10. The Simpson’s – “Mother Simpson”
America’s funniest animated family ever rarely deals with heart-tugging issues, but when they do, the otherwise hilarious world of The Simpsons becomes quite a somber affair. “Mother Simpson” features the series’ heaviest scene. The episode revolves around Homer finding his mother, who he hasn’t seen since childhood, and the two reconnecting. Unfortunately, his mother is also wanted by the police, so she has to cut her visit short and flee Springfield. The shot of Homer having to say goodbye (again) to his mom is devastating enough, but the credits push the episode over the tear jerking top; a shot of Homer sitting on his car, staring into the night sky, while heartbreaking music plays over. It’s an incredibly emotional scene from one of the most prolific shows of all time, and definitely the saddest moment in Simpson’s history, at least until the show started sucking somewhere around the 12th season.
9. Scrubs – “My Bed Banter and Beyond”
Having watched only a few episodes of Scrubs, I honestly don’t know much about the show or whether there are any moments in future episodes that are more powerful than this. But this scene stands out, not because of any major character or plot development, but for pure sadness. Specifically, at the 47 second mark, when Dr. Cox explains his view on relationships. His monologue isn’t ridden with over-the-top grief or sadness, but just sounds so…real.
8. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air– “Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse”
Will Smith’s probably the most bizarre actor in Hollywood, and I’m throwing Billy Bob Thorton in there. How can a man who single-handedly wasted countless hours of my life playing the exact same sassy character in films like Independence Day, Men in Black and the (thankfully) forgotten Wild, Wild West, to playing a pretty good Muhammad Ali and completely stealing the show in the recently released feel-good-fest Pursuit of Happyness? Simple: Will Smith is a great actor, and all the evidence backing up this claim is in this clip.
Following the theme of paternal reunions, Will’s father, out of his son’s life since he was a kid, finds him in Bel-Air, and wants to go on a father-son road trip across America to bond. By episode’s end, however, he breaks Will’s heart again, flaking out of the trip and stepping out of his son’s life once again. Will Smith, both the actor and the character, delivers his finest performance, jumping from false calm to outright anger in the same amount of time it take to warm up a Hot Pocket. But the saddest moment comes when, after unloading on his negligent father and vowing to be there for his children, Will just breaks down, asks his Uncle Phil “How come he don’t want me, man?” and cries. Powerful acting, especially for a usually wacky sitcom. Now, if we could only forget about Hitch.
7. Band of Brothers
“I treasure my remark to a grandson who asked, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ ‘No,’ I answered, ‘but I served in a company of heroes.’”
An actual World War II veteran says this in the series, not an actor. Gives me shivers every time.
6. M*A*S*H – “Goodbye, Farewell, Amen.”
Among my generation’s greatest errors, maybe even worse than Tourgasm, is our total overlooking of M*A*S*H as amazing television. I don’t even think Family Guyhas made a reference to the classic Korean war show, though they’ve completely mined every pocket of 80’s culture for cheap laughs. Which is a shame, because a whole generation is missing out on one of the best TV programs of all time, and one of the most somber finales of any show ever.
To sum it up: The characters are all leaving, and the final scene of the extra-long episode sees B.J. and Hawkeye, two characters central to the show, saying their final goodbyes to one another. B.J. can’t muster up a farewell, and Hawkeye boards a helicopter leaving the camp. As he flies away, he sees a final goodbye message spelled out in stone by B.J., and the series ends. It’s one of the most iconic shots in television history, and also one of the most emotional. For a series that ran 11 seasons, the entire episode, and the ending in particular, capture not just the anguish of the characters on screen having to say goodbye, but also the empty feeling left in most viewers’ hearts as one of the longest running shows of all-time came to a close.
5. Sesame Street – “Farewell, Mr. Hooper”
Even in an age where little kids are being exposed to terrible life concepts with every Bratz commercial imploring them to become the next Paris Hilton, I know there are also plenty of children’s TV shows reveling in the best part about being a child: innocence. So, for every pimpfantz.com, I’m certain there is a mindless show on Nick Jr. or PBS or whatever station featuring silly songs, counting exercises and pointless plots just because they can. But what about when the horrors of life creep into the tiny-sized world of tot TV? Then what?
Leading kids show Sesame Street tackled this problem in the early eighties, when the actor playing local shop-keep and show character Mr. Hooper died of a heart-attack in real life. The writers could have opted for the cop out, said he moved away or retired, and never mentioned the matter again. Instead, they decided to hold nothing back, kill off Mr. Hooper on the show and teach kids one of life’s most valuable lessons: We all end up dead in the end. Here, Big Bird, the most naïve Muppet ever constructed, wants to give Mr. Hooper a picture he drew of him. The grown-ups of Sesame Street tell the big yellow bird Mr. Hooper isn’t coming back, but Big Bird can’t believe it, and wonders why it has to be. The answer? “Just because.” Coming from a show most known for songs about rubber duckies, this portrayal of the natural order of life is both downright depressing (c’mon, why couldn’t we just have more Captain Vegetable) but also spot on. I’ve never seen the issue of our own mortality handled better on a kid’s TV show, even if it still reduced me to a sobbing lump of human every time I watch it.
