What Are Friends For? (1980)

There are After School Specials and then there are After School Specials. In my questionable opinion, the ABC After School Special WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR? is primo, cream of the crop stuff! It's strangely morose yet consistently compelling and it signs off on a surprisingly wise, bittersweet note. MELORA HARDIN (who would grow up to star as Jan on THE OFFICE) plays twelve-year-old Amy who has just moved into an apartment building with her divorcee mother. She quickly meets neighbor Michelle Mudd, an overall-wearin', bull-in-a-china-shop Peppermint Patty type, portrayed by the late and very loud DANA HILL (SHOOT THE MOON). Although they have little in common, the two quickly bond as Michelle is reeling from her parents' disintegrated marriage too. Aw, was there really a time when being a child of divorce made you different? How quaint!

Amy soon learns that Michelle Mudd is high maintenance and then some. She's wildly unpopular amongst her peers, she lies like a rug, she steals like a magpie, she requires near constant affirmation and vows of loyalty and she dabbles in the black arts. It's too bad that Amy finds Michelle such a handful because honestly I would have gotten along with her just fine. When Amy walks in on Michelle drowning a doll in the bathtub wearing goth make up in a bizarre, blood red voodoo ritual she is outraged and horrified by the display, whereas I truly believe my reaction would be, "How can I help?"

WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR? feels like it may nosedive into FATAL ATTRACTION/ SINGLE WHITE FEMALE territory at any moment. Since it's aimed at the pint-sized crowd though, it touches down in a place of understanding and acceptance rather than boiling bunnies and puppies pushed out of windows. Fine by me really, I hate to see anything happen to fluffy animals and dolls are always asking to get drowned anyway! They love it!

Amy basically learns that while she feels some compassion for Michelle that it's not her responsibility to repair her. More importantly she realizes that some relationships have an expiration date and that sometimes one must cut their losses and move on. This revelation allows her to finally accept her parents' divorce and forgive them both for parting ways. I think I learned something too. I learned it's a bad idea to shoplift gifts for people other than myself and that you have to be really specific about who you want to have disappear from your life when performing a voodoo spell.

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12 years ago

Oh my sweet Satan. I remember this after school special. One of many that scarred me for life. Though not as soul crushing as the Wendie Jo Sperber vehicle DINKY HOCKER SHOOTS SMACK, it was still incredibly unnerving..

..As an aside, I love, love, love this site. Thank you so much for the trips down memory lane.

12 years ago

This episode absolutely scared the hell out of me as a kid. Especially the doll in the bathtub. Except I interpreted it as some kind of drowning/murder/crime scene in my head.

12 years ago

Love it, own a copy.
The best part about watching this (I never saw it when it originally ran) was watching it with my daughter who was about 5 at the time. She was riveted! It was like her "First Horror Movie"…very strange the whole KISS make-up-kit kabuki sacracfice shit….although like a lot of people I thought what Michells was gonna do would be much worse when I saw her in the face paint and robes

Its funny watching it now that they were "outcasts" for having divorced parents….but when i watched it I reminded myself that at the time it was shot I only knew ONE girl whose folks had split up so…yup. Back then it was sorta rare