I thought I was done with these but I came across one I just had to talk about. In sitcoms, characters only gets sick when convenient. In the old days they never went to the bathroom either, but Seinfeld (among others) took care of that one. So very  often we get an episode where a character is ill with a cold or maybe even something more serious like a sprained ankle, kidney stone, chicken pox, or even the measles (all six kids at once? YIKES!!)

But I wanted to focus on something else. When a sitcom is waning on its last legs, very often they resort to a stunt to get veiwers to tune back in. The stunt involves one of the cast members needing a very serious operation. It’s usually a two or three episode arc which of course when resolved is never spoken of again. Even though some of these surgeries require extensive recovery time.

Before I begin let me be crystal clear about one thing. I am NOT making light of these medical problems or surgeries. If someone has, or knows someone who has, gone through these serious experiences than my heart goes out to them. What I am making light of is the obvious ratings stunt that the series is using to keep viewers watching. They always have the same cliche’s including the characters waiting going through “life changes”, flashbacks or fantasy sequences to fill the show out, and the scare where we are supposed to believe the character is really going to not survive.

These episodes could fit several TV Tropes though not sick episode since those are just when a character is ill. As you will see many of these are “heart attack episodes” but not all. Before we begin, fare warning. I usually hate these. Here are some examples of surgeries on sitcoms except for child birth. That is another discussion my friends.

All in the Family

Archie had gallbladder surgery in one memorable episode. Of course being Archie he gets admitted by a Puerto Rican receptionist, treated by a Jewish physician, and is forced to accept a blood transfusion from a female West Indian doctor’s assistant. Got to love that show. Gallbladder surgey was also required for Mona on Who’s The Boss? in one of the best episodes of that series.

The Brady Bunch

The Brady Bunch had a fun episode where  the family is about to set sail on a boat trip. Of course we need someone to ruin that, so Cindy ends up needing her tonsils out. But that’s not enough, when the nosy doctor decides Carol needs then out too! Wow this guy is good, since he barely checked her and made the on the spot decision she needs this done. If I had been her I would have gone to my doctor and not a pediatrician, but whatever. That aside it’s a pretty good episode I like when Carl and Cindy are recovering and can barely eat ice cream because their throad is so raw. The Brady’s saw other medical issues over the five years but this was the only surgery. Tonsilitis affects many in sitcoms. Characters to also have their tonsils out include Ben on Growing Pains, Eddie on The Munsters, George on Seinfeld. and Fran in The Nanny.

Happy Days

I am cheating but decided to talk about this one anyway even though there was no surgery involved (in the episode I’m discussing anyway). This is the episode where Richie has an accident on a motorcycle. He is in a coma for the majority of the show. A few months ago I talked about how great the scene where Fonzie prays is. True, but the rest of the episode gets real sappy. We know they’re not going kill Richie off, come on! In the middle of the show we see the family and friends gathered at the Cunningham’s, and after Howard gives an update someone sings a song. It’s lame and way to silly. In another episode, Fonzie required surgery after a mishap on his motorcycle, but I don’t remember much about that one.

Laverne and Shirley

Have you ever hated an episode, but couldn’t figure out why? I didn’t want to include appendicitis episodes but I decided that they do count more or less. And this one always bugged me. Is Shirley really as stupid as she comes off here? She needs her appendix out, fine. Normally the patient is just scared of the surgery, here what is Shirley scared of? Losing her hair! What???? I hated this episode.

And yes the appendicitis thing has been done before in many sitcoms. Many, many sitcoms. They could take up their own list but quickly they include All in the Famiky, Diff’rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, Roseanne, Who’s The Boss?, Full House, Malcolm in the Middle, Barney Miller, Night Court, King of Queens, The Nanny, and even Scrubs. Wow. Even MASH couldn’t avoid this one!! Probably the wildest was when Dan on Night Court had to perform an emergency appendectomy on an eskimo girl after his plane was shot down near the Arctic Circle and the real doctor had his hands broken (uh, yeah that’s a long story).


How about a little controversy with that? This show made headlines with this story. What is it Maude decided to have done? Plastic surgery? Well yes, but that was a different episode. No my friends, she decided to have an abortion. Yep. Before they were legal! I once said I was no fan of Norman Lear but you gotta admire his guts.

Family Ties

I have said lots of good things about Family Ties recently. Here’s where I show that this show was not always perfect. Granted, this type of episode works for this series better than others. But that doesn’t mean it all worked. This was a three episode arc where Steven gets a heart attack. Even though he was fit and in decent shape. As we go through the surgery we get all sorts of flashbacks to events we never saw.. And I’m just going to say it, by the end the arc was just boring. So for this I decided to check this episode out again, and see if maybe I am just remembering through youthful eyes. And? The first episode is really strong and very well done…and then we get into the endless flashbacks which go on forever. This goes for the other two episodes, the surgery stuff is good but those flashbacks….. So I guess I give the episodes credit for the way they handled the heart surgery, but none for the endless padding.

