In April I talked about an episode of Fresh Prince and said it was a “very special episode” done right. Today I wanted to look at the other side of the coin, a very special episode that tries…. but misses. For that we go to the popular show that no one admits they liked :
This episode aired in Season 6, but does it work….or miss the boat?
Plot Summary:Stephanie is forced to work with a bratty classmate named Charles. Charles is a big jerk to everyone, but then Stephanie discovers that his father abuses him. He makes her promise not to tell but after wrestling with her conscience she tells Uncle Jesse who takes action.
Best Line:”They took him away? I never should’ve told you, now he’s going to hate me!”…Stephanie making it more about her than Charles
Standout Character-Stephanie, more on this in a bit
Nitpick of the Episode-Why was Michelle so stupid as to think her father would never catch on about her making those expensive calls? Even worst was getting enraged at him after he punishes her. She knew she was doing something wrong!! Yeah it’s a plot device so that Stephanie can point out how their father isn’t so bad….except they took Michelle out of character in order to make that point!!
Syndication Edit:A few lines of dialogue between Danny and Joey about the phone bill
Final Thoughts:So, does it work? Not really. It tries but it commits a huge mistake. Actually, two mistakes. The story involves a character we have never met before…or will ever see again. And the real serous stuff is kept off screen. So much is left unexplored. We know Charles’s mother died but is that when the abuse started? Is alcohol involved? Why was Jesse’s call the one that got the police involved? There were never any other clues? No neighbors to hear the fighting? The Teacher really bought the excuse that Charles fell down the stairs? And why did the police move in and remove Charles just on Jesse’s say so? Isn’t that hearsay? Don’t those kind of things require an investigation and take time? Was there an investigation, if so what did they find? To be fair they do establish a week has passed so I guess there was an investigation even it is never stated. Did Charles forgive Stephanie and even thank her for speaking up? By the way the whole “serious” part takes up a whole four minutes at the end of the episode! This is why the episode fails, it’s refuses to get to involved with the issue. If you can’t really delve into a topic because it is to real, then don’t! Plus, if you are going to focus on Charles..focus on him! Why not have Stephanie go to his house so she could see his father for herself? So many ways this episode could have been better.
Let me discuss how a different show handled the same subject. Good Times (which I admit, was a bit far removed from Full House) did a story on child abuse with a very young Janet Jackson. We first meet her and the abusive mother is merely hinted at. When it becomes more clear, it isn’t kept off screen. We see it clearly. Ok we don’t see the mother beat the child but we see enough to get the idea (Janey Jackson was wonderful in this by the way). Then the family confronts the mother and convinces her to see the truth And after the story is done, Penny doesn’t vanish she stuck around for awhile. Put simply, we got to know this young lady and therefore really felt for her.
Sometimes sitcoms play it safe with very special episodes. Like the episode on Who’s The Boss where Tony makes a new friend. It turns out she kidnapped her daughter from her father. But we meet her and see their friendship for half the episode….not enough for us to care. On the other hand, The Hogan Family shocked audiences when David’s friend Rich was diagnosed as HIV positive. Rich had been around off and on since the series began, so we felt more for David as he tried to handle this sad news. Another example, The Cosby Show tried to do an episode where a friend of Theo has cancer. A friend we never met before making the impact much less. Compare that to Roseanne, we spent some time with David’s mother and understand why he didn’t want to live with her (I like the episode where Roseanne sees it to, well done).
Back to this episode, is it all bad? No there is some good stuff here especially the lesson that if you find out something like this happening to a friend SAY SOMETHING.Â And to be fair, there is nothing wrong with the acting. Jodie Sweeten tries her hardest to make this have an impact, she really does. Probably one of her best episodes. The young actor playing Charles is good too, going from a jerk to someone we feel sorry for in a few lines of dialogue. The episode does a good job showing how scared Charles is. Uncle Jesse is the only other adult who knows about this (and no that made NO sense to me) and John Stamos hits all the right notes. He is outraged at first, and after he makes the call to the police he wonders how anyone could possibly hurt their kids. And the talk between him and Stephanie is very well written and beautiful acted…for thirty seconds. What about the subplots? I already complained about Michelle’s story and the other story with Jesse and Steve reading Catcher in the Rye is just filler. Joey and Rebecca barely cameo. There isn’t much here aside from our main story.
So this episode while well written falls into the safe category, which hurts the message they are trying to convey. We don’t understand why his father is like this, nor we do we ever see what happened after. If this had just been a story about how bullies are really troubled kids, this could have worked. But the child abuse stuff feels like it is being waved away as if this is a rare event and not the sadly common occurrence it is. I mean there isn’t even a PSA at the end!!!
Grade-C+, It tries, it really does!