When an issue-oriented show teeters between message and melodrama, it runs the risk of alienating its target audience. ABC’s slightly overwrought “Afterschool Special” about teen cocaine involvement, “Tattle: When to Tell on a Friend,’ airing today at 3 p.m. on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, has its credibility salvaged by two of its lead actors.
Four close friends on the winning high school girls’ swim team celebrate a victory at a local ice cream parlor. Later, one of them wants to continue the celebration with cocaine. Colleen (Tammy Lauren) can’t get Maggie (Allison Smith of “Kate & Allie”) or Linda (Marisol Rodriguez) to join her, but Sandy (Amy Benedict) goes along.
Soon Colleen and Sandy are hooked, the swim team is a sure loser in the state finals and the friendships are breaking up. Colleen’s father accuses Maggie of stealing money that Colleen took, but it isn’t until the near-drowning of a preschooler in Colleen’s care that Maggie can bring herself to tell anyone what’s going on.
Jeanne Betancourt’s teleplay, directed by Gabrielle Beaumont, doesn’t say anything about cocaine use that isn’t true. The problem here is that Colleen, formerly attractive, a good student and athlete, turns into a bloody-nosed, haggard, “Night of the Living Dead” junkie seemingly overnight--how much time goes by isn’t clear. We’re left to wonder where her parents are.
Benedict, however, makes Sandy vulnerable and her anxiety and defensiveness understandable, while Smith gives her portrayal of a teen-ager agonizing over “tattling” on a friend a delicate dignity. Katharine Ross, in a too-short cameo as Maggie’s mom, is a sympathetic presence.