Sitcoms are great comfort shows. Many of the best have quirky and relatable characters, a formula that makes them easy to absorb, and hilarious dialogue and moments that make them highly rewatchable. Rather than picking up a new sitcom or maybe a comedy movie you’ve never seen before, it can be easier to rely on a beloved sitcom to get the laughs needed.
Many would rank these shows among the best sitcoms of all time. But that didn’t stop them from being quite sad at times, and those moments that broke the conventions of the shows in question are worth celebrating. An emotional sitcom episode stands out primarily because it can be rare and stand in direct contrast to the more common funny moments.
The following entries will contain spoilers from the shows and episodes discussed.
“The Simpsons” – “Mother Simpson” (1995)
The simpsons, at least in its heyday, has always had good hearts and wholesome family times in addition to being incredibly funny and groundbreaking in the world of animated sitcoms. But even with some of its most heartfelt moments, and even in its most engaging seasons, it was rarely truly sad.
This brings out the season 7 episode “Mother Simpson”. In it, Homer (Dan Castellaneta) is briefly reunited with his mother, whom he believed to be deceased, only for circumstances to force them to part ways once more at the end of the episode. As such, the final scene ends with the memorable image of a desperate and startlingly introspective Homer gazing into the night sky, all alone. In the process, “Mother Simpson” further humanizes Homer, develops a new side to his character, and still functions as a typically funny character. The Simpsons episode.
‘Scrubs’ – “My Screwup” (2004) and “My Lunch” (2006)
Scrubs is a pretty emotional show, because while it has overall a lot more comedic moments than drama, when it wants to have some drama or heartbreak, it puts it in thick (fortunately the hilarious over-the-top characters usually shut the show down to become too depressing). As such, it might be one of the saddest sitcoms of the past two decades, and few episodes demonstrate the punches. Scrubs was capable of better than Season 3 episode “My Screwup” and Season 5 episode “My Lunch”.
Both revolve around tragic events that happened to Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), a senior doctor who protagonist JD (Zach Braff) always look up. In “My Screwup”, Dr. Cox struggles to come to terms with the death of a close friend, while in “My Lunch”, he is torn by the deaths of three patients in close proximity to each other. Each episode shows how Scrubs could be and have dramatic moments that rival what can be seen in many non-sitcom TV dramas.
‘Futurama’ – “Jurassic Bark” (2002)
FuturamaThe most infamous episode of “Jurassic Bark”, is also one of the most acclaimed. The plot involves Fry (Billy West) wanting to bring his old dog back from the dead via his fossilized remains, as he left him behind in 1999, when he was accidentally cryogenically frozen, only to be awakened 1000 years in the future. At the end of the episode, Fry changes his mind and his dog is not resurrected.
Saddest is that a flashback reveals that Fry’s dog never stopped waiting for him outside the pizzeria where Fry never returned, while Fry’s reasoning for leaving his dog in the past is that his dog probably evolved without him. It’s an emotionally brutal and entirely unexpected finale to an otherwise relatively light-hearted animated sitcom like Futurama.
‘BoJack Horseman’ – “Free Churro” (2018)
BoJack Rider starts out as a silly show that pokes fun at Hollywood and revels in so many things so bad they’re good puns, most of them animal-related. By the end of its run, it was more of a character drama that tackled topics such as depression, alcohol abuse, and toxic personality traits, with less frequent Hollywood satire and game play. words about animals to keep things from being too pessimistic all the time.
However, few episodes are as downbeat as Season 5’s “Free Churro”, consisting mostly of a BoJack eulogy (Arnett) gives for his recently deceased mother, with whom he had an incredibly strained relationship. It is a tragic and sad episode, perhaps all the more so since the character mourned is not particularly sympathetic; the feelings and emotions are more muddled and less easily defined, making the episode difficult but compelling.
‘M*A*S*H’ – “Abyssinia, Henry” (1975)
Legendary Korean War TV show MASH POTATOES was groundbreaking in many ways, one of the most notable being how it was one of the first popular shows to combine comedy and drama. However, for the first three seasons it certainly leaned more towards comedy than drama, with the Season 3 finale, “Abyssinia, Henry”, representing a turning point for the show that established it more as a comedy-drama. than like a sitcom.
In it, the show bids farewell to one of its main characters, Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). What is already an emotional goodbye becomes devastating when, in the final scene, the other characters learn that his plane has been shot down, killing Blake and everyone else on board, ending the episode with an eerie and stunned silence, because no one knows how to react. From this point more dramatic elements were introduced, and while there are still plenty of hijinks and fun characters to maintain some comedy, MASH POTATOES changed (arguably for the better) after introducing some genuinely heartbreaking drama and establishing itself as a show with life and death stakes.
Community is comparable to The simpsons. While it has a good heart and often surprisingly wholesome characters, it’s not often sad enough that anyone could call it a comedy-drama. But some emotional moments and episodes stand out, frequently involving Abed, who in many ways is the heart of the show.
Perhaps the best example is Season 5’s “Geothermal Escapism,” which shows Abed (Danny Pudi) having to come to terms with the fact that his best friend, Troy (Donald Glover), leaves Greendale Community College and ventures out into the world without him. It’ll likely resonate with anyone struggling to say goodbye to a good friend, and the episode is overall bittersweet and moving in a show that, more often than not, is all about the laughs.
“The Good Place” – “Whenever You’re Ready” (2020)
The right place starts out as an original sitcom based in the afterlife before introducing some real twists that took the show in some interesting directions – and maybe a few areas that weren’t quite so compelling (looking at you, Season 3 ). Yet it all comes together in a fantastic series finale in Season 4, with an excellent and surprisingly powerful send-off to the show and its characters.
It explores the endings of each character’s (after) life, as they each choose to leave their idyllic afterlife for good after achieving fulfillment…essentially, into nothingness. It confronts death and the impossibility of immortality in an extremely moving way. Even though the show has had its saddest moments in previous seasons, none are as heartbreaking as “Whenever You’re Ready.”
‘Flight of the Conchords’ – “Drive By” (2007)
Admittedly, “Drive By” from the first season of Flight of the Conchords isn’t exactly overwhelming or anything, but it’s kinda sad by the show’s (usually incredibly awkward standards).
Usually, Flight of the Conchords finds humor in the things that go wrong for its characters, as the main characters are part of a music duo that never made it. But there’s something a little sadder about their hapless manager’s misfortune, where he has a crush on someone who works in his office, only for her to suddenly leave at the end of the episode. His ballad about his feelings, “Leggy Blonde,” is admittedly silly and funny like most of the songs on the show, but for some reason just a little sadder than expected. That’s enough to earn the episode a spot as a (relatively) sad sitcom episode.
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