Family Ties: Speed Trap

I know you’re all very familiar with Jesse Spano’s caffeine pill problems, but did you know that Alex P. Keaton once took diet pills so he could study more? (Honestly, it sounds like your mileage may vary. Comedian Elna Baker describes taking phentermine and spending several intense hours making a really shitty birthday card in her book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance: A Memoir. So in my very special opinion, you’re not gonna get quality results on your mind or body with speed.)

In this episode, Alex wants to stay up all night working on school work. He enlists his sister Mallory’s help in getting diet pills (a.k.a. speed) from a friend of hers. Mallory obtains the pills from her reluctant friend with the promise that Alex will take her out on a date — even though he’s super not into her and fat shames her to Mallory when she tells him the details of the transaction. Oh my gosh the 80’s, there is soooo much that is wrong with this situation. And you can betchya only the pill issue will be addressed in this episode — and only as it relates to Alex.

Alone in his room, Alex delivers a lengthly soliloquy (and a little more fat-shaming) as he agonizes over whether or not to take the pills. Seeking the advice of his framed 8×10 photo of Richard Millhouse Nixon, Alex eventually pops some pills (off-screen).

The next time we see Alex, he’s high on stimulants playing Monopoly with his family (as if Monopoly could be any more aggressive). Alex’s ex-hippie parents are very oblivious to the fact that their son is high. I would truly expect better of people who met at Berkeley.

Later, Alex approaches Mallory for more pills and when she tries to cut him off, he breaks cardinal rule number one (never go through a teenaged girl’s purse) and takes the pills for himself. Mallory tells Alex that she never wants to speak to him again. Alex tells Mallory that if she tells their parents about what he’s doing then she’ll be in trouble with them too. (Seriously? The hip Berkeley parents of the 80’s?? Mallory isn’t all that smart, so she believes this to be true.)

Alex becomes increasingly exhausted and irritable. This culminates in a fight with his mom after he catches her watching a documentary with Jennifer about the human reproductive system. He turns off the television, calls it smut, and says Jennifer should believe in the stork until she’s twelve. Oh boy, the Reagan Years.

Alex’s mother tells him that it isn’t his house and sperm-egg fertilization is science not smut. His mother decides to punish him by having him clean the house — which his speed-addled-heart loves. Come on parents, why so slow on the uptake???

Alex later tries to bribe Mallory for more pills, which doesn’t work. He then calls her friend directly. (On a cute little yellow touchtone phone. Oh man don’t you miss how fun landlines were???)

Mallory’s friend hooks Alex up with more pills (also off-screen). The next time we see him, he’s studying while painting his room bright blue at 3:30 am. This finally causes his father to realize something is up. He then discovers that Alex has only slept four hours total during the past week and finally realizes his kid is on drugs.

Alex tells his dad that he’s doing great on pills. (He isn’t. He started digging trenches for a sprinkler system nobody asked for in the backyard.) Alex’s father tells him that when he was younger he took speed too, which is why he can say that this is a horrible idea. He tells Alex that they both need to go to bed and will discuss this further in the morning. Alex falls asleep mid-lecture. He continues to sleep through his big test.

Waking up an hour late, he frantically tosses his room looking for more pills. It’s so poorly written but Michael J. Fox is so good. He’s really, really too good for this writing. Alex finally realizes he can’t stave off the inevitable crash and that his whole speed plan seriously backfired. We then end with Mallory reminding Alex of the details of his date with her friend — oh and another fat joke.

Very Special Lesson: Sleep is super, super important. Like SO important. It also just makes me sad when people abuse drugs for the purposes of studying. Like damn, I know our education system is broken but still. I suppose the one good thing about this episode is that even model-student goody-goody Alex P. Keaton is not immune to the cycle of addiction. But that’s about all this episode does well. Diet pills and supplements are often terrifying. And popular culture knew that when this episode was released–at least in terms of OTC pills. Allowing for the fact that doctor prescribed diet pills are largely a sign o’ the times in this episode, it’s a real shame that neither Alex nor his (formerly) hip-to-drugs father spare a moment for Mallory’s friend, who was taking those pills to impress people like Alex while most likely suffering the same side effects he found so debilitating. For all we know, she wasted several hours off-screen making him a shitty card, risking her life in an attempt to satisfy conventional beauty standards. But Alex was too busy insulting her, using her, and worrying about his grades to think about how she might be feeling.

On a lighter note–just a quick plug: I’ll be participating in the 3rd Annual So Bad It’s Good Blogathon later this month. Stay tuned for my take on the CLASSIC film Her Alibi staring Tom Selleck and Mr. Feeney.

