“Ripped from the headlines” stories are the lifeblood of crime procedural shows. It makes plot structure a breeze, as follows:
- Base plot on any weird and/or unsavory thing that’s treated as a “trend” by the media (say, for instance, furries, which were indeed the subject of an episode of CSI).
- Have a member of that scene turn up dead under mysterious circumstances, the autopsy eventually revealing him or her to have been murdered.
- Have a character act as an audience surrogate so another character can explain to him or her about said weird and/or unsavory thing, to which the first character will invariably react with shock, amusement, revulsion, or some combination of all three. This dialogue can be easily applied to any meant to appall the little old lady in Dubuque trend, including whip-its, rainbow parties, sexting, EDM, BDSM, witchcraft, and gangsta rap.
- Have the investigators get to know someone else on the scene, someone relatively young and innocent, initially defensive but soon to have their eyes opened by what’s really going on.
- Have the perpetrator of the crime be another scene insider, meaning that the fear and disgust it causes in polite society is 100% justified. Realizing that he or she has been duped, the young innocent leaves the scene, grateful to the investigators for showing him or her the light.
This trope is a bottomless well, but no TV show has managed to top the double header of CHiPs and Quincy addressing the “punk rock” scene.CHiPs may have done it first, but Quincy did it better. Sure, the former ended with Erik Estrada singing Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration,” but the latter was done with the utmost sincerity and seriousness in its intentions. It wanted to send parents an important message: pay attention to that loud, crazy music your kids are listening to, because it might just be encouraging hate, violence, and maybe even murder!
To clarify, no one actually dies in the CHiPs episode. The “bad” punks are really just warpaint wearing bullies, led by a big lug named Trasher. Trasher is played by William Forsythe, whom you may recognize from roughly 500 B-movies, in most of which he’s played either a thug or a crooked cop. But he also appeared on Boardwalk Empire and played lovable dimwit Evelle Snoats, John Goodman’s brother/partner in crime in Raising Arizona, so at least he got some quality work from playing a punk rocker defeated by Ponch and Jon.
Trasher is the leader of a band called Pain, which is at least as good a name as real life punk bands Death and Fear (it’s rather obvious that both this and the Quincy episode were inspired by Fear’s infamous Saturday Night Live performance, which made them a household name for exactly 0 seconds). When they’re not busy perfecting their musical craft, Pain occupies themselves by vandalizing cars and stealing other bands’ equipment, including that belonging to a female fronted rival group called Snow Pink.
Snow Pink’s eponymous lead singer, like the kid who went punk, is far more cute than scary. Just so you know the writers did their homework, she name checks Blondie, even though by 1982 Blondie was a platinum album mainstream radio smash, and no longer anywhere in the vicinity of “punk.” She and her band are considered the top contender at a Battle of the Bands contest, but not if Pain has their say! They plan to wow the audience with their magnum opus, “I Dig Pain,” which opens with the lyrics “Take a piece of concrete/stick it in my face/I like to play with razor blades/I hate the human race!”
It’s no “White Man in Hammersmith Palais,” but it’ll do for the Battle of the Bands audience, which is whipped into a mindless frenzy by Pain’s performance. Their moment in the spotlight is short-lived, alas–wanted on several hundred warrants for robbery, vandalism, assault, and inciting a riot, the band members flee from the cops, but of course are almost instantly caught by Ponch, Jon, and the gang. Ponch, who in the B-plot of the episode was debating quitting the highway patrol gig to become a professional singer, then whips the crowd into a mindless frenzy once more with his rendition of “Celebration.” The same crowd, mind you, that just minutes earlier was elbowing each other in the face and throwing folding chairs at the stage.
I didn’t watch a lot of CHiPs when I was a kid, so it’s entirely possible that there was more than one episode featuring the sizzling pipes of Erik Estrada. There was a time in the 70s and early 80s when nearly every television actor between the ages of 13 and 35 was treated like teen actresses Demi Lovato and Miranda Cosgrove today, forced by contract into doing double duty as a pop music act. Only David “Hutch” Soul found some measure of success in that role, with the audio pot of fondue “Don’t Give Up On Us” (the link is a must-watch for great use of the double exposure effect).
