I know I'm not the only one out there who fondly remembers the After School Specials that ran periodically on ABC from 1972 until 1988. In fact, I can guarantee that I'm not, as BCI Eclipse has started releasing the old teleplays on DVD format in four episode collections. These little forty five minute morality plays (that were stretched out to an hour once commercials were factored in) took 'slice of life' situations that every day teens and pre-teens might have to deal with and gave them a spin that made them easy to digest, often times with a depressing ending in order to warn kids about such follies.
While much of the material here is very dated, at the time producer Martin Tahse was doing something unique and original in youth oriented programming and the series did win a fair share of awards, including an Emmy or two.
The Eighteenth Emergency: Christian Juttner (of The Swarm) plays a boy named Mouse, so named because of his small stature. This doesn't prevent Mouse from mouthing off to anyone and everyone in site though, and when he learns about the origins of man in his history class, he decides to tell Marv (Jim Sage) just how much he resembles a caveman. Marv, being the local bully, decides that Mouse is going to pay for his flippant remarks. Mouse tries to hide from the bigger and stronger Marv and succeeds temporarily but soon enough, Marv tracks him down and lays the smack-down on him. Mouse ends up with a bloody nose, Marv ends up with a sore first, and they both learn the valuable life lesson that not only can words hurt just as much as a punch in the nose, but that violence is not the answer. This episode is also known under the alternate title of Psssst! Hammerman's After You! but sadly does not feature the same Hammerman that MC Hammer used to work his way into our hearts in the animated series of the same name from 1991.
Sara's Summer Of The Swans: Heater Totten plays Sara, a small town pre-teen girl with a shortage of things to do in her small town. In short, she's bored. To make matters worse, she has to watch over her little brother, Charlie (Reed Diamond who recently had a bit part in Spider-Man 2) and the summer is quickly coming to an end. One day, when she's being all self absorbed and not really paying attention to anything, Charlie ends up wandering off and getting lost. Sara panics and enlists the help of her friend Joe (Christopher Knight who has recently played Peter Brady in a bunch of the Brady Bunch spin offs) to track the little guy down. Eventually they find him and Sara learns not to be such a selfish jerk.
The Skating Rink: Tuck Faraday (Stewart Peterson) is a farm boy who isn't too high on himself because of his stutter. He lacks the self confidence that most kids in his school have, and this causes his life to suck. Things take a turn for the better though, once someone turns an old warehouse into an indoor skating rink. Tuck sees that this is his time to shine, and he takes up ice skating. He takes to it like a fish to water and soon all those dastardly kids who made fun of his speech impediment are staring in awe at his fancy moves on the ice, which in turn lead to even fancier moves off of the ice. Tuck learns to love himself once he masters his new found talent, and his inspired self confidence serves as a 'you can do it' message to all of us.
Dear Lovely Heart - I Am Desperate: Carrie (Susan Lawrence) writes a relationship advice column for her school newspaper. This column, entitled 'Lovely Heart,' is written anonymously at the request of the paper's editor (Meegan King of Humanoids From The Deep!), in hopes of stirring up some readership and making more of the students pay attention. The column is a hit but sometimes Carrie's advice doesn't go over so well and more often than not, someone ends up with a broken heart or a broken nose. This doesn't stop the success of the column from going to Carrie's head though, and when she's revealed to be the brains behind the controversial segment, she learns that pride can be the downfall of anyone, even a great advice column writer like her! Carrie tries to stop the presses before its too late but it doesn't happen and oh how the mighty fall at the end of this one.
Seeing as these were shot for television broadcast, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see them presented here as they were originally shown in glorious fullframe. While these transfer aren't going to win any awards, they are watchable. There is some edge enhancement and some print damage and at times the colors look a bit faded and the image looks rather soft, but given that these are thirty year old low budget made for TV movies, they look like decent VHS transfers.
The English Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks are nothing to write home about, but neither are the terrible. There's some mild hiss in one or two scenes and the odd snap, crackle and pop evident on the soundtrack but all of the dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and understand. There are no alternate language tracks, subtitles, or closed captioning options available on any of the four films in this set.
There are no extra features on either of the two DVDs (except for a really tiny uninspired stills gallery) in this set but the packaging for this release is so cool that it warrants a mention. The pair of discs are housed inside a keen looking seventies style trapper keeper that faithfully maintains the look and feel of the era that the movies were made in, right down to the fonts used in the type.
Yes, these movies are dated and yes, they are pretty hokey but the sense of nostalgia that they bring back makes them more than worthwhile for those who grew up on this type of stuff. The low MSRP and decent audio and video quality makes up for the lack of extra features and After School Specials – 1974 – 1976 comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.