If you’re like me, one of the wonders of living in this modern age is the fact that a lot of ephemeral, discarded, and long-forgotten media is constantly bubbling back up to the surface, courtesy of the internet. So (obviously) I am delighted that Afterschool Specials have started turning up in force on YouTube.
What is an Afterschool Special? Well, it is not a movie-of-the-week. It is not a A Very Special Episode. It is definitely not a Lifetime Movie. It is not the rare theatrical feature based on contemporary YA fiction.
I think of them as mainly being the product of the 1970s, and was surprised to learn that at least of few of them continued to air original specials past the point I myself was out of high school in the mid-1990s. And I am no expert, but a number of episodes seemed to have been released on 16mm film and distributed to school and public libraries (I feel like I saw “The Tap Dance Kid” about a half-dozen times, sitting on the floor in various libraries during school vacations…)
In general, I am referring to 30 or 60 minute anthology series that ran on the Big Three networks- ABC Afterschool Special, CBS Schoolbreak Special, and Special Treat on NBC. A number of the ABC and CBS specials were recycled by Nickelodeon in the 1980s under their Special Delivery and 16 Cinema umbrellas. If any readers know of other TV anthologies in this vein, please drop me a comment!
While “afterschool special” tends to imply a ham-handed handling of SOCIAL ISSUES (DRUGS! DRINKING! SHOPLIFTING! CULTS! ALL THE GREATEST HITS!) a number of these specials adapted contemporary YA literature, and not necessarily ones dealing with ISSUES. The formats also got more varied late in the run, including documentary specials (Malcolm-Jamal Warner on gun violence, Keanu Reeves on the Holocaust).
Quality and starpower varies, but it is fun to see these takes on stories that are fondly remembered, and (in my opinion) didn’t get taken seriously at the time.
We took a look at The Day The Senior Class Got Married, by Topical Issues specialist Gloria Miklowitz back in 2015, a deceptively wacky-looking volume of Dell’s Young Love imprint, that was actually a grim tale of high school love gone sour.
The 1985 adaptation for CBS is low on future stars- veteran actor Paul Dooley plays the economics teacher, but his role is cut down to almost nothing. The most notable name in the cast is future NewsRadio co-star Vicki Lewis, who is hilarious as a plotting, boy-crazy classmate. When she successfully pulls off a Cupid Computer-esque scheme to be matched with the class hunk, she practically swoons, asking the teacher “Can I stay home and bear Paul’s children?” I laughed. Hard.
There are also strong supporting performances from the unknowns playing the Class Princess, April, and the Class Marxist, Bobby, as they bungle their way through this odd coupling, only to discover (of course!) that they maybe really like each other.
But while their classmates regard the project as a goof, Rick and Lori are doing it for-real, as they plan on getting married for-real immediately after graduation, and are discovering that their values and expectations are not as compatible as they thought.
To fit into the 30 minute running time, the narrative is much more choppy than the book, and the objections from the parents (who have LESSONS to impart about teenage marriages) are almost entirely written out.
In the end, Lori calls off the engagement, although she and Rick part amicably, their future remaining a little ambiguous. When their teacher returns the assignment, he notes they got a passing grade because they’d “probably get by.”
YouTube currently has two versions streaming- the one-hour original broadcast, complete with commercials (Hot Stuff Skipper! Lipton Noodles and Sauce!) and what looks like the 16mm version that runs just over 30 minutes.
Odds and Ends Department:
Unlike in the book, the scene that appears on the paperback cover actually takes place in the movie.
I can’t get over how much eyeliner they have on Rick in the final scenes. Maybe instead of marrying Lori he’s going to start a Cure tribute band.