May
17th 2010
Monday morning time machine: Square Pegs and The Waitresses!

Posted under: American history, art, childhood, fluff, Gender, women's history

How many superstars can you spot in this clip from the 1982 teevee show Square Pegs? 

Yes–that was Jami Gertz as Muffy Tepperman, Sarah Jessica Parker as Patty Green, and Tracy Nelson as Jennifer DiNuccio in Square Pegs (1982-83), which appears to have captured high school in the 1980s as accurately as anything else.  Sadly, the show was cancelled after just 20 episodes.  (Amy Linker played Lauren Hutchinson, Patty’s outgoing BFF who was always playing an angle to increase their “popularity.”)  How cool was it that they got The Waitresses to play their school dance?  (And do the theme song for the show, natch.)

The sad thing is that Square Pegs looks really radical for featuring so many strong female leads.  There’s no question but that Muffy is the star of the academic side of high school, and Jennifer is the social queen of the school.  Her boyfriend and the other two recurring male characters are merely supporting cast members.  Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), which also had a very short run, was centered on boys’ stories and experiences and had just one major female character.  The 1994-95 cult hit My So-Called Life was centered around the experiences of one girl and her female best friend and two male friends (one gay, one straight.) 

I’m pretty confident that now, nearly 30 years later, no major network would dare offer a show built around the experiences of high school girls.

17 Comments »

17 Responses to “Monday morning time machine: Square Pegs and The Waitresses!”

  1. Julia on 17 May 2010 at 10:48 am #

    I just bought the complete series of “Daria” (1997-2002) on DVD. I recommend it to anyone who is nostalgic for a clever show based on high school girls. Now MTV plays shows like “The Hills,” which started as “Laguna Beach,” a faux-reality show based on high school girls who wore clothes nobody could afford in real life. What do you make of shows like “The Hills,” Historiann?

    I miss shows like “Daria” and “My So-Called Life,” so now I buy them on DVD and pretend the world is right again.

  2. Bookbag on 17 May 2010 at 10:59 am #

    There are shows that focus on high-school girls, like “Gossip Girl,” but there’s nothing empowering, positive, or authentic about a show like that. It’s just a fantasy about out-of-control, insanely wealthy high school students. That said, I do like “Glee” — the cast is about 50-50 male-female, and I think they’ve done a good job at creating a fantastical high school show (all those dance numbers!) that still feels pretty authentic. They’ve done a really good job at tackling the issue of coming out in high school, for example. Have you seen either one?

  3. Historiann on 17 May 2010 at 11:30 am #

    I’ve never seen The Hills, Laguna Beach, or Gossip Girl. Part of it is an age thing, but a bigger part of it is that they all seem to be part of a hyperconsumerist fantasy about teenage life (which I don’t find particularly enriching or interesting.) I used to be a big Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place fan, though, so it’s not like I didn’t enjoy some trash back in the day. (I’m talking 90210 back in the “Brandon/Brenda/Dylan/Donna Martin Graduates” days, not the “Kelly is the Guidance Counselor” latter-days.)

    I forgot about Daria–thanks for the suggestion, Julia. I’ve seen a bit of Glee–friends of mine are big fans. But it just seems so campy as to be a different genre. (Not that Square Pegs was super-serious, I guess! It wasn’t as serious as My So-Called Life

    What are the smart H.S. girls watching these days? Is it Glee? (It seems like Glee would appeal to an older demo, one that is closer to Jane Lynch’s age than H.S. students’ ages!)

  4. squadratomagico on 17 May 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    I second the recommendation of Daria, which my household just bought, too!
    There is also Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which features a mixed-sex group of friends, with Buffy and her bff Willow in the main leads. True, the show has all kinds of other campy horror elements, but it’s also a very sensitive portrayal of high school and its alienations. Unfortunately, the creator of that show, Joss Whedon, has produced much less nuanced work for most of the rest of his career.

  5. FrauTech on 17 May 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Aren’t Miley Cyrus and other Disney-performer shows about high school aged girls in the lead? Obviously not a typical high schooler, and obviously not always the lessons one wants to pass on to our smart daughters and nieces, but there is something out there even if it’s crap.

