One of the more profound touchstones of my pop-cultural development was Square Pegs, a short-lived sit-com from 1982 that starred, among others, the people that would be better known as Captain Kirk's bastard son (so pretty, so tragic) and Carrie Bradshaw (so tiny, so odd-looking).
The show was my first exposure to a number of things that inspired my devotion for years to come, particularly Devo and The Waitresses. Certain phrases from the show still pepper my conversation to this day. Not bad for a show that was only on for half a season twenty-five years ago. What amazes me is that I’ve retained all this stuff about the show, but I couldn't have actually watched more than an episode or two. But I listened to them all.
In 1982, my family didn't actually own a TV. The last one had finally broken down altogether, and it was a while before my parents felt the need (or had the wherewithal, perhaps, or some combination of the two) to get another. My sister Ellen, however, had a portable TV/radio that could tune into the audio signal of broadcast TV stations. It was kind of a pain, but better than nothing. (And I’m sure she appreciated being able to keep up with General Hospital as much as I appreciated keeping up with Square Pegs. Honestly, I can't even remember what clever bit of marketing inspired me to listen in to a show I couldn't actually see, but I was hooked pretty instantly.
It's been odd having such vivid memories of sounds and dialogue without accompanying footage. I know I saw a couple of episodes — probably when spending the night at my friend Eddie's house — but for the most part my visual memories of the show are more delicate than the rest. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, though, that’s starting to change. Last night I stumbled across the episode I most wished I had seen when it was first on: the one where Devo (Johnny Slash's 9th favorite band) played at Muffy Tepperman's New Wave bat mitvah. Bliss!
The scripted jokes and the accompanying laugh track are painful, of course, but there are all kinds of charming little details in there that I still love. I hindsight, I love the quirky, watered-down version of 80s culture that was sanitized for TV, but still hints at interesting things must have inspired it. I love the throwaway gags, like how John Densmore from the Doors is the drummer for Johnny Slash's band, and how LaDonna, the cool black chick, can identify gefilte fish that came out of a jar. And even now, Devo still seems beautifully eccentric.
Since I never actually saw the Square Pegs pilot (just listened to it), I never saw the Waitresses perform, and for years I mixed them up with the equally sassy Josie Cotton, who performed in another other pinnacle of watered-down 80s New Wave teen comedy, Valley Girl. (My obsession for that movie and its soundtrack is a story for another day, perhaps.) But they're like totally different. Totally!
Extra bonus: the first song performed by Johnny Slash's band, Open 24 Hours: Tired. Totally Tired
1) Max: Hands down, my favorite prime-time show of childhood! True story: I still call any student named Lauren "Lah-REHN," just like LaDonna did. They don't get it, of course. And I think Muffy's Bat Mitzvah may be the greatest episode from the tragically short run of the show. You know you were a budding gay if...you thought Johnny Slash was totally cuter than Vinnie. (Totally.) And if you just knew that you and Muffy would be BFF if she were a real person. Jami Gertz will never have a better role in her career. (Nov 25, 2007 3:15 PM)
2) Sparky: Johnny was TOTALLY the cute one. (Nov 25, 2007 3:24 PM)
3) Faustus, M.D.: After reading the first line of this post, I feel I must tell you that in ancient Greek the word for "touchstone," when turned into a verb, is the word for "torture." (Nov 25, 2007 6:37 PM)
4) Kevin-Andrew: Yes, Square Pegs was awesome! I loved the waitresses. It's a shame Patty Donahue passed away from lung cancer. (Dec 24, 2007 4:47 AM)
5) Blaise: oh, let's get married already. johnny was a major babe. (Dec 28, 2007 8:23 AM)
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