The made-for-cable musical satire Reefer Madness is based on the award-winning play of the same name, which in turn was inspired by the notorious -- and deliciously awful -- 1936 anti-marijuana film originally titled Tell Your Children. A smarmy lecturer (Alan Cumming in the first of his three roles in the film) arrives in a typical small town of the late '30s to warn the populace of the dangers of the "evil weed," bringing along a lurid propaganda film to dramatize his message. In broad, unsubtle, and hilarious strokes, the movie-within-a-movie shows how even a squeaky-clean pair of highschoolers named Mary Lane (Kristen Bell) and Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) can become hopeless dope addicts by succumbing to the lure of marijuana. Reefer Madness is not only a savage skewering of the original black-and-white movie (some of the musical's campiest lines are taken directly from the earlier script!), but also a devastating attack on what playwrights Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney consider to be the real reason that the 1936 movie was made: to frighten the public out of their wits in order to keep them under the thumb of an oppressive government. Thus, the musical manages to take a number of not-so-veiled swipes at xenophobia, racism, McCarthyism, the Bush Administration's Homeland Security policy, and even the recent FCC clampdown on "offensive" TV fare (one of the film's highlights is a garish nightclub number featuring Jesus Christ). The ebulliently staged songs include "The Stuff," "Down at the Ol' Five and Dime," "Lonely Pew," "Listen to Jesus Jimmy," "Mary Jane/Mary Lane," "The Brownie Song," "Tell 'Em the Truth," and the title number. Officially titled Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, this film first aired April 16, 2005, on the Showtime cable service.
by Hal Erickson synopsis