Always Never Quite Right
July 10, 2005
I watched a lot of TV as a kid it's true. The product of a single mother household from age eight, my babysitters included Mrs. Poole, Alice and Voltron. As such, over the years I've watched my fair share of sitcoms, both good and bad. In my day,
these sitcoms came in three flavors: the wacky family, the dysfunctional workplace and the wacky, dysfunctional school.
The most pervasive of the three was the wacky family sitcom, which invariably featured a dimwitted dad with a heart of gold, a sassy and never wrong matron with some combination of children always including, but not limited to, a bookworm, a dipshit and a smartass. Sometimes these roles were combined, but none were ever absent. Add to this motley assembly a misfit sidekick and you've got the recipe for madcap Nielson Ratings. Notable examples of this formula included Growing Pains, The Cosby Show and The Tortellis.
The dysfunctional workplace also played a prominent role in the entertainment landscape of my childhood and adolescence. Seeing as I was a kid at the time, the only thing I really took from this sub-genre was the ability to play the MASH theme song on the trombone (Suicide is Painless my ass) and confusion as to how Night Court's Dan Fielding got laid so often with such awful hair. Let's move on.
Of the three, my favorite sitcom sub-genre was, hands down, the schoolhouse class war. Parker Lewis Can't Lose (synchronize
Swatches!) and Welcome Back, Kotter both hold a very dear place in my heart to this day. Even The Facts of Life,
primarily a show for and about school age girls was important in my early development. One of my first childhood crushes was on Eastland's token tough girl, motorcycle mechanic and resident lesbian: Jo Polniaczek. Hey man, at least I didn't say Natalie.
The Facts of Life is probably best known these days for kick starting the careers of George Clooney, Molly Ringwald and
MacKenzie Astin, but does anyone else remember Geri Warner Blair's cerebral palsy afflicted cousin? Cousin Geri (played lovingly by
disabled stand-up Geri Jewell) haunts my dreams to this day with her contorted declaration of "I LOVE YOU, BLAYAH!" Only Pet
Cemetery's sister and twisted invalid Zelda was scarier.
Ok, now that like 2% of you still know what the hell I'm talking about, let's get this article back on track. So yeah, I liked sitcoms set in schools.
My favorite of these shows unfortunately only lasted one season. Rumors abound as to the reasons for its quick cancellation, ranging
from rampant drug use on the set to inexperienced production crews, but one thing is for certain: Square Pegs was a show worthy of more than 20 episodes. Airing from September 27, 1982 through March 7, 1983, Square Pegs was created by former SNL writer Anne Beetes. Beetes based the show on her own high school experiences at Somers Central High School in New York, and fashioned its main protagonist, Patty Greene, on her young self.
Square Pegs focused on Patty and Lauren Hutchinson, two nerdy freshmen at Weemawee High School that desperately wanted the acceptance of the popular crowd. Like any self respecting high school comedy, most of the plots and gags revolved around the class struggles within Weemawee and the characters populating each of its cliques. Unlike most other self-respecting high school comedies, arguably the best remembered character from Square Pegs was its music.
The Waitresses, who first hit the charts with 1982's "I Know What Boys Like," were asked to perform the Square Pegs theme song on the strength of their debut single. The aptly named "Square Pegs," was an ode to the awkwardness of adolescence and contained the words "Square" and "Pegs" 21 times. Some sample lyrics:
Square pegs, square pegs. Square, square pegs
Always never quite right.
I'd like it if they liked us, but I don't think they like us.
So tell me where's the party, and how come we weren't invited?
One size does not fit all.
The other most notable musical moment in the show's history was the appearance of Midwestern flowerpot lidded legends Devo in
episode nine, "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah." While I could sing the geektastic choruses of my undying adoration for Devo from the highest mountain for months on end, the irony of lauding a show that peaked with a performance by the band that wrote "Jocko-Homo" is not lost on me. Devolution, indeed.
Oddly, both The Waitresses and Devo got their start in Akron, Ohio, as did vunderkind and second coming of his airness, LeBron James. I wonder what that means. Being from Michigan, I can say with experienced certainty that it does not mean that Ohio sucks any less...it might just mean that Ohio sucks despite The Waitresses and Devo, or maybe that Akron should secede.
The Square Pegs
As I mentioned above, Patty was our main character and the alter ego of creator Anne Beetes. Patty was geeky, big nosed,
bespectacled and once had a crush on John-Boy Walton and his pumpkin sized facial mole (goodnight, John-Boy...sigh). She also often lamented the size of her chest and lack of cleavage, which is really only funny when you realize that she grew up to be Sarah Jessica Parker. As is often the case, Patty, as the main character of the show, was also usually the straight-man (no pun) for her wackier costars and therefore among the more boring denizens of Weemawee. Think Janet on Three's Company -- did anyone NOT hate Janet?
Lauren was Patty's best friend, played by Amy Linker. I'll just get this out of the way now: Ms. Linker's other most notable role was as the voice of Robin on Mr. T, the cartoon. How fucking cool is that?
Lauren wanted desperately to be popular, and would go to great, unscrupulous ends to attain her goal. She was also fat and had
braces, so no amount of unprincipled monkey business would have ever allowed her to move on up that social ladder. Unless it involved lots and lots of buggery, which, given that this was a prime time show occupying the slot opened by MASH's demise, was unlikely.