Now, you think it’d be hard to top a TV show where punk is thwarted by a cover of a disco song performed by a guy in a red satin shirt, and it is, butQuincy manages, again mostly because of its somber “Your children might be next!” tone. It even has a better episode title, “Next Stop: Nowhere,” whereas the CHiPs episode title was the drab “Battle of the Bands.” Perhaps if they had gone with “I Dig Pain,” it might have ended up the superior episode.
The episode opens with the death of a runaway teen in a punk club mosh pit. He was stabbed to death with his own ice pick, and Quincy notices that he has shoe marks all over his body, suggesting that the other club patrons simply went on dancing with his corpse laying on the floor. The victim’s girlfriend, Abby (Melora Hardin, who just can’t seem to stay away from self-destructive weirdos), is a former patient of Quincy’s girlfriend Emily, a psychiatrist who treats troubled teenagers. Emily convinces Quincy that “that violence oriented punk rock music” is solely responsible for the boy’s death.
“I’ve seen children come off the dance floor with crushed ribs and bloodied faces, like soldiers fighting some kind of insane war!” she tells him, with a hysterical tone not heard since Reefer Madness, and yet Quincy, who personally dug the piece of ice pick out of the victim’s neck and really ought to know better, buys right into it. He goes on TV, and with a straight face says “I believe the music I heard is a killer. It’s a killer of hope, it’s a killer of spirit.” Interestingly, one of the top radio hits of 1982, the year “Next Stop: Nowhere” aired, was “Ebony and Ivory,” a song that also was known to destroy a spirit or two.
Meanwhile, privileged golden girl Abby seems to be falling further into the thrall of that violence oriented punk rock music, painting cute little red squiggles on her face and thrashing about to the sounds of Mayhem, her favorite band, in her wicker furniture and teddy bear decorated bedroom. “There ain’t no tomorrow,” she sagely intones. “Only yesterday’s pain.”
There really may not be a tomorrow for Abby, as evidence points to her being her boyfriend’s murderer. Quincy does a little further investigating, though, and discovers that the killer is actually Molly, Abby’s best friend. Going to the club where they hang out to track them down gets Quincy nothing but a bunch of sneers and derisive laughter from the punkers. “You’re the killers! Your whole sick society!” one yells at him, while another says “Besides, man, who the hell cares.” Quincy, defeated by this rampant teen nihilism, and hoping to escape before they start reading bad poetry at him, glumly slinks away.
Thankfully, another friend of Abby’s forces Molly to confess to murder, as well as tricking Abby into taking codeine, to which she’s deathly allergic. Molly doesn’t know what compelled her to grab an ice pick and plunge it into a dude’s neck. It was the music, maaaaaaaaaan, she didn’t know what she was doing. One can only assume it was also the music that compelled her to cover up the murder, pin it on her best friend, and then attempt to slowly poison that same friend to death. That’s some powerful music! Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t hope to write a song that encouraged that much bad behavior.
Rescued from punk’s evil, black fingernail polished clutches, a fresh-faced and ponytailed Abby returns to the safety of her teddy bears and her Air Supply albums. The episode ends with Quincy and his girlfriend dancing to big band music, as he asks “Why would anyone listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love?”
With a closer like that, Ponch didn’t stand a chance, shiny red shirt or not.
So, in addition to marijuana, condoms, and acid blotters, evidently 80s parents were supposed to be searching their kids’ rooms for studded wrist bands and safety pins as well. In wildly exaggerating what sort of things bored, sullen teenagers might be getting into behind their folks’ backs, “Next Stop: Nowhere” plays right into the fears of adults who think that any sign of individuality in a teenager spells destruction on the horizon. It hits on casual drug use, it hits on meaningless violence, it hits on self-mutilation, it probably would have hit on unprotected sex if it was fifteen minutes longer. It’s a brilliant, classic bit of alarmist bullshit, and I hope no one ever tops it.