Top 10 Most Controversial Sitcom Episodes Ever

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Top 10 Most Controversial Sitcom Episodes Ever

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
Sitcoms are a great source for laughter, but some think these episodes crossed a line. For this list, we'll be looking at the episodes of live-action sitcoms that caused the most uproar or otherwise broke new ground for the medium. Our countdown includes "I'll See You In Court" from "Married...With Children" (1987-97), "Prom-ises, Prom-ises" from "Boy Meets World" (1993-2000), "The Puerto Rican Day" from "Seinfeld" (1989-98), and more!
Transcript
Sitcoms are a great source for laughter, but some think these episodes crossed a line. For this list, we’ll be looking at the episodes of live-action sitcoms that caused the most uproar or otherwise broke new ground for the medium. Our countdown includes "I'll See You In Court" from "Married...With Children" (1987-97), "Prom-ises, Prom-ises" from "Boy Meets World" (1993-2000), "The Puerto Rican Day" from "Seinfeld" (1989-98), and more! How do you feel about these episodes? Let us know in the comments!

#10: “Lucy Is Enceinte”

“I Love Lucy” (1951-57)

If you need any proof of how much TV has changed, there was a time when specifying that a character was pregnant was deemed unacceptable. In this Season Two episode, Lucy Ricardo learns she’s with child and tries to figure out how to tell husband Ricky. Ball herself was pregnant with her and Desi Arnaz’s second child. Network CBS’s main objection was the use of the word “pregnant,” so the show danced around it with euphemisms like “expecting.” While this wasn’t the first depiction of a pregnancy on television, it was the most publicized at that point. Funnily enough, the name of the next episode was "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable.” Sometimes, progress happens quicker than we expect.

#9: “Episode #1.1”

“Soap” (1977-81)

Few sitcoms cause controversy right out of the gate the way “Soap” did when it first premiered. This comedic take on the soap opera genre took sitcoms in a new direction, as did one of its main characters. Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal, was openly gay, something that hadn't been normalized for audiences at the time. Much about “Soap” was provocative, but Jodie seemed to stir the most controversy. Religious groups mailed tens of thousands of letters in protest to ABC and some affiliates and sponsors took issue as well. Additionally, some LGBTQ+ rights groups took issue with Jodie's portrayal and how it might negatively influence society's view on gay people. While “Soap’s” depiction wasn’t perfect, it was certainly revolutionary.

#8: “Prom-ises, Prom-ises”


“Boy Meets World” (1993-2000)

“Boy Meets World” follows its characters from adolescence to adulthood. That meant plots got more risqué over time. In this Season Five episode, Cory and Topanga attend the prom and later attempt to consummate their relationship, with many setbacks. Though the episode takes a pro-abstinence stance, it definitely wasn’t the show’s most family-friendly hour. When the Disney Channel started airing reruns of the show, they removed several episodes from their rotation, including this one. We appreciate “Boy Meets World” for how it handled sensitive topics. But we also understand why episodes like this would be considered inappropriate for younger viewers.

#7: “The Bicycle Man”

“Diff'rent Strokes” (1978-86)

There were many episodes of "Diff'rent Strokes" aimed at educating young viewers and their families about difficult topics. But the most notorious is this one, about a bicycle shop owner, played by Gordon Jump, who tries to form too close of a bond with Arnold and his friend Dudley. This episode was acclaimed for how it handled the sensitive subject matter. However, some were bothered by the show not completely veering away from its humorous nature during the episode. The titular bicycle man is thankfully apprehended, and millions of viewers learned an important lesson about dealing with strangers.

#6: “I’ll See You in Court”

“Married… with Children” (1987-97)

The Bundys were no strangers to controversy, but one episode of “Married.. With Children” went too far for the Fox network. In this third season episode, Al and Peggy discover they've been secretly recorded during a night at a motel and subsequently file a lawsuit. The network censors took issue with the episode's content. In an interview, writer Michael G. Moye said the changes demanded were too severe, and Fox ultimately wouldn't air the episode. It was later aired on the FX cable network in 2002, albeit with a few cuts. Better late than never, right?

#5: “The Speech”

“The IT Crowd” (2006-13)

While problematic depictions of trans characters were far more common in decades past, this episode of cult British sitcom “The IT Crowd” is still pretty appalling. Douglas Reynholm, played by Matt Berry, falls in love with a woman he later learns is transgender, leading to a violent conclusion. The episode sparked backlash for its depiction of the woman, April, and broadcast network Channel 4 took it off their streaming service in 2020. Series creator Graham Linehan blasted this as an infringement on "[his] right to freedom of speech” and said he wouldn’t work with the network again unless the decision was reversed. While many societal values change with them, some people stubbornly stay the same.

#4: “Edith’s 50th Birthday”

“All in the Family” (1971-79)

Few sitcoms handled intense subject matter more deftly than “All in the Family.” But even for a show that went places other comedies weren’t willing to, this two-part episode is quite harrowing. On her 50th birthday, a man enters the Bunker home and tries to attack Edith. She thankfully manages to defend herself and escape, but she's left traumatized by the experience. However, she finds the courage to report the assailant. One critic described the episode as "heartbreaking" but also praised it for balancing the show's signature humor while not contradicting the seriousness of the subject matter. It might have been an uncomfortable episode, but it was certainly an important one.

#3: “The Puppy Episode”

“Ellen” (1994-98)

Even two decades after “Soap,” gay themes on network television still caused controversy. The same year Ellen DeGeneres came out, so did her sitcom alter-ego, Ellen Morgan. There was enormous hype about this episode, in which Ellen finally comes to terms with her sexuality. News of DeGeneres negotiating with network ABC and Disney leaked the previous year. At least one affiliate pulled the episode from broadcast and some sponsors didn’t advertise in its timeslot. Nonetheless, the episode was a huge ratings success and won two Emmys. “Ellen” only lasted for one more season, but this episode’s legacy persists.

#2: “Maude’s Dilemma”

“Maude” (1972-78)

The topic of this first season episode of “Maude” is one many sitcoms would be reluctant to touch even 50 years later. The headstrong Maude Findlay finds herself at an emotional crossroads when she learns she’s pregnant at 47 years old. "Maude's Dilemma" brought a hotly contested topic to a primetime audience and put a familiar face at the center of it. Only two CBS affiliates refused to air the episode the night it premiered. But the controversy persisted to the point that almost 40 affiliates refused to rerun it. Thousands of letters were also sent in protest of the episode. While this debate might never end, this episode was still a massive aspect of the larger cultural conversation around it.

#1: “The Puerto Rican Day”

“Seinfeld’ (1989-98)

For years, millions tuned in to “Seinfeld” to laugh at the characters and their terrible behavior. But something happened in one of the very last episodes that many didn’t find amusing. In this episode, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer get into various shenanigans during New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. The persistently clumsy Kramer ends up accidentally burning the Puerto Rican flag and causes further outrage by stomping the fire out. This, as well as comments made by Kramer about Puerto Rico, drew ire and protests. NBC issued an apology, and the episode was pulled from circulation until 2002. “Seinfeld” might have been “a show about nothing,” but people had a lot to say about this episode.
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Why would Kramer (played by Michael Richards) ends up accidentally burning the Puerto Rican flag and causes further outrage by stomping the fire out in the TV series 'Seinfeld'?