4. Blackadder – “Goodbyeee…”
Blackadder was a British sitcom about war. It was funny. Very funny. The show had an anti-war bite to it, but at its core, Blackadder was a witty sitcom about British troops during various wars, the final season taking place during World War I. But, often, the saddest moments are also the most unexpected. See the series finale, “Goodbyeee…”
The premise beyond the finale; the Brits are planning a big push into enemy territory, and the characters of Blackadder try to find a way out of it. But they don’t. The final shot of the series is of the main characters rushing into no man’s land, into fog and mist, where we assume they die. For a show as lighthearted as Blackadder, the ending to the series comes out of nowhere, and lays into anyone with half-a-heart. Just imagine if Cheers ended in all the main characters being killed in an out-of-nowhere earthquake. Or if everyone on Joey got caught on a sinking ship.
Wait, that last one sounds kinda good.
3. The Daily Show – The First Episode After 9/11
Days after the September 11th terrorist attacks, confusion swept across America, leaving an entire nation stunned and saddened. As the 24-hour breaking news updates crept off screen and regular programming slowly started airing again, TV personalities had to try there best not only bring some normalcy back to a country devastated by an attack, but also look deeper into September 11th.
Jon Stewart’s first Daily Show in the post-9/11 world was just a best-of show, meant to bring a smile to the face of America. But for the first nine minutes of the telecast, Stewart delivers one of the most pained but proud monologues in the history of American television. There’s plenty of reasons to get teary eyed: the direct sadness of seeing one of the funniest men on Earth nearly breakdown talking about the brave individuals who lost their lives in the attack. The eerie revelation, four years later, that Stewart’s words of wisdom fell on deaf ears (in particular, his line about how “any fool can destroy” reads rather cryptic after the Bush administration’s misadventures into the Middle East). The anger you can hear in Stewart’s voice, the same anger held by millions of Americans at the time. Or maybe, just maybe, they are tears for patriotism (true patriotism, not the faux flag-waving John Mellencamp is using to shill Ford trucks nowadays) as Stewart explains how the view from his apartment is now of the Statue of Liberty, and that America will recover and grow from the attack. Stewart’s take on the terrorist attack is both the most emotional and accurate look into the events by an entertainer since, and it’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed recalling it.
2. Futurama – “Jurassic Bark”
Biggest injustice of the Oughts: the fact Futurama got canceled while American Dad sits comfortably on Fox Sundays. Matt Groening’s “other” show never got the attention it deserved, which was a shame, because it was easily one of the finest animated programs of all-time. Whereas The Simpsons was a constant laugh-riot, Futurama could have you rolling on the floor when a space lobster pretended to be Jesus Christ, but by episodes end, reduce you to a shivering shell of who you once were. Most famous of all are the famed Trifecta of Sad episodes, featuring one episode ending in the revelation that Fry’s (the main character) brother loved his long lost sibling (“Luck of the Fryrish”) and another ending in a spectacular failed bid at love leaving Fry devastated (“Time Keeps on Slipping”).
The saddest piece in this teary-eyed trilogy is “Jurassic Bark,” an episode revolving around Fry finding the fossilized remains of his dog Seymour, and his efforts to bring his canine companion back to life. It’s a well known fact adding a cute animal to any piece of media makes it better, but doing anything negative to said adorable animal results in the work makes it more depressing. So, the final minutes of this episode, where Fry gives up on his effort to restore his dog and concludes the pet probably lived out a fun life without him, only this statement is followed by a montage of….well, just watch the clip. The thought of a friend, even a pooch, waiting out their life for you just because you mean that much to them is extremely emotional, and seeing said scenario played out onscreen is just heartbreaking.
1. Six Feet Under – “Everyone’s Waiting”
Future TV writers take note: The worst ending for a television program is one of those “Oh, here’s what happened to everyone” sort-of deals. I don’t care how many kids Character X had or what a happy life Person Z led, I just want to know how the series, the series I just spent weeks/months/years watching, wraps up. There are exceptions to this however, none better than the final six-minute montage of HBO’s Six Feet Under, which are also the most emotional six minutes of any television show I’ve ever seen.
It’s hard to sum up why a six minute sequence like this is so powerful, but a lot of the emotional impact comes from the build-up. Six Feet Under’s characters were driven by fear of death, and the uncertainty of what lies beyond this life. For five seasons, viewers followed the Fischer family and their undertaking business, and grew close to the characters and felt for them as they tackled one problem after the next. So, the final montage, of every major character’s eventual death, packs an especially poignant punch because of the close bond most viewers developed for the characters during the show’s run. Watching each one bite the dust one after the other is just devastating. But the montage goes so much further.
Backed by the incredibly sad song “Breathe Me” by Sia, a track equal to Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” in drawing tears, Six Feet Under’s stunning finale just doesn’t close out a spectacular TV series, it also illustrates one of the most basic principles of life: Everything, everywhere ends. Whereas the Sesame Street clip above simply teaches tykes about the inevitable circle of life, Six Feet Under’s final moments are a reminder that we do expire eventually, and seeing that is humbling and depressing. Death is inescaple, and as much as Claire Fischer drives away from the Reaper, it catches up to her in the end, and this crushing feeling of doom makes this clip the most powerfully depressing thing I’ve ever seen on television. But there is hope. After witnessing her death, the audience sees Claire, still as a young woman brimming with life, driving across the desert towards a new life, a reminder that, we may end up under soil in the end, but we have an entire life to enjoy before so.