6 Classic TV Episodes That Are So Weird You Won't Believe They Aired
These shows risked turning off their audiences by trying something way out of left field.
For many, watching a favorite TV show is akin to binging on comfort foods—something to do when you need to destress and zone out, because you can always count on it satisfying you, even if it doesn't surprise you. But, like a cheeseburger with the ketchup swapped out for hot sauce, these six episodes of otherwise classic TV shows risked turning off viewers by messing around with their formulas. Read on for six classic sitcom episodes that are so weird, it's shocking that they even got made.
READ THIS NEXT: 7 '80s Movies That Would Never Be Made Today.
The Dick Van Dyke Show, "It May Look Like a Walnut"
Most of The Dick Van Dyke Show is fairly standard sitcom fare, following Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) from the home he shares with wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) to his job as a writer on a fictional comedy series. But it sometimes varied from that path, including in the unusual 1963 episode, "It May Look Like a Walnut." In this one, Rob starts losing it after watching a scary B-movie before bed. He then has to determine whether he's dreaming, the victim of an elaborate practical joke, or stuck in the "Twilo Zone" as thumblessness, "20/20/20/20 vision," and an iconic image of co-star Mary Tyler Moore lounging on a bed of walnuts follow.
The sitcom adaptation of Robert Altman's Oscar-winning 1970 film was never shy about challenging viewers, whether that be with its mix of comedy and wartime drama or by tackling a high-concept plot—including an entire episode shot from the first-person point-of-view of a soldier. But one Season 8 episode in particular went a bit further AWOL than any that had come before. "Dreams," co-written and directed by series star Alan Alda, aired in 1980 and follows the team of Korean War field doctors as they deal with a brutal influx of patients, juggling 211 surgeries over the course of 33 hours and grabbing whatever sleep they can between medical crises.
The stress causes them to be haunted by surreal and disturbing dreams that interrupt the plot of the episode (ostensibly about managing overcrowding at the hospital) with a series of bizarre interludes: B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) imagines himself ballroom dancing with his wife; Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) dreams he has been made Pope and is carried around the base in a ceremonial chair; Hawkeye Pierce (Alda) sees himself adrift on a sea filled with severed mannequin arms. The episode threw viewers for a loop but its efforts to illustrate the psychological toll of war earned it a Humanitas Prize in 1981, and Alda named it among his favorites from the series' 256-episode run.
The Cosby Show, "Cliff's Nightmare"
Season 6 of The Cosby Show gave viewers not one but two wild departures from the show's usual family-centered charm, each focused on what happens when Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) ingests a sausage hoagie. In terms of laughs, the manic post-Halloween Episode 8, "The Day the Spores Landed," about the eruption of a Peruvian volcano that leads to all the Huxtable men becoming pregnant, is a far more enjoyable trip. But it's Episode 14, "Cliff's Nightmare"—a winding dream sequence that goes full-on hallucinatory when Muppets take over halfway through—that leaves you wondering how the episode ever aired. (The answer: It was originally filmed a season earlier to help promote NBC's The Jim Henson Hour.)
Neighbours, "Bouncer's Dream"
The long-running Australian soap Neighbours isn't just responsible for launching the careers of stars including Margot Robbie, Liam Hemsworth, and Russell Crowe. It's also given us one of the weirdest television moments of all time. In its 1254th episode, focused largely on beloved Labrador Retriever Bouncer, things get super weird even by 1990s soaps standards when one of the Bouncer's human co-stars pops on a wedding video. After some conjecture between the humans about whether or not dogs dream, the viewer surprisingly enters Bouncer's mind to see they do indeed—and not just about T-bone steaks.
No, streaming through Bouncer's mind for us to see is an elaborate wedding sequence between him and Rosie, the girl-dog-next-door at whom he spent the earlier part of the episode barking. Cast member Anne Charleston shared the cast's collective horror about the turn with HolySoap in 2010 saying, "The whole cast was mortified about that! It reduced it to a three-year-old's program. It was very strange."
For more TV trivia sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More With Feeling"
Decades before the likes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Glee, the idea of a weekly TV musical was a punchline, thanks largely in part to the failure of Cop Rock, the tune-some 1990 procedural that was quickly canceled when viewers and critics proved baffled by the idea of police officers singing about their feelings. But what about monster hunters? A little over a decade later, teen horror drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer redeemed the concept of the TV musical with "Once More With Feeling," an episode written and composed by series creator Joss Whedon in the style of a splashy Broadway musical.
A mysterious curse causes the residents of demon-plagued Sunnydale to start singing their hidden fears and desires aloud, which proves to be a problem for slayer Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her loyal Scooby Gang, who have heretofore spent most of the season keeping painful secrets from one another, all of which come out when they take their turn in the spotlight. Far from alienating viewers who couldn't figure out why everyone was suddenly singing, the episode received critical acclaim, spawned a soundtrack album, and inspired a handful of other shows, from Grey's Anatomy to Supernatural, to try their own musical episodes.
Seinfeld, "The Betrayal"
Seinfeld was famously "a show about nothing," but sometimes, there was brilliance in how it went about it. It produced plenty of high-concept episodes—in one early classic, for example, the gang spends the entire runtime waiting for a table at a restaurant—but not wilder than Season 9's "The Betrayal," which would've been a rather standard (for Seinfeld) farce set around the gang's trip to a wedding in India…except the whole thing plays out backward. Written by Peter Mehlman and David Mandel, the episode's structure and themes were inspired by the Harold Pinter play of the same name, though Jerry's attempts to hide the fact that he slept with George's girlfriend play out in a decidedly less highbrow fashion. Not all viewers appreciated the gimmick—one retrospective reviewer called it the series' worst episode, and the DVD release provided the option to watch it in chronological order instead.