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10 Heartbreaking Moments From Lighthearted ‘90s Sitcoms

May 30, 2024May 30, 2024

These sad moments from otherwise funny shows have remained etched in viewers' minds decades later.

People don't really expect to find a lot of drama in sitcoms. And even when there is drama, it's mostly resolved comically, creating a lighthearted conclusion. Which is why these moments have remained etched in people's minds. Not just because of how sad they were but because the contrast to the sweet and funny nature of these shows made them all the more shocking.

Here are some of the best examples of heartbreak and emotional moments used expertly in what are some of the most popular comedies of the '90s.

Every Friends fan will remember this moment with tears in their eyes. The moment Rachel learns that, after their fight, when she impulsively decided to take a break from her relationship with Ross, the man had decided to drown his sorrows in alcohol. Followed, as readers probably know, by a one-night stand with the cute girl from the xerox place that both Chandler and Joey had a crush on. Not only was their long, drawn out breakup heartbreaking for the viewers, it also caused a great divide among Friends fans. There was people who believed she had every right to be upset and feel betrayed by Ross' actions, because after all, it had only been a few hours since their alleged break. Others thought that it had been Rachel's decision to take some time away from their relationship, and that Ross had only acted out of hurt, so she was being unfair with him. Either way, the moment that Ross begged Rachel for a second chance, and she said that, as much as she wanted, she couldn't get over it, everyone who was watching cried with them.

"If you can see a future for yourself without me, and that doesn't, like, break your heart, then we're not doing what I thought we're doing here. And you know what? Maybe we shouldn't even be together at all!"

The one quote that broke all viewers. Donna and Eric were the perfect couple. They were in love since they were children, had similar interests, and were ready to do anything for each other. But their aspirations were different. Eric dreamed of a simple life with the woman he loved. A normal job and a nice family. Donna, on the other hand, is an ambitious young woman. She had great aspirations for her future in journalism and writing, and those dreams didn't always include a partner. That realization broke Eric's heart, and he promptly broke up with her to avoid any more pain. The day that episode aired, everyone watching That '70s Show wept.

This is a weirdly tragic moment, because while the audience was shocked and grief-stricken, none of that was reflected on the characters. In Seinfeld, no one seemed to want George and Susan's wedding to happen. Least of all George. But the problem was, he didn't have the guts to tell her that he wasn't ready to commit like that. He tried everything to put her off the idea of marriage, but he was too clumsy to actually get his point across, and he never dared to say it outright, so in the end he resigned himself to spending his life with her.

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And then, a tragic twist of fate. Susan got sick from the glue of the cheap invitations George had chosen, and she didn't make it. It's a moment that strikes the audience, especially with how unaffected and cynical George is after it happens.

It's a known fact that young kids get overly attached to their toys and stuffed animals. They work as a comfort, kind of like a security blanket, and most kids go through a phase during which they can't stand to be away from them. It would be a mistake, however, to think that's the case of young Stephanie from Full House. Sure, there is a bit of childish attachment there, but the real reason why Stephanie is so distressed when she discovers that her favorite stuffed toy, Mr. Bear, has been donated, is a lot deeper than just a natural reaction from a kid. Stephanie doesn't want to lose Mr. Bear because it was a gift from her late mom, and so it's one of the last tangible links that tie her to her mother. Seeing her hang "Lost" posters around the city is simply heartbreaking.

Nowadays, the more "unconventional" ways to conceive a child have been normalized to an extent. But in the '90s, not so much. Friends was really groundbreaking in that regard. From Phoebe stepping in as a surrogate for her brother to Rachel deciding she wanted to be single mother, the show highlighted that parenthood comes in many forms, and they're all valid and beautiful.

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With Monica and Chandler, it was no different. The moment they got the call from their doctor saying that they were both infertile was incredibly sad, both for the characters and for the audience, but in the end we were comforted with the knowledge that they had each other and that they would find a way to their dream family no matter what.

Jackie and Hyde got off to a not-so-great start. As complicated as her relationship with Kelso was, he was her first love, and that cause some tension between them. Especially at the beginning of their relationship. His jealousy of Kelso (sometimes justified) led Hyde to make some not-so-wise decisions. By the time he realizes he has nothing to worry about, he's riddled with guilt, and confesses his infidelity to Jackie. Understandably, she's distraught, considering Kelso's history of cheating, and she breaks it off right then and there, leaving them both, and all the fans, heartbroken.

Although Carrie and Aidan had some disagreements regarding their preferred lifestyle throughout their time together in Sex and the City, he is portrayed as one of Sarah Jessica Parker's character's greatest loves. But love isn't always enough to dissuade people from making bad decisions.

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In Carrie's case, running into her old flame Big made her question her relationship with Aidan. Although she loved him, she eventually succumbed to temptation and slept with Big. When Aidan finally confronted her about the affair, she couldn't deny it, and all the love in the world didn't stop the devastated man from leaving.

In this episode of Full House, the Tanner family gathers to celebrate their first Thanksgiving without Pam, the girls' late mother. As much as they try to enjoy the holiday, the absence of Pam is impossible to ignore.

The family seems excited at first, since Thanksgiving is an important tradition, but much like in any other sitcom, the special dinner doesn't go smoothly. As fun as it is to watch the comical challenges they face, the mood turns sour as grief overtakes them. Particularly, Jesse finds himself overwhelmed by the stark reality that his sister is gone. It's Danny, of course, who saves the day. Understanding Jesse's struggle, he finds him and offers comfort and support. They talk through their pain together, and it becomes clear that remembering the people we lost positively is one of the best coping mechanisms.

With Danny's guidance and the support of the entire family, Jesse begins to open up about his feelings and memories of Pam. In the end, they all share their favorite memories, and the Tanner family comes together to create another memorable Thanksgiving.

The moment in Family Matters when Rachel and Harriette's long-lost, presumed dead father returns, pretending to be an old family friend, the tension is high. The pain and uncertainty left behind by his disappearance won't just go away, and it causes difficult moments. Harriette and Rachel are torn between wanting to reconnect with their father and their lingering resentment for his past actions.

As the episode unravels, the sisters deal with their conflicting feelings, trying to heal old wounds while not knowing whether they can find it in their hearts to forgive him. Especially Harriette. In an emotional and painful moment, she shares her deep-seated resentment for Jimmy's abandonment and the pain it caused their family, and how she doesn't feel ready for a healthy relationship with him. Rachel, of course, understands, but in the end tries to convince her sister to leave the door open to reconciliation, in case she regrets it later.

Everyone knows that Jackie and Kelso's relationship was far from perfect, starting with how Kelso cheated on her repeatedly with Eric's sister. But for a long time they always managed to make up and go back to being happy together. However, there came a point when they both realized too much has happened. And since the cheating was an obvious wound, Jackie would blame their problems on Kelso. But after she makes him read an article in Cosmo to "reflect" on his mistake, he is surprised to find that, while he was wrong for cheating, Jackie had been putting him down and making him feel bad throughout their whole relationship. He says that to her, teary-eyed, and promptly leaves her.

Val is a creative and passionate writer who loves traveling, concerts, and movies. In her free time, you will find her working on her novel.

FriendsFriendsThat '70s ShowSeinfeldFull House.Friends Sex and the CityFull HouseFamily Matters