“Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue” (1990)

When it became apparent that teenagers weren’t taking the message of D.A.R.E. seriously, the program was retooled to target a younger, less adept at detecting bullshit audience. With a younger audience came additional challenges–how do you encourage children to view “drugs” (the catchall for everything from alcohol to pills to pot to cocaine) as a real-life boogeyman, scaring them into avoiding anyone and anything that would allow even the most remote contact with them?

If parents, teachers, cops, and other hypocritical adults weren’t able to get through to the teens, then maybe it would take something a little different to work for the kids. This was how we ended up with 1990′s Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, a primetime special that used beloved animated characters to warn children about the dangers of drugs. This wasn’t just a special event, this was a Very Special Event, a collaborative effort between NBC, ABC, and CBS airing on multiple channels, sponsored by McDonald’s, featuring music by Academy Award winning composers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and, in the VHS version at least, introduced by President George H.W. Bush. As expected, it manages to be both endearingly earnest, and maddeningly wrongheaded.

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“Amityville: the Evil Escapes” (1989)

Amityville! We still love that bullshit, right? All that nonsense about red rooms and ghost pigs and Indian burial grounds, even forty years later, we’re still eating it up. If you don’t believe me, check what’s coming to a theater near you in 2016: why, it’s Amityville: the Awakening, which appears to be starting the whole goddamn thing over again. There has never been a movie in this entire series that has been anything more than mediocre, and yet Hollywood still keeps churning them out, still using imagery of that imposing house with the gabled roof and ominous, glowing “eye” windows, even if the movie itself doesn’t take place there (and ignoring the fact that neither the real Amityville house, nor the house in Toms River, New Jersey, where the exterior shots in the original Amityville Horror were filmed, look like that anymore).

After two theatrical sequels, one unpleasant (Amityville II: the Possession) and one so goofy it was almost charming (Amityville 3D), tanked at the box office, the series switched over to the lower budget/higher return made for TV and/or direct to video route. The plots focused not on the house, but on items that had been in the house and were thus “cursed.” You see, whatever evil dwelling at 112 Ocean Avenue that caused green slime to ooze out of the walls and Rod Steiger to overact like someone was threatening to murder his children off-camera was so powerful, so infernal, that it even possessed inanimate objects.

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“The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang: King for a Day & The Vampire Strikes Back” (1980)

It saddens me that kids today no longer have the Saturday morning cartoon experience. No more rising at dawn to mainline Froot Loops while learning about adverbs. No more Michael J. Fox explaining why playing with matches is bad. No more anthropomorphic fat globules in top hats trying to convince kids that sticking toothpicks into frozen juice cubes is not only a fun rainy day activity, but also a delicious snack. And most importantly, no psychotic spin-offs of live action TV shows.

If I were to tell you there was once a Partridge Family cartoon in which they live 250 years into the future, would you believe me? How about a Brady Bunch cartoon where they live in a tree house with a talking bird and a set of panda bears? Maybe I can tell you about the time there existed a cartoon about the Harlem Globetrotters where they were superheroes, with one whose head was shaped like a basketball, one who could turn into a rope, and another whose giant Afro stored an unlimited number of gadgets. Or how about Gilligan’s Planet, the plot of which can be easily surmised by the title? Or Rubik the Amazing Cube, or the Mr. T cartoon, or the other Ghostbusters show? All of these existed, and all of them were poorly animated cash-ins with weird plot twists (they’re in space! they have magical powers! they have a talking bird/dog/gorilla!) that all seem to have come straight from the bottom of a bong.

Though Happy Days wasn’t specifically targeted towards children, there sure was a lot of tie-in merchandise marketed just for them. Besides the ubiquitous lunchbox, you could get action figures, a board game (object: collect 16 “cool points”), a card game, puzzles, Colorform kits, paper dolls, View-Master slides, coloring books, and a cardboard play set. It’s a wonder it took six years to get a cartoon on the air, but they eventually did, with a baffling, barely polished turd called The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.

