One Fan’s take for the Cobra Kai Treatment of ‘The Breakfast Club’

Every wonder what happened to the characters of The Breakfast Club after that infamous Saturday detention? In Episode 587 of the Stuck in the ’80s podcast, we supplied our favorite picks for ’80s movies that deserve the “Cobra Kai treatment” – a serialized follow-up on the characters of a particular film. One popular pick was “The Breakfast Club” and we asked our listeners to supply their own storyline for how our Shermer High students fared some 30 years later. Longtime fan “Linn with 3 N’s in Nebraska” sent us this term paper. We hope you enjoy it.

So, I’ve been thinking about your challenge to write about what rendering the “Cobra Kai” treatment to The Breakfast Club (TCB) might look like.  I haven’t completely fleshed this out, and this “paper” is due very soon, so I thought I’d send you my thoughts on at least one version of this… and maybe a second.

I want to also give a little warning here.  It’s been a long time since I heard Brad give his take on a Breakfast Club sequel many episodes ago.  I don’t remember much about it other than I think it took place in a restaurant.  If any Brad’s ideas are in my brain subconsciously latent and somehow come out in this term paper, I apologize for my unintentional plagiarism in advance.  Any similarities of my ideas to Brad’s which I do not consciously recall at this time are not due to hardened piracy but fuzzy memory.

My favorite (and most positive) version goes a little something like this (since I’ve never written a screenplay nor “pitched” one to executive types, forgive me if the format of this is not up to par):

The opening sequence shows the outside of Shermer High School, albeit in a more dilapidated state since it is has now been thirty-some years since the original detentions were served.  The opening music for the intro is either “I Wanna Go Back” by Eddie Money for foreshadowing, or, to give a nod to the original, “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds to harken back and hook you from the beginning.

The opening quote is taken from “Baba O’Riley” by the Who:

I don’t need to fight,

To prove I’m right,

I don’t need to be forgiven.

Don’t cry,

Don’t raise your eye,

It’s only teenage wasteland.

Sally take my hand,

We’ll travel south cross land,

Put out the fire,

And don’t look past my shoulder.

The exodus is here,

The happy ones are near,

Let’s get together, before we get much older.

The quote then explodes, and we are right into the story…

Carl Reed (former janitor Shermer HS) descends the stairs from the school wearing a dark suit and overcoat on a cold, cloudy suburban Chicago day.   He climbs into a parked black limosine where a few other administrative folks from Shermer HS are already seated.  The mood is somber.  The limo has a “Funeral” flag flying from its antennae, so we know they are going to be attending someone’s funeral and burial.

As the car pulls away, we cut to the inside of the car where a solemn and slightly hushed conversation is occurring amongst the assembled school head office dignitaries.  We soon discover that they are talking about (retired) Assistant Principal Richard Vernon who has recently passed and is now going to be laid to rest. 

The conversation reveals that he never rose above assistant principal during his entire tenure at Shermer.  His wife divorced him because he was as harsh, negative, and mistrusting at home as he was at his job.  His kids disowned him for all of the same reasons plus he never quite gave “these kids today” of a younger generation a chance to show that they really could be responsible and had something positive to say and contribute. 

For him, life was an “us vs. them,”  “good vs. bad,” “admin vs. student body” existence that had to be won at all costs, even if it meant you had to push the upper limits of punishment to get your point across.  It turns that he spent a lot of Saturdays overseeing detention sessions semi-full of teens that he viewed with indifference and/or disdain.  Thus, every time he came up for a promotion to principal, he never quite got selected and was surpassed by an administrator who was deemed to be more understanding, compassionate, and fair. 

His wife got re-married to a kindergarten teacher who has won numerous awards for his ability to communicate and inspire students.  As a result, he retired at 65 as a tired, burned-out and bitter man who probably over-stayed his welcome by ten years.  Even though his children and their families only live a few hours away from his retirement community, they never seem to have the time (actually desire) to come visit him.  He lived his remaining ten years alone, only hearing from his children and grandchildren by phone twice a year on his birthday and at Christmas. 

