GRANDSON OF MADE FOR TV MOVIE WEEK: High School U.S.A. (1983)

Once upon a time, when network TV actually mattered, they’d gather all of their stars once a summer and put them in a TV movie. Or they’d grab the cast of Facts of Life and send them to France. It was a big deal to me when I was a kid. And there are kids growing up today that will have no idea how exciting it was knowing a 2 hour TV movie with all of your favorites was about to air. Even better — when stars of the past crossed over with the hottest stars of the present, I was always hooked.

Originally airing on October 16, 1983 on NBC, this film is all about Excelsior Union High School, where Beau Middleton (Anthony Edwards) rules over everyone as class president and quarterback. His father is even offering a $10,000 prize for best teacher, so every single one of them is trying to outdo one another.

J.J. Mathers (Michael J. Fox), however, is one of the few students to stand up to the preps. He’s never cared about anything before. That is, until he met Beau’s girlfriend, Beth Franklin (one of my first crushes, Nancy McKeon).

This one is packed with so many great stars. There’s a super young Crispin Glover two years before Back to the Future, playing a geek. Tony “Wally Cleaver” Dow, Frank “Lumpy Rutherford” Bank and Ken “Eddie Haskell” Osmond from Leave It to Beaver are in this, as are Elinor Donahue from Father Knows Best, Dwayne Hickman, Steve Franken and Bob Denver from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato from Diff’rent Strokes, Crystal Bernard (years before she’d be on Wings and in Slumber Party Massacre 2), Angela Cartwright from Lost in Space and The Danny Thomas Show, Jon Gries (who wasn’t just King Vidiot in Joysticks, but also Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, Lazlo in Real Genius, O.D. in TerrorVision and the Werewolf in Monster Squad), Lauri Hendler from Gimme a Break,  Barry “Ernie” Livingston from My Three Sons, the last surviving Munchkin (until May 24, 2018) Jerry Maren, David Nelson from Ozzie and Harriet, Cathy Silvers of Happy Days, Tom Villard (you know how much I love to get a Popcorn reference in) and Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island (but also from The Town that Dreaded Sundown). If you like spotting actors and wondering where you know them from, this is the movie for you.

It was directed by Rod Amateau, who has plenty of TV directing and production credits for shows like Dukes of HazzardSupertrain, the Dukes’ spin-off EnosMy Mother the Car, a failed TV series pilot for the Kenny Rogers vehicle Six Pack that didn’t star Kenny Rogers and The Garbage Pail Kids movie. Mr. Amateau even did stunts in Rebel Without a Cause and Mighty Joe Young.

This was so successful that a one-hour pilot for a regular series was made and aired on May 26, 1984. According to Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, he was going to be one of the stars of the series but turned down the offer as the material wasn’t very good. The network thought he was just playing hardball and upped their offer. This is when he realized how shallow Hollywood is and left town.

It’s kind of funny to see Anthony Edwards be the rich villain when he’s so well known for being on the other side in Revenge of the Nerds. It’s not the greatest movie you’ve ever seen, but if you’re looking for something to make you happy at 2 AM on a drunken Saturday night, it’s there on Amazon Prime just waiting to be watched.

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