Ultimately, however, Lauren had a heart of gold (don't they all?) and really just wanted to be loved. With Patty's steady guidance, she slowly came to accept her role as a bottom feeder, teaching a valuable lesson to unsightly young women the nation over -- settle. No matter what your mom told you, you're not special and will never be loved by anyone beautiful.
In an ironic twist, rumor has it that Amy Linker was actually a fairly good-looking young lady, capable of attracting date rapists very capably on her own. If these rumors are true, she wore a fat-suit under her overalls, and had braces affixed to her straight teeth for the role. Method acting at its finest.
Played by John Femia, Marshall was doomed to class clown status from the moment he escaped the womb with a name like Blechtman. Short, skinny and very, very Jewish, Marshall was prone to performing bad impersonations of Howard Cosell, Lucille Ball and Groucho Marx. I'll leave it to you to figure out what it meant that his Lucy impression was the best of the lot. Perhaps Marshall's only
redeeming trait was his idol worship of Herman Munster, a redeeming trait absolutely cancelled by his crush on class fatty, Lauren.
Marshall's best friend, new waver ("definitely not punk rock") and all around burnout, Johnny "Slash" Ulasewicz was my favorite character of all. Johnny was played by Merritt Butrick who also played roles in personal favorites Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Zapped!. Speaking of Zapped!, how many other guys out there were absolutely horrified to learn, later in life, that Heather Thomas used a body double for her topless scene? Fellas? Anyone? Just another reason to hate Scott Baio, I guess. Anyway, Butrick was apparently dismissed from the California Institute for the
Arts just prior to landing the role on Square Pegs for lacking the skills and talent it would take to make it as an actor. Tadow! Take THAT, California Institute for the Arts!
Johnny Slash was always sticking it to the man like that -- he was the only freshman old enough to drive due to being held back at some point, and visited all of the cool clubs that Patty's curfew wouldn't let her attend. He wore those ultra bitchin' wrap around colored sunglasses, had cool hair (for 1982), always wore headphones, mourned with eight bags of pork-rinds when the Dead Boys broke up and never appeared capable of more than monosyllabic responses. If you don't think that's cool, may William Shatner strike you dead where you stand.
The Bold and the Beautiful
Vinnie was alpha bitch, Jennifer DiNuccio's (see below), completely pussy whipped, popular boyfriend, played by John Caliri. Good
looking, stupid, heart of gold. He drove a van with shag carpeting in the back and lifted weights. Let's move on as I've made one rapist joke in this article already.
Tracy Nelson, of the California Nelsons, played rich and popular Jennifer DiNuccio. Yes, Tracy is one of THOSE Nelsons. Her grandparents are Ozzie and Harriet, and her brothers are twins Gunnar and Matthew of the "rock" band (*gasp*) Nelson. As if that's not enough reason to egg her house, Mark Harmon is her uncle and her career crested playing Sister Stephanie Oscalsky on
Father Dowling Mysteries (with Mister C. from Happy Days, no less), and, our reason for discussing her here today, Jennifer DiNuccio of Square Pegs.
There isn't really all that much more to say about Jennifer as a character. She was spoiled, loaded, not all that bright and thoroughly enjoyed punishing Lauren and Patty for being none of those things. Well, that and that the actress that played her had the opportunity to kill Gunnar and Matthew Nelson as infants, sparing us all the indignity of "(I Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection" and those god damned blonde extensions. For this she can never be forgiven. Damn you, Tracy Nelson, damn you straight to hell.
LaDonna, the token black girl was sassy, popular, rich and even meaner than Jennifer. LaDonna is best known for calling herself "Your Midnight Madonna, Lady LaDonna," which is actually pretty cool. This, however, is completely nullified when you consider that the actress that played her (Claudette Wells) also guest starred on Father Dowling Mysteries with Tracy Nelson, assisting the she devil in further marring the fine career of Tom Bosley (Happy Days, David the Gnome). Damn you, Tracy Nelson, damn you straight to hell.
Muffy B. Tepperman
I've saved the best for last. Muffy B. Tepperman, class preppy, pep squad captain
and matron saint to Weemawee's Guatamalan
child for whom she is usually found raising money, was gorgeously played by the gorgeously gorgeous Jami Gertz, who was gorgeous in a gorgeous kind of way.
Ah, Jami Gertz, how I loved you. Not only did you portray Muffy, who had Devo perform at her bat mitzvah, you made The Lost Boys and Sixteen Candles worth watching. Damn it, woman, you almost made Less Than Zero worth two hours of my life, if only for the sex scenes. You've worked with both Coreys, Ralph Maccio, Tyne Daly, Tony Danza and Alex Winter AND your film
debut was with Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields in the same movie! Where do the wonders end, you raven-haired enchantress?
I'll tell you were they end. They ended when you married that piece of trash and started having his mongrel children -- his seed is not worthy! Come to San Francisco and allow me to show you how a real man loves... the photo shrine to your work in my crawlspace alone should convince you lose the zero and get with a hero! Every publicity photo ever taken of you, 437 pages of press clippings, a lock of your hair and some unmentionables I picked up on eBay...it's all here. What's that? Oh, pay no attention to that femur in the corner. It's from, uh, a dog. Those bloody fingerprints on the walls? Umm, poster paint...finger painting. Heh. Heh. Wait, where are you going? We were meant to be! I'll take my meds, I promise! Jami, I love you and I know you love me too!