Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry or ROTFL

I’m a man.

And while I believe men and women are created equally yet distinctly by God, I sometimes hate gender stereotypes. For example, I cry over fictional moments. I have for decades. From the time I first saw Gargamel in his pursuit of the Smurfs until I finished my first ever reading of To Kill A Mockingbird a few weeks ago, I have cried dozens of times over TV, movies, and books. Maybe hundreds.

So I was glad Phill Lytle got REO on the board on this topic a few weeks ago by confessing the same. Now I feel that as a website we are ready to delve into this further. I’ll go next by writing about five TV episodes that brought on the ugly tears. Youtube clips of the moments are embedded in blue highlights.

[This is obvious, but we will note it anyway: Major spoilers are ahead. But they will not be given away in the headings so if you have not seen the TV show mentioned and plan to in the future, skip to the next one.]

Family Ties “Say Uncle” (1984)

The 80s was truly a golden run of TV for me. Family Ties was a show I watched weekly with my family. It had an incredible cast headlined by Michael J. Fox and Michael Gross. It had warm familial and political humor and to this day I am humored that Alex P. Keaton was an unabashed Republican. And it had one exceptional recurring guest star–Tom Hanks as Uncle Ned.

This was before he was an uber megastar, but he was still lovable as the carefree uncle who contrasted with the responsible Keatons. But this came at a price: He was an alcoholic. And in an unforgettable episode they try to get him to get help, but he doesn’t and in the climax he strikes Alex, causing a stunning transformation from jovial sitcom to a sober reality. Ned is brought to tears. Steven tells him to get help or get out of his house. And Elyse, his sister, makes one final plea for him to call AA. He does, making a joke after he picks up the phone before saying, “My name is Ned Donnelly, and I have a drinking problem.”

I was about 7 years old when I saw this and I cried like a baby. I got this episode through Netflix DVD several years ago and it has not aged well, but at the time it was about as good as TV got.

Scrubs “My Lunch” (2006) 

Bill Lawrence and his Scrubs production team were masters at concluding episodes with dramatic story arcs while a perfect song musically and lyrically played behind the action and JD’s inner monologue gave us closure. The crowning jewel is a Season 3 episode where in the beginning Dr. Cox invites JD to lunch for the first time ever and in a touching mentor-to-protege moment, tells him that he can’t blame himself for deaths that aren’t his fault.

Then back at the hospital, Dr. Cox makes the call to use a deceased woman’s organs for three patients who desperately need them. It turns out she had rabies. As a result, all three of them die. As the last one is coding and they try to revive him, “How to Save a Life” by The Fray plays and Dr. Cox loses it after the patient flatlines. He goes to leave and JD gives Dr. Cox his own advice about death and blame. Dr. Cox says, “You know what, Newbie, you’re right” and then leaves as the episode ends.

Incredible acting by John C. McGinley + incredible plot twist + the perfect song = Five minutes of Gowdy bawling

House, M.D. “Fetal Position” (2007) 

The drama in House was so tense, confrontational and cerebral that there were not many cry moments in the series to me. Most episodes I was too busy thinking about why I believe what I believe about God and disturbed by the conflict House created as an atheist (or too depressed by the illness) to shed any tears. This Season 4 episode is no different in general; it has moral dilemmas, boisterous arguing and enough stress to melt your face.

But there was one moment that is so different from the typical House fare that it stands out like the little girl in the red petticoat in Schindler’s List. A 42-year-old pregnant photographer falls ill and House believes the “fetus” (as he adamantly calls it) is the cause and has no problem wanting to abort it. But as old as the mother is she demands a different answer. After several scenes of all the other dynamics I mentioned, exploratory surgery on the “fetus” is agreed upon by Cuddy and House. And during the operation, a tiny little hand grabs House’s. The baby and mother are both saved but what got to me was that House stopped calling the yet unborn human life a “fetus” and started calling it a “baby.”

REO makes no qualms about our position on the unborn and I personally hate that it is a political issue that parties fight about. But I was stunned to tears that anyone in Hollywood would communicate something I as a Bible-believing Christian feel deeply about. In a tornado moment where morality and truth met emotion, the episode showed us why life in the womb is so sacred.

Lost “The Candidate” (2010) 

Lost could have its own list for me and most of the staff of REO, but I was determined to have a list of variety. Yet Lost affected me emotionally like no other show ever. And of all the moments that caused me to ugly cry today I’ll limit myself to mentioning the scene where Jin refuses to leave Sun and they drown in the submarine together.

