Square Pegs (TV) (1983) Created by Anne Beatts
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Linker, Tracy Nelson, Jami Gertz, Merritt Butrick
With the release of “Sex and the City” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has finally released the short-lived cultish TV series which jumpstarted Sarah Jessica Parker’s career. “Square Pegs” lasted only one season (19 episodes) and has rarely been seen until now. I’ve never seen re-runs anywhere, and I’ve never seen the series available for retail sale either.
Though it only lasted a season, the series somehow stuck in my memory from when I watched it last – 25 years ago. The opening voiceover and theme-song is just as I remembered. We hear Parker and Linker’s characters (Patty Greene and Lauren Hutchinson) discussing their plan to befriend the cool cliques in school and become ‘popular’. And theme song by "The Waitresses" which follows is a catchy Clash-like punk tune.
The series doesn’t quite represent the opening monologue of the show. After a couple of episodes Patty and Lauren seem to be on good terms with the popular crowd, which essentially is two girls - Jennifer Di Nuccio (Tracy Nelson), and her best friend La Donna (Claudette Wells). Patty and Lauren’s two guy friends are Marshall Blechtman (John Femia) and Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick). Marshall and Johnny are like George and Lenny from “Of Mice and Men”. Marshall the short fast-talking wise-guy and Johnny is the tall odd-ball goof. Jami Gertz rounds out the leads playing Muffy Tepperman the aggressive social academic-type (ie. Tracy Flick in “Election”).
The series plays off the usual high school clique/segregation we see in the high genre today. There’s less overt and mean conflictual behaviour though among the groups. Although Jennifer Di Nuccio walks around the school with snobby entitlement, she’s alone at the top of her food chain, and so there’s never the group bullying we see in today’s high school environments. Don't let anyone convince you "Square Pegs" compares to John Hughes' films at all. If there is an influence between the the two, John Hughes took the genre and created something far more superior, long-lasting and relevent.
Though the character, situations and humour may not translate well in the new millenium, “Square Pegs” does feels as if it’s on the edge of being a great and innovative show. Several steadfast network television rules were broken by the series. “Square Pegs” is a sitcom yet it’s freed from the limiting confines of the traditional studio setting. Weemawee High School feels like a real place, unlike, say, the dorm room of “The Facts of Life”. The laugh track is still present but it’s a lowered volume, and it seems like if the producers had it their way, would probably have wanted it removed totally. The series takes place in the prime of the early 80’s, yet it seems to reflect nostalgically on those times instead of being dated by them - it plays like a show about the 80's' as opposed to a show taking place 'in the 80's'. As a result the series feels more like “Freaks and Geeks” which was a nostalgic look on high school in the 70’s.
It’s fun to look at the ridiculous outfits worn by the characters. Ironically some of those styles have come back in fashion (skinny jeans, and screen-printed Ts) and some have not. Johnny Slash (minus the black shades and omnipresent ear phones) still looks mildly hip today, yet Jennifer Di Nuccio looks like a member a fundamentalist cult. In fact, all the girls on the show wear the most frumpy, unisexual clothing imaginable - something which hasn't be brought back in style. And the language spoken by the characters helped popularize the ‘Valley-girl’ speak – ‘gag me with a spoon’, ‘like whatever’, and ‘totally lame’ became household terms.
The show's creator Anne Beatts was one of the writers during the famed first 5 years of SNL (1975-1980). Unfortunately there’s surprisingly little of the biting and edgy humour we saw late night in this little show. There’s plenty of horrendous acting and lightly written and forgettable comic situations, but the perky aura of Sarah Jessica Parker is still present even 25 years ago. Enjoy.