    I’ve never watched Glee but my high school and pre-high school aged family members watch it and like it, and they are intelligent thinking people, so it must be ok.

    I don’t think anything can compare to MySoCalledLife and I also enjoyed Daria but MySoCalledLife seemed to be to me what people my age were dealing with, and we watched it with my parents who could also sympathize with the main character’s parents, so it was a perfect multi-layered show for teens, adults, and teens who either fit or didn’t fit the norms. Reminds me of the earlier “Thirty Something” show that appealed to adults of all different kinds when it was running.

    Squadrotomagico- I never realized Buffy was Joss Whedon. I never watched it (though I might some day), i’d definitely put Firefly as an exemplary Whedon show up there, but I can’t speak for a lot of his other work.

  6. Penny on 17 May 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    Hmmm…. “iCarly” is a Nickelodeon sitcom where the main characters are a pair of high school girls who have an online TV show. Also on Nickelodeon, “True Jackson VP” is about an African-American teenager (the title character) who becomes VP of “youth fashion” at a clothing company (she hires her best friend Lulu to be her assistant); and “Victorious” is about a high school girl attending a performing arts school; she wants to be a singer, and her best friend (a boy, Andre) writes songs for her.

    All three comedies are super-popular with the fourth-grade girls I know (and the one I live with). They’re meant for kids, so I don’t find them anywhere near as watchable as Daria or Square Pegs or My So-Called Life or Joan of Arcadia; but they’re not as icky as the soapy 90210-style high school shows, either. (A kiss is a major big deal on iCarly.)

    (There was a fourth Nick show about a teen girl, “Zoey 101,” but that left the schedule pretty soon after the star Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy in late 2007.)

  7. Historiann on 17 May 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Well, I guess I’ve pretty thoroughly demonstrated how completely out-of-it I am! (Either that, or how completely without even basic cable I am. I forget that there are so many more channels about nothing out there sometimes. . . )

    Joan of Arcadia is another one I missed–it seems to belong more among the shows I wrote about today than the Nickelodeon stuff. Nick is aimed at kids–whereas I think what was interesting (and special) about the shows above is that they were aimed at a more general audience. Although they featured teenaged girls, they weren’t presumed to be of interest only to preteens or teens. (Another thing these shows have in common is that they all lasted only a season or two. Bummer.)

  8. Julia on 17 May 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    I don’t know if HBO counts, but Sex & the City was a pretty good show. The movies have become more about clothes and shoes, not that Manolo Blahniks weren’t a component of the show as well. Some of the episodes were about more than fashion, and I think the characters were intended to be seen as strong, independent women. The movies have fallen away from that a little, unfortunately, but the first couple of seasons of the show were pretty good, and definitely revolved around women!

  9. shaz on 17 May 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Loved Square Pegs in the 80s…

    My new ridiculous fave is a cartoon series (5 minute shorts) called Making Fiends by Amy Winfrey. Seriously, it makes me crack up constantly. It features Vendetta, an evil scientist girl, who is saddled with the ridiculously cheerful Charlotte, who thinks they are BFFs no matter what. (C: “This is my special rock — Vendetta gave it to me.” V: “I threw it at her!”) I have a print for my office — to remind me how you can get the last laugh by being incessantly nice to people no matter how horribly they behave.

    P.S. Or, if you are looking for girl fiction, check out the Franny K. Stein series — girl mad scientist.

  10. Western Dave on 17 May 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    As a teacher in a girls’ school (this year teaching 9, 10. 12) I can say that teenage girls are watching:
    a) Glee and lots of it. And crushing on the gay male character
    b) Gossip Girl and 90210 although more for the clothes than the plots – they get that this is fake high school
    c) Hannah Montana – even the seniors. The show has widespread appeal, mostly because almost every episode is about balancing work and family and family almost always wins – which is not what happens in a lot of these girls’ real lives. Plus some of the songs are pretty good and Emily Osmet is a deeply gifted physical commedian
    d) Buffy in reruns (on Logo) or on DVD or downloads via Netflix
    e) Anything on nickteen (H20, Degrassi – sort of 90210 except in Canada so less money and more realistic plot lines)
    f) although all claim not to watch ICarly they seem to know just about every episode, allegedly seen while babysitting. Again, the sidekicks carry this show.
    g) That’s So Raven – The Disney show that kicked off Disney’s domination of girls’ tv near as I can figure. Still much loved and it’s easy to see why, Raven Simone is the true inheritor to Lucille Ball’s mantle. I hope she has a long career.
    h) Phineas and Ferb – like iCarly the claim is “I saw it babysitting” The supporting characters play a huge part in the appeal: Perry the Platypus, Candace the sister, the mom, Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s daughter. Somehow everyone knows the best music from this show.
    i) Yo Gabba Gabba. Mostly because of the guests. I think they just watch the best clips on Youtube like this one http://www.youtube.com/user/yogabbagabba?blend=1&ob=4#p/u/69/veN2gyCEj8s