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“Summer Girl” (1983)

In addition to dance schools, sextuplets, old fashioned romance, the state of New Jersey, and basic human decency, another thing reality television ruined is the trashy made for TV movie. Oh sure, Lifetime still serves up some piping hot slop every now and then, but the golden age was on network TV in the 80s, when movies existed with such titles as The Hustler of Muscle Beach, The Making of a Male Model, and Beverly Hills Madam.

Despite its innocuous title, Summer Girl is some premium gar-bahge. A cautionary tale about why you should only hire ugly old women to watch your children, Summer Girl is about Gavin and Mary Shelburn, and their disastrous decision to take on some extra help at their vacation beach house, which they’ve rented for some much needed family time. Their marriage is strained due to financial issues and an unexpected, complicated pregnancy, which Mary (played by Kim Darby) is clearly more excited about than Gavin. In fact, Gavin (Barry Bostwick) almost immediately comes off as a selfish jerk, complaining about how “trapped” he feels in the situation, even though it’s Mary who’s stuck at home all day with their two school-age children.

It’s a situation just ready and waiting to be complicated by a ripe young babe, and they don’t get much riper than Cinni, whom Mary, ordered by her obstetrician to get some rest, hires as a babysitter. Cinni is played by Diane Franklin, whom you’ll recognize as Monique in Better Off Dead, and possibly the love interest in The Last American Virgin, which I’ve previously noted as being the bleakest teen sex comedy of all time. Fans of godawful B-horror, such as myself, might also know her from Amityville II: the Possession, playing a character who’s disturbingly eager to strip naked and have sex with her older brother. That’s only slightly more creepy than what happens in Summer Girl. Read More

“Schoolboy Father” (1980)

Rob Lowe is the first actor I can remember thinking was so handsome he didn’t seem real. It was while watching The Outsiders, a movie that, while not entirely responsible for my sexual awakening (that would be The Lost Boys, about four years later), was certainly a benchmark moment in it. Though my favorite character was and still is Patrick Swayze as big brother Darrell (responsible, sensitive, and not afraid to cry–yes, please!), Rob Lowe as middle brother Sodapop defined the phrase “eye candy.” Did he even have any dialogue in that movie? Hell, I don’t remember, but hatchi matchi, was he just a thing to behold.

The closest modern equivalent to Rob Lowe in his prime (though Rob Lowe in his 50s is still pretty smokin’ too) is Dan Stevens in The Guest. They’re both so good looking that it seems almost unnatural, not in a “too much plastic surgery” sense but rather in a “DNA splicing in an underground laboratory” sort of way. Humans aren’t supposed to be that good looking. Gazing upon them for too long would be like gazing into the Ark of the Covenant.

With a face like that, Rob Lowe had no choice but to become a movie star. It was either that or making a career out of servicing bored, lonely housewives. The majority of his acting roles, particularly in the 80s, were smug assholes who got away with a lot of nonsense specifically because they were ridiculously good looking. Take St. Elmo’s Fire (please!): his character is a shitty saxophone player with a shitty mullet and not a single redeeming quality other than his chiseled, kissed by an angel face. He abandons his wife and child, gets drunk and crashes his best friend’s car, and indiscriminately sleeps with his female friends, yet when he leaves town to inflict his sax wheezing on another city, everyone is so very sorry to see him go. A wink and a smirk is all it takes for this work of art to be forgiven for his repulsive behavior.

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Because of this, it’s a challenge to buy Rob Lowe as a shy, awkward teen in Schoolboy Father, an ABC Afterschool Special that marks one of his first onscreen appearances. Lowe plays Charles Elderberry, a suburban high school student working as a grocery store bag boy. Does he look like he should be playing someone named Charles Elderberry, a suburban high school student working as a grocery store bag boy? No, he does not, he looks like he should be playing someone named Brad Wainwright III, a rich piece of shit who plies his girlfriends with coke and rides in his Porsche. But, whatever, let’s go with it.

