A few months ago, Tara posted a tantalizing snippet of the curious 1987 ABC Afterschool Special “The Day My Kid Went Punk”—asking plaintively, “Who has the entire thing?”
I’m happy to report that the entire program now is up on YouTube—and it’s priceless.
It’s well worth a look, especially if you’re into grotesquely denatured representations of the punk movement in a defiantly anodyne and bourgeois context—but be warned: the tone here bears no similarity to the batshit hostility found in the classic Quincy, M.E. “Next Stop, Nowhere” episode from 1982—as would probably be too much to expect from an ABC Afterschool Special. There’s still a whole lot to chuckle over here.
There are a lot of familiar faces here—Bernie Kopell (“Doc” on The Love Boat), James Noble (the governor on Benson), Roxie Roker (The Jeffersons), and Craig Bierko (Cinderella Man)—and the whole thing is a bland sub-John Hughes stab at teenage alienation. The pity is that the “punk” in the episode will be well-nigh unrecognizable to anybody with any familiarity with the real thing. True to the title, young Terry Warner really does make a total switch from young sophomore dork in the high school orchestra to punked-out teen in a quick self-administered makeover session in an airport bathroom.
Unlike in Quincy, M.E.—or in real life—the decision to “go punk” is presented as essentially cost-free, and also as a sign of fairly superficial parental negligence. Terry’s decision to fashion his hair into a pink mohawk on the very day he is to begin employment in a hotel daycare seems unwise, and indeed, Terry’s continual insistence on his freedom to be punk in that corporate setting comes to seem more than a little unreasonable. (Oh, and apparently you can become the frontman in a punk band on the same day that you announce your new identity to the world.) Unlike Quincy, Terry’s parents are irked but never react with much more vitriol than that, and even his masters at the hotel decide they can live with the “scary” punk getup because he’s just so great with the kids. The most hilarious plot point is that Terry’s mom is scheduled to host a conference at the same hotel bearing the title “PUNK SYNDROME: HOW PARENTS CAN AVOID IT”—but even that little problem ends pretty much friction-free…
What the program was trying to do, I think, is reduce the decision to be punk to the relatively manageable issue (in 45 minutes) of taking on an “unacceptable” personal style. But the problem is, bringing the subject down to that plane renders everything everybody does unintelligible, nothing fits together. In the end, the show makes it clear that Terry kind of does have to make a choice between the pink mohawk and his desire to continue with the orchestra—but why would he want that??? Punk has no context here. In a way, the intolerant old-timers in the show are right: deciding to be punk does mean crossing a line over which there may well be no easy return, you can’t just wander back and forth as you wish, unless you’re supremely charming or talented or both—and even then, that ability may come only after years of societal rejection.
Amiable as Terry is, you can’t be a punk unless you’re a punk on the inside—and we never see any evidence of that in this friendly young fellow.
The show’s funniest moment, bar none, comes around minute 34:00, right after that all-important conference, when an attendee decides to share with Terry’s mom the story of what happened to his grown son…. I won’t spoil it, but it’s pretty terrific.
For comparison’s sake, here’s “Next Stop, Nowhere,” the Quincy, M.E. “punk” episode: