Square Pegs (1982)

Thirty-nine years ago today, the TV show Square Pegs premiered on CBS. A band of outsider misfits navigate through high school in the early 80s. The fashion, the slang, the surprising number of recognizable faces. You should watch this show.

Title: Square Pegs
Created by: Anne Beatts
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Amy Linker, Merritt Butrick, John Femia, Tracy Nelson, Jami Gertz, Claudette Wells, and Jon Caliri
Theme music composer: The Waitresses
Composers: Tom Scott (pilot), Paul Shaffer (“Special Musical Material”, pilot), and Jonathan Wolff
Country of origin: United States
Original language: English
No. of seasons: 1
No. of episodes: 20
Production company: Embassy Television
Distributor: Sony Pictures Television
Original release: September 27, 1982 – March 7, 1983

Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) is clever and seemingly well-adjusted, but feels awkward and like a social misfit (i.e. a square peg) when with the “popular” students. Patty’s close friend Lauren Hutchinson (Amy Linker) constantly desires to be in with the in crowd, and the series’ episodes revolve more or less around her dragging Patty into various schemes in attempts to make them more popular.

Lauren and Patty are surrounded by colorful supporting characters. Their friends Marshall Blechtman (John Femia) and Johnny “Slash” Ulasewicz (Merritt Butrick) are a pair of lovable geeks. Marshall is a motormouthed would-be comedian, while Johnny is a soft-spoken new wave fan (not punk… “a totally different head… totally.”) Though seemingly off in his own reality most of the time, Johnny Slash states that he “[does not] do drugs and isn’t a hippie” and on more than one occasion displays unexpected intuition and empathy, particularly regarding Marshall and the girls. The two help to maintain a school radio station. Several episodes indicate that Marshall is attracted to Lauren and Johnny to Patty.

The popular kids whom Patty and Lauren are usually trying to impress are Jennifer DiNuccio (Tracy Nelson), the quintessential buxom Valley girl, her boyfriend Vinnie Pasetta (Jon Caliri), a handsome greaser hood, and LaDonna Fredericks (Claudette Wells), Jennifer’s friend and the sole minority character in the cast. Vinnie is cool but dense, using the “Why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here?” line three years before the character Biff in 1985’s Back to the Future. LaDonna is known for sassy remarks such as “Shoot, child, you think this place is crowded? You should have seen our living room when The Jeffersons went to Hawaii. Those were the three worst Sundays of my life.”

The typical official high school activity culture is personified by preppy Muffy B. Tepperman (Jami Gertz) who is the endlessly chipper chairperson of the Weemawee Pep Committee, head of the Morals Club, chairman of the Science Fair Committee and member of the Future Nurses of America. Muffy has a memorably pompous, oratorical speaking style and begins many sentences with “It behooves me to tell you…” or an elongated “People…”. Though perhaps even more socially inept (“I’m going to ignore that because, frankly, I don’t get it”), Muffy’s unawareness and/or lack of concern with her failure to fit in with the popular kids is in stark contrast to the motivation of the show’s protagonists, and does not stop her from relentless involvement in peppy activities.

An ongoing gag throughout the series is Muffy’s fundraising for Weemawee’s adopted “little Guatemalan child,” Rosarita. As the series progresses, Muffy’s charitable intentions become more and more frivolous, asking the school community to provide the girl with her own apartment away from her parents, cable TV, a second pair of culottes, swimwear, a split-level duplex, and finally, her own cleaning lady.

This group of eight students, though clearly of varied academic standing, are always in the same classes.

The recurring staff members at the school are:

  • Ms. Alison Loomis (Catlin Adams), a feminist liberal arts teacher who often complains about her ex-husband
  • Mr. Rob “Lovebeads” Donovan (Steven Peterman), who continuously brings up his antics in the 1960s and always stops just short of completing references to smoking pot
  • Mr. John Michael Spacek (Craig Richard Nelson), the affected but married drama teacher
  • Dr. Winthrop Dingleman (Basil Hoffman), the grinning, square principal
  • Series creator Anne Beatts appeared in two episodes as Miss Rezucha.

Home life of the students is rarely depicted, but Patty’s father is prominently featured in the Christmas episode, played by Tony Dow, best known as the character Wally Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver.

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