Revisiting ABC's Afterschool Specials

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 

I couldn’t watch the episodes fast enough. I had forgotten their existence up until that moment, yet I began shouting out lines verbatim at my computer screen. Kids growing up in my generation got to see the likes of Anthony Kiedis, Vince Vaughn, Jodie Foster, and Leif Garrett grapple with sensitive topics like bullying, alcoholism, sexual harassment and divorce. These actors managed to look cool while spouting gag-worthy lines, navigating ridiculous plot twists, and creating drama that would make Susan Lucci envious.

Blind Sunday

First up, the episode “Blind Sunday.” It featured the teenaged Jeff who, in order to better understand his blind girlfriend, spends an entire day blindfolded. Listen, I applaud your efforts, Jeff, but do you know how ridiculous you look? Neither does she. Otherwise, the episode would end with her pushing you in front of oncoming traffic.

My Mom’s Having a Baby

Next, “My Mom’s Having a Baby.” Curious about his mom’s pregnancy, a ten-year-old seeks answers to how babies are made. I remember my own conversation with my sweet daughter—eight at the time—who asked me the same question. I was nine months pregnant with her youngest brother, and naturally, told her I swallowed a bean and it sprouted into a baby. The truth? Sweetie, Mommy was pretty drunk and we were at a bar. I pulled Daddy into the woman’s restroom and we hastily did it from behind. I don’t even think he got my underwear off. It’s a miracle Gavin is here at all.

Where Do Teenagers Come From?

The follow-up to this was, “Where Do Teenagers Come From?” which perfectly captures the plight of a 12-year-old girl confused about her body. This little gem would have been helpful several weeks back. Instead, I stood in disbelief as I handed my now 11-year-old daughter a towel as she got out of the shower. “Oh, honey,” I said. “Look, you have hair down there now. How cute is that?” She ran from the bathroom and didn’t talk to me for days.

The First Egg

Unable to stop, I found myself downloading “The First Egg.” A group of high school students takes a parenting class and their assignment is to ‘parent’ an egg. I picture my daughter participating in this experiment in 2015. She receives the egg, immediately drops the egg, blames its tragic death on her brother (who is not even in the room), shrugs and goes back to watching Netflix on her iPad.


Unfortunately for my hopes to get anything done that day, two of my personal favorites swiftly followed. “Alexander” tells the story of a retired clown and his undying love for children. Nothing creepy about that one at all. But it’s not to be outdone by “The Skating Rink,” which gives a glimpse into the widespread issue plaguing American teenagers of the late 1970s: stuttering. Naturally, the main character, Tom, overcomes his shyness and embarrassment to become a world championship figure skater.

Make Believe Marriage

Now onto high school students taking a marriage course in “Make Believe Marriage.” Teens partner up and must complete mundane tasks of married life together. If anyone in my generation had paid attention to this episode, exactly none of us would actually be married. Hey sweetheart, it’s a gorgeous, sunny Saturday. What say we head out for a little suburb Olympics? First up grocery shopping, then Home Depot, soccer practice and the dry cleaners. Then, let’s go home, get the kids fed and bathed, vacuum, pay bills and fall asleep by 9 p.m. watching Dateline. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it, kids?

Nowhere in the episodes that aired between 1972 and 1997 did ABC cover gay teens. Not. One. Time. Well done ABC. You devoted an entire episode to a depressed clown and pretended homosexuality didn’t exist. I picture poor Tom skating around the ice rink screaming, “You idiots, you really think I care about my stutter?”

The Unforgivable Secret

I finished up with “The Unforgivable Secret,” which portrayed a 15-year-old who’s stunned to discover that her “deceased” father is very much alive. This immediately reminded me of my childhood dog, Pepi. I was told at the tender age of seven that Pepi had run away with neighborhood dogs. They had formed a doggie gang and recruited Pepi as a member. When I was 14, we were out running errands and I said to my mom, “I still can’t believe you let Pepi just run away with those dogs.” “You idiot,” she said, “we put Pepi to sleep; he was blind, deaf and kept running into walls.” Unforgivable is right.

I loved my stroll down memory lane, but think I’ll leave the rest of the episodes as a fond memory from my childhood. Unless I’m feeling frisky tonight. Then I may see if my husband wants to act out scenes from “Dinky Hocker,” the story of an overweight, food obsessed teen. “Well hello there Mister, I think your turkey drumstick would fit nicely in my self-cleaning oven.” Or, “I think your sausage would go nicely in my hot pocket.” Maybe I’ll just leave the food references to Dinky.

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