Having your home or business catch fire is quite possibly one of the biggest tragedies anyone can face. To have everything you cherish lost in an instant, is something I couldn’t handle. In fact a fire has always something I always feared. Of course there is also the sad possibility of loss of life. I don’t know how firefighters do what they do everyday.
For many years now sitcoms have captured this dramatic life event, sometimes for drama and sometimes more for laughs. It makes sense a fire is one of those things that make you realize what is really important, and brings out emotions that you don’t see in most events. But it seems many shows have done an episode where something burns down or nearly burns down. These episodes are usually dramatic with good acting, and yes can be played for laughs as we will see.
All in the Family
A fire in the bathroom drives the family out of the house in the middle of the night. The rest of the episode is about Archie and his hopes for a big insurance check.
The Facts of Life
One season premiere began with the girls returning from vacation only to find Edna’s Edibles had burned down. To be fair, this episode does not compete with the others I list here but it still hit the right notes. It was just a set-up to revise the location into the retro store it would become later on.
This is one of my favorite episodes, because while it has the classic goofiness that made the series it is still powerful. When Chachi is neglectful one night in Arnold’s, he accidentally sets the kitchen on fire. Fonzie, Ralph, and Potsie are trapped inside and if Richie hadn’t been close by they may never have escaped. My favorite part of the episode is after the fire when the gang stares at the charred remains of Arnold’s. Chachi confesses, and let’s say Fonzie is not pleased with his cousin. A powerful moment and a good episode. For me, the fire episode was where the series changed for the worst because I like the episodes before the fire, and disliked the episodes after with the new Arnold’s which always looked more like a set than a diner to me.
This show could pull off drama very well, as we see in this episode. Webster literally starts a fire by playing with a forbidden Chemistry set! Yikes. The apartment catches fire and Webster barely makes it out because he goes back for his precious mementos. After they escape, Webster is afraid George and Ma’am hate him, which they don’t but George is not happy. Alex Karas never got the respect he earned as a decent actor, playing the lovable but grumpy George. Here, much like Fonzie, George does not hold back in his anger as he talks about the fear that he had lost Webster.
I almost forgot about this one. The end of one season had Henry’s photo studio catching fire and burning down. This starts a crisis for him as he suffers a heart attack from the stress. This, in turn, keeps the adoption agency from letting him adopt Punky as he was planning. This was a long arc but all is well in the end,.
Most of these are plot devices meant to move the series in a new direction. Arnold’s got a make-over, Webster and his family moved in a nice house, The Facts of Life I already mentioned, and in Family Matters when Steve Urkel burns down the restaurant they work/hang out in suddenly we have a new location when Rachel makes it her own place. The episode where the place burns down is pretty good, it has one of the strangest “Did I do that!” moments when Steve asks it to a firefighter as they stare at he burning building.
I read in a tabloid that the series was going to end with the bar burning down. Then the series was renewed and, whether it was true or not, that finale was scrapped and instead became the season premiere. Rebecca is negligent with a cigarette and as a result the bar is burned. Of course it gets rebuilt, but the episode where the fire happens works well for comedy and drama. Norm is devastated, Cliff loses some undelivered mail, and when Sam realizes Rebecca is responsible he throws her out of the bar, onlyÂ to give her a second chance later. Just a nice episode without the over dramatic scenes we see in other examples.
Who’s The Boss?
An off screen fire at Mona’s apartment leads to a very strong episode regarding the bond between mother and daughter.
When Joe and Helen went off on their honeymoon, Brian and Casey were staying at their house. One night they throw their clothes off in passion, and one article accidentally gets into the fireplace. Off screen the house burns down, and when Joe returns he is not happy with his brother at all. In fact in anger he tells him he never wants to see him again. Of course that was just in the moment and passes.
Mad About You
The restaurant Riff’s catches fire in an episode where every single thing that happens is ultimately pointless and goes nowhere.
The Hogan Family
Probably the best example, because it wasn’t done as a ratings stunt but as a way to raise awareness for fire safety. A malfunctioning lamp is left on in the attic, sparks and causes a fire. Several notable things in this. The family does not have a plan of escape, they just start panicking. David is a on a date as this starts, and when he comes back and realizes the situation he has a nicely played panic moment as he wonders where his family is. Then we see the family watching the house burn. But the best moment comes after the fire when the damage is being surveyed. David comes across a charred pictured of his mother, the pic so damaged it is not recognizable. David breaks down and has to be comforted by Sandy. It is a very raw scene and an early indication that Jason Bateman was a fine actor. I hate him, but that’s another article. Just a very well written episode even for this silly little show.
Of course there are times when it is strictly played for laughs:
Take this episode called “The Fire”. George is at a kids birthday party when he wanders into the kitchen and spies smoke. Turns out there is a grease fire, and what does George do? He panics and runs out, literally running over the kids and the old people! During Seinfeld George has done some horrible things, but not much ranks above this one!
Fresh Prince of Bel Air
A bored Will accidentally puts to much liquor in the flambe, and causes the whole kitchen to go up in flames! The rest of the episode involves Will trying to help his uncle get through an important dinner meeting and not let anyone know the kitchen is a cinder.
There is a funny bit at the start of one episode regarding Niles getting ready for a date. Then a strange sequence of events causes him to eventually set a fire in Frasier’s apartment. It’s funnier than it sounds.
Everybody Loves Raymond
In one episode where Ray finally decides he is going to start making decisions around the house, he is careless with the stove and it starts a small kitchen fire. Of course Ray is a dufus and tries to drag a hose in. Leave it to Debra to calmly find the fire extinguisher and know how to use it. Suffice to say, we never see Ray trying to make decisions again.
Ok, this is reaching but the closest this show came to this was the episode with Phoebe’s dollhouse. She had made it, and in one scene it catches fire. The scene where Ross and Monica explain what happened to Phoebe is a funny moment.
When a fire starts in the kitchen the whole office is forced into the parking lot for a day. Typical hijinks ensue.
Fire is a dangerous thing and whether it be for laughs or done seriously, sitcoms have done a decent job educating people on this horrible event. I probably missed a good example so if I did please feel free to comment,.