Tune in Tonight: "Wanted: the Perfect Guy"
Precocious adolescents are the best, aren’t they? They’re just so smart and insightful, and they know what’s best for everyone, including their own parents. I wish I could go back in time to meet middle school me, I bet she’d help me get my shit together like no one else could.
Wise-ass kids save the day in Wanted: the Perfect Guy, a 1986 ABC Afterschool Special notable mostly because it starred a pubescent Ben Affleck, in one of his first acting roles. Affleck plays Danny, who, in lieu of having any suitable hobbies, takes a disturbing interest in his mother’s love life.
After his mother (Madeline Kahn, maybe kinda slumming here) declares that she is done with dating, 13 year-old Danny, aghast at such a notion, completely defies her wishes and sets out to find her a man. With the help of his best pal, Melanie (Pam Potillo), first he answers a series of personal ads, posing as his mother, but when he finds all of the potential matches to be duds, decides to submit his own ad instead.
In the midst of all this, Danny ponders the sad state of adult romance, lamenting how lonely and desperate someone must be to post a personals ad (this kid’s mind is gonna be blown straight to Mars and back in about fifteen years). Though the show would have ended in ten minutes if Danny had simply suggested the idea of placing a personals ad to his mother, then left it alone if she said no, it would have certainly saved the absurd amount of hassle he and Melanie go through. Thanks to Danny’s refusal to respect that his mother knows what she does and doesn’t want, they’re forced to lie, spy on people, scramble around to hide the huge response their ad got, and answer calls and letters while pretending to be an adult woman.
Oh, and let’s not forget meeting strange men alone in a park, specifically Peter (Keith Szarabajka), a would-be suitor whom Danny and Melanie immediately deem to be cool, for no discernible reason other than he’s wearing one of those silk button-down dress shirts that were all the rage in the late 80s. Peter is curiously unruffled that a teenage boy shows up for a “date” with him instead of a 35 year-old woman, and is all too eager to discuss his personal life with Danny. “I’d love to meet your mother, especially if she’s anything like you,” Peter says, in a particularly hair-raising moment.
Although that should ring enough alarms to make the dead rise, Danny is still convinced that Peter is the titular perfect guy for his mother. However, when she finds out about what’s been going on behind her back, she’s understandably angry at Danny and refuses to go on the date. Though when next we see Danny’s mother she should be looking through military school brochures, it seems she’s had a change of heart, and agrees to go out with Peter after all.
Peter and Melanie, who earlier had a fight with Danny that seemingly ended their friendship, show up at Danny’s house at the same time, with Melanie dressed in toned down, yet somehow more revealing clothes than her previously loud, funky wardrobe. Danny’s mother leaves for the date, and is gone not even thirty seconds before she returns to tell him not to wait up for her, complete with a knowing wink. Danny and Melanie, about to embark on their own romance (I guess?), have a good laugh. Alright, Mom’s gettin’ laid to-night! **high five**
Eesh. I don’t think I’ve ever described an Afterschool Special as “off-putting” before, but this is really off-putting. There’s an oddly cruel undercurrent to it, with Danny and Melanie mocking the sad sacks who get stood up under the guise of meeting Danny’s mother for a date, and Danny haranguing his mother into going along with his plan to get her to meet Peter. Also, more than any other show in the series, it tries aggressively to be “hip,” with its artsy downtown Manhattan setting, deafening faux-reggae music playing over nearly every scene, Danny’s “punk” wardrobe (which consists mostly of ripped t-shirts and heavily Dippity-Do’ed hair), and Melanie’s increasingly distracting headwear (in one scene she looks like she’s wearing a pair of underpants on her head). I don’t want my Afterschool Specials to be hip, I want them to be bland and corny and nice. Danny isn’t nice; frankly, he comes off as a pushy, melodramatic little asshole, who is rewarded twofold in the end for his pushy, melodramatic little asshole behavior, and thus will not learn anything valuable from it.
Or maybe it was that super icky ending. I honestly thought that when both Peter and Melanie showed up, it was going to end with the adults and kids going on some sort of Freudian double date, which, no. No. God, no. Or maybe it’s because Melanie, who is black (not that it’s relevant to the plot), in order to win back Danny as a friend (and possibly a boyfriend, I guess?), dresses in a more “feminine” manner, even straightening her hair. It’s all a little weird and unpleasant, and seems to send the unhelpful message of “Don’t worry about what other people think, it’s what you want that matters.”
On the other hand, every scene with Madeline Kahn is a joy, as is everything involving Madeline Kahn, God rest her soul. Her character does deserve love and happiness with the right man, but probably would be better off finding it on her own, rather than through her obnoxious son.
Original airdate: October 1, 1986