  11. Geoff on 17 May 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    I think I remember something along these lines…it went something like

    “You take the good/
    You take the bad/
    You take them both and there you have…”

    what? Please, help me out…

    Whatever that show was, it did have a long run.

  12. susurro on 18 May 2010 at 1:25 am #

    your best bet for shows that revolve around girls or at least have girls perspectives front and center is Nick (the teen version of Nickelodeon), several of the web based shows like Anyone But Me, to a lesser extent ABC Family. The WB offers a lot of status quo material already mentioned but has tried to branch out, and failed, every year for the last 4 years; some of their stronger female characters show up on shows like Smallville, which offers episodes centered around female characters in a male dominated storyline, and Supernatural, which has had whole seasons where the women were essential to the plot but is generally about male bonding and queer window dressing. Of the shows slated for the summer, there are a few coming out on both ABC and NBC that promise female perspectives but they are in the slasher and spy genre not the “coming of age” genre.

    Skins, which is a British show that re-airs on BBCAmerica and is slated to be adapted for an MTV version, is one of the best examples of a show giving equal or greater time to the internal thoughts and lives of young girls (straight and lesbian), including those with mental health issues, each episode is based around the perspective of a single character and the number of girls in each cast outnumbers the boys; the cast changes every two years. That being said, boys perspectives and entanglements still dominate the overall narrative.

    One small correction, Jordan Catalano and Ricky were not friends. Ricky was Angela’s friend and he had a huge unspoken crush on Jordan which was only addressed in the episode where Rayann slept with Jordan and Angela couldn’t believe the betrayal. And yes, I know this b/c I gave a paper on it at the PCA one year comparing certain proto-feminist messages in it to similar and diverging ones in RFR (Radio Free Roscoe).

    (And now, I will be taking my nerdy self back to my own blog or perhaps off to re-read the Uglies which really should be made into tv or film and would very clearly center young girls making away and a whole new world … ahem)

  13. Historiann on 18 May 2010 at 5:46 am #

    Susurro–I was talking about Brian, the guy who had a crush on Angela and couldn’t believe that she liked Jordan Catalano, who treated her so badly. Agreed: Jordan and Ricky were not friends! Not at all.

    Who didn’t have a crush on Jordan Catalano? Jared Leto played him to perfection–the dreamy-looking jerk everyone has a crush on in high school. I saw a tee shirt on line a few years ago that said, “I made out with Jordan Catalano.” I should have bought it immediately, but I didn’t.

    Geoff: The Facts of Life! I loved it, but mostly because I was a preteen then.

    And Shaz: I’ll have to try to catch Making Fiends. Sounds about my speed.

  14. susurro on 18 May 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    ahh “Brain” I loved how Jordan “mis”pronounced his name all the time …

    I want that t-shirt as well. I do however have a picture of Leto and Danes meeting up last year at a party on the blog and how the times have changed …

  15. Elena_Romero on 18 May 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    You forgot Freaks and Geeks, which to those of us who didn’t have these fantastical high school experiences full of popularity issues and fretting about boys, touched such a raw nerve that it was canceled after one season.

  16. Historiann on 18 May 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    No, I didn’t. You forgot that I wrote “Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), which also had a very short run, was centered on boys’ stories and experiences and had just one major female character.”

  17. Synchronize Swatches! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 28 Jul 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    [...] one of the only three shows I ever watched about high school, along with Square Pegs and Beverly Hills 90210. Does The Facts of Life count? (I guess once the main characters got to be [...]

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