In one last gesture, his ex-wife and kids will regretfully attend his last will and testament, seeking to find, in money and material goods, some sense of acceptance and love that they never received from him while he was living.

The car arrives at the church for the memorial service.  It is sparsely attended, and people slowly file in.  In attendance are Principal Reed and his office team, Vernon’s ex-wife, Vernon’s children and families, and a few assorted former co-workers and friends. 

A few minutes before the service starts, five solitary individuals arrive, enter, and are seated in a scattered fashion toward the back of the church.  They are Johnny, Claire, Andrew, Brian and Allison.  The service is somber and quiet with a few random sniffles.  The service consists of a video tribute with childhood, adolescent, and young adult pictures of Vernon’s life through the year.  What is noticeable is that as the pictures of him progress into his working years, the pictures have fewer people posing with him.  Most of them show him either in meetings or at his school work desk.  Any pictures in which he is not scowling look like he has a forced smile. 

There are a few hymns, a eulogy, and a short homily.  The pastor closes with an invitation from the family to the graveside burial service, then a luncheon provided back at the church which family invites everyone back for.

As the people file out of the church for the burial, one by one, The Breakfast Club members (now in their 50’s and looking much more responsible and “put together”) struggle to recognize who these strangely familiar people are.  As it dawns upon them, their faces light up and they have a moment of hushed excitement and “How are you’s?” in the foyer of the church. 

In the discussion, some reveal that they had only planned on attending the memorial service, paying their respects, trying to find some type of closure with their negative past with Vernon, and then heading on their way.  Since they are all now here, there is a collective agreement to at least go to the burial and maybe to the luncheon … although there is also collective reserve that the luncheon could be a real downer.  They know how Vernon’s demeanor affected them as students, and they really don’t want to see what it did to his family up close.

They all drive to the funeral separately, and when they arrive, they park together.  They stand together at the short graveside service, some silently crying.  Although it is cold and they have all collectively decided to go somewhere at least share a meal together to warm up and catch up on their lives, they see (now) Principal Reed and he recognizes them.  He approaches them kindly and says how happy he is to see them.  He asks them if they are coming to the luncheon.  They all says “thanks but no thanks” in their own way, and he says he understands.  He then stops and says that there is something he would like them to see, and he says he that he has just enough time to show them before he heads back to the church.  He makes arrangements ride with Johnny back to Shermer HS and he asks the limosine driver and passengers to follow him there for a quick stop.  They all seem a little confused and slightly wary, but they agree.

Principal Reed and Johnny converse on the short trip back to the school.  It comes out in their conversation that shortly after the infamous Saturday detention of TBC, Carl realized that he knew more and cared about the students he served at Shermer than Vernon ever did.  He decided he was no longer just going to settle for his current path in life, but instead decided he was going to try to live up to his elected title “Man Of The Year” by at least going back to school and finishing his associates degree at night while he continued to work at Shermer (he previously had flunked out of the local community college after graduating from Shermer, mostly for lack of direction and focus).  This eventually led to a bachelor’s degree in education, followed by a master’s in education administration.  After his last day working a Shermer along the way, he swore he would never work there again.  He also vowed he would never treat kids the way Vernon did.  He eventually took a job in another part of Chicago and started a whole new chapter of his life, inspiring kids to be comfortable in who they were created to be and always striving to do their best, no matter what deck of cards life had dealt them to start, often using himself as an example.

After some years pass, Richard Vernon announced he was going to retire (much to the relief of the entire Shermer community).  As a search for a replacement for him was launched, all involved knew the person they hired would need to be positive, involved, and able to earn student’s trust.  One name kept coming up again and again:  Carl Reed.  After politely declining the position twice, Reed reconsidered his oath to stay away from Shermer.  He realized that he made that promise to himself more for self-protection than anything, and he also realized that the need at Shermer was too great for him to ignore.  In an attempt to change the culture and do some serious good for high school kids, Reed accepts the job and is loved and respected by all.  Kids flock (rather than flee) when he walks the halls, and detentions drop 80-90% in his first year.  Eventually, the head principal at Shermer moves on, and Reed is a shoo-in for his temporary and eventual replacement, which he continues to serve as through the current day.  This story is told with great humility to Bender.

