Thursday, May 21, 2020

25 Facts About 'Square Pegs'

Few shows meant more to me growing up than "Square Pegs," which like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" debuted just as I was starting Dobson High ... as a sophomore.

Because 'tween years aren't excruciating enough, I had the misfortune of attending sixth grade in Michigan, where that was served in middle school, and ninth grade in Arizona, where that was still junior high school -- arguably the worst time in anybody's life, so why not add another year? -- and certainly not an ideal time to be the new kid.

The series resonated with me not just because I was a sarcastic wimp and a faggot, but also because of its music. And being the new wave geek that I was, I thought I had a special "connection" to the show because the radio booth at Weemawee High -- where Marshall and Johnny spun records -- had a Killer Pussy "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage" poster hanging on the wall, which was Phoenix's local cult band that I thought I was the only other one cool enough to also know about! (Please don't tell my 14-year-old self I wasn't.)

Now enjoy this killer list, written by the great TV historian David Davis ...

25 Facts About "Square Pegs"

1. A single-camera sitcom (with a laugh track) that aired on CBS during the 1982–83 season.

2. Cast — Sarah Jessica Parker as Patty Greene / Amy Linker as Lauren Hutchinson / Merritt Butrick as Johnny Slash / John Femia as Marshall Blechtman / Tracy Nelson as Jennifer DiNuccio / Jami Gertz as Muffy Tepperman / Claudette Wells as LaDonna Fredericks / Jon Caliri as Vinnie Pasetta / Catlin Adams as Ms. Loomis / Basil Hoffman as Principal Dingleman / Steven Peterman as Mr. Rob Donovan / Richard Nelson as Mr. Spacek

3. Premise — The series followed two awkward teenage girls desperate to fit in at Weemawee High School.

4. Creator Anne Beatts, a writer for Saturday Night Live in the ‘70s, based the sitcom on her own personal experience.

5. The show debuted on CBS September 27, 1982 in the 8 P.M. Monday slot, and remained there throughout its one-season run.

6. Amy Linker had to wear fake braces and a fat suit for her role as Lauren Hutchinson.

7. Sarah Jessica Parker originally wasn't going to get the part of Patty because the producers thought she was too pretty. Luckily, the casting director was wearing sunglasses that day and the producers took out the lenses, asked Sarah to put them on, and gave her the part.

8. When the series was canceled in 1983, CBS intended to air another teen comedy in its place, The Best of Times, but the network pulled the plug on it after only one episode due to lukewarm response.

9. The show was filmed at the abandoned Excelsior High School in Norwalk, California. This was the same shooting location used for Grease 2 (1982). The cast said the school was in an industrial area and the factories surrounding it produced a pungent stench, making outdoor shoots rather unpleasant.

10. Amy Linker and Sarah Jessica Parker were actually fighting during the filming of the episode “It's All How You See Things,” wherein their characters are at odds as well. When Patty throws the lunch tray at Lauren, Amy Linker was so enraged that she threw the milk at her. This was not directed or planned. The two actresses later made amends.

11. To accurately reflect high schoolers' tastes of the moment, new wave music was an important facet of the show's style. The show's opening and closing theme songs, “Square Pegs,” and an untitled instrumental reminiscent of “Chopsticks” composed by Tom Scott, are performed by The Waitresses. In some episodes, "Chopsticks" is the opening theme and "Square Pegs" the closing theme, and in others these are reversed.

12. The Waitresses appeared in the premiere episode as a band performing at the school dance. They sing "I Know What Boys Like" in one scene and "Square Pegs" during the closing credits, with the characters dancing along. Their song "Christmas Wrapping" is playing in the popular hangout diner ("The Grease") during the Christmas episode. They are mentioned by Jennifer in the episode in which she works at the diner.

13. John Densmore, original drummer for The Doors, plays himself as a member of Johnny Slash's new wave band. Devo also made a guest appearance.

14. Other guest actors included William Bogert, Dena Dietrich, Tony Dow, Marj Dusay, Hugh Gillin, Martin Mull, Don Novello, Allan Rich, and Jerry Seinfeld, who was uncredited as a Bar Mitzvah guest in a 1982 episode.

15. Ratings — πŸ“‰ The show struggled against That's Incredible on ABC, prompting CBS not to renew the show for a second season.

16. Reruns — The series was rebroadcast on USA Network during the 1990s, and later on Nickelodeon, TV Land, and MeTV.

17. A year after Square Pegs’ May 1983 cancellation, TV Guide ran a story on the show titled “Anatomy Of A Failure: How Drugs, Ego, And Chaos Helped Kill A Promising Series.” Based on a six-month investigation, the article explored the specific reasons for the once-promising show’s quick demise. Part of the problem, according to the article, involved putting the inexperienced Beatts in charge of the entire production. Youthful and hip, she was also volatile, making friends with some cast and crew members and alienating others. Even she admitted, “I snapped people’s heads off. But I usually regretted it afterwards.”

18. After the show’s cancellation in 1983, Jami Gertz, who played Muffy Tepperman, went on to play an almost identical character, Boots St. Clair, on several episodes of The Facts of Life.

19. Amy Linker left acting after this series and began working as an office temp for many years. She was featured in a segment on Entertainment Tonight in 1990 about actors who gave up their careers to work “regular” jobs.

20. Tracy Nelson, who played Jennifer diNuccio, was the daughter of Ricky Nelson and the granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. She would later co-star with Tom Bosley on NBC’s Father Dowling Mysteries.

