ABC’s “Afterschool Special” “message” shows for young people often earn A’s for quality. Today’s drama, a specious time-waster called “The Cheats"(3 p.m., Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), drags the grade curve down.
Holly (Heather McAdams), Robin (Elsie Hillario) and Lynnie (Christine Langer), seniors at a ritzy girls’ academy, steal final-exam answers. Their dishonest A’s mean other students lose college scholarships. Holly’s best friend, Beth (Dana Behr, a good young actress, wasted here), is expelled for not telling what she knows about the theft.
Holly, the instigator, gets away with it, except for supposedly haunting regrets. Robin and Lynnie confess and face the music, but we don’t see that scene.
“Cheating cheats the cheater,” intones headmistress Dr. Daniels (lovely Daphne Maxwell Reid of “Frank’s Place,” also wasted).
In this teleplay by David N. Leslie and Caryl Rivers, directed by Fred Barzyck, the message is all lecture and histrionics.
Teens are more likely to tune in to the distracting glamour and self-justification--parental pressure and sacrifice and teacher unfairness--of these spunky teens who wear kicky clothes and great makeup, have their own rock group and drive zippy cars.
Unintentional silliness abounds. Holly, a petite, baby-faced gamine, tells the story in flashbacks with sighs, sad smiles and little teasers addressed to the camera.
She confides winsomely that she just didn’t think the theft through. “I’m in high gear till my brain kicks in.” When we see her shopping with her friends, dressed in super-teen chic , she sighs to us, “How I loved the mall.” A symbol of lost innocence, no doubt.
After graduation, we learn, Holly got into the performing arts school of her choice and “even got a lead.”
Ah, the wages of sin.
But, apparently, no success can make up for the loss of her friendship with Beth. “Could I have saved Beth if I confessed? I’ll never know,” says Holly, exuding funereal melancholy.
Yes, poor Beth came to a tragic end. She was forced to go to state college for a year before she got into Cornell.