Can “Square Pegs” ever fit in? A DVD review

Amy Linker, Merrick Butler and Sarah Jessica Parker in a scene from "Square Pegs," a 1982 series focused on the New Wave generation.
Amy Linker, Merrick Butler and Sarah Jessica Parker in a scene from “Square Pegs,” a 1982 series focused on the New Wave generation.

It behooves us to take a few moments to talk about the much-loved TV series from the 1980s, “Square Pegs.” After all, we have a Guatemalan child to consider.

The "Square Pegs" DVD set includes all 19 episodes plus cast interviews.
The “Square Pegs” DVD set includes all 19 episodes plus cast interviews.

We snagged the complete series set, titled “The Like, Totally Complete Series … Totally” at Dollar General for $8. It includes some cast interviews, an interview with series creator Anne Beatts and two add-ons from the Minisode Network. It all totals up to about 500 minutes of 1980s flashbacks for eager viewers.

Comics on the Brain fondly remembered the series from its original run — as well as occasionally finding it bouncing around on cable TV later in the decade. We loved that they had some cool musical guest stars, wore sunglasses in class and had that one guy who talked like a Valley Girl. With those memories, we were ready to travel back to the New Wave era.

And that’s when we realized that some things are best left in the past — and this comes from a blogging staff obsessed with 1980s music, our childhood toys and thinks that “McHale’s Navy” is rib tickler.

Beyond our interest in the 1982 series as a time capsule of the era, we also were curious how the show served as a prequel to Sarah Jessica Parker‘s “Sex and the City.” Things certainly matched up quite well — a girl obsessed with being popular and finding love, shamefully nerdy and works at the newspaper. In that sense, it generally works, and is far more believable than “The Carrie Diaries.”

But is it funny? Is it a commentary on the era? The answers to both those questions are a definite “No.” Yes, the show has a few funny moments, mostly thanks to its dialogue, but not enough to make it enjoyable. Is it a good time capsule? Not really. The fashions maybe. The story topics? Not a bit — there were episodes about unmarried couples living together and slumber parties, after all. Sure, they also hit on video game fads and girls playing sports — but those just aren’t enough to make compelling TV.

Further, we had some issues with one of the most persistent bits in the show — fat jokes. Not only are these just awful in general, but they were also exclusively directed at Amy Linker’s character, Lauren. The problem? She’s not a bit overweight in the show. Just look at her jawline — you have guys who wish they could have her chiseled look.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1ThPXygwF0&w=420&h=315]

And it was also quickly apparent to us that Linker was the most energetic on the show. She should have had the lead role, not Parker. Switching the story lines around to make Linker the primary and Parker the sidekick would have helped the series tremendously.

Parker, meanwhile, was clearly saddled by her role too. She was given a few opportunities to shine, but never enough. Let this girl dance. Let her sing. Her classmates can treat her like dirt, but let her floor the viewers with her talents.

Beyond the two leads, the supporting cast is actually really great and they were used well. Merrick Butler as Johnny Slash is probably the most memorable as the New Wave slacker — and another character the show should have been built around. After that, the Jennifer character played by Tracy Nelson, with her Valley Girl attitude was emulated by a generation. And Jamie Gertz seems to have played Muffy Tepperman in a dozen roles after that. Our only complaints are with Claudette Wells (saddled with awful dialogue), John Femia (never given an opportunity to stand out) and Jon Caliri (made to act like John Travolta).

The best episode, “No Substitutions,” and really the only one worth watching, guest stars Bill Murray. His charisma is amazing and he livens up the entire cast as well. If the producers had managed to bring this much energy to every episode, the show would have been huge — the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” of TV. (And yes, we remember that too.)

But it wasn’t going to happen. The show was cancelled after 19 episodes.

Don’t blame the cast, though, the writing was what doomed this show. It was uninspired and unfunny, even some great guest stars couldn’t save “Square Pegs.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq6g5qwAPv8&w=420&h=315]

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