Summer vacations are a staple of television shows. Gathering up the main characters, shoving them into a packed car (or small airplane), whisking them away to a different location to form relationships with new characters — what could go wrong? A million opportunities for mishaps combined with beautiful and exotic locations (how many TV families have made the trip to Hawaii?) make for an episode that breaks up the monotony of a season. Summer vacation episodes can have a timeless feel — we all remember Monica getting stung by a jellyfish on Friends or that bad-luck tiki in The Brady Bunch — and are great year-round, but work best when the weather outside matches the weather on the screen. Here are seven memorable (and occasionally dark) summer vacation episodes to enjoy this Memorial Day.
Malcolm in the Middle — “Traffic Jam” (Season 2, Episode 1)
One of the things that set Malcolm in the Middle apart from its many family-sitcom contemporaries was the way that it gleefully subverted the popular tropes associated with the genre. “Traffic Jam” is a technically the second half of an unofficial two-part episode. The first part is the actual “vacation” to a water park with Malcolm and Reese (Dewey’s hysterical road trip by his lonesome is a great b-plot), and the second is the drive home. When the family gets caught in a traffic jam, they all end up in their own self-contained stories: Hal grapples with mortality, Lois can’t deal with not being in control, Reese is obsessed with a nearby ice cream truck, and Malcolm poorly entertains a love interest. It’s a total flip on the summer vacation episode: the vacation is a traffic jam, the family is not together, and everyone generally has a shitty time — but it never stops being funny.