Home Improvement

Trying to decide how to discuss this one without offending every woman on the site. Ok, here we go. This very late in the run episode had Jill needing surgery which ends up with her needing an emergency hysterectomy. Ok, what bothers me in this episode is the way Jill is a witch after the surgery hating what the doctor did. Actually I take it back I do get that…. until she starts taking that anger out on Tim. I am no woman, but I don’t get it. First of all, she neglected to take care of herself for years (the episode establishes that). Second, she is a middle aged woman with grown boys who has decided she doesn’t want another baby. So what’s the problem? Third, she is a psychology major and should at least understand denial and that she is taking her anger out on people. Again maybe it’s because I am a guy but I don’t get it. Jill taking her anger out on Tim and her mother who finally talks her down (Polly Holiday is awesome in this one) annoys me and the only thing I like in this episode is watching Tim try desperately to help Jill in this tough time. He may have been goofy but he was a good husband. Patricia Richardson acted her heart out, the situation just feels forced.


Another late series attempt to get viewers back. This one tries way, way to hard. First of all, Niles doesn’t have any idea there is anything wrong. He sees a doctors for almost no reason, and suddenly he needs heart surgery because they did discover a blockage. Um, yeah. Could this be any more forced? Give the other shows credit for at least having the character suffer symptoms. The next episode is the surgery and while the acting is top notch it’s hard to be really invested when teh situation literally came out nowhere. The episode is a little much with flashbacks for each character as they make the point that all kinds of life events take place in hospitals. The third episode is better, I do like how Niles is afraid to exert himself seeing as how he was fine before the surgery. Martin has to explain that you can’t hide, you have to live life because you never know. When comparing this with Family Ties, Family Ties nailed the surgery stuff but I think Frasier wins the award for dealing with the recovery. What Family Ties did in maybe ten minutes, Frasier takes a whole episode to develop and resolve.

Murphy Brown

This one is really hard to talk about. If I didn’t offend with the Home Improvement part I may do it here. But here we go. As you probably know, the final season of Murphy had a season long arc where Murphy was diagnosed with breast cancer. To me it came off as a desperate attempt to keep the show alive, and I didn’t watch. I also objected to the episode about marijuana. I don’t want to get into an ethical debate on that, so let’s move on. The worst part of this long arc is that by the end Murphy’s character was ruined. She was soft and kind and didn’t seem like the same Murphy. In the end, she was cured and we were all glad that series was finally over.

The Nanny

They did the heart attack episode to, sort of. It was Niles who suffered it. The heart attack is really a plot device, keeping Fran from giving up on Maxwell. It also establishes that C.C. doesn’t hate Niles as much as she  lets on.

The Golden Girls

Why do they always pick on Rose in this show? I don’t mean tease her because she is a bit dimwitted. I mean, why do the writers keep giving Rose the ailments? Granted Betty White is a decent actress but man! Dorothy did get chronic fatigue syndrome once. However, Rose gets the heart attack in an episode which is…..ok. They handle the whole thing the same as the other shows, as if we’re supposed to believe they’re really going to kill her off. In a sitcom. To be fair, they at least have Rose showing symptoms before the heart attack and the episode does bring up the fact that Rose will need rehab to fully recover. To bad this is never seen or even mentioned again in the series. Rose’s daughter seems hard on the other girls but I can understand she is scared, in fact I think the character was well done. Unlike Jill on Home Improvement I would expect Kirsten to be angry. There is also some filler regarding Rose wanting to have her head frozen when she dies that is to stupid to even talk about.

Everybody Loves Raymond

Believe it or not, this is an example of how to do these kind of episodes right. It’s not a drawn out arc, the scare is brief, and it is dealt with realistically. This is the final episode of the series of course. Ray goes in for surgery on his adnoids, and for a second the nurse tells Debra Ray is not waking from the anesthesia. A second later, the doctors come sout and says he si fine. But those few seconds between were nicely handled. Debra almost falls apart, and it’s a well done moment. They voe to keep this news from Ray and Marie, but of couse are unable to. It really is a good episode (though it could have been a little longer), and the next day all is normal again with the Barone’s. THIS is how you do an episode like this, rather than drags it out for three episodes until we’re sick of it (er, no pun intended).


Roseanne had several surgery episodes. I already alluded to when Darlene had her appendix out. Then there was the episode where Roseanne needed a breast reduction. There is a Doogie Howser cameo which is really funny. But the one I wanted to mention was the one where Dan has a, say it with me now, heart attack. This was at the end of the 8th season and it felt as if the writers had used up all their others ideas, why not this? The next episode, and the season finale, had Roseanne and Dan get into a massive fight when Dan does not want to take care of himself. That is where I stopped watching, thankfully. We all know what happened the next year. We also know that

A few quick mentions. Fresh Prince had Uncle Phil suffer a heart attack (with no surgery I believe).  Zack needed knee surgery on Saved By The Bell. vasectomies have been mentioned on several shows including Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond. Arthur needed heart surgery on King of Queens. And how can I not mention Seinfeld when Jerry and Kramer went to view a splenectomy they accidentally got a junior mint stuck in the patient. Classic!

Finally, we’ve also had dental surgeries from time to time like root canals and wisdom teeth extractions. It is usually treated as a gag with the character having so much Novocaine he can’t speak right (which according to Cliff Huxtable is a reason to be happy to go to the dentist, what kid is dumb enough to buy that anyway?).

That’s it for now my friends. Let me know if there are any I forgot.

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