7 of the most subtly depressing sitcom premises of all time

The sitcom is a staple of the American television experience. Wholesome, simple, for years its familiar laugh track has served as the cue for us to turn off our brains, curl up on the couch and descend into a blissful, stupid nirvana. But beneath the placid simplicity of these shows which have contributed mightily to television’s well deserved nickname of the idiot box, there occasionally lies a disturbing world of weirdos, degenerates and outright freaks. We thought we’d take a look at a few of these shows and hopefully, through this, you can learn that sometimes the simple sitcom isn’t so simple, but is a roiling cauldron of sin, depression and utter depravity. Ahem. I’ll calm down now. Anyway, let’s do this.

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7 ‘Saved by the Bell’

While, on the surface, this simple show about high school kids in Southern California seemed innocent and wholesome enough, the reality is much more sinister. First of all, Zach Morris was damn near a sociopath. Ultra-charismatic, good looking, from a fairly well off family, he was almost the teenaged version of Patrick Bateman. Zach did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and didn’t care about the consequences. And he did it all with a smile and an easy charm. It wouldn’t be that hard to imagine a 30 year-old Zach ordering his good buddy Screech to dig a grave in the backyard while he chases a hooker or two through his house, naked, wielding a chainsaw. And don’t even get me started on Mr. Belding, that hapless old fiend. As the years go by, he finds himself sucked deeper and deeper into the world and personal lives of a bunch of teenagers. And everyone is fine with this! They even all found themselves “coincidentally” vacationing at the same Hawaiian beach resort. By the time Kelly and Jesse disappeared in the final season, I’m guessing Zach and Belding would have been running neck and neck in the suspect department.

6 ‘Charles in Charge’

Originally, young Charles, played by Scott Baio, was a college student hired to work as a live-in babysitter by the Pembroke family. I know if I needed to hire a live-in babysitter, the first person I’d turn to would be some random college dude. I mean… come on. But it gets weirder -– and far more disturbing — than that. Eventually, the Pembroke family is ordered to move across country by the good people at Nielsen and in moves the Powell family and somehow, Charles is apparently just sold right along with the house, because he immediately becomes the live-in babysitter for this new family. Hey, why not? I mean, sure, he’s just a college kid we found living in the basement of our new house and he has a creepy best friend who may be the horniest man alive and yeah, we have two teenaged daughters, but what the hell, it’s hard to find good help these days. Really?

5 ‘Alf’

This one’s sort of self-explanatory, right? I mean, come on, the whole plot of the show revolves around a nice, normal family essentially adopting an alien. Yeah, Alf looks like a Muppet and he’s quick with the jokes, but still, would you allow an alien to just chill in your house when you’ve got kids running around? Especially a slovenly, cynical asshole of an alien with a ravenous appetite? “Hey Alf, can you watch the kids while I run to the supermarket?” “Sure thing, Willie!” “Thanks, pal. Oh, and Alf? Can you try not to eat the damn cat or probe the children?” “No promises, Willie.” Sounds like a good situation to me!

4 ‘Full House’

Probably most famous for spawning the demon Olsen Twins and for Bob Saget playing perhaps the lamest man who ever lived, Full House was for years a staple of ABC’s TGIF lineup of shows. But what no one ever really talks about was how weird it was that Danny Tanner willingly created an environment in which his daughters essentially had three fathers all living under the same roof. I mean, it’s weird enough for a single father to live with his kids and two other single dudes, right? That generally doesn’t happen. But he basically let these two other dudes raise his kids right along with him. Hey, why not? Yeah, I get that Uncle Jesse was legitimately the kids’ uncle, but who the hell was Joey? Just some extremely weird dude who did weird voices and banged Alanis Morissette on the side. And then, after Uncle Jesse got married and had a couple of kids of his own, they still all lived together. What in the hell? Wouldn’t Jesse’s wife be all “Hey, yo, you think maybe we should get a place of our own?” I know San Francisco is an expensive city, but it’s not like any of these people were stone broke, you know? Friends are important, but this show carried that a little too far.

3 ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’

On the surface, there isn’t much about this show that is weird or creepy. But a closer look reveals this to be maybe the most depressing show ever to air on television. That may sound hyperbolic, but take away the laugh track and tell me this isn’t a show about a man drifting inexorably towards a tragic suicide. His mother is the worst person in the history of the world, his wife is a mean old shrew who constantly nags him, his brother is a sad sack loser who seems like he’s always on the verge of eating his own gun and his dad is a rotten old man who hates everyone. Sounds like a fun life there, Raymond. Again, take away the laugh track and this show is just depressing as hell. I’m surprised it didn’t end with Raymond’s parents being hauled away in body-bags after the inevitable murder suicide and Raymond driving his car into the ocean just to escape from it all.

2 ‘Small Wonder’

Much like Alf, the biggest issue surrounding Small Wonder is that it involves a father willingly allowing a dangerous creature/robot to live with his kids. But what makes Small Wonder infinitely more creepy is that the father willingly created a robot little girl with robot strength and no real understanding of human morals or emotions and then took the little girl robot home with him to live with him and his family. There are so many creepy things in that last sentence that I don’t even know where to begin. Why exactly did this dude feel the need to create a robot little girl? How does he justify the fact that he allows this robot, who can think and reason and probably kill, to live alongside his own son? How soon before the robot decides it’s curious about human anatomy and the dude walks in only to find the robot digging through the entrails and organs of his boy? At least Alf had an innate sense of morality. I mean, John Conner went through a lot of crazy shit to ensure things like this wouldn’t happen.

1 ‘Hogan’s Heroes’

This was a comedy that took place in a Nazi POW camp during World War II. This was a comedy that took place in a Nazi POW camp during World War II. This was a comedy that took place in a Nazi POW camp during World War II. This was a comedy that took place in a Nazi POW camp during World War II. THIS WAS A COMEDY THAT TOOK PLACE IN A NAZI POW CAMP DURING WORLD WAR II. THIS WAS A COMEDY THAT TOOK PLACE IN A NAZI POW CAMP DURING WORLD WAR II. How could anything else be number one on this list?

(Previously published on May 23, 2011.)