There are some sitcom tropes that will simply never die. There’s the old “burned the roast” device, where a character ruins the fancy dinner they’ve prepared for an important guest and has to improvise. There’s also the flashback episode, which has leant more mileage to bad wigs than ever should be allowed. To me, though, the greatest of all the clichéd sitcom storylines is the “drunk on medicine episode,” which has been trotted out in everything from I Love Lucy to Family Guy.
Crack yourself open a bottle of cough syrup and enjoy this trip down sitcom memory lane, with all the best episodes where someone goes bonkers on meds…
I Love Lucy (1952)
Who’s Doped Up: Lucy Ricardo, who’s doing a commercial for a new health drink, Vitameatavegamin.
Real Side Effects: Drinking something that’s 23 percent ABV would get you loaded fairly quickly, and since Lucy takes a big spoonful during every take of the commercial, it’s no wonder that she gets bombed just a few takes in.
TV Side Effects: The oldest example of this trope is still possibly the best example to date, with the episode “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” often regarded as the best episode of I Love Lucy. By setting up the alcohol content and letting Lucy have a few successful takes of the commercial, things go further downhill with each new sip of Vitameatavegamin, which — despite a strong taste — Lucy soon starts to down enthusiastically.
Before long, Lucy is forgetting her lines, slurring her words and mispronouncing Vitameatavegamin in a multitude of ways. The episode took place during the first season of the groundbreaking sitcom, when Lucy’s antics were still fresh and Lucille Ball was at the top of her comedic form. Thanks to this, Vitameatavegamin isn’t only possibly the most iconic moment of a show packed with iconic moments, but has also spawned a bunch of Vitameatavegamin merchandise and was even reenacted by Debra Messing earlier this year, in one of the final episodes of Will & Grace.
The Simpsons (1991)
Who’s Doped Up: Much of Springfield — and Aerosmith — all of whom are going crazy over the new drink at Moe’s Tavern: The Flaming Moe.
What They’re On: A Flaming Moe consists of “the little bits left in every liquor bottle,” plus a secret ingredient: Krusty’s Non-Narkotik Kough Syrup, which appears to be grape-flavored. A Flaming Moe also has to be set on fire to unlock its magical taste.
Real Side Effects: Real cough syrups can make someone sleepy and dizzy because they often contain dextromethorphan, which tells the brain to stop the cough reflex, but also makes you tired.
TV Side Effects: In one of the most famous episodes from the golden era of The Simpsons, the beer taps are dry at Moe’s, so Homer shows Moe how to make “A Flaming Homer,” which Moe quickly steals and renames. Throughout the episode, Flaming Moes don’t appear to be that strong of a drink. Instead, they’re more tasty than anything else, which turns Moe’s Tavern into a popular hotspot. As for Moe, the fame turns him into a rich, successful scumbag as opposed to the poor, unsuccessful scumbag he usually is.
Who’s Doped Up: Frasier Crane, a radio psychiatrist who is sick at home with a head cold.
What They’re On: Syducane, a fictional drug named after Frasier writer Sy Dukane, as well as another, unnamed drug.
Real Side Effects: Being fictional, Syducane has no real side effects, but writer Sy Dukane also used to write for Rosanne Barr, so let’s hope they had plenty of “medicine” to get through that.
TV Side Effects: Out sick, Frasier has asked his brother Niles to fill in for him on his radio show, but when Niles does better than expected, Frasier becomes convinced, in his feverish delirium, that Niles is trying to steal his show. To regain his strength, he writes himself a prescription and then marches down to the radio station, where he locks Niles and his producer, Roz, out of the booth, taking back his show by force. He then takes to the airwaves and begins hanging up on callers indiscriminately. For a show about the most uptight and composed of characters, “Frasier Crane’s Day Off” is one of the funniest of all 264 episodes of the Cheers spinoff.
Who’s Doped Up: Ross Geller, who fell into an open grave on the way to his Nana’s funeral.
What They’re On: Ross took four pills of an unspecified painkiller that was leftover from his mother’s golfing accident.
Real Side Effects: Without knowing exactly what the painkillers were, it’s hard to know the side effects, but assuming they were an opioid, they could cause dizziness, drowsiness and mental fog.
