The Most Important Lessons We Learned From Mr. Shoop In ‘Summer School’

According to some people, Mark Harmon is best known to his fans as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on CBS’s hit drama series NCIS. Those people are wrong, of course, because he’s always going to be Freddy Shoop, a summer school teacher in over his head in 1987’s appropriately-titled Summer School. Harmon turns the ripe, young age of 63 today, and it’s clearer than ever that this man is in possession of a map that leads to the Fountain of Youth, because Harmon ages with grace, am I right, ladies? In fact, while it’s no wonder why this actor was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1986, it is rather shocking that he never received that accolade again, specifically in 1987, when the most important work of his career was released.

The coke-fueled era of the 1980s in Hollywood was filled with more high school movies about slackers and smartasses than anyone actually needed, especially when it came to featuring students who looked like they were older than the teachers. Summer School was always perhaps the most underrated of the decade’s tributes to slackademics (trademark pending) because what it lacked in the typical star power of, say, a John Hughes film, it more than made up for in creating arguably the most creative collection of “teenage” dipshits than any film of the genre. At the same time, it showed that Harmon, who was probably best known at the time for his role as the HIV-positive Dr. Robert Caldwell on St. Elsewhere, had a strong sense of comedy, while also confirming (along with her debut on Cheers that same year) that Kirstie Alley was much, much more than just a really attractive Vulcan.

Summer School isn’t just some cult classic that people love to mention whenever someone randomly asks, “Hey, whatever happened to Dean Cameron?” It was actually well-received at the box office, earning $36 million in theaters on what I assume was a budget of a few rolls of nickels and someone’s baseball card collection. Critics, however, were a little more mixed on this mindless comedy, as Roger Ebert gave it one-half star out of four, which sounds a lot better than one star out of eight, so you know what? I’ll take it.

Maybe in the movie business we could coin the term vaporfilm, for movies that zip right through our brains without hitting any memory molecules.

“Summer School” is a movie like that, a comedy so listless, leisurely and unspirited that it was an act of the will for me to care about it, even while I was watching it. This movie has no particular reason for being, other than to supply employment for people whose job possibilities will not be enhanced by it. (Via

Here’s a tip for all of you aspiring film critics out there, courtesy of King Ebert – if you’re watching a movie with a title as lazy as Summer School, and the opening of the film features a school’s teachers trying to haul ass after the bell on the last day of the semester so they don’t get suckered into teaching the titular course, get up and walk out. Leave the movie for those of us who love to watch stupid movies and go to the next theater to watch and analyze La Bamba. Perhaps that’s why the fan reviews of Summer School on Netflix seem to be so glowing, as I only found three that were two stars or less. In fact, here’s the worst of them all:

Nothing but trash. Nothing worth seeing. Degenerate teens in bad need of harsh discipline. It’s depressing to think that so many young people actually enjoy this trash. This movie is immediately available from NF while so many more interesting ones languish in the ‘saved’ section, or in ‘short wait’, ‘long wait’, or ‘very long wait’ status. Just one more nail in the coffin of American culture, or lack thereof.

Thank God Armond White weighed in. The majority of people, myself included, fondly remember Summer School for what it is – a fun, stupid movie that was meant to make us laugh, while perhaps also rubbing our noses in the awesomeness of 80s California if we didn’t live there. But I’ll take this analysis one step further by laying out these 10 very important lessons that I took away from Summer School after watching it this morning, in paying tribute to Harmon, a man who was Kevin Costner before Kevin Costner was Kevin Costner.

Always put sunglasses on your dog.

Fact: 100% of movie posters that have dogs wearing sunglasses on them are movies that I’m willing to at least watch. The movie could be called This Dog Dies from Space AIDS, and I’d still be curious to see why that dog is wearing sunglasses.

Always have an escape plan.

When everybody else is hauling ass from the faculty parking lot at the last second, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t already be packed for your trip to Hawaii. I don’t like to point fingers, but Mr. Shoop’s girlfriend is clearly at fault here. All she had to do was pack the car for him, and he could have jumped in and taken off for the airport. Instead, Kim kicked her man while he was down and not only snatched her ticket to Hawaii from the pocket of his rad flowered shirt, but she also told him to drive her to the airport. I don’t mean to offend anyone who is overprotective of fictional characters, but I hope that Kim was eventually fed to the volcano gods.