Thursday, January 20, 2011

Square Pegs, Square Pegs, Square...Square...Pegs...

5 December 2010 and 20 January 2011

I have been watching the DVDs of "Square Pegs" (CBS, 1982-1983) recently. I had never seen the show before and hadn't heard of it until recently.

Created by Saturday Night Live alum Anne Beatts (she wrote for SNL between 1975 and 1979) "Square Pegs" seems, at first, to inhabit the the world of your typical American sitcom. "Square Pegs" is in the standard half hour sitcom format. It has the standard sitcom laugh track. It has a good deal of the stereotyping and caricaturing characteristic of "classic" American sitcoms. Two of Square Peg's characters seem to have walked out of "Grease" (1971, 1978) or "Welcome Back Kotter" (ABC, 1975-1979) and into "Square Pegs", Jennifer DiNuccio (Tracy Nelson)and her boyfriend Vinnie Pasetta (Jon Caliri). Another seems to have walked off of the set of "Good Times" (CBS, 1974-1979) and into "Square Pegs", LaDonna Fredericks (Claudette Wells). Two other characters seem to have walked out of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) and into "Square Pegs", Marshall Blechtman (John Femia) and Johnny "Slash" Ulasewicz (Merritt Butrick). Probably the most stereotyped and caricatured character of them all is the rich dim valley girl bitch Muffy Tepperman played by Jami Geertz.

But "Square Pegs" also has something else. The nerds around which the Square Pegs universe revolves, Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Lauren Hutchison (Amy Linker), aren't, thankfully, as stereotyped and caricatured, as the other characters in the show. It is this and the fact that the show deals, unlike "Saved by the Bell" (NBC, 1989-1993), with the real problems and dramas of our two high school female nerds (fitting in, getting dates) that gives "Square Pegs" a certain charm and makes the show the forefather and foremother of other shows which attempted to bring a greater realism to teen TV and to treat the life of high school teens seriously, shows like "Degrassi Junior High" (CBC, 1987-1989), "Degrassi High" (CBC, 1989-1991), "My So-Called Life" (ABC, 1994-1995), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (WB, 1997-2001 UPN, 2001-2003),"Freaks and Geeks" (NBC, 1999-2000), and "Popular" (WB, 1999-2001). And this is also presumably why so many viewers continue to remember "Square Pegs" fondly.

So what was my reaction to "Square Pegs" as I made my way through its twenty episodes? For me "Square Pegs" started out interestingly then degenerated into typical US sitcomic idiocy (the stereotypes and caricatures, the endless jokes about how fat Lauren (Amy Linker) when the actress is clearly, even with a body suit on, not particularly "fat"). Just as I was ready to give up on the "Square Pegs", however, I slipped the third disc of the DVD set into the DVD player and I thought the show really began to hit its stride. Ironically, it was cancelled by this point. In the end I found "Square Pegs" interesting and somewhat enjoyable if not entirely successful. Whatever my reactions to the show, however, Square Pegs remains a historically significant show in American television history.

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