The 10 Cheesiest "Just Say No" After-School Specials
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After-school specials and made-for-TV movies about the dangers of drug use originated in the early '70s, but these message-driven flicks hit their peak in the '80s, during the "Just Say No" era of President Reagan. Basic cable networks churned out these movies designed to teach kids valuable lessons about drugs and sex, while networks launched a series of after-school specials centered around the theme. While the results were high on anti-drug propaganda, they were notably low on production values and acting quality. Still, the franchise did launch the careers of several prominent names—while providing a final big payday for some fading stars.
In the first several of anti-drug movies featuring Scott Baio, he plays the role of awkward high school freshman Jack Melon. He initially refuses a joint offer from the school’s reputed pothead and dealer Teddy (Jeffrey Frichner), but eventually tries it and the two strike up a friendship. Jack’s pot use quickly leads to a deteriorating relationship with his brother older Mike (Vincent Bufano), his new classmate Felicity (Largo Woodruff) rejecting his advances and his Spanish teacher Mr. David (John Herzfeld) calling him out during a lecture for being stoned. Jack smokes a joint prior to a lake outing with Mike and accidentally whacks his older brother with an oar while rowing, leading to Mike waking up in the hospital with a broken nose and no memory of what happened. When their father demands to know the details, Mike tells him that he smacked into a tree trunk after swimming ahead of the boat and that Jack saved his life. The incident turns Jack off smoking pot and (of course!) he ends up winning back Felicity as soon as his habit is kicked.
One Too Many (1985)
Unlike many after-school drug specials which featured Hollywood stars before they made it big, this one starred Val Kilmer post- Top Secret and Michelle Pfeiffer post- Grease 2 and Scarface. Unfortunately, the plot was hardly A-list worthy. In a flashback montage, Pfeiffer plays the role of Annie, a nerdy high school student whose boyfriend Eric (Kilmer) is a major drinker. Eric starts a fight with Annie’s best friend Beth (Mare Winningham) one night while drinking and the couple leave. Although both have been booze, Annie has drunk somewhat less, and insists that Eric give her his keys so that she can drive them home. When Beth runs out into the road to stop them, Annie accidentally smashes into her with his car and kills her. Because she was legally drunk at the time, Annie is sent to juvenile hall, facing a potential vehicular manslaughter charge.
The Boy Who Drank Too Much (1980)
Based on a novel of the same name by Shep Greene, Scott Baio continued his anti-drug propaganda career by playing the role of a likable high school hockey player, Buff Saunders, who drinks excessively to escape his damaged home life. His father (Don Murray) is also an alcoholic and absent when Buff is eventually rushed to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Buff eventually enters rehab in order not to lose his position on the team, and his straight-laced hockey teammate Billy Carpenter (Lance Kerwin) commits to helping him stay clean and sober. Billy’s grades start to drop due to his efforts in helping Buff, who leaves the hospital when his friend misses one meeting because it’s his birthday, but the hockey star ultimately manages to stay on the wagon.
The Fourth Man (1990) (7 minutes in)
Playing up the statistic at the time that seven percent or more of all high school students are on steroids, the film features Joey (Peter Billingsley), a non-athletic bookworm whose father (Tim Rossovich) is a former football hero. Joey’s father raves over the athletic accomplishments of his best friend Steve (Vince Vaughn), so he tries out for the high school track team in an effort to win his father’s approval. When diet and exercise don’t yield quick results, a sports equipment store employee recommends steroids for Joey. Although his track results begin to improve drastically, Joey begins to exhibit episodes of roid rage and his grades fall drastically. Eventually, a near-fatal collapse reveals Joey’s addiction to steroids and his family intervenes to help him.