21. Awards & Nominations — πŸ”² Square Pegs was nominated for an Emmy in 1984 for Outstanding Individual Achievement, Graphic Design and Title Sequences. πŸ† In 2007, Amy Linker won a TV Land Award for Most Beautiful Braces.

22. Home Media — πŸ“€ The complete series was released on DVD. • Billy Idol's song “Dancing with Myself,” featured in the episode with Bill Murray, is replaced with generic music in the DVD release.

23. IMDb User Reviews — • thomandybish | August 2001: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Before FREAKS AND GEEKS there was . . . SQUARE PEGS was the hippest teen show of the time. Great writing, funny characters, tubular new-wave music and fashions--what was not to like? Something, because the show vanished after one or two seasons. An early vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker that seems to have garnered a cult following and much acclaim at the time(ROLLING STONE did an article on the show and creator Ann Beatts), it has since slipped into oblivion. • vertigo_14 | January 2004: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ I got interested in this show when I happened to catch the TV Land marathon one weekend night, and I've been a fan ever since. Square Pegs was great because it never got caught up in the oversexed life of horny teenagers (though there are some subtle remarks), so it wasn't soap opera-esque. That's quite a refreshing break from the incessant self-indulgent dramas and sitcoms targeted for today's teenager. But, nor was it commentary on the critical issues facing teens at the time. It was just a simple, light-hearted show about a bunch of goofy high school kids. And, tough the situations were sometimes dull (such as the episode where Lauren falls in love with the school handyman), Square Pegs was a pretty funny show about an odd assortment of characters. Plus, how can you go wrong with a show in which both The Waitresses (who performed the theme song) play the Freshman Dance and Devo appear at super-peppy Muffy Tepperman's Bat Mitzvah? • Twins65 | November 2012: ⭐️½ I just plowed through a few episodes of Square Pegs for the first time in 30 years, and while the nostalgia trip back to '82 was fun, and the music performances were nice (Patty Donahue RIP), the episodes were pretty bland. I watched the pilot with The Waitresses, the Devo episode, Muffy's Bat Mitzvah episode, and the ones with Bill Murray and Steve Sax. I think I laughed all of once, and that was when Dena Dietrich ("Mother Nature" from those 70's margarine commercials, who I hadn't seen or thought about in years, but she was instantly recognizable) showed up and started hitting on Johnny Slash. The show was considered somewhat hip back in its day, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker playing freshmen geeks who really wanted to be more popular. And the SoCal "dude-speak" of the early 80's was just getting going and featured here, with Sean Penn's Spicoli from Fast Times and Moon Zappa ranting on her dad's album cut "Valley Girl" the forerunners of the Square Pegs' writers jumping in with Tracy Nelson's one-note "gag-me-with-a-spoon" character. But it was all for naught. Paul Feig's Freaks and Geeks from '99 really blew Square Pegs away with 3 freshman boys trying to survive in the early 80's, and F&G featured way more laugh-out-loud dark humor, without a creepy laugh-track to unfunny lines bringing it down. The interviews on the extras were OK (shot in 2008), but don't waste your time unless you really want to see what John Femia and/or Claudette Wells are up to these days.

24. R.I.P. — 🌼 Merritt Butrick, who played Johnny Slash, died of AIDS in 1989 at age 29. Butrick also played Admiral James T. Kirk's son in the movie Star Trek ll: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

25. Alive and Well — πŸ‘¨πŸ»‍🦱 John Femia is 53. πŸ‘©πŸ»‍🦱 Amy Linker is 53. πŸ‘©πŸ» Jami Gertz is 54. πŸ‘©πŸΌ‍🦱 Sarah Jessica Parker is 55. πŸ‘±πŸ»‍♀️ Tracy Nelson is 56. πŸ‘©πŸΎ Claudette Wells is 66. πŸ§”πŸ» John Caliri is 60. πŸ‘¨πŸ»‍🦱 Steven Peterman is 66. πŸ§”πŸΌ Richard Nelson is 69. πŸ‘©πŸ»‍🦳 Catlin Adams is 69. πŸ‘΄πŸ» Basil Hoffman is 82.

Killer Pussy's classic song. Singer Lucy LaMode was the B-52 girls working in a sex shop. I remember several of the male band members dying of "hepatitis" in the early '80s. Although it's never been confirmed, it seems obvious now they met the same fate as Ricky Wilson.

Then ...

Now(ish) ...

Am I the only one who thinks Sarah Jessica Parker was never "too pretty" to play any role?!!!


James said...

Can I add one more thing? Tracy Nelson was originally cast as Rusty in FOOTLOOSE, which was going to shoot during what would have been SQUARE PEGS hiatus (except that there was no second season). But the screenplay was rewritten and Nelson decided to pass on it because she was concerned the role no longer suited her anymore. She recommended Sarah Jessica Parker instead, who booked the job on a Sunday morning and had to rush from NYC to Utah to start filming the following day. We all need more friends like Tracy Nelson!

Gabriel Chiren Gottlieb said...

There was a marathon of this on Decades TV last year. I hadn't seen it since the third grade. Fun fact: New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz was a writer on this show.

Jack said...

My nickname in the early 80's was Jonny Slash, thanks to my then aesthetic.

Blobby said...

She could have played Mr. Ed's wife easily enough.

heyitsbeth said...

I recently watched the Bat Mizvah episode looking for Jerry Seinfeld. Never saw him, but saw someone that could have been mistaken for him. I think it’s an error in IMDb.