CBS Schoolbreak Special: Portrait of a Teenage Shoplifter (1981)

CBS-TV’s young adult programming block first aired in December 1978 as CBS Afternoon Playhouse and went through a revamp during the start of its 1983 season with the “Schoolbreak Special” moniker. After an 18 year run—and like everything else killed off by the multi-channel cable universe and the Internet—it was cancelled in January 1996.

Image screencap by R.D Francis via Timmy Faraday/You Tube

Under the old banner, CBS aired this lesson regarding teen crime on December 1, 1981. The cast stars Katherine Kamhi (later of Sleepaway Camp and Silent Madness), Laura Dean (a two-year stint as “Sophie” on NBC-TV’s Friends), and Maureen Teefy (Alan Parker’s Fame, Grease 2, and Supergirl ’84.)

Teefy is Karen Hughes, a high school ballet dancer and cheerleader dealing with the usual boyfriend problems, a snotty head cheerleader, and nagging parents. To compete with her better well-to-do friends and the popular girls, she develops a shoplifting addiction, gets caught, and jeopardizes her future. Of course, the friend that got her hooked (Laura Dean) leaves her high and dry.

Made during the days when stores relied more on human eyes and not so much the technological eyes of security cameras—she’s almost caught by none other than door guard Joe Spinelli of Rocky and Maniac fame (and yes, he’s a creepy lech). This is one of the darkest-ending young adult anthology movies you’ll ever watch—no happy ending here. This ain’t The Brady Bunch, after all.

Other standout episodes from the CBS series include Year of the Gentle Tiger (1979; starring iconic TV actor Lance DeGault; U.S. Army Colonel Roderick Decker on TV’s The A-Team), and the Dan Curtis-produced I Think I’m Having a Baby starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Helen Hunt (Trancers, Twister), and Tracy Gold (TV’s Growing Pains). Another adored episode was Welcome Home, Jellybean, which starred Dana Hill (Audrey Griswold from National Lampoon’s Vacation) as a special needs teen that moves back with her family (her put-upon brother is Christopher Collet from the aforementioned Sleepaway Camp, First Born, and The Manhattan Project).

You can watch the CBS Schoolbreak Special episodes mentioned in this review—and more—on a pretty nifty catch-all playlist we found on You Tube.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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