2nd BEST EPISODE OF DIFFERENT STROKES EVER -- Sam's Kidnapping
By now Arnold is older. An aspiring photographer ala Scoop Brady. The year is 1986 and Different Strokes is in it's farewell season, still appearing on ABC's Saturday night prime time line-up just behind Mr. Belvedere. It would proceed ABC's golden age of 1988 with Sledgehammer, Sidekicks and Ohara, but for now we discuss one of the very best episodes in the history of sitcoms. For you see Different Strokes was in the phase when ratings were falling and, like nearly all successful programs when this occurs, they were trying to add new characters. Family Ties had a baby, The Brady Bunch had Oliver, Roseanne got Darlene a romantic rival, Gimme a Break took it one step further and made Addy a permanent member of the cast, then had her and Nell and Samantha move out to an apartment. And Different Strokes had Sam. Long before lying to the T-1000 in his punk outfit in the arcade in Terminator 2, Sam was Oliver with red hair and freckles. Arnold was his boss, and the difference between Arnold young versus old is the difference between Kirstin Dunst in Spiderman 1 and 2 versus 3. He's irritated throughout these episodes and they threatened the ruin what little charm Different Strokes thought it was replenishing with Sam's addition in the first place. Except for one very critical episode -- when Sam got kidnapped.
Like all sit-coms, this episode had an A-story and a B-story with the B one EXTENSIVELY weaker. This being a two-part episode, an hour long, meant essentially that the first twenty minutes were going to be dogcrap. And they were. Arnold's having some stupid fit over some god damn bag of potato chips and just annoyingly lecturing Sam on the nuances of buying the chips.
Sam goes off to buy the chips. And what happens next has stayed with me for more then 20 years.
There is a family that just lost a son. The mom absolutely can't even function. The dad can't bare to see her like this, and in an attempt to save the family, looks to go and get another child to replace "Tommy". He picks Sam, making him feel guilty if he doesn't go help him find the man's "lost dog Rocky". Come on Sam, be a "good samitiarian? Huh? Like it says in the bible?"
Okay. At this point, no big deal, the whole thing to a child makes sense. The family had been speaking of all these legal means to get a child like adoption and such, so you don't know yet you're watching a serious, even frightening moment.
Arnold and Mr. Drummond go looking for Sam at the store because Arnold sent him there to buy those chips. Once there, the lady of the store recollects seeing a small boy go off with "his father". Okay. No problem, Mister Drummond will clear up all this confusion. After all, "his father lives in Nashville." He pulls out a photo of Sam from his wallet and shows it to the lady. "Is this the boy?" To which the lady looks back -- "That's the kid alright."
It is at this moment that I'm hit with such a shock. I should have known this was coming from the strange lack of canned laughter. Close up of a now scared Mr. Drummond -- "Oh my god." He looks back at Arnold. "Arnold this is terrible."
So now we go to the traumatized family's house. Sam is basically tossed inside whimpering. His tone is now distressed. He says to further the tension -- "Where are we? We've been driving for almost 2 hours."
What a picture.
So he passes Sam off as his own kid, and makes up a whole running lie about how he was found living in a cardboard box. The story gets more ridiculous as more clues come up that he's a millionaire's step-son. Off mom goes to the kitchen to make fried chicken, something that Sam can't say for sure if he likes because he usually "just gets the bones".
So off they go, and the dad waits until they leave and turns back to Sam with a finger pointed.
He looks at Sam and says "Loosen up, boy! Now you remember what I told you if you ever tried to run away? Or if you TALKED to anybody?! HUH? You REMEMBER that?!"
Sam whimpers. We see this scary f*cking bearded fat man face as he says "I will kill your parents, Sam."
"No you wouldn't."
"No? I kidnapped you, didn't I?"
And then he stands back up and walks off, leaving Sam to whimper.
It ends with Maggie telling the police, in full out tears, "Find my son..."
PART 2 of 2
Mr. Drummond puts out a reward of 50,000 dollars. Back at Sam's "new" home, the dad sees the note, looks around to see if anyone's watching him, and then cuts it out of the newspaper and puts it in the garbage.
There's a moment, after 10 minutes in, when something interesting happens. Back at the Drummond penthouse, they get a phone call -- "What? You have Sam?!" And everyone gets all excited.
And so they set up an exchange place and time. Things are going smooth. Nobody's around, Mr. Drummond leaves the cash in the park, there is what appears to be some bum sleeping on the ground nearby...
Second later in walks a guy, he looks around, then goes very gradually and picks up the money...then attempts to jog away but NO!!! THE BUM LEAPS UP AND TACKLES HIM!!! NEW YORK PD SUCKER!!!!
Mr. Drummond runs up just PUNCHING and WAILING "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH SAM?!"
They discover it was all a hoax. This guy was an extortionist who the police let out of jail the day before. Maggie, needless to say, is probably even more crushed then she was before.
So back at the white trash outlet.
"Bobby I want to go home," says Sam to the man's son.
"What are you talking about?" says Bobby. "You mean you want to go back to living by yourself in a cardboard box?"
"I don't live by myself, I got two brothers, a mother, a father and a sister."
To which Bobby's in total awe -- "Must be a pretty big box."
It's the first laugh since Arnold was worrying about his stupid chips.
Sam tells Bobby what his dad did. He doesn't believe him.
And so.....Sam whips out the newspaper article. That does it.
Up until now, back at the penthouse, Arnold is feeling terrible. He feels responsible for everything. Had he not been such a pompous little prick and sent Sam out to get a bag of chips that Arnold could describe down to a tee while Sam couldn't. What is he gonna do?
Well Sam makes a call and it's all finished. They make sure the mom and Bobby don't get busted though.
Arnold is feverously grabbing the phone, looking around, WHISPERING, fiddling for a pen, writing down everything Sam says with not a single "could you repeat that". He, in the words of the lead detective -- handled himself like a pro. Arnold's quick Larry-Bird-like reflexes and reaction is PRECISELY what ends up saving the day, something that 50,000 dollars and all the police muscle in New York couldn't do.
I think Arnold feels better now.
When Mr. Drummond jogs back home with Sam and the police, the crowd claps and goes wild as Mr. Drummond goes "Maggie, Maggie,"
Maggie comes down and goes wild with hugs and kisses.
And that's the end of the story!
Coming in a bit -- the best Different Strokes episode ever.Then we gotta discuss the 1988 ABC Saturday Night line-up.