At this point, they pull up to Shermer HS’s front doors.  Principal Reed unlocks the doors, let’s the five TBC members in, then locks the door behind him.  The building is semi-lit and very quiet.  He explains that it is Saturday and also spring break, so all of the employees are gone except for a few janitors.  He also breaks the news to them that after 50 years of service to the community, the dated and dilapidated Shermer HS will be torn down at the end of the academic year to make room for a new high school to be built back on the same sight over the next year. 

He asks them if it seemed like Vernon’s family was tense at the funeral, and all five answer in the affirmative.  He tells them that Vernon really burned a lot of bridges in his life due to his bitterness, including family, friends and fellow co-workers.  He tells them that it was a sad day when he left his job because his going away party was very short and uncomfortable.  Vernon cleaned out his office and desk of most of his personal and professional items, but he left behind a few items that were never claimed or taken.  When Reed was hired shortly thereafter, he put these items in a box, thinking Vernon would come back for them, which he never did.  Reed could never bring himself to throw them out, and after Vernon died, he asked Vernon’s family if they wanted the box.  All said they weren’t interested.  Reed was going to throw the box out, but he realized that may someone could find something of historical or sentimental value in it, so he held onto it. He tells them he will grab the box, let them sort through it in the library, take what they want, and then have them let themselves out of the school when they are done.  He says with a smile, “I trust you guys.  But Bender, no tearing pages out of the dictionary, okay?”

Reed tells the five TBC members that he knows Vernon treated them poorly and probably left a bad impression on them, and yet somehow they found a way to overcome that influence and make something good out of their lives, just as he himself did.  He tells them, “I hope you find something of redeeming value in here that reminds you every day that it’s not how you start but how you finish that counts.”  He says that they should just leave the box and whatever they don’t want on the table, and he will take care of it when he gets back to the school.  He walks out of the library to head to the waiting limo and luncheon.

Allison, Andrew, Brian and Claire all look to Johnny as the only brave enough to break the seal on the box and dive in first.  At first he declines, saying, “There’s a lot of bad memories and karma in there.”  They all pull a chair to the table and just stare at the box.  Then they start to share how their lives went their (mostly) separate ways after that fateful day in detention.  Maybe they didn’t become “good pals,” but they were at least kind to each other when passing in the hall, and they gave each other knowing nods that they had bonded through eight hours of adversity.  One by one, they share how each of their trajectories carried them past their encounter that day.

(This is where my storytelling is still incomplete and needs to be fleshed out.  I think it would be great to have each character tell his or her own story as it went forward from that time to the current day.  It could be told in “flashbacks” told with some of the TBC outtakes that didn’t make the movie coupled with footage of their more recent life.  Some thoughts: 