Arthur: To Eat or Not to Eat

p184303_b_v8_adTIL Arthur is still on television. And you know what? That’s just great! Being a kid in the 90’s was pretty freaking amazing. I feel like being a kid now would be less amazing. I mean Sesame Street isn’t even on public television anymore. We now live in a time where your parents have to be rich enough to have HBO for you to watch Big Bird. And that’s just wrong man, that’s just wrong. So yes, it cheers my heart to know the youth of America still get to see Arthur (the aardvark? Was he an aardvark? Woah, I just looked up what an aardvark actually looks like. Crazy.)

Alas, I missed this episode because it aired like fifteen years after I stopped watching Arthur. But I’m excited to revisit the series.

In this episode, there’s a candy bar called “Rabid Dog.” The commercial makes it look like speed for children. It also makes sparkles come out of your mouth. You know what, I was a cautious child. I don’t think I would have wanted any part of this. But Buster, Arthur’s very best friend, is into it.

He sees the commercial on television and runs to the candy store. Arthur calls after him, “Don’t you want to watch the rest of the cartoon.” SCARIEST SENTENCE EVER UTTERED ON TELEVISION. You’re a cartoon Arthur. The cartoons you’re watching, look exactly like you. Do you know you’re a cartoon??? WHAT IS YOUR REALITY??

mv5bmtq3odiyndkwnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmta4njm0mje-_v1_uy268_cr870182268_al_When the lunch lady cannot read most of the ingredients on the label, she insists that Buster eat an apple instead. (I don’t know why he like asked the lunch lady to read his candy bar wrapper, but whatever.)

Binky (the resident jackass on this show) buys all of the candy bars at the store and resells them on the playground. I mean seriously, this dude is a criminal at like age eight. Someone needs to reign him in.

Meanwhile, a student, who seems to have a college level education in chemistry yet manages to somehow be a second grade student in public school, reads the back of the candy bar and identifies some of the ingredients as radioactive and others as being made of bugs. (Buster is most upset about the bugs, which is weird I think for a bunny.)1280x720-plw

Soon the students start to feel “hot and dizzy,” which seems pretty mild to me for having pounded a candy bar full of what I assume is the equivalent of pop rocks and coke.

hqdefaultBuster and his mom head down to the corporate headquarters of the candy bar company to find out what some of the agreements are. The “Supreme Dog,” as it were, tells them that it’s a trade secret. But he does explain what happens to your brain when you eat a Rabid Dog candy bar. And it’s meth. It’s literally meth.

Buster asks the Supreme Dog to eat one of the candy bars, but he refuses to get high on his own supply. I would say this episode is far-fetched even for a very special episode, but we’re living in Trump’s America…soooooo…

We see a newspaper article that informs us that the Supreme Dog has been arrested. This makes everyone quit the candy bars cold turkey. Ah, if only.

Speaking of cold turkey, has anyone ever seen the movie Cold Turkey? Yeah. It’s pretty weird.

That little girl wiping tears from behind her glasses is BREAKING MY HEART.

But like, back to Buster real quick. A bunny in the second grade managed to destroy an evil corporation and this happens OFF SCREEN?? That’s the show I want to see!

Very Special Lesson: I mean apparently, asking a few questions of an executive can expose an illegal drug trade, but I’m not sure because the writers of Arthur didn’t let me see that part. So all I can reasonably tell you is not to eat things that make sparks fly from your mouth. Yet somehow, I feel like that goes without saying.

21 Jump Street: Pilot

Johnny Depp has a baby face, so no one takes him seriously as a beat cop. But he’s so talented (and cute) that the police department doesn’t want to let him go. Thus, he gets to be in a special program for baby-faced cops (basically becoming a detective even though he was a beat cop .25 seconds ago) that is run out of an old church (located at 21 Jump Street) with an ex-hippie captain and some super hip fellow officers.

This show was awesome. The movies that use its namesake and back story are similarly awesome–managing to lampoon and celebrate the series at the same time. But for now, let’s focus on the 1987 series (even though I cannot wait for 23 Jump Street).

Tom Hansen (Johnny Depp) gets his first case as a Jump Street cop and it’s a real doozy. He has to become a soldier for the War on Drugs in a suburban high school where a tough gang of drug pushers that look like backup dancers from The Jacksons’ Victory tour rule the school with an iron fist. Or should I say, a leather fingerless-gloved fist.

These dudes will mess your shit up in syncopated rhythm.

Usually when I write these posts, I review the episodes instead of relying on my memory. This episode, however, is so embedded in my mind that I can probably recount the whole thing to you right now with no external reference points. You see, I first started watching 21 Jump Street at two and three o’clock in the morning on weeknights in my sophomore year of college while I was building and designing props for the theater department in my dorm room.

