The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough there’s absolutely nothing inaccurate about labeling “Square Pegs” as an artifact of its time, it’s far too lazy a phrase to use as the sole descriptor of a series that was not only one of the funniest sitcoms of the ‘80s, but the most accurate representation of ostracized high school kids this side of “Freaks and Geeks.”
The brainchild of former “Saturday Night Live” writer Anne Beatts, “Square Pegs” is often remembered as the sitcom equivalent of a John Hughes movie, but what we too often forget is that it actually came into existence two years prior to Mr. Hughes’ legendary “Sixteen Candles.” Beatts’ vision of high school didn’t ignore the pretty people who were fawned over by the student body, but it went out of its way to examine those teens who reveled in their eccentricities as well as the poor souls who were trying desperately to escape the stations of life that had been thrust upon them at Weemawee High School.
Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Amy Linker) definitely fall into the latter category, with Lauren forever scheming new ways to raise the popularity level of both herself and Patty; though Patty is rarely as confident as her friend at their chances of success, she generally goes along for the ride, if only to provide sarcastic commentary. Patty’s and Lauren’s closest friends, sad as it may be, are self-appointed class clown Marshall Blechtman (John Femia) and seemingly-stoned new wave singer Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick), but the difference between the guys and the girls is that the guys are 100% unapologetic about who they are. Marshall has a classic case of what’s generally referred to as “diarrhea of the mouth,” where he feels obliged to end any silence that might occur, lest he miss an opportunity to get a laugh; Johnny, meanwhile, is just Johnny, occasionally offering nuggets of wisdom but usually just walking through the world in a haze of something between uncertainty and stupidity.
On the flip side of the coin are the cool kids: the power couple, valley girl Jennifer DeNuccio (Tracy Nelson) and greaser Vinnie Pasetta (Jon Caliri), Jennifer’s sassy black friend, LaDonna Fredericks (Claudette Wells), and the de facto social director for the entire school, Muffy Tepperman (Jami Gertz). There are many occasions on “Square Pegs” where the cool kids and the way uncool kids manage to cross their respective borders, but on the series (as in high school), popularity is fleeting, which means that every episode finds them back to their established positions.
Putting the spotlight on the socially-stunted teenagers was always going to be a risk, but Beatts and her crew did a remarkable job of showing a side of high school that was and still is viewed as a dirty little secret. Not everybody is as pretty as the cast of “Gossip Girl,” “Beverly Hills, 90210,” or “Dawson’s Creek,” and not everyone is out to be tremendously popular. Even when you look at the character of Lauren, who constantly claims to want to be popular, it’s notable that she never goes out of her way to change anything about herself to make that happen. People tell her she’s fat, but she never tries to go on a diet. They mock her fashion choices, but she doesn’t attempt to change her wardrobe. When you get right down to it, the characters on “Square Pegs” don’t want to be popular as much as they just want to be accepted for who they are. (Hmmm. Sounds suspiciously like a John Hughes movie, doesn’t it?)
The series itself fought the same battle, maintaining its reputation as a series for outsiders and anarchists by offering up guest appearances by Devo (playing Muffy’s bat mitzvah), Martin Mull, Father Guido Sarducci, KROQ DJ Richard Blade, and Bill Murray as the coolest substitute teacher ever. As a result, the show only lasted a single season, but its reputation as a hilariously authentic look at high school life in the ‘80s – well, as authentic as you can get with a laugh track, anyway – has survived for all these years. Checking out this set, it’s gratifying to find that its reputation remains much deserved.
Special Features: Spread across the set’s three discs are “Weemawee Yearbook Memories,” new interviews with Parker, Linker, Femia, Nelson, Wells, Gertz, Steven Peterman (who played the kids’ favorite teacher, Mr. Rob “Love Beads” Donovan”), and Beatts, along with a tribute to Butrick, who died of AIDS in 1989. Oddly and inexplicably missing from the proceedings is Caliri, but the others contribute many great stories about their experiences on the show, the evolution of their characters, and the effect the series had on their lives.