Fresh off our mid-week holiday, we began reminiscing about some of our favorite TV vacation episodes, whose details will probably remain in the “useless pieces of information” part of our brain until we die. These episodes usually weren’t great, but they’re hard to forget because they were so bizarre. Like the time Married with Children went medieval-fantasy in London, or when the Russo brothers got their own international black market sub-plot in the four-part special “Blossom in Paris.” And when, in one of the most commonly misremembered episodes in TV history, the Tanners went to Hawaii and got trapped on a deserted island. As The Onion pointed out a few years ago, the Beach Boys were not, repeat not there — although the musical denouement “Rock-a Hula” is more than worth re-visiting. Click through to see Uncle Jesse’s island concert, as well as the TV-vacations so random we swore they were conjured by the imaginations of our younger selves, until we did some fact-checking and discovered that yep, they all happened. Got a favorite you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!
Full House: The family gets stranded in “Tanner’s Island” (Season 3)
What starts as a normal vacation to Hawaii quickly turns into a a deserted island situation, in which the Tanner family learns they must rely on one another to survive. At the end of the episode they discover they aren’t alone on their “potato chip crumb island,” and wind up at a Tahitian dance performance, closed by Uncle Jesse (see above). As mentioned, the Beach Boys do not show up on the island, but it would have made sense considering their other random appearances on the show, like the time Mike and Bruce stopped by the house for Rebecca’s home cooking and a jam session in Jesse’s new studio.
For a more details on Stephanie’s encounter with the mysterious Menehune boy and Jesse and Rebecca’s epic vacation fight, we highly recommend you check out Full House Reviewed which provides a an extensive recap of the entire episode (and any others you have lingering questions about).
Taxi: Alex and Elaine put aside their friendship for a night in “Vienna Waits” (Season 4)
The “hook-ups don’t count on vacation” rule is the only plausible explanation for Taxi’s Europe episode, meaning the only reason it existed was to give Alex and Elaine the chance to “resolve” their sexual tension without disrupting the order of the Sunshine Cab Company universe. At first Alex resists Elaine’s invitation to accompany her to Europe trip because he’s afraid their “certain attraction” will complicate matters. But he winds up going and after he strikes out with a hot French woman, a sympathetic Elaine suggest that their friendship “is strong enough to survive one night of love.” Then Alex suggest they “go for a walk” and we all know what that means. And by next episode they’re back in NYC, friendship fully intact. Ah, the magic of Vienna TV vacation.
Ally McBeal: John and Richard ditch the firm for LA in “The Getaway” (Season 4)
We have to admit that our first choice for weird vacations in the primetime drama category was Mark and Doug’s road trip on ER in Season 4, but then we did some research and were reminded that it wasn’t so much a vacation but a trip for Doug to identify his dead father’s body. So we opted for this other equally random boys’ getaway episode.
When John and Richard get their respective hearts broken, the odd couple takes off for LA (Richard’s idea of course), and within two seconds of landing Richard is arrested for picking up an escort and John becomes involved with an artist in the middle of a nasty divorce (played by Bernadette Peters!). From there the episode develops in classic Ally McBeal form, and over the course of the 2-day trip we receive some valuable legal lessons on escort services, Hollywood agenting, and prenup agreements, interspersed with fun musical bits, including a synchronized dance number at an LA club that happens to look just like their Boston watering hole. And unlike many a classic vacation episodes, this one doesn’t live in a vacuum — both their LA love interests (Richard’s escort and John’s divorcee) make appearances later in the season (a role which actually earned Peters a guest-star Emmy nomination).
Who’s the Boss?: Another tropical vacation for the Bower-Micelli clan in “In Search of Tony” (Season 6)
Only on television are vacation fights settled in the form of a beach dance off. In case the details of this Who’s the Boss? are eluding you (or you are confusing it with the Malibu or Mexico episodes), Tony becomes jealous of Angela’s newfound sense of vacation freedom (she almost drowns skinny-dipping!), and tries to one-up her “Hot Hot Hot” performance at the resort talent show with his rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain.” After Tony injures himself doing the splits, the two make-up and passionately kiss, but then he stops it because he only wants to go further if they intend to marry. Right. The woman just did a high-kick, on his face (:45 above) on a sexy island (studio-set). Out of all the unbelievable things to happen on this show, we have to stay this man’s self-control tops the list.