Charles finds out via newspaper announcement (read by his mother in a tone of voice that suggests she’s clutching an invisible string of pearls) that his summer fling, Daisy (Dana Plato), has given birth. After literally counting on his fingers and confirming with a friend that it takes nine months for a human baby to be born, Charles, cute but dumb as a bag of hammers, determines that he’s probably the father.

He spends time doing some moony-eyed reflecting over his relationship with Daisy, which seems to have lasted a week and abruptly ended with her dumping him and ordering him to never contact her again. Daisy is a bit…mercurial, with her moods ranging from “angry” to “unreasonably angry,” and spends much of her time on screen looking as such:

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When Charles visits Daisy in the hospital, she rails at him for ruining her life and leaving her to deal with the pregnancy on her own, which would be understandable, if not for the fact that, as Charles reasonably points out, she never told him she was pregnant in the first place. Daisy has already decided to put the baby up for adoption, and you would think that Charles would welcome the opportunity to put as much distance between himself and this raging lunatic as possible, before she plunges a letter opener into his throat. There’s just one little sticking point: he’s fallen instantly in love with his newborn son, and like no 16 year-old boy anywhere ever, wants the chance to be a father.

Though Daisy, a social worker, and Charles’s mother all push hard for adoption, he stands firm. He’s going to raise his child on his own, even if his best explanation for how the child was made in the first place was “We didn’t know she could get pregnant!” Sure, he might end up putting the diaper on the baby’s head or trying to feed it Totino’s Pizza Rolls, but at least it would have a real father.

His insistence on not giving up his son eventually wears down the social worker, and she agrees to let him take the baby home for a few days to see how it works out. I’m not sure if social workers normally allow helpless infants to be taken care of on a trial basis, like someone trying out exercise equipment, but fine. As long as he doesn’t give it a bath in the dishwasher, what could go wrong?

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Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a terrible idea and everything immediately goes to hell. Losing just one night of sleep renders Charles incapacitated. His grades plummet. He loses his lucrative bagging career. His social life suffers. An invitation to a cute classmate’s birthday party isn’t a good enough reason for Mom, who works all day and goes to school at night, to drop everything and babysit for him. He yells at the baby when it refuses to stop crying. This poor kid is barely capable of taking care of a hamster, let alone a human being.

Now, a single father as devastatingly handsome as Rob Lowe should have every woman between the age of 16 and 40 within a 20 mile radius offering to help him, whether it involves changing the baby, cooking meals, or giving Dad a soothing, shirtless massage. But alas, no, all Charles has is his mother, who isn’t nearly as willing as he expected her to be to take on all the unpleasant aspects of baby care, such as anything that doesn’t involve just smiling at it or talking about how it will surely play for the NFL someday. Charles discovers, accurately, that good intentions aren’t enough to make parenting an easy task.

He returns the baby to the social worker, thankfully in one piece, and signs the adoption paperwork. The social worker sticks it in and breaks it off by saying “He will have a father, Charles. It just won’t be you.” The episode ends, like the previously reviewed What Are Friends For?, on a bummer note, with the main character weeping in despair, the right decision having been the most painful one.

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As was usually the case with ABC Afterschool Specials, Schoolboy Father is charmingly corny and well-meaning, and its ending is surprisingly moving. It may seem that everyone is unnecessarily hard on Charles, but really, leaving a baby to be raised by a teenager, let alone a teenager who has to use his fingers to count to nine, is just a dreadful idea. Yes, yes, we all know stories about someone, a grandmother or a high school friend or whatever, who was a teenage parent and managed to raise the child to adulthood without accidentally setting it on fire. Nevertheless, the show makes it abundantly clear that Charles is ill-equipped for the task, especially since his desire to be a parent is driven mostly by his issues from being abandoned at a young age by his own father. This kid doesn’t need to be taking care of a baby, he needs to be working out his absent parent angst through bad poetry, like normal teenagers.

