Television was not always as we know it today. To be able to enjoy all the Fargos, Breaking Bads, Games of Thrones and even Sopranos, boundaries had to be moved and horizons expanded slowly and painstakingly for many years. The sitcoms that dominated the TV spectrum in the 1990s rarely decided to tackle issues that were then considered highly controversial, but there were still some that were dipping their toes into the water. Here are 10 television shows who opened a debate about issues then considered too controversial for TV, but perfectly ordinary today.
1. Boy Meets World
In one episode, Cory and Topanga fell asleep in the school’s editing room and a rumor circulated that they had hooked up. Cory was called a “god,” while Topanga was hurt by the accusations.
Another sensitive issue was tackled when Shawn was protecting his friend Claire because her father was abusing her. Boy Meets World didn’t shy away from raising issues such as premarital sex, underage drinking, and even the potential loss of a child.
Shawn ends up joining a cult called The Centre. Although many people try to discourage him, it is only until his teacher and guardian Mr. Turner has a serious accident and he is forced to deal with his problems instead of running away that he learns the lesson.
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
There is an episode where Will considers doing speed and Carlton accidentally overdoses on it. In the end, Will confesses that the drugs were his and realizes how severe the situation could have been.
In another installment, Will gets shot, and Carlton is so distraught that he buys himself a gun thinking it would make him feel protected. Eventually, Will convinces him that it’s not a good idea and not to let the bad guys win this way.
This is another subject that is still very relevant in today’s society, and not many family shows bother approaching the topic anymore because it’s such a hot-button issue.
3. Saved by the Bell
In one episode, Jessie becomes addicted to caffeine pills. It was later revealed the script originally had the character hooked on speed instead, but this was considered too radical for Saturday morning TV.
It might be difficult to imagine it as being a big thing today, but Ellen DeGeneres made history when she came out as gay both on her TV show Ellen and in real life in 1997. At the time, the show had to have a “parental advisory” notice before each episode after she came out and it was canceled the following year.
5. 7th Heaven
At one point, an angry ex-boyfriend threatens to shoot Simon but Eric gets involved and ends up getting shot instead. The episode was one of the highest rated episodes in WB history at the time while the show also covered topics such as abusive relationships and drug addiction.
6. Beverly Hills, 90210
Most fans of the show remember the dramatic episode in which Kelly opens up about being date-raped in a haunting scene.
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Addictions & eating disorders
One story line followed Kelly’s addiction to diet pills and her battle with an eating disorder, while at different points in the series she had a recurring cocaine addiction.
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7. Married…With Children
In this controversial episode, the Bundys are getting hot and heavy at a local inn, where they discover a sex tape of their neighbors. When they realize they have also been secretly recorded, they sue the inn in court.
8. Family Matters
Race issues & police brutality
At one point, Eddie is pulled over and hassled by two police officers who, when confronted, suggest that he’s in the wrong neighborhood (being a black man in a white neighborhood). It was one of the first mainstream TV shows that tackled this often overlooked aspect of American society.
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9. Degrassi High
In this Canadian series, Erica has a scheduled abortion and has to walk through a crowd of protestors to get to the clinic. At one point, she is stopped by a woman who holds up a plastic fetus and asks her not to do it.
Because of the sensitive subject matter, the full and unedited episode only aired in Canada and Australia. In the United States, the protestors were edited out of the episode and as of 2005, the network made the decision to not air the episode at all.
The Australian episodes were also eventually edited and now show that Erica was actually never pregnant.
10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In a stunning coincidence, this controversial episode was scheduled to air just one week after the horrific events of the 1999 Columbine high school massacre. In it, Buffy begins hearing voices, one of them being a student thinking “This time tomorrow, I’ll kill you all.” She recognizes the voice as that of fellow student Jonathan Levinson, who is later seen with a shotgun.
He eventually admits that he was planning to commit suicide, and it is revealed that it was actually the lunch lady who was planning to poison the cafeteria food.
The show delayed the airing until several months later. Sarah Michelle Gellar was one of few who wanted the episode to air on time, saying that it’s one of her favorite episodes and felt that it would really help anyone who was affected by Columbine.