If you’ve watched sitcoms over the past 25 years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a “Disney episode.” They all follow the same basic formula: A family (it’s always a family) is suddenly presented with an opportunity to go to Walt Disney World (it’s nearly always Walt Disney World). Maybe the uncle’s band is playing somewhere inside the Magic Kingdom. Perhaps their annoying neighbor has entered an inventor’s contest at EPCOT. Or maybe the kids’ teacher in dark magic conjures a field trip to Animal Kingdom, so they can learn to brew potion from the local fauna. Whatever the excuse, the characters are soon making a trek to Orlando, where they discover something about themselves while plunging down Splash Mountain or dodging wildlife on the Jungle Cruise.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Disney episode: NBC’s Blossom, produced by Walt Disney’s Touchstone Television, aired an episode set at Disneyland in February 1993. It was followed later that spring by ABC’s Full House taking the entire Tanner clan to Florida. These sweeps-month stunts kickstarted a long-running sitcom trend—one that AdWeek called a “rite of passage” when ABC’s Black-ish became the most recent to make the pilgrimage in 2016. However, it’s a rite of passage that’s far less common than it once was. Seven sitcoms visited one of the Disney parks between the years 1993-1998. Since the year 2000, only four have. While the tradition is still alive, whatever value the “Disney episode” once had has changed dramatically: the Happiest Place On Earth doesn’t create the same TV magic it once did.
Two years ago, I lost my mind.
The day began with eggs and coffee and a subdued “hurrah.” It was my birthday—32, not a majestic number, but my family and I were spending a long Thanksgiving weekend with my brother in Chicago. That morning we basked in the reassuring smells of sleep and family and yolk blistering in butter.
Maybe I was little irritable or disoriented. Maybe I already felt something of the blinking film that would soon divide me from myself. It’s impossible to say in retrospect. All sorts of things might feel like the first murmurs of madness but are not.
It’s probably inappropriate to evaluate a work of history on the basis of how many novels can be extracted from its pages; it’s also, if one is a novelist, irresistible. Which real-life situations and characters are so intriguing that they’d be worthy of delving into and depicting in the truly intimate manner that only fiction allows? By this measure — and by several others — “The Woman’s Hour: The Last Furious Fight to Win the Vote,” by the journalist Elaine Weiss, is a gold mine.