Married with Children: Al rights a 300-year old curse in “England Show” (Season 6)
Wait, the Bundys went to Europe? Yep, and bear with us as we try to explain this one, because it’s a doozy. So, way back in 1653, in the small English town of Lower Uncton, one of Al’s male ancestors insulted a witch. In retribution she imposed a curse that blocked all sunlight from the town, for as long as a male Bundy lived. Fast forward to the present day (technically 1992), where Al and Bud are the only living Bundys. The town (still cursed in darkness!) lures the family over with a free vacation so they can kill the remaining Bundys, and we learn that the neighboring town also want them dead for reasons to do with their tourism industry. Over the three-part episode the family takes London in classic Bundy form, Marcy & Jefferson end up at an S&M club (did we mention they’re there too?), some ghost ancestors appear to tell Bud he will die, and Al ends up winning a jousting match to lift the curse (see above).
For another strange TV getaway set in London, try the Family Ties Russian spy caper!
The Jeffersons: George and Louise go on a mystery cruise in “Death Smiles on a Dry Cleaner” (Season 9)
“The Jeffersons Go to Hawaii” might seem like the obvious choice here, which is exactly why we’re going with mystery cruise. For his birthday Louise surprises George with tickets to the inaugural launching of the Caribbean Mystery Ship, where some of the world’s best mystery writers will be on board. After she presents the gift she tells him, that btw, he needs to pretend to be a mystery writer while they’re on board because of ship rules, or something. Yes, pretty crappy protocol when giving someone a birthday present, but it’s important for the set-up of later jokes in the episode, like George’s fictional novel, In by Nine, Dead by Five.
In classic murder-mystery episode form (see Saved by the Bell “Mystery Weekend“) everyone has a great time until it appears a real murder has occurred. For the riveting conclusion in which George shows all the snooty mystery writers (one of which bears uncanny resemblance to Ron Swanson) what’s up with his detective skills, see above.
Blossom: The Russo brothers become international heroes in “Blossom in Paris” (Season 4)
When Blossom shocks everyone and decides to go live in Paris with her mom, Tony and Joey decide to surprise their sister with a visit. The only problem is they don’t have the funds, so they take a job as package couriers, which apparently is quite lucrative. The gig is a little too good to be true though, and while Blossom gets shown Paris by some hot waiter, the brothers unwittingly find themselves in the middle of a black market transaction, which culminates in a riveting Eiffel Tower stand-off. The whole scene is worth re-watching for jazzy chase-down music and the blowdart (fired at 6:52 above).
Roseanne: “We’re Going to Disney World” (Season 8)
When Roseanne suggests they go to the “happiest place on earth” for the last chance they’ll probably ever get for a family vacation, we swear we can see pain on her face as she delivers the line (see a clip here). And rightfully so. What follows is the most bizarre advertisement for theme park we’ve ever seen, although we have to admit a slo-mo Conner family flocking the Magical Kingdom to The Overture of 1812 is the sort of ’90s sitcom gag that still makes us laugh today.
The Munsters: Yep, they went there, in “Big Heap Herman” (Season 2)
Here’s another vacation episode about what happens when a suburban family intrudes on a highly stereotyped version of an indigenous people and awkwardly takes part in their “rituals” (see aforementioned Full House takes Hawaii episode). It all starts when Herman overrides his family’s vote to go to the beach, and decides they’re going to Buffalo Valley for vacation instead. “Lame!” says Marilyn (the non-monster one) and bails. So the the rest of family, minus Marilyn, hop on a train headed for the Valley. Along the way Herman gets off and stumbles upon one of those “lost Indian tribes” he’s been reading about and is mistaken for a god (his head is nearly an exact facsimile of their totem pole). Just as he’s about to get hitched to one of the local gals because of an ancient prophesy about him bringing prosperity back to the village, his actual wife intervenes. Vacation over.
When re-watching the episode, we realized there was a whole lot more going on than we remembered from our Nick at Nite re-runs. While some of the Indian men are self-aware they’re capitalizing on stereotyped versions of themselves (one says they’ll run the wedding 3-4 times a day for the tourists), the episode also feels like an excuse to get ditzy Herman in a headdress for cheap laughs. Given the historical context (the episode aired in the late ’60s when Native American activism was taking root), we assume this was an attempt at social consciousness, but like other sitcom “message” episodes, it doesn’t work in the context. That’s our take anyways.
Malcolm in the Middle: Hal does performance art in “Burning Man” (Season 7)
While we confess the main reason we’ve included this episode is for the chance to share a clip of pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston unwittingly doing suburban dad performance art, it really does qualify as one of the most random TV vacation episodes ever. Malcolm is re-birthed, Lois gets artistically weird, and Reese is elected torchbearer of the Burning Man ceremony. And while we enjoyed the show’s more standard vacation episodes (houseboat, dude ranch, Vegas), it was — and still is — a real treat to see what happens when a family forays into a festival of radical self-expression in the middle of the desert