Summer is the season of vacations, both in reality and on television. So in this week’s Very Good Television Podcast, TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers discuss their favorite special vacation episodes and what they learned from watching faux families take fantastical trips.
Vacation episodes used to be a staple for any sitcom on television, but at some point even the most dramatic series began partaking in quick and lengthy getaways. It’s not uncommon for a vacation episode to be meaningless overall, just being used for a moment of good fun without introducing or furthering heavy plot points seen throughout the series’ regularly scheduled programming. But sometimes vacation episodes are used to start new plots to bring home with the characters once the vacation is over, or serve as the climax for a show’s long building story arc.
Meeting in the middle of these two points are the vacation episodes where a new conflict is introduced at the beginning of the special, and then resolved by the end; whether that’s done in one episode or the ever dramatic “to be continued” two-episode option. A decent example of this comes from the ’90s in a “Full House” two-parter titled “The House Meets the Mouse.” The whole Tanner/Katsopolis/Gladstone family head to Disney World to have a little family fun. From beginning to end, each set of characters encounter their own respective troubles in the happiest place on earth; from Danny facing constant interruption while trying to propose to Vicky, to Michelle getting to be a princess for a day and taking joy in torturing D.J., Stephanie, and Kimmy, to Jesse and Joey being stuck at the bottom of a shark tank. Everyone is faced with a new set of problems that are a product of their new environment.
By the end of the two-part vacation special (or Disney promotional deal depending on how you look at it) the issues that plagued each character from the start of the vacation are wrapped up and resolved by the end of it. Hell, even D.J.’s personal struggle of missing her boyfriend Steve and seeing him everywhere she looked in the House of Mouse was solved by the end when he flew out to Orlando because he just couldn’t be without her for a few days.
But while a vacation episode might seem trivial to some and just serve as episode quota fillers to others, they can offer a much needed break to the ever-growing list of problems and plot points that go on during regularly scheduled programming. There’s no real formula for a vacation special, it can serve as a meaningless but fun side quest of an episode for a rather dense series, or it can be used as a catalyst to jump-start new conflicts in the characters’ lives when they return home.
Either way, it’s safe to assume that vacation specials will never cease to exist, and we’re thankful for that. After all, where would we be if we couldn’t watch the “It’s Always Sunny” gang shotgun a load of cheap beers on a flight to California just for the sake of beating Wade Boggs’ record?
Whether or not forcing yourself to watch new shows makes you a responsible TV fan, well, that’s up for debate. Listen to IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers discuss the issue in this week’s Very Good TV Podcast (above). Don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes, and follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news. Check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to IndieWire’s other podcasts: Screen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.