Back when there were only three TV networks there were few things funnier than when shows would try to portray youth culture. Usually the plot involved the main characters of the show encountering a group of young people who would perplex our heroes with their weird music and crazy fashion. Bougie middle aged script writers would fail hilariously to capture the essence of what kids were into these days, and the result was invariably cringe worthy.
At the resolution, lessons would be learned about how maybe the old folks aren’t so square after all, and hey, the kids are going to be all right once this rock and roll foolishness goes out of fashion. All would be right with the world.
Then punk happened.
Previous rock movements could be dismissed as teenagers just indulging their hormones. But no one in Hollywood knew what to make of punk’s anger and nihilism. Plus it was (gasp!)….political.
TV didn’t want to touch punk until it had been long replaced by the next wave. So in 1982, with Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls on the charts, two NBC shows decided it was time to tackle the menace of punk rock. That would show those kids.
CHiPs, a show about a couple of motorcycle cop bros featured a band called Pain in one episode. Their signature tune was “I Dig Pain”. It’s a declaration of the singer’s frustration with the world, even though his dad will buy him a new shirt if you rip his at the show. Plus he likes to do “The Pogo” and “The Slam”.
Band leader “Thrasher” (William Forsythe) at least committed to wearing a mohawk, but that’s about where the resemblance to actual punk stops. I mean, the guy’s dad buys him new shirts when they get ripped up, so it sounds like he has at least one cool parent. Why is he so angry?
The writers apparently got notes that punk was nihilistic and violent, but nothing about the actual aesthetic or political consciousness. So we get a performance where a J Crew clad audience is decking each other and getting kicked in the face by Thrasher.
The vocals sound more like Iron Maiden than Black Flag, but it’s kind of a catchy tune. Actual band Jughead’s Revenge did a cover of it.
The episode ends with Erik Estrada singing “Celebration”. Take THAT, young people!
Another long running series, Quincy, M.E., featured half of the Odd Couple as a crusty but benign forensic pathologist who solved crime with the power of cutting up bodies and wearing cardigans. This is what you get when there are only three networks.
In the season 8 episode, Qunicy is on the trail of a murder at a local club where kids listen to violence oriented punk rock music that does nothing but reinforce bad feelings.
The band actually sounds closer to West Coast punk than other examples of TV “punk”. But the singer sports a look that would fit better with the metal bands of the day, and a hairdo that’s best described as “sideways Mickey Mouse head”.
Quincy tries to get information from an audience sporting a confused and poorly executed mix of punk, metal, glam, and goth looks. But why should they help him? He’s just a dog without a uniform. The real killer is the whole sick so-ciety, and the kids are just his lousy escape goats. Besides, man, who the hell cares?
I think it’s high time someone did a cover of “Next Stop Nowhere”.
Five years later, TV tried to tackle punk again with the TV movie “The Day My Kid Went Punk”. A high achieving kid from a well to do family goes off to college, but is bummed that he just doesn’t get enough parental attention. So he decides to become a punk rocker. In 1987.
He starts a band and invites his folks to hear them play a song that sounds like the B side of “We Built This City On Rock And Roll”.
It would have made more sense for the time if instead of faux-hawk and ripped T shirt, the kid had gotten a big teased perm and put on some zebra print spandex and started a glam metal band.
What’s remarkable about this movie is how little conflict there is. The kid acts out a little because his parents don’t pay enough attention to him, then they do and everything is cool again. At least the Quincy episode had drug abuse and self-mutilation as plot points.
It’s a testament to the power of punk rock that it caused so much anxiety among authority figures. Even though it got no mainstream airplay and had long since faded into other musical styles by the time they tackled it, people were still afraid if it.
The spirit of punk is completely absent these days. Teenagers worry about staying “on brand’ rather than selling out. The tepid offerings from bands today make one long for some good ‘ol punk rock nihilism.
Kids these days.