The title of this post is, at the same time, correct and a little misleading. Misleading only in the fact there are just not a lot of Fourth of the July episodes of television to choose from. Things have changed – dramatically – in how television is presented over the last few years. Now, seasons of highly anticipated series can debut … whenever, really. Outside of the networks – who still seem to hold on to this idea of a September-to-May television season – there’s no real rule anymore of when your series can premiere and end. And then there’s the Netflix model, where it’s just all available at once.
There have been hundreds of Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve episodes of your favorite television shows produced over the years. But, considering that most television shows are on hiatus during the Fourth of July, it’s been the forgotten holiday, at least as far as television is concerned. (Which prevented us from ever seeing Joey Tribbiani try to light a Roman candle. I like to think that episode would have been titled ‘The One With The Fire Hair.’)
In the early ‘90s, ‘Saved by the Bell’ had a summer season and, yes, there was a Fourth of July episode. In 1991, ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ began airing its second season on July 11, which was too late for a Fourth of July episode. (Though, it is interesting that the second season of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ was a whopping 28-episodes long and didn’t end until May 7th of 1992.)
Airing in October of 1976, 'The Bob Newhart Show' centered an episode around Bob and Emily locked in a storage room for Bicentennial. And it’s almost as if ‘Happy Days’ knew there was a Fourth of July void and centered its ninth season premiere on this forgotten television holiday. This was the second season that did not feature the now-departed Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham, but they kept his memory alive every so often with episodes like "Home Movies" in which Joanie sends some aforementioned home movies to Richie, who is now in the army with Ralph Malph.
(I do often wonder what a sitcom based on Richie and Ralph in the Army would have been like. Then again, we DID get to see what would happen when Richie, Ralph, The Fonz, and the Fonz’s dog, Mr. Cool, had a time machine.
Anyway, the point of all of this is that the only Fourth of July episode of anything worth mentioning is the series finale of ‘The Wonder Years.’ Airing on May 12, 1993, an epilogue set during a Fourth of July parade became one of the most memorable television moments of the last 25 years. (Fun fact: the gap between now and the premiere of ‘The Wonder Years’ is 26 years. The gap between ‘The Wonder Years’ and the year it was portraying was only 20 years. If ‘The Wonder Years’ premiered today, it would be a show set in 1994.)
So, yes, right now, your “Best Episodes of Television Set on the Fourth Of July” list consists of one thing – with ‘Saved by the Bell’ running very distant second.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.