As for Rob Lowe, while not entirely believable as a dork who doesn’t know how to talk to girls, he does offer the role a certain appealing earnestness. He doesn’t realize he’s incompetent, ergo you find yourself rooting for him to get it together and figure it out. And who knows, maybe one day Charles Elderberry, now a weathered but still fabulously attractive man in his fifties, will be walking somewhere and pass a younger, equally attractive man on the street. They’ll look at each other, and they’ll nod in recognition. My god, that is a good looking man, they’ll both think. And he looks so familiar!

 

Original airdate: October 15, 1980

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“Dance ’til Dawn” (1988)

Graduation season is upon us, that time when young people must give up childish things and cross the threshold into adulthood. Cherish these days while you still can, teenagers, because it’s the best time of your life. It’s all mortgages and unsatisfying orgasms and boring jobs and crying toddlers after that.

I’m lying, of course. In no way should high school be the best years of your life. Enjoyable, sure. Tolerable, at the very least. But the very best? No. That’s sad. It’s what bitter middle-aged people say because they don’t think anyone under thirty has the right to complain about anything. Let me tell you something, young people reading this post: if twenty or thirty years from now you can honestly look back and say that high school was the best time of your life, something has gone terribly wrong somewhere. If you’re forty and regaling your bored kids for the tenth time with a story about how you planted a stink bomb in the vice-principal’s office, or if you still have your junior year wrestling trophy on display, it’s time to do an assessment and figure out at what point your life went off the rails. The proper time to give up reminiscing about high school is by the end of summer after you graduate high school.

Nevertheless, if you really believe that horsepucky, then I have a treat for you: 1988′s Dance ‘til Dawn, one of the last in a run of teen-friendly TV movies with all-star casts (see also: High School U.S.A., Poison Ivy, Crash Course). Watered down John Hughes without the cynicism and sly humor (and with its own bald-ass ripoff of Yello’s “Oh Yeah”), it hits all the teen movie tropes with the speed and efficiency of a Saturday night bingo championship at the local VFW hall.

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“Joanie Loves Chachi: A Test of Hearts”

“I was wrong in trying to push you toward the country and western.” He held up a hand. “I thought we had to try, but I was wrong. I’m big enough to admit it. But I think I’ve got the right mesh for you now. I think it could be dynamite.”

“Yes, sir?”

“You have a quality which is quite rare. An innocence, yet an aliveness–which is unique. I think we have conceived a right combination for you. Almost…almost, but not quite…the beauty and the beast.”

At her frown of incomprehension, he smiled. “You will just go on being you, sweet and innocence, with a dash of sex appeal and a touch of daring. He will be the eternal menace, the seducer, the dark side of everyone. The contrast should be quite, quite unique.”

“He?” she asked.

“Rick Ventura. He has the show biz savvy, the right kind of sleekness to contrast with you.” Bauer put up his hand. “I know he’s older, I know he’s maybe too slick, but we think the mesh is good. At least until we try it.”

Now, this comes off like some lurid shit, doesn’t it, all that stuff about “beauty and the beast,” and how a young woman’s innocence will contrast with an older man’s dark side. It sounds like the opening to 99 cent Kindle porn, where the female lead is named Victoria or Annabelle, and she eventually melts the icy heart of a billionaire by letting him stick it in any part of her it’ll fit. But no, believe it or not, this is from a book written for a young teen audience. Even more implausibly, it’s a book adaptation of Joanie Loves Chachi.

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This was the second of only two in a series of Joanie Loves Chachi tie-in novels, which suggests they were about as successful as the TV show.  The seventh and last spin-off of Happy Days, premiering when Happy Days itself was hobbling into its tenth season, Joanie Loves Chachi focused on primetime’s most boring couple, and their adventures as they try to make it as singers in Chicago. Much like its predecessor in the last few seasons, the early 1960s setting was largely in plot description only, with Joanie wearing a perm, the male characters having fashionably feathered hair, and wardrobes that were heavy on sequins and velour.