Sun and Jin’s marriage was so great precisely because it survived so much. Both of them had issues, but Jin was betrayed far worse. And he sacrificed deeply to stay with her, only to lose her for a long time because of the island. And then promised he’d never leave her again. So for him to not abandon her in the face of death was huge.

When he said “I won’t leave you. I will never leave you” in Korean followed by “I love you, Sun” in English…I’m a basket case of emotion just thinking about it. He kept his promise. I bet I cried for 15 minutes the last time I watched it. I bet I would cry just about any time I watched it, even just the two-minute clip on Youtube. It is that powerful.

The music that plays behind this moment is called “Life and Death” and it is impeccably written and aptly named. What a show.

The Office “Goodbye, Michael” (2011) 

Michael Scott is truly one of the great sitcom characters of all time and if pressed I’d probably put him right behind George Costanza on a Top Ten list. And as I’ve written before, he was so outrageous he could be Funny Michael (By the end of 4th grade the lunch lady was whom he hung out with most), Awkward Michael (kissing Oscar), Redeeming Michael (buying Pam’s painting) and even at times all three at the same time (mic dropping and walking out of Ryan’s class).

But there was only one occasion of tear-jerking Michael, to me at least. For his last episode, he took off his microphone at the airport and gave us one last “That’s what she said” and walked away. There was the part with Pam right after, but this moment was pure, quintessential Michael and I could not help but cry as I knew a legend was departing and it was over. No more Michael Scott. The episodes after this proved to me that he was irreplaceable and he will never be replicated. And his goodbye was pure emotional torture.

I could have given and looked for more of this from our staff, but we hope to do more of this sort of thing in the future. Feel free to share your TV cry moments below if you’d like. No judgment from us!

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Gowdy Cannon

I am currently the pastor of Bear Point FWB Church in Sesser, IL. I previously served for 17 years as the associate bilingual pastor at Northwest Community Church in Chicago. My wife, Kayla, and I have been married nearly seven years and have a 3-year-old son, Liam Erasmus. I have been a student at Welch College in Nashville and at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago. I love The USC (the real one in SC, not the other one in CA), Seinfeld, John 3:30, Chic-Fil-A, Dumb and Dumber, the book of Job, preaching and teaching, and arguing about sports.

15 thoughts on “Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

  • July 21, 2017 at 10:31 am

    I actually cried a little reading about and reliving some of these great moments.

  • July 21, 2017 at 10:57 am

    “We sing and sadden;
    and we, mere men,
    weep with open melodrama and tragedy
    in the far off Fields of Gladden.”

  • July 21, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I have a whole list of these, which I will save for my own article.

  • July 21, 2017 at 11:33 am

    A couple of episodes from M*A*S*H* come to mind, although they are perhaps not quite as intense as your list: 1) when Col. Potter’s plane goes down (all off camera) with no survivors; and 2) the final closing scene, with Goodbye spelled out with the rocks.

    Not a television program, but the closing of *Saving Private Ryan* is pretty intense, when the grown, grandfatherly Ryan kneels at the Captain’s grave marker, remembering his last words (“earn this”), and asks his wife if he is a good man….

  • July 21, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Those M*A*S*H moments are up there for me as well. (It was Lieutenant Colonel Blake that died in the plane crash, fwiw.)

  • July 21, 2017 at 2:18 pm


    How right you are! Blake, not Potter!

  • July 21, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Nobody hate me but I never got into MASH. It was a tad before my time but other similar shows, Like Happy Days, were more my speed back then.

  • July 21, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    The most powerful moment of Goodbye, Michael was the scene where Jim and Michael are making plans to meet for lunch the next day.

    • July 21, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      Yes. I was telling Hannah Postlewaite on Facebook that everything leading up to Michael’s departure was emotional. He as that significant.

  • July 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Great list.
    What really gets me about “The Office” scene is that it’s much more than Pam saying goodbye to Michael, it’s really Jenna saying goodbye to Steve.

    • July 21, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Great point. Nick Offerman still has the PnR cast picture as his big picture on Twitter. You know these people love each other in real life quite often.

  • August 18, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    That moment when Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) says, “I loved Brian Piccolo.” Brian’s Song is an ABC Movie of the Week.

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