Analyzing Afterschool Specials: It Must Be Love (‘Cause I Feel So Dumb!)

Photo by Dave Weatherall on Unsplash

When I was in high school, afterschool specials came in the form of “very special” episodes of Degreassi: The Next Generation. I missed the true afterschool special era, but something has always drawn me to them. I love cheesy coverage of controversial social issues and relationships, the way adults try to appeal to children.

This special did not disappoint.

It Must Be Love (’Cause I Feel So Dumb!) follows a nerdy 13-year-old boy who develops a crush on a perpetually unimpressed cheerleader. This special first aired in October of 1975, and it has everything: a dog named Bill, silly hats, faulty soda machines, and the mysteries of a teenage boy’s heart.

You can actually watch the whole thing online. Which is what I did. If you don’t want to watch it, these are the highlights.

We open on a kid with copper hair and glasses approaching an arcade-style fortune teller. A song about young love plays as the fortune teller tells the boy he has a lot of emotions — and that he’s going to experience romance soon.

Then, there’s just a weird shot of some cheerleaders shouting “go” over and over again in the most frantic way. It’s kind of disturbing, but thankfully they don’t stay on it very long.

Eric shows Bill (not Billy) a photo of a cheerleader on the cover of the school paper that he’s circled. Bill is not impressed.

Eric asks Bill if he could get a girl like that. In response, the dog barks. Eric is also working on a paper mâché head that is never explained, and it appears to be named Horace.

Eric’s mom comes in to tell him that he should call somebody. He tells her doesn’t have may friends because he’s a “meeg,” which is apparently a word he made up. His mom tells him he needs to stop his hobby of making up words.

Eric’s sister comes in and asks if the girl on the cover of the paper cheerleading in a cheerleading outfit is a cheerleader. Eric sarcastically answers.

Anyway, Eric takes Bill for a walk. He’s approached by a girl named Kathy. He tells her that he doesn’t like when people call his dog Billy and shrugs her off.

Next, Eric is visiting the orthodontist to get his braces off. He has a weird fantasy that the cheerleader will be interested in him without braces.

At school, cheerleader Lisa tries to get a soda from the machine. It’s stuck, and Eric uses this as an opportunity to tell her that she “certainly shakes those pom poms.” She says that he looks funny, and then Eric starts hitting the machine. A soda comes out, and he opens it right in her face, spraying her. She’s pissed.

Once home, Eric calls Lisa, even though she totally had a meltdown at him in the cafeteria. She doesn’t even know who he is, and his sister gets on the phone and interferes. Eric threatens to “pulverize” her.

Eric practices greeting Lisa in the mirror of a car. She walks by and he says nothing. Once at school, Eric and Kathy talk in the library. She vaguely mentions an idea she had in homeroom and asks him to vote for it. She tells him he looks good and invites him to a party at her house Friday.

After school, Eric waits for Lisa. But it’s too late! She’s got a new man in her life.

So, Eric resorts to the only tactic he has left: graffiti. He writes her name on a wall and drags her over with a paper bag on her head to see it. No telling how he got her to put a bag on her head. She’s totally impressed and agrees to go on a date with him.

I just want to note here that I totally expected this to be a fantasy sequence because . . . it doesn’t make any sense. But it’s not.

In a very weird scene featuring Eric’s depressed dad watching TV, the two talk about kissing a girl. Eric wants to know how you can tell if a girl wants to kiss you. The dad is not great at explaining this. Seriously, there is some other backstory going on with this dad that we really should be exploring.

Anyway, Lisa and Eric go on a date to a restaurant. She tells him that he’s funny because he’s quiet, and she says she’s hardly noticed him in school. The things every young man wants to hear. In response, Eric says, “Well, you know what they say. Still waters run deep.”

Eric also uses this opportunity to reveal a new word he’s made up, “spoy.” This is apparently something that is nice, soft, and fluffy. Lisa doesn’t understand why Eric makes up words, but he says it’s a hobby. Lisa has hobbies too — like dancing. Eric is also “crazy about dancing.”

Before they leave, Eric puts chicken in his pocket and explains that it’s for Bill. Lisa thinks this is weird, and she does not kiss him.

In the classroom, the teacher asks the class how they will spend the leftover money they have. She lists some options they’ve eliminated: pizza party, dance, class trip, and movie. I want to know how much money this class has raised that they can have either a pizza party or an entire class trip. Two ideas are left on the table. Kathy has proposed that they donate the money to poor kids they’ve read about. Lisa proposes that they buy shirts for the basketball team. Guess which idea the class loves?

Eric voted for Lisa’s shitty idea, and Kathy isn’t going to let him off easy. She confronts him. Oh yeah, he also brought the paper mâché to school.

In the cafeteria, Lisa is pissed because her actual boyfriend cancelled on her. So, she flags down Eric. She wants to go out with him again. He says he will take her to dance.

In anticipation of this date, Eric takes dance lessons. The teacher will not teach him anything except the waltz, so that’s what he does in spite of his goal to learn “the bump.” I love this minor side story because it absolutely did not need to be in this movie at all.

Anyway, Eric commits the ultimately betrayal by bringing Lisa to Kathy’s party. Kathy is obviously upset, especially because he didn’t wear his nice hat. Meanwhile, Lisa tears it up on the dance floor with some other guy who can bump.

At home, dad has heard about Eric’s abysmal date. Eric wants to know how to impress a girl. “Just be yourself,” he says. He tells Eric to show his feelings, but Eric doesn’t like this idea. He says Lisa thought he was an “escapee from the funny farm” because he is a pet owner. Eric says he needs to buy Lisa something nice because he’s clueless.

Eric drags poor Bill to the payphone to call Lisa. He tells her that her name will be said on the radio at 3:30. She asks if this is one of his “crazy routines” and he says . . . he can’t get into that right now? What?

Suddenly, tragedy strikes. Bill runs into the road and is hit by a car. People approach with zero urgency. Eric takes Bill to the vet, but the vet says Bill isn’t going to make it because his neck is broken.

There is no reason for this dog to die for this story. But he does. Brutal.

At school, Lisa holds hands with a basketball player boyfriend. She tells Eric she heard her name on the radio, and so did everybody else. He responds, “Lisa, Bill is dead. My dog. Bill. He’s dead.” She asks how and shows minimal care. He wants to talk somewhere quiet, but she says she’s busy. So Eric tears up somebody else’s used cup in a post-rejection haze.

On the way home, Eric and Kathy run into each other. She’s crying because she heard about Bill. He comforts her, and we get an extremely long flashback to happier times with Bill and Eric running in a field. Seriously, it’s way too long.

Taking his father’s advice, Eric tells Kathy he has a lot of feelings and feels alone. Kathy does too. She makes up songs and poems, and she recites one for him. Eric is impressed.

Kathy says she has a flute at home she can play for him. They walk away holding hands.

There you have it. Young love, dead dogs, and paper mâché.

Just a West Coast girl passionate about my hungry guys.

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