Though the show occasionally made references to the Beatles, and what a challenge it would be for a couple of scrappy kids from the Midwest to compete with the British Invasion, the music Joanie and Chachi perform with their band is the blandest of late 70s-early 80s pop cheese. Check out the theme song: it makes Christopher Cross sound like Black Sabbath. A great deal of audience goodwill is expended just on buying that the other characters on the show, including Al (Al Molinaro, R.I.P.) and Chachi’s mother Louisa (Ellen Travolta), would be moved to near tears over their performance, let alone that strangers would erupt in ecstatic applause.

Because mediocre movies, TV shows, and books about bands are required by law to have a subplot in which one of the members is tempted with the offer of becoming a solo act, such is the focus of A Test of Hearts, the official name of the book. As if anyone would have bought this book without already having at least a passing knowledge of Joanie Loves Chachi, nearly the entire first chapter explains who all the characters are, and how they ended up in Chicago (which Joanie, as part of her internal monologue, helpfully refers to as “the Second City,” “a toddlin’ town,” and “the metropolis in the center of America”). As was already established in the TV show, Joanie and Chachi lend their blistering vocals to a band that also includes Chachi’s Italian stereotype cousins Mario and Annette (Annette, described at various times as “plump” and “chubby,” is usually eating something) and Bingo, who comes off as either perpetually stoned or autistic.

A “running gag,” if you want to call it that, in A Test of Hearts, is that the band doesn’t have a name. The ideas that Joanie and Chachi come up with, not to mention the names of fictitious rival bands, are hilariously (albeit unintentionally) This is Spinal Tap level terrible. They include:

  • Fran Towner and the Burbees
  • Tiger Digby and the Alien Cometh
  • The Arcola Five
  • The Joanie-Chachi Group
  • The Space Travelers
  • Two and Three (suggested because there are two female and three male members of Joanie and Chachi’s band)
  • Elayne and the Elephants
  • Chachi and the Arcolas

Chachi’s Uncle Rico, who dresses and talks like a character in an Edward G. Robinson movie, gets the band a go-see with Ed Bauer and his sinister partner Nick Andruschak, producers for “Centaur Records.” Things go pretty well, until–uh oh!–they tell Uncle Rico that they’re only interested in taking on Joanie as a singer. We know Ed’s a Hollywood slimeball because he constantly refers to Joanie as “snookie” and “babykins,” but he’s a lovable slimeball who only wants her to make it as a star. Nick, on the other hand, whose dialogue is invariably described as “grunting” or “growling,” is inexplicably villainous, so convinced that Joanie is a can’t-miss proposition that he’ll exact violence on anyone who gets in the way.

Though Joanie is more than a little reluctant to leave the band as a solo act, Chachi gallantly gives her his blessing. If Joanie is portrayed in the book as a sweetly innocent small town bumpkin (though I’m not sure Milwaukee could be accurately described as a “small town”), Chachi comes off as a secular saint, selflessly putting Joanie’s hopes and dreams before his own, and so handsome that nearly everyone in his life remarks upon it, including his own mother, as in this passage: “She sighed. He was handsomer than his father, bless his soul. She knew that handsome men were often shallow men, involved with only their looks and their effect on other people. There were women the same way, of course. When Chachi was still a child she had seen his beauty–as objectively as she could, since all mothers have the most adorable child in the world–and had tried all these years to not let him grow into a primping, ego-driven caricature of a man.”

Eeeeeeeeewwwww! Anyway, when Joanie arrives for her first day of recording at the studio, she is shocked and disappointed to discover that she can’t just walk right in and start singing her own songs in the manner that she sung them with Chachi. She is aghast that Ed expects her to change her singing style, and maybe even her appearance, in order to meet with current music trends. First he tries to make her into a country-western act, then partners her with the sleazy Rick Ventura. None of it seems to fit just right, and eventually the label, intimidated by the growing force of the British Invasion, decides to market her as part of a new music trend they call “Slime Rock,” which would involve Joanie streaking her hair and eating flowers on stage.   