TV Side Effects: After a brief nap during his Nana’s reception, Ross reemerges from the bedroom totally delirious, suffering from the dizziness, drowsiness and mental fog you’d actually get from an opioid. In his disorientation, he tells Chandler that he can be gay if he wants to be, then declares his love for Rachel before passing out in her lap.
The West Wing (1999)
Who’s Doped Up: President Josiah Bartlet, who’s experiencing a bit of back pain.
What They’re On: Vicodin and Percocet, which the president is surprised to find out shouldn’t be taken together.
Real Side Effects: Both those meds are opioids, so they have similar side effects, including drowsiness, shallow breathing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, mood changes, dry mouth, constipation and a lack of coordination — all of which are funny when they’re experienced by a president.
TV Side Effects: The drunk-on-meds trope is so foolproof that it hasn’t just been limited to comedies. In the first season of The West Wing, the show created one of its funniest and most memorable moments of the series when a doped up President Bartlet comes into the Oval Office in a Bill-Clinton-like sweatshirt and jeans. He assures his advisors that he’s clear-headed and tries to help them deal with a minor public scandal, but he continuously loses his train of thought and takes to hugging people instead. It all comes to an end when he is rounded up by his personal aide, but before returning to his bedroom, Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet summons all the seriousness of the office to declare that he’s “seriously thinking about getting a dog.”
Who’s Doped Up: Charlie, who’s often drunk on the show, but this time it’s different because he’s in a dance competition to save Paddy’s Pub.
What They’re On: Charlie is tricked into eating a brownie with enough cough syrup to “kill a gorilla.”
Real Side Effects: Dextromethorphan can become deadly if enough of it is consumed and it seems like 1,500 milligrams of the stuff is when it starts to become really dangerous. So, to kill a gorilla — which often weigh up to 500 pounds — we might assume it would take 4,000 milligrams of dextromethorphan. Though it’s unclear how they got all of that into a single brownie.
TV Side Effects: When Charlie finds out his brownie has been drugged, he continues to eat it, boasting, “Bro, I can handle my sedatives.” Twelve hours later, Charlie is still in the dance competition, but he’s drooling, slurring his words and slowly karate chopping into the air. Finally, the cough syrup wins out and Charlie drops to the ground.
Parks and Recreation (2011)
Who’s Doped Up: Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, Leslie Knope, who gets the flu while preparing for a speech to give to the Chamber of Commerce of Pawnee, Indiana.
What They’re On: An unspecified flu medicine, though it was likely Tamiflu, as that’s the most common flu medicine given. Not only did Leslie take her own flu meds, she also stole some from other patients as well.
Real Side Effects: Tamiflu may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, nosebleeds, eye redness or discomfort and insomnia. The flu itself and Tamiflu may also cause mental changes and mood changes.
TV Side Effects: There are countless funny women on TV, but few fit the mold of being a modern day Lucille Ball quite like Amy Poehler does. In the Parks and Recreation episode “Flu Season,” Poehler’s Leslie Knope is admitted to the hospital with the flu, but after taking way too much flu medicine, she leaves the hospital to deliver the aforementioned important speech to the Pawnee Chamber of Commerce.
When she arrives at the event, she’s clearly delirious, talking about how the wall and the floor have “switched.” She also refers to herself as “Leslie Monster” and begins her speech by talking to a picture of scarecrows. When it comes time for the speech, Leslie sails through it perfectly, but when someone asks her a question, she responds by saying, “Why is half of your face all swirly?” and then mistakes Adam Scott for Scott Bacula from Quantum Leap.
Family Guy (2014)
Who’s Doped Up: Stewie, a megalomaniacal baby who’s having trouble getting to sleep without a bedtime story from his mother.
What They’re On: Stewie is given adult cough medicine, which was administered by the family’s talking dog, Brian.
Real Side Effects: Stewie is only a year old, so giving him adult cough meds could be dangerous or even deadly.
TV Side Effects: According to Stewie, he says that he’s normally up five or six times during the night to scream and defecate, but the cough meds helped him sleep all night. With that, Stewie begins drinking the cough syrup again the very next morning, getting completely shitfaced. Things take a turn for the worse when Stewie drives his tricycle under the influence, nearly killing another kid. Fortunately, he comes to his senses after Brian stages an intervention with all of Stewie’s stuffed animals and the baby gives up the habit.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I feel a slight cough coming on.