Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jenn's Pick: 10 Moments in TV Comedies That Will Always Make Me Cry

I watch comedies in order to laugh. I assume that you do, too. Whenever something goes wrong in my real life, I turn on an episode of Friends and laugh hysterically at jokes I know the punchlines to. Or I will put on my favorite episode of New Girl and laugh over Nick Miller’s sad song. Comedy is beautiful because it allows us to remember that while not everything is good all of the time, there are some things that are good. And those things must be remembered, especially in difficult times. Comedies are great whenever you need a pick-me-up, but they’re also great even if you don’t.

And while there are so many amazing jokes, one-liners, and episodes in television comedies that making a “best of” listicle would be absolutely impossible, there is one thing that always stands out to me in comedies, and that is whenever they get serious. Occasionally, the shows we laugh at so hard until we cry become the ones that just make us flat-out cry. So this list will be celebrating some of the absolute saddest moments in television comedies. These are moments that, no matter how many times I’ve seen them, will always have me reaching for a tissue box.

10. Everyone says goodbye to one another in the series finale. (Community)

It’s no surprise to you that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Community over the years. And in spite of the fact that I think its final season was uneven and sometimes just downright bad, I cried pretty hard (and at multiple points) during the show’s series finale. And that’s partially because of the music choice (you can’t use “Ends of the Earth” and expect anyone to maintain a dry eye), and partially because all of these goodbyes were extremely bittersweet. It was heartbreaking to see Jeff stand alone on the curb as he bid Annie and Abed goodbye. It was sad to know that this was the end for our characters, and yet there was a hopefulness peppered throughout the episode because we know they would all be okay. From Jeff and Annie’s goodbye kiss, to the hugs between Jeff and Abed, to the final glance of the study room, Community’s series finale will always make me get a bit weepy.

9. Ben and Leslie’s wedding. (Parks and Recreation)

Not all of the moments on this list are sad or devastating. The moment that always makes me cry from happiness rather than sorrow. The entire wedding is perfect and such a testament to both Parks and Recreation as a show, and Ben and Leslie as a couple. The part that always makes me break down, of course, is their vows. In a candlelit Parks office, Ben and Leslie discuss their love story and when Ben says “I was waiting for my wife,” I lose it. And then, to top it off, the pair exchanges their now-famous words of affirmation: “I love you and I like you.” And no matter how many times I watch this episode, I always break down in tears. Because you can tell that the writers put lots of careful thought into how they would write this now-iconic pairing. To see their love and support and devotion toward one another manifested in the wedding ceremony is just touching.


8. Will doesn’t understand why his dad keeps leaving. (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)

Some of the most heartbreaking moments in television are the ones that feel so real that they immediately make you burst out into sobs. One of the most gut-wrenching moments in an otherwise funny, absurd, and silly show happened when Will’s father left him again. Will Smith played this moment with such ferocity and anger and bitterness, as his alter ego spit insults at his father to Uncle Phil. But slowly, that anger transitioned into complete and utter devastation. The more that Will railed against his father and not needing him, the more you saw him crumble until he vocalized the saddest feeling of all — that of being unloved and unwanted. “How come he don’t want me?” Will asks, sobbing as Uncle Phil clutches him. And that moment still brings tears to my eyes because of how real and palpable it is and how brilliantly Will Smith managed to convey the range of emotions that accompany something as devastating as a neglectful parent.

7. Papouli dies. (Full House)

When I was a kid, I grew up watching shows like Boy Meets World and Full House. These were my constants and my companions. And when I watched “The Last Dance,” I remember being totally wrecked as a kid because of how close to home something like this could hit. I was older when I lost my grandparents, but growing up, it was always a possibility. It was always something that COULD happen and to see Michelle and the Tanner family forced to deal with this kind of loss hit me emotionally. I think the saddest parts of this episode, though, focus on Jesse dealing with these emotions. His grief is palpable and it was so sad for me to watch as a kid because it was rare to see adults crumble under the weight of their sadness. 

But Jesse did crumble and yet, by the episode’s end, managed to be there for Michelle when she needed him. I remember vividly how sad this episode was and how much it impacted me growing up. 

6. Michael Scott leaves. (The Office)

I was a sobbing mess when Michael Scott left The Office. Steve Carell was such a huge part of the series and he was, in many ways, the hinge on which it swung. When Michael left, the show was not the same. And his goodbyes to everyone — lying and saying that he was leaving later than he was — were so heartbreaking because in spite of how offensive and brash Michael Scott could be (I had so much secondhand embarrassment in the first season), he developed into this really compassionate and loving character who was just adorably dense a lot of the time.