While that sounds totally awesome, Joanie wants no part of it. She may dream of stardom, but she wants it only by Chachi’s side, singing their wet noodle love ballads together all the way to a spot on American Bandstand. Chachi, meanwhile, suffers his heartbreak and disappointment in devastatingly handsome silence, while Mario and Annette weakly cheer on Joanie’s efforts. Only the highly irritating Bingo speaks up in favor of the record label’s marketing gimmicks, interminably babbling like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

After Al, who is now Chachi’s stepfather, literally quotes “To thine own self be true” at her, Joanie flees her contract and returns to the band and Chachi’s loving arms. Nick, infuriated that he’ll have to find someone else to be the Nico for their “Slime Rock” band, shows up and pushes Chachi around, but is chased off by Uncle Rico. At the end–what luck!–someone else with connections to a different record label shows up to watch them perform, and suggests that the label would be interested in them just the way they are. The book concludes with Joanie planting a kiss on Chachi that “everyone envied.”

A Test of Hearts is one of those endearingly naive books for young people that suggests it is entirely possible to make it in show business without having to compromise your act, style, or even your look in any way. I mean, clearly The Beatles just showed up for their first day of recording in matching suits and haircuts, that wasn’t some record executive’s idea, right? Surely Lesley Gore would have still made it if she had sung love songs about the gender to which she was actually attracted. This is the same kind of thinking that inspired one of the more annoying aspects of Generation X, particularly those in the grunge scene (and I was one of those people), that a band or performer changing their musical style or appearance in order to reach a bigger audience was considered to be the lowest form of selling out, let alone debasing one’s self enough to sign a recording contract. Fuck paying the rent or eating anything other than Cup Noodles, artistic integrity comes first!

Yes, what I’m trying to tell you is that Joanie is basically Kurt Cobain in this book.

Because there is absolutely no question that Joanie will choose Chachi over the lure of solo stardom, there’s a whole lot of padding to get A Test of Hearts to just over 150 pages. And when I say padding, I mean this is the literary equivalent of a middle school girl’s bra. The reader is treated to the inner monologues of not one, not two, but four different characters, none of whom seem to think of anything else but Joanie and Chachi, how good-looking they are, and how perfect their relationship is. No one can enter a room without providing excruciating detail about what it looks like, leading to this gripping passage set in a restaurant kitchen: “Food was being chopped, scraped, cut, boiled, sauteed, simmered, rinsed, tasted, and displayed prettily. Later on, during the completion of orders, it would also be broiled, baked, heated, cooled, and tossed.” Thank goodness author William Rotsler mentioned this, otherwise I would have assumed that after all the chopping, scraping, cutting, boiling, sauteeing, simmering, rinsing, tasting, and displaying prettily the food would have just been thrown in the trash. See, I know how to pad too.

Nevertheless, this is “young adult” romance, long before the term actually existed, and young adult romance is nothing if not pure wish fulfillment. When you were experiencing your first love, you probably assumed that everyone around you and your partner did little more than think about your relationship, smiling and nodding in approval like Al and Chachi’s mom do here. When young teens harbor dreams about becoming an actor or a rock star, they assume that an agent or record producer will be so blown away by their authenticity that they’ll immediately give them free range to perform whatever songs or acting roles they want. So, as pure fantasy, A Test of Hearts gets the job done. It almost makes me a little wistful for the time when I was young enough to still believe in that kind of horseshit.

