to go with the ending of “Jurassic Bark” as #3.
The episode begins as delivery boy Fry and his robot friend Bender visit the natural history museum, where Fry discovers the fossilized remains of his pet dog from all the way back in 1999. The two steal the fossil and take it back to Professor Farnsworth, who claims that he can create a clone from its DNA. As the day of cloning draws closer, Bender begins to get jealous of the attention the dog is getting compared to him. In a move of spite, Bender throws the dog’s remains into a vat of lava. Fry apologizes to Bender, and the robot decides to jump into the lava to retrieve the fossil. Farnsworth discovers that the dog had lived to be fifteen years old, meaning that he lived for a long time after Fry was transported into the future. This makes Fry have second thoughts – if his dog had lived that long, he must have gone on to find a new owner and had a happy life. Fry decides not to have the dog cloned. However, a flashback reveals that Seymour was loyal to his master until the end; he obeys Fry’s final command to wait for him as the years pass by. At the end of the episode, the dog, now extremely old, lays down and closes his eyes. What the heck, Matt Groening!?
2. Dr. Cox Breaks Down (Scrubs)
Much like Archie Bunker earlier in this list, the character of Dr. Cox on Scrubs was always portrayed as stern, sarcastic, and uncaring about anyone but himself. As a Doctor of Internal Medicine at Sacred Heart Hospital, Perry Cox always had an insult or a snarky quip about anything and everything that his underlings or patients said. Eventually he would work his way up to Chief of Medicine, which only amplified his already over the top attitude.
In the twentieth episode of the fifth season, J.D. encounters an old patient of his, Jill, at the supermarket. Not long after this encounter, she dies from overdose-like symptoms. Meanwhile, Dr. Cox is seen tending to one of his recurring patients who needs a new kidney. Unlike his relationship with most patients, Cox seems to be really close to this one. J.D.’s dead patient was an organ donor, so the hospital harvests her organs and uses them as transplants for those who need them. A few days later, one of the patients who received the transplant begins to show the same symptoms as Jill and dies. A second patient dies soon after. It is discovered that Jill didn’t die of an overdose, but rather from highly-infectious rabies. Dr. Cox blames himself for the patients deaths, as he was the one who made the call to harvest Jill’s organs. As J.D. tries to cheer him up, his pager goes off; his close patient (who received a kidney from Jill) showed symptoms. Dr. Cox does everything he can to save the man, but it is all in vain. Cox goes into a major depression, revealing that his patient could have gone a whole other month without a new kidney. The episode ends with Dr. Cox walking out of the hospital in tears and implying that he’s done as a doctor. The entire tragic scene is set to The Fray’s How to Save a Life, making it all the more devastating.
1. “How come he don’t want me, man?” (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Although a huge movie star now, Will Smith had humble beginnings. He started off as an aspiring rapper before gaining the leading role of his own sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show would go on to become one of the biggest hits of the ‘90s, propelling Smith to a lifetime of stardom. The show’s premise was that Will, a young man who lived in Philadelphia, was sent away by his mother to live with his uncle and aunt in Bel-Air in an effort to make a better life for himself. Will, being from “the streets” has a lot to learn about life in California; these lessons are taught to him by his goofy cousin Carlton and his Uncle Phil, a stern and high-tempered judge who tries to keep Will in line.
In the episode “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse,” Will’s absentee father, Lou, shows up on Phil’s doorstep offering to reconcile with his son. He says that he is sorry for abandoning his family, and that he only did so because he was scared of being a father. Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian refuse the apology. Will, on the other hand, is quick to accept because he simply wants his father back in his life. This causes a huge fight between Will and Uncle Phil. At the end of the episode Will is planning to go on a trip with his newly-found father figure. While he is upstairs packing, Uncle Phil catches Lou trying to sneak out, presumably to leave his son once again. Will enters the room before Lou can leave, and he is forced to explain himself. Obviously, Will doesn’t take the news very well. Lou walks out of the house without his son, and Will goes into the most emotional rant in sitcom history. Seriously, we can’t even do it justice. You need to watch it yourself. What makes this scene even more powerful is the fact that Will Smith improvised the entire thing, and the sob you hear at the end of his rant is actually one of the show’s actresses crying backstage. If anyone ever tries to tell you that Will Smith can’t act, show them this scene. It makes all other sitcoms look like child’s play.
So, do you agree with our list? Were there any that you think deserved to be on here that didn’t make the cut? Let us know in the comments!
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