I guess I could have worked in the shop, but I was already spending most of tech week in the theater, so I ended up going home when I was too tired to stand up anymore. Then I would sit on the hard carpet of my single dorm room with my Sobo Glue, Bristol, paint, and God knows what else, relying only on sheer force of will and this 1980’s police drama to keep me awake. There’s an odd thing that happens to your mind when it is on the brink of hallucinatory exhaustion. For a moment before you collapse into a sleep-induced coma, everything become incredibly sharp and focused. And that’s why I can tell you this plotline in detail today.

Actually the gang might just be Waxer and this one other dude.

These drug dealers are the drug dealers that everyone warned you about and worse. That dude in the red jacket is Waxer. He’s the ring leader of this whole enterprise and he’s got a scrawny rich white boy totally hooked on dope. That kid’s name is Kenny and Tom Hansen’s job is to become his new best friend and bodyguard. Oh yeah and it’s also to arrest those drug dealers. Tom is pretty nerdy in real life, but as an undercover guy he has to be tough enough to deal with drug dealers and hip enough to appeal to teenagers, so he gets a makeover. That’s how you deal with tackling tough crime!

The school of course is totally powerless and at the mercy of the drug dealers, which in my personal experience isn’t far-fetched at all, unfortunately. But don’t worry, things do quickly become far-fetched in the best possible way.

So hip.

Kenny’s a brat and you’ll definitely hate him, but the fact of the matter is he’s a drug-addicted kid and that’s sad no matter how you slice it. Kenny really does his best to kick the habit because he loves his family, doesn’t want to waste his life, and (I believe) generally recognizes that he is being a huge dick to everyone he knows. Unfortunately, Waxer’s got him on the hook for a ton of money in addition to wanting to sell him drugs forever so as to keep that debt going. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Waxer, like any good businessman, wants his buyer to make good on that debt, but Kenny (though he comes from a rich family) is having trouble paying off that debt. (No one likes to give money to a drug addicted teenager.)

Waxer fancies himself some kind of teenage Pablo Escobar.

So here’s where things get weird. Most drug dealers (once again, I’m speculating) would either a. beat Kenny within an inch of his life so as to really put the pressure on to give them the damn money b. kill Kenny because he is more trouble than he’s worth or c. stop selling Kenny drugs on a deficit because he is not good for it and not worth messing with because he is a rich white kid whose parents have more connections than even the most badass high school drug dealers. I get it, they are a scary gang, but the are not a cartel. Waxer is creepy and aggressive, but he’s definitely like seventeen years old with very limited higher connections–which makes it even more plausible that Waxer would have ditched this Kenny situation a lot earlier.

But this is television and even though Johnny Depp is charming and wonderful, the War on Drugs still needs to tell us to stay away from dope and eat our Wheaties. So Waxer and his gang break into the family home in the late afternoon, while everyone is sitting down to dinner. They proceed to hold everyone at gunpoint with shotguns–which seems to be an insane commonality in the 21st century but for 1980’s high school drug dealers, it seems to be a bit much.

They’re rich but they serve milk from the carton at the table?

Okay now things get a bit hazy for me. I know I said I didn’t need any reference points, but I’m just drawing a blank. Oh well, this is how I remember it however (in)accurate that may be. Kenny steals from his dad, or steals from someone, or does something like majorly obviously bad as a direct result of this home break-in. This leads to a come to Jesus talk with Tom, and Kenny renews his resolve to stop using drugs.

Meanwhile, Waxer has pretty much figured out that he has gotten all he can from Kenny and needs to get rid of him. Kenny meets Waxer one day in the locker room and relapses, but doesn’t realize that Waxer has sold him a speedball. (I’m pretty sure Waxer is trying to take the last of his money and straight up kill him at this point.) So Tom has to rescue Kenny at the last-minute as he is overdosing in the locker room. Then they have another very important and life-changing chat in the hospital room, and Tom tells Kenny he seriously has to stop doing drugs this time. Then he gets to go to rehab. All’s well that ends well! Right? That’s what the War on Drugs taught me.

(Sorry if you love 21 Jump Street and I messed up some significant details! Like I said, this is how I remember it, and obviously my mind is pretty sharp at 3 am!)

Very Special Lesson: Drug dealers will stalk you. No, I mean they will literally stalk you.