“The Day My Kid Went Punk” (1987)

One of the things I originally intended to do with this blog is rewatch the ABC Afterschool Specials, or at least, as many as YouTube has available. Though new episodes were being made as recently as 1997, I stopped watching probably a decade earlier, right around the time The Day My Kid Went Punk aired. Most people remember The Day My Kid Went Punk for its great TV Guide ad, which was greeted with a collective giggle, particularly from the teen audience it was targeting.

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Two notable things about this ad: one, the family’s last name isn’t Nelson, it’s Warner. Also, my usually reliable memory for such completely useless information convinced me that the father was played by Max Wright, who, of course, played Willie on ALF. I was mistaken, though, it’s Bernie Kopell, who played Your Ship’s Doctor on The Love Boat. If they ever bring back Beat the Geeks, clearly I’ve blown my chance to participate as “ABC Afterschool Special Geek.”

The kid who goes punk is Terry, played by Jay Underwood. For one hot minute in the late 80s Jay Underwood was poised to take the throne as the latest cute and harmless as a puppy teen idol, then just as quickly disappeared (as per Wikipedia he is now a pastor at a church in California, and has six–!!!!–children). Though Terry, a classical violinist, is a nice, talented kid, he suffers from a terrible case of middle child syndrome, ignored by his overworked parents in favor of his older brother, a faux Alex P. Keaton type, and younger sister. They don’t even bother with taking him to dinner the night before he’s to leave town for the whole summer, because, according to his mother, “it’s getting late” (note: it’s broad daylight out when she says this).

Though Terry has gotten a summer job as a daycare counselor at a hotel, he decides it’s the perfect time to give his nerdy, boring look a major overhaul, and does so right before his flight. Regrettably, there isn’t a scene in which he goes to a punker supply store in the airport, located right between the Brookstone and Cinnabon. Terry has packed a suitcase full of carefully ripped t-shirts, studded belts, and cans of Halloween hairspray. He’s also packed a pair of scissors and a pocket knife, which made me reminiscent of the more innocent time before 9/11, when you could pack a chainsaw in your carry-on bag and no one would care.

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It should go without saying that despite his best efforts, Terry doesn’t look “punk,” not one little bit. Really, this show should be called The Day My Kid Discovered Adam Ant. He looks adorable, which makes the scene in which he walks into the hotel for his first day of work and onlookers all but drop their monocles in shock and dismay even more hilarious. The hotel manager (played by Roxie Roker, Lenny Kravitz’s mom) literally recoils in distaste at the sight of him, and describes Terry to the hotel’s owner as “a Ziggy Ziggy Sputnik lookalike.” This strange bit of dialogue, referencing a British new wave band that made not the slightest blip on American music charts (their name was actually Sigue Sigue Sputnik), bears the question: did no one associated with the making of this show, even the teen actors, think to pick up an actual music magazine and find a more appropriate, relevant band to name drop? No one could have walked into a record store and asked a clerk to name a punk band, any punk band? Black Flag? Dead Kennedys? Ramones? Sure, Terry looks more Siouxsie Sioux than Sid Vicious, but come on, at least make some kind of effort here.

Though the manager and hotel owner’s wariness around Terry suggest they think he’s going to assault the children in the daycare center with a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat, he’s actually a whiz with them, calming them down by singing a generic light rock song about the power of believing in yourself. In his spare time he scores a gig with a bar band that has a harder sound, and by “harder” I mean they sound like Loverboy as opposed to Kenny Loggins. Terry’s new look seems to be working out for him, but–uh oh!–we learn that Terry’s mother is a psychologist, and is going to be the guest speaker at a conference in the same hotel where he works. The subject of the conference? “Punk Syndrome: How Parents Can Avoid It.”

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This is probably my favorite shot in the entire show. The guy on the bottom left, is that Dave Gahan? I’m pretty sure it is. The guy at the top center looks like a professional wrestler. It’s like the production designer grabbed some poor sap intern working for none cents an hour and said “Go find me some pictures of weirdo rock ‘n’ roll types,” and this was what they came back with. Again, how hard could it have been to just do ten minutes of research and find a picture of an actual punk band? By 1987 punk was all intents and purposes over, or at least, in hibernation, having been edged out by hair metal, which would soon be edged out by grunge. I didn’t even know any actual punk rockers in my little suburban New Jersey town when this aired, and I still could have provided it a dose of realism.