What breaks me every single time is when Jim figures out that Michael is really leaving and instead of telling him goodbye, tells him what a great boss he turned out to be. It’s a moment that really hit me because we don’t see Jim Halpert emotional very often. But he was and that moment is only topped by Pam chasing Michael down at the airport to say goodbye to him, in a moment that is brilliantly soundless (Michael, having already taken off his microphone and said goodbye to the camera crew). “Goodbye, Michael” will always make me cry.

5. Rachel sings “Make You Feel My Love.” (Glee)

Though I absolutely hate what Glee turned into, there’s no denying that “The Quarterback” is its most emotional episode. When Cory Monteith unexpectedly passed away, the entire cast (then-girlfriend Lea Michele included) was grieving. And though the entire episode had me weeping into piles of tissues because I knew the grief of the characters over the loss of Finn Hudson was real and true, it was Lea Michele’s appearance and her rendition of “Make You Feel My Love” that makes me sob every single time. It’s not a boisterous, loud, intense rendition of the song; it is quiet and solemn and whispered in its grief and celebration of love. Lea Michele deeply loved her boyfriend, just as much as Rachel Berry loved Finn Hudson. 

Between the solemn, tear-filled cover of the song to the shots of the rest of the cast crying — emotions that were raw and real and heartbreaking — this moment still ranks as one of the saddest things I have ever watched on television.

4. Chandler proposes to Monica. (Friends)

When Chelsea visited me a month ago, “The One With the Proposal” was on television before we were headed out to the farmer’s market. And in spite of the fact that we both have seen this particular episode of Friends probably fifteen hundred times (give or take at this point), we both sniffed back our tears. Because the moment that Chandler proposes to Monica and can barely form the words is the moment that I remember how much he grew as a character. As I said earlier in this post, while most of these moments are sad because of some tragedy or unexpected event, some are happy. I will always cry when Chandler gets down on his knee to face Monica because I’m reminded of how afraid of commitment he had been. I am reminded of how much and how deeply he loves Monica and how genuinely he believes her to be better than he is. She’s his everything and all he needs to be happy and he wants to spend the rest of his life with her, trying to convince her of that and make her feel the same way about him. Even in the proposal, there’s a bit of that self-deprecation that is so very Chandler Bing and the fact that Monica loves him so truly and deeply is moving to me. 

Seriously, I tear up every single time. 

(Runner-up moment from Friends? The series finale’s final scene. Try your hardest not to cry when they all lay their keys on the counter, I dare you.)

3. Robin discovers that she can’t have children. (How I Met Your Mother)

I could have picked one of half a dozen different moments from How I Met Your Mother (and, in fact, wrote an entire post about the show’s most emotional moments), but I chose this one over Ted’s speech and Marshall discovering his father died and Barney confronting his father. Because to me, this scene is a gut-punch. This entire episode, really, is a punch right in your emotions when you realize that when Robin cannot have the very thing she said she didn’t want, she realized how hollow she felt. “Symphony of Illumination” allows us a rare glimpse into the beautiful vulnerability of Robin Scherbatsky. Though I — like a vast majority of people — wanted her to end up with Barney and be happy, I can’t deny how appropriate it feels to have Ted make a grand gesture to cheer Robin up and hold her as she cries, unbeknownst to him WHY.

Robin was such a pillar of sarcasm and strength and wit in this series that it was easy to brush her off as the hardened, calloused character she often pretended to be. But moments like this and episodes like these reminded me of how fragile she really was, and even though I know the twist is coming, I still cry whenever Robin’s imagined children vanish. “Symphony of Illumination” breaks me in a way that I didn’t expect from this silly sitcom. And yet I am so grateful that it does.

2. Dr. Cox loses all of his transplant patients. (Scrubs)

No one ever appreciates Scrubs the way it deserves to be appreciated, to be honest. It was one of the most criminally underrated and consistently hilarious comedies on television. When I was in college, my nightly routine would be to watch a few episodes of the show on a local cable station before bed. Scrubs was always this insane, weird, slapstick-silly show that had voiceovers and dream sequences and callbacks and inside jokes.

It could also be the most heartbreaking show on television when it wanted to be.

