Just Say YES: 80s & 90s Kids’ Shows That Made Drugs Look Fun

First things first: we would never tell children to do drugs. Children’s programs do it for us. Or did, anyway. Back when the front line of the War On Drugs was manned by a white lady named Nancy, kids’ shows told the youth of the nation to “just say no.” The problem: the drugs looked awesome. Was it because the show runners didn’t know what drugs looked like? Or were they just trying to show kids how hard it could be to resist peer pressure? Because I guarantee if these cartoons showed gross needles, or weed being smoked out of a dank Coke can, fewer kids would have wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Instead, the drugs looked awesome:

Punky Brewster

Punky’s got lessons. Don’t go all the way inside of a refrigerator. Your family is who loves you, not who abandons you in a supermarket. Someday, you’ll get a bra. And don’t do drugs, even though drugs look like the best candy in the world.

A group of girls invite Punky and Cherie into their clique, but only if they do drugs. I repeat: the girls invited Punky and Cherie to hang out in an amazing technicolor dream fort, and offered them free drugs. I’m not surprised that Punks did the right thing, I’m just confused why those girls wanted to be friends with her that hard.

Cartoon All Stars To The Rescue

This was an all-out failure of concept. When a young boy starts drinking beer and smoking dope ( I think they say “dope,” and I’m never 100% clear on what drug that’s supposed to be), his kid sis and a team of Cartoon All Stars gang up to teach him that there’s a better way.

That’s right, kids. If you do drugs, all your favorite cartoon characters will come over to hang.

In a way, though, this was the harshest punishment of all, because can you imagine being on drugs and then trying to deal with the fact that you were rolling with Alf, the Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, the Muppet Babies – the freaking Muppet Babies – and the Ninja Turtles? While we’re at it, Ninja Turtles: the CONSTANT PIZZA? The slow, drawled out speech? Sitting around all day in a basement with your bros? Oh, come on.

Dinosaurs

I’ve seen episodes of Weeds that were less pro-drug than this. Earl and Robbie, the boy dinosaur who’s Dinosaurs’ answer to Eddie Winslow, find a plant that makes them all chill and happy, but then the next day all they can find is seeds and stems. So I guess the lesson here is that they should have had more drugs on hand. Anyway, the whole family turns amotivational and at the end, Robbie delivers an anti-drug speech. Or is it an anti-anti drug episode speech? “When one show does an anti-drug episode, other shows feel pressured to do one, too. […] [P]ut a stop to preachy sitcom endings like this one.” In sum, the writers room of Dinosaurs probably smelled like that one kid in your nighttime sociology class who always wore a Central American poncho.

Saved By The Bell

We all know and love the “I’m so excited.. I’m so scared!” scene, but it’s easy to forget how appealing that episode made drugs look to all those Type A kids out there. Like, if I do “caffeine pills,” I too can get tons of shit done? That sounds amazing. I think we can all assume that “caffeine pills” is a Saturday morning T.V. euphemism for speed or a less depressing version of meth.

Then, there was Johnny Dakota. He was a teen star who showed up to make an anti-drug P.S.A. with the kids of Bayside. The gang goes to a party at his place and learns that he does drugs himself. So, Johnny Dakota went back to his lifestyle of drug-fueled house parties and the Bayside kids went back to hanging out with their principal. Real good job there, Saved By The Bell.

Fresh Prince

Was speed really THAT big an issue for highly-motivated teenagers in the 90s? Like Spano, Carlton is a clean-cut honor roll type who falls prey to amphetamines. He gets the pills from Will, who is using them to keep up with his go-go lifestyle, and Carlton takes them thinking that they’re vitamins. I am now realizing that I took Sudafed to pull an all-nighter in law school a few times, and that I probably learned that little trick from 90s kids’ shows. I graduated Magna Cum Laude and I owe it all to what I know realize were drugs. These were either some hardcore amphetamines or Carlton had a pre-existing condition, because he got hospitalized HARD.

Captain Planet

This episode features something that I was led to believe would happen a lot more than it does: a stranger forcing me to take drugs for no real reason. Do you remember that? They’d teach you how to “just say no” if someone offers you drugs, and then your whole DARE class would get sidetracked talking about “well, what if someone MAKES you take drugs?” And not for any reason other than that they want you to be a person who is on drugs. I remember when Traci and I were in Greece, we met this weird girl on the train who told us to be careful in Athens because people would put drugs in our food. “Oh, like… for reasons?” we wondered. Nah. She said just like weed or mild hallucinogens, and I don’t know why they would waste their hard-earned drugs on people who didn’t even want them.

But I digress. Some dude puts drugs in Lenkas food not to do anything to her, but just so that she becomes a person who is on drugs. She’s pretty miserable when she’s off drugs, but when she’s on them it looks like a blast!

Now, as someone who’s blessed to share her name with a popular club drug, I’m in a unique position to critique drug names. The one in Captain Planet is called Bliss. That’s a stupid drug name.

Jem

A girl we’ve never seen before is offered drugs, and before you know it her guitar skills are through the roof! Eventually she starts experiencing side effects or something, but this will go down as the anti-drug episode that taught us kids that if you hate practicing clarinet for band, there’s probably a drug for that.

 

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4 thoughts on “Just Say YES: 80s & 90s Kids’ Shows That Made Drugs Look Fun

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