Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 30, 2008)
Back when Sex and the City became a hit in the late 1990s, I felt pleased. That reaction didn’t come from any appreciation of the series itself; I still don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire episode of the very female-oriented show. Instead it stemmed from my teen love of Square Pegs, as I was happy to see one of that early 1980s series’ leads do well. Sure, Sarah Jessica Parker had maintained a decent acting career over the years since Pegs died, but she’d not exactly become a star, so it was nice to watch a Pegs alum become a household name.
Because I’d not actually viewed Pegs since its broadcast run concluded in 1983, I decided to give it a new look via this three-disc “Complete Series” DVD set. All 19 episodes appear here, and we find them in the order they originally aired. I took the episode synopses straight from the DVD’s packaging.
Pilot: “At Weemawee High, freshman Patty Greene (Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Amy Linker) vow to click with a popular clique. Meanwhile, Patty attracts the attention of a cute senior.”
Wouldn’t Larry Simpson be a better “senior stud” if he looked less like Bob Costas? Nothing against Bob, but he’s not exactly anyone’s idea of a superhunk.
Despite that leap of faith, the “Pilot” sets up the series in a decent manner. While it doesn’t produce a slew of laughs, it entertains, and it launches Pegs in a coherent manner. We get a good sense of the various characters and the series’ broad sense of character; it clearly wants to present a goofy, comedic take on high school with nutty folks like Johnny Slash, Muffy and “Valley Girl” Jennifer.
A Cafeteria Line: “When Patty snags the romantic lead in the school’s homage to A Chorus Line, she starts to believe that her leading man Vinnie (Jon Caliri) may actually like her.”
Maybe I’ll get sick of it after a while, but so far I find myself awfully amused by Muffy’s references to the school’s adopted Guatemalan child. Many other funny moments emerge as well, which does a lot to reassure me. While the “Pilot” was a good launching pad, it wasn’t especially amusing, so I feared that the subsequent episodes would lack great humor. “Cafeteria” shows that the series will be able to muster comedy well – I hope. I suppose I shouldn’t count any chickens, but I like “Cafeteria” quite a lot.
Pac-Man Fever: “After budding comic Marshall (John Femia) becomes obsessed with a video game, his friend Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick) plans an intervention with help from Marshall’s favorite comedian.”
Oh, how I long for the days when one could impress high school classmates with videogame prowess! Normally I don’t like the wacky showbiz-savvy characters like Marshall, but I must admit he amuses me, especially when he becomes a “Pac-Man” obsessed zombie. Add to that a funny Godfather riff and a cool cameo and “Fever” delights.
Square Pigskins: “Patty and Lauren get roped into playing all-girl football by gung-ho LaDonna (Claudette Wells). But LaDonna’s best friend Jennifer (Tracy Nelson) isn’t thrilled about it.”
While the football theme offers some laughs, it’s actually the weakest aspect of the episode. That’s partially because it focuses on LaDonna, the series’ least interesting character so far. I do like the teachers we meet here; they’re goofy stereotypes of a lonely feminist and a gung-ho military vet, respectively, but they’re hilarious. How can I not love it when the female teacher lectures 14-year-olds on “That First Gray Hair: Pluck or Tint?” Despite some weaknesses, there’s a lot of amusement here.
Halloween XII: “When pep committee leader Muffy (Jami Gertz) convinces their teacher Ms. Loomis (Catlin Adams) to host a slumber party on Halloween, the girls are targeted by a possible stalker.”
There’s not a smidgen of subtlety into Gertz’s take on Muffy, and she’s consistently over the top. God help me, though, she’s damned funny in the part. She probably should get on my nerves, but she provides the most consistent laughs in the series, at least so far; maybe the character will get tiresome eventually, but I just love her so far. Pegs uses Halloween as a good launching pad for a variety of comedic situations. Heck, even the usually lackluster LaDonna gets in some good lines.
A Simple Attachment: “Marshall sends away for a ‘love detector’ and plans to use it on Lauren. But Weemawee’s social order is thrown into chaos when the gadget goes haywire.”
After