Though there are a handful of really, really sad moments in this show (Laverne’s death, Dr. Cox’s imagined birthday party for Ben, J.D. saying goodbye to Sacred Heart, etc.), the saddest for me was always the moment Dr. Cox lost all of his transplant patients because of rabies-infected organs. Earlier in the episode, J.D. battles the death of the transplant patient and Dr. Cox tells him that once he begins blaming himself for deaths in their line of work, there’s no coming back from that. Later in the episode, as Dr. Cox breaks down, J.D. reminds him of his own words.

The reason this moment makes me cry so much — the moment where Dr. Cox loses it — is because the entire show is based around the premise that Dr. Cox is sarcastic and biting and cannot stand J.D. Though he is a good doctor, he’s also often very brash and unfeeling when it comes to his patients. But in “My Lunch,” we see a totally unhinged Dr. Cox, and one who is more vulnerable than almost any other episode. This is Perry at his most human and while it’s deeply unsettling for everyone around him, it’s also deeply moving. I cannot articulate properly just how powerful John C. McGinley is in these moments, but suffice it to say that he completely and totally understood his character and played that emotional breakdown so perfectly. Moreover, the moments after his breakdown are played with this quiet yet intense emotional subtlety that makes me start to tear up.

Scrubs may have been one of the silliest shows to ever exist on television, but I would argue that — at its core — it was the most incredibly human show, too.

1. John Ritter’s death. (8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter)

I will never be able to watch “Goodbye” again.

I remember, very vividly, watching this episode for the first time and being completely wracked with sobs. Because, much like what Glee did with Cory Monteith, in the wake of John Ritter’s untimely passing, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter had to write the patriarch of this family off, too. And sitting and watching, knowing that Katey Segal, Kaley Cuoco, Amy Davidson, and Martin Spanjers’ pain and grief was real was almost too much to bear. I loved this show, growing up. It was extremely true-to-life and one of the campier, cheesier family comedies that I watched.

And because 8 Simple Rules... was a family comedy, everything hinged on the family dynamic. Paul was the exasperated father who didn’t know how to handle raising teenaged girls. But though he often said and did the wrong things, he loved his family. And John Ritter was such a vibrant, hilarious presence on-screen that his loss was felt so powerfully on the show and amongst the cast. The way that the show storied Paul’s death was — like Full House — extremely unexpected and tragic. Bridgette experiences something very commonly felt among those who lose loved ones: guilt over her last words to her father. Everyone in this episode deals with pain and suffering in their own ways, and I love that 8 Simple Rules... was smart enough to not use laugh tracks or pepper in too many jokes into this episode. 

The quietness was respectful and it allowed the actors to really deal with their own grief as well as their characters’ painful new realities too. But the reason why this moment ranks number one is because of what happens in the episode’s final moments. Unable to sleep or fathom sleeping in the bed without Paul, Cate discovers the article he was writing before he passed away and reads it aloud to the kids. I can’t even get through the first few words without bursting into tears, but here it is in all of its heartbreaking perfection:

Okay, readers, today we're having a little pop quiz. It's multiple choice, so sharpen your #2 pencils and put on your thinking caps. Ready? Here's a quote. 'Dad, you're an idiot.' Now, contestants, this was said to me because of which of the following transgressions: A. Coming to the breakfast table wearing pajamas and black socks; B. Asking my oldest daughter if that guy I saw her talking to at school yesterday was her boyfriend; C. Referring to rapper 50 Cent as 'Fifty Cents'; Or D. Entering the room? Ok, pencils down. Actually, it was a trick question. The answer is all of the above. Now do you know how many times I called my father an idiot? Zero. Why? Because I feared him. Back then we didn't share our deep personal feelings. Our deepest conversations usually involved the Tigers' bull pen. But my kids? I can't get them to shut up. There's not a feeling that my kids are afraid to express, over and over and over. And my wife reassures me this is a good thing, over and over and over. And she's always right. So do I wish that my kids feared me? Well, my house would be quieter and I'd spend a lot less time in the bathroom, but no. Because I know that whenever they insult me, whether it's a "You're an idiot," "What a geek," or an "I hate you," an "I love you" isn't far behind. And it's the knowledge that my wife and kids love me that makes it safe for me to wear pajamas and black socks to the breakfast table.

And that, precisely, is why this is the moment on television that will always make me cry like a baby.

What are some of your favorite emotional moments in comedies? Hit up the comments below and let me know. Until then!

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