This Post Is Brought to You by the War on Drugs

straightupposterIn elementary school we had a class called “Values,” in which we discussed good behavior, moral codes, and not doing cocaine. Our “Values” teacher –a woman with no training in mental health or prevention-based programming aside from (maybe) a certificate—for some reason liked to regale us with Nancy Regan-esque warnings of PCP blunts that she saw on TV and cocaine supposedly offered to her from a compact in a public restroom of. Then there was the infamous day in which she told us all that she knew none of use would ever do drugs so she felt no problem telling us that we could easily buy some in any one of the abandoned warehouses near the waterfront.

This woman largely shaped my knowledge of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol from the first through fifth grades, so I spent most of my pre-teen days convinced that someone was going to hop out from behind a dark corner and force me to smoke a cigarette at gun point. I asked one day in class, “If someone smokes a cigarette…just one time…and they didn’t want to do it…but they did it anyway because of—you know—peer pressure (AKA GUN TO THE HEAD) how will they know that they are addicted to cigarettes? Like if they just did it that one time and then forgot about it, how do they know that they have to smoke them forever?” She calmly replied, “Well, I would imagine that they would remember the way it felt and that they would want to get that feeling again. But you can just say no.”Photograph_of_Mrs._Reagan_speaking_at_a_-Just_Say_No-_Rally_in_Los_Angeles_-_NARA_-_198584

Based upon the fact that she had provided us with little actual knowledge about drugs, I can see how this was the least helpful education ever for my classmates who (most likely not afraid of being held at gunpoint and forced to ingest carcinogens) maybe did not feel so good about themselves or were innocently curious about substances, and then suddenly entered adolescence with absolutely no useful knowledge about substances that were now readily available. But I digress.

I promised you that this would be a blog about very special episodes, and I have one for you here. This blog post is about the ultimate very special episode. In the fifth grade, I was sick one week on a “Values” day, and when I returned the following week, the class was already engaged in an educational video. I spent the class sitting behind my crush while he enthusiastically caught me up on everything that I had missed in the previous video installment. I was a shy eleven year-old and I loved having a reason to talk to him. And I loved even more that he was so excited to talk to me about what I had missed. As much as I would like to imagine that he totally like-liked me and that I had returned to school–having triumphed over my respiratory virus–as a more mature and cooler fifth grader, the truth is that this video was so ridiculous that it served as a unifying factor for everyone in that class from that day through the end of high school.

Straight Up (funded by the United States Department of Education) was the great equalizer of my graduating class. Loser and cool-kid, brain and burn-out for years after could share a laugh over “give me that headband!” while those who had joined us later on in school looked confused and left out. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Straight Up is the story of a boy who just wants to fit in with the cool kids. It’s a classic tale really. He’s bad at skateboarding, while the cool kids excel at it. You know the drill. The cool kids all happen to have a ton of booze, cigarettes, and a quart sized Ziploc bag full of pot. I mean FULL. We are talking a clear possession with intent to distribute charge here, people. This boy, Ben (Chad Allen), just wants to be liked, and he thinks that handing out with this group of twelve year-old druggies will makes his life better.

"This grass is great, Sue."
“This grass is great, Sue.”

Luckily for him, he meets Cosmo (Lou Gosset, Jr.) who has a thing or two to teach him about peer-pressure and healthy life choices, which he does by using tools such as a magic headband, magic glasses, and an amulet. The headband spews facts in Ben’s own voice when others pressure him into doing drugs. The eyeglasses show been the true dark nature behind the glamorous facade of heavy drug use. The amulet is known as the “chain of command” that gives Ben the power to (all together now) JUST SAY NO! 

Yeah, definitely no drugs around here...
Yeah, definitely no drugs around here…

Along the way, the kid meets “gateway” drugs, booze and pot, and then must face the added struggle of saying no to harder drugs, cocaine and heroin. And when I say meets, I mean literally meets. They are personified. Oh and did I mention that this is a musical? It’s a musical.

straight up
Pot and booze, oh my!

Here’s a direct quote from the recap the video plays after the first section:  “Thanks to the knowledge that his magic head band gives him, Ben is able to keep out of danger. But when Pot steals the headband, Ben finds himself hanging over the edge of a deadly snake pit.” To be fair, the guy who plays heroin is very scary and has syringes in his hair.

Yep, those are syringes.
Yep, those are syringes all right.

In the interest of full disclosure, Straight Up is 90-minutes in total and I’m concerned that if I review the entire thing I will write a 5,000 word blog post about an anti-drug video and the internet will hate me forever. But you don’t have to take my word for it…you can watch the full series of three, 30-minute episodes on the National Archive YouTube channel.  It’s available for you to watch online at your convenience because it is such a helpful learning tool for Americans of all ages and every walk of life.

Very Special Lesson: Guys, what is happening with our anti-drug education in this country? Seriously. Who thought this video was a good idea??