Sunday, June 29, 2008

Square Pegs

Last night I watched the first disk from Square Pegs: the Complete Series on DVD. For those not familiar with the show, it ran on CBS for a single season from Fall of 1982 to the Spring of 1983. It was created and produced by Ann Beats, one of the early Saturday Night Live writers, and many of the episodes were also worked on by SNL writers past and present. It also was the show that launched a number of young actors in their careers, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jami Gertz and Tracy Nelson.

The show as about two girls - Patty (Parker) and Lauren (Amy Linker) starting high school and deciding it was time to move from the more geeky clique they were in before to a more popular one. Although they keep failing to join the popular group that included Jennifer (Nelson), Vinnie and LaDonna, they do end up befriending a couple of out-on-the-fringe guys - comedienne Marshall (John Fernia) and the new-waver Johnny "Slash" (the late Merritt Butrick). Gertz played the every peppy-preppy Muffy Tepperman.

Due to Ann Beats SNL connections, the show featured interesting guest stars. The Waitresses did the show's theme song as well as appeared in the first episode. New-wave band Devo appeared an episode as well. From the comedy end, folks like Father Guido Sarducci and Bill Murray appeared in episodes as well.

The show was different than most sitcoms. It was filmed with a single camera rather than the standard 3-camera approach. Also, it was not done in front of a studio audience, so there is no annoying laugh-track. The humor is subtle and smart, not slapstick. I had forgotten about all this in the 25 years since the show aired. I had not seen it since it went off the air back in the day.

The DVD set, three disks in all, contains all 19 original episodes. It also contains sections from the actors today talking about memories of doing the show, of working with fellow castmates, etc. I enjoyed that feature a lot.

So, why does Square Pegs resonate with me after all this time. A couple reasons really.

First, this was on during my senior year of high school. That was a big time in my life - a time of ending one chapter and preparing for a new one (going to college). I also had grown a lot that year, coming out of my own shell socially. In a lot of ways, I got what the characters of Patty and Lauren were trying to do - to find the right place that their "square pegs" would fit in the scheme of life while still remaining true to themselves. The writers got that high school was about cliques and that fitting in didn't always come easy. And that sometimes people who were even in the most popular cliques had their own issues too. It was a show that reflected reality to me in a number of aspects.

Second, I loved that the show reflected a lot of the new-wave trends in music at the time. From the bands who appeared to posters on the walls in scenes to topical references, this show hit on the music of the time - and it was music I was growing into due to listening to the local college radio station during my later high school years. People like Devo, the Waitresses, Madness, Laurie Anderson, Prince, the Thompson Twins, the Dead Kennedys, etc. - all of this I got from listening to the SUNY Fredonia radio station. This type of music was the soundtrack of my later high school years and early college years.

Finally, Marshall and Johnny were close buds in a way that I was with my best friend John Palmer. I'm not sure which of us was which. Maybe we had a little bit of both of them in each of us. John did an awesome Johnny impersonation with the catch-phrase "totally different head...totally" (the implication there that something was a different mind-set from something else - as in "Not punk. New-wave. Totally different head...totally."). John and I would totally chat about each episode after they aired. See...there I go. Those totally's dropping into my speech pattern. That's thanks to this show.

There you go. My thoughts and such on Square Pegs. Like many shows I enjoyed over the years that only lasted a single season, it was something that the networks didn't get but the fans did. I'm very pleased to have this show for posterity in my DVD collection.

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