Too Close for Comfort was a show about a cartoonist named Henry Rush and his wife, Muriel. They had two adult daughters who lived with them, along with a moronic tenant named Monroe. This setting, which would seem to encourage at least a small amount of sexual tension, instead insisted on concentrating on a bunch of wacky personalities just trying to get along.
But the dynamic takes a dark turn in the episode "For Every Man, There's Two Women." Monroe does not come home one night from his job as a mall security guard. He finally returns in the morning with his uniform partially torn off, looking shell-shocked.
"I've just come out of the writers' room."
While it takes him awhile to calm down and explain what happened, he reveals that he had been kidnapped from a parking lot and forced into a van by two women. He was then taken to an apartment and raped throughout the night. He tells it all to his quasi-family, clearly shaken by the experience, and the studio audience laughs along.
Henry eventually calls the police department, which dispatches maybe the worst SVU detectives in the history of law enforcement. They take some basic information and then tell Monroe it's not worth pressing charges because it would be too embarrassing.
"You got to have sex with two women, you should be psyched."
To give the proper context, the drama 21 Jump Street came out with an episode called "Hell Week " around the same time as this episode aired, and it dealt delicately with the atrocity of sexual abuse. Too Close for Comfort builds so many jokes around rape as a concept that we almost suspect the audience is filled exclusively with prison inmates.
Henry and Monroe finally find and confront the women who raped him, and both of them are easily over 200 pounds and terrifying. It quickly becomes evident that this was a legitimate crime. Henry barely escapes before almost suffering the same fate as Monroe, and the women are arrested. Then, in one of the most unintentionally sad moments in sitcom history, Monroe thanks Henry, and tells him that it's nice to know that if this ever happens again, he will be there to help guide and protect him. Henry immediately tells him that next time this happens (read: Monroe gets raped), he's completely on his own.
"Don't come crying to me the next time you're kidnapped, tortured and raped, sonny!"
Yes, Diff'rent Strokes makes the list twice, the second time in a transparent attempt to top the whole bike shop pedophile affair. And this time, the plot is so egregiously dark and narrow in focus that it's not entirely clear what the moral of the episode is, other than that sometimes life is an unthinkable nightmare.
"Sam's Missing" starts when Arnold gets a new stepbrother, Sam, and immediately begins bossing him around by making him run errands for him. On one of these errands, Sam meets a man whose family is in an emotional tailspin due to the fact that their son was recently killed in some kind of accident. He convinces Sam that he needs help finding his lost dog, which is actually just a ruse to take Sam home as a replacement for his dead son.
"I can't wait to murder you all over again."
Worst of all, when Sam objects about the two-hour drive, the kidnapper tells him Sam's family will be harmed if he doesn't cooperate. The man introduces Sam to the rest of the family and, just like in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it turns out they're all crazy. The father makes up a story about finding him in a box, and the rest of the family agrees that sounds like reason enough to keep him.
The mother also calls him by her deceased son's name, but it's whatever at this point.
To prove the show isn't just playing around with the idea of kidnapping to heal emotional scars, Sam isn't rescued right away. He stays with the family for around a week while Mr. Drummond goes on television and offers a $50,000 reward for Sam's return, along with a tearful plea to the kidnappers to do the right thing.
Over the next few days, Sam tries to keep from having a mental breakdown with his new family. When he has trouble showing affection or any emotion other than fear (which is always), he gets more threats of what will happen to his real family if he doesn't cooperate.
Meanwhile, in a staggeringly cruel turn, Sam's real family gets a call after five days from someone claiming to have the boy, but it just turns out to be a crazy ex-con trying to claim the ransom money. Keep in mind that from the perspective of a child watching this episode, it's terrifying enough to introduce a family so sad about the death of their child that they would steal another one. Then they have to introduce a despicable new character that would lie about kidnapping kids just to get some money? Damn, this show liked to pile it on.
Eventually, Mr. Drummond figures out where the boy is and comes to the rescue. The police burst in and rescue Sam while the kidnapper's family mentally unravels, only proving that even people who have never done anything wrong still get mentally tortured for no reason.
Sam is returned home, and the entire family goes back to being happy and normal ... or as normal as it can be for a child who just went through a week-long abduction where he was forced to call another family "mom" and "dad." Also, when the mother and father of that family are sitting in jail cells, we don't get any indication of what will happen to their other, surviving son.
"I'll just hide out in their massive underground apartment."
In the Diff'rent Strokes universe, all we know is that it probably ended in screams.
Nick Nafpliotis is a music teacher who also likes to find the disturbing and odd in mundane settings. Find more here: ramblingbeachcat.blogspot.com.
For more strangeness from the sitcom universe, check out The 7 Most Soul-Crushing Series Finales in TV History and Where Aren't They Now: The 7 Strangest Post-Sitcom Careers.
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