Terry’s parents arrive at the hotel for the conference, and are shocked by his appearance. His mother is initially more concerned with how it’ll impact her standing as the leading authority on Punk Syndrome than what may have spurred the change. She demands that he go back to the way he looked before, but Terry refuses. “This is the real me, I just changed the wrapping,” he says, which is the point of the show. Underneath all the hair product and eyeliner, Terry is still the same good-natured teen. He even eventually wins over a snobby hotel guest, who earlier nearly blows an aneurysm over the idea of him watching over her child in the daycare center.

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After an argument in which Terry accuses his parents of favoring his siblings over him, his mother comes to the startling conclusion that he went punk because he was looking for attention. Her taking that long to figure that out would suggest she’s really not all that good of a psychologist, let alone a leading authority on Punk Syndrome, but never mind. Where initially she didn’t even want to admit he was her son, Terry’s mother instead invites him to appear on the panel of the conference, where he and other punkers talk about how they’re just humans with feelings underneath all the scary makeup to a dubiously grumbling audience.

When one of them points out that some of the audience members probably dressed like hippies at one time, a woman unclutches her pearls long enough to say “That’s hardly the same thing, young man! We preached love and peace, you stand for violence and cruelty!” Again, it’s reasonable that someone would think that of, say, Johnny Rotten, but the kids on the panel look like they decided to hit up a Spirit store after volunteering at the local animal shelter. Only a couple scenes earlier, Terry gifts a handicapped little girl with a doll and takes her horseback riding. Obviously the “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing is the message of the show, but it would be a bit more incisive if the punkers didn’t look like, well, a totally square, out of touch person’s idea of what a “punker” would look like.

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The conference ends up being a success anyway, and later one of the audience members approaches Terry’s mother with a snapshot of his son, who was a punker a few years earlier, but since cleaned up his act, and is “now 22 and a banker!” The “after” photo shows the son sitting at a desk with slicked back Gordon Gekko hair, which was still a noble goal in 1987.

Terry and his parents go home having reconciled, but he still refuses to depunkify himself, which costs him the first violin chair in the school orchestra, because, as the orchestra conductor says, he would be too “distracting.” After some soul searching, and a bonding moment with his brother, Terry decides that while he has sold his soul to rock ‘n’ roll, he’ll tone down his look after all, losing the makeup but keeping the Flock of Seagulls hair. Life, it’s about choices, like choosing not to do some research before you do an entire TV show dedicated to a subculture you know nothing about.

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As I rewatch the Afterschool Specials (and CBS’s equivalent Schoolbreak Specials) with the eyes of a cynical old person, they come off as dopey and overly earnest as educational films of the 1960s. I doubt The Day My Kid Went Punk made much of an impact on anyone whose children were paying to see GG Allin shit on himself, and those children probably weren’t watching ABC Afterschool Specials anyway. They could have done the exact same plot with almost the exact same dialogue twenty years earlier, only instead of dyed hair and earrings the son would have had long hair and love beads.

And yet, it is charming, and completely well-meaning. It’s like when you’re sixteen, and your grandmother gives you a birthday card with a picture of Strawberry Shortcake on it (not that this happened to me). Sure, it completely misses the mark on what “punk” is, and everybody’s reaction to Terry is so over the top it’s as though he’s walking around with a heroin needle sticking out of his arm, but any show that encourages parents to understand that a teenager’s desire to change their appearance usually isn’t driven by some malicious desire to humiliate and punish them is pretty useful. Sometimes a kid listens to Ziggy Ziggy Sputnik, and wants to go a little wild, and what’s the harm in that?

Original airdate: October 23, 1987

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