  • Bender went on to barely graduate, then to automotive school to become a mechanic.  Once his father died of alcoholism that was in response to his father’s verbal and physical abuse, Bender made peace with his past and suspected that Vernon had a similar story.  Once he extended forgiveness, he was set free emotionally and became much easier to be around.  He became an automotive mechanical and tire store manager, and eventually successfully manages ten stores in the Chicagoland area.  When he hires a young person who comes from a troubled background, he always rolls up his sleeve to show the cigar burn scar on his arm to let them know they can change their family tree by how they respond to what they have gone through.  He says, “A scar either makes you bitter or better.”  He is married with three boys that he raised to be both tough and tender.
  • Claire continued on her way of hanging with the popular, influential crowd, using her charm to get into Yale and earn a degree in marketing.  After a successful career with Estee Lauder in product development in which she made a boatload of money, she eventually had a mid-life crisis, cashed out her stocks and stock options, and now uses her money to run a small boutique on Michigan Avenue.  Her inventory and clientele are very diverse.  In her spare time, she volunteers to help underprivileged kids with scholastics and life skills to help break the cycle of poverty.  She is married with one boy and one girl, and serves on the PTA.  Her highest value is now “authenticity.”
  • Andrew changed his bullying ways after that detention.  He still excelled at wrestling, and got a scholarship to Ohio State where he lettered for all four years.  While competing for a spot to represent the U.S at the Olympics, he blew out his shoulder and was never able to wrestle at the same level again.  After graduation, he dealt with his broken dreams and father’s disappointment with him by “self-medicating” and getting addicted to both alcohol and opioids, he got clean and stays that way through a 12-step program.  He became a high school teacher, coaches wrestling, and reminds his students and athletes that their priorities need to be in this order:  character development, academics, then sports.  He is married with two boys, both of whom are really into theater and music, with which he is completely fine.
  • Brian went on to become a repeat member of National Honors Society and Phi Beta Kappa, eventually studying software engineering at Stanford University.  He got his computer science/electrical engineering dual major degree, getting hired by Microsoft straight out of college.  He worked in software development, getting in on the early days of Windows and subsequent updates.  After realizing that one more billion was not going to make him happy, he retired and now uses his money to help small Silicon Valley startups get their product to market.  It his spare time, he donates his time to Junior Achievement and the high school robotics program.  He is married with has three children, all who are limited to thirty minutes of screen time per day.  He encourages them to be well-rounded in their pursuits.
  • Allison graduated from Shermer HS with average grades which were far below her potential.  She developed an impressive art portfolio which got her admitted to Rhode Island School of Design.  Upon an early graduation from RISD, she took a job with MOMA in NYC as a curator, and on the side, she sells her original art pieces in local galleries.  She is single, but has a close circle of friends.   She enjoys European travel, and she donates time (and lots of money) to elementary, middle, and high school art programs.)

Finally, with some extra nudging, he finally agrees.  All are amazed at the strange, eclectic and seemingly random assortment of commonplace “treasures” within:  a few framed family photos of a happier time in his life, pens and assorted office supplies, “nuisance items” confiscated from students, unreturned phone messages, etc.  As each of them look over the bounty, they make their thoughtful choices and speak up about what they learned on that Saturday, March 4,1984, despite Vernon’s bad attitude and even harsher words.

Bender picks up a stripped-out screw to remind him that “the world is an imperfect” place where things break all the time.  Claire claims an unwrapped lipstick in “just her color” to remind herself that appearances are nice, but what’s on the inside matters way more.  Andrew picks up a tape dispenser to call to memory that you never mistreat people, no matter how different they are and how much others are cheering you on.  Brian finds a pair of RayBan wayfarer sunglasses.  He says these will serve to remind him that you have to try looking for solutions to problems with new perspectives while remaining cool on the inside.  Finally, Allison grabs a Pixy Stix to remind herself to remain open and approachable to people, whether life is currently sour or sweet.

The five share parting hugs, well-wishing and promises to stay in touch much more often than once every thirty-five years.  As they leave the school toward their rented cars, departing flights, and homes, a voice-over of Brian is heard reading the note that he left on the table, speaking in one voice for them all:

“Dear Mr. Reed—

We thank you that you gave us the opportunity to voluntarily spend a Saturday at Shermer sharing and figuring out whatever baggage it is that we carried in our hearts and heads from a day in detention.  Today, we voluntarily shared with each other who we are and what we have become by both chance and choice.  Some saw us in the simplest terms and most convenient definitions to categorize and pigeon-hole us to make us understandable and manageable to themselves.  What we found out today is that none of us were a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, nor a criminal.  We were just kids, people who trying to find our way, hungry for some positive guidance after we screwed up.  We answered a lot of own questions today, and that gives us the perspective to understand who we were then and also who are today.  Thanks for giving us and your current students the space and time to figure it all out.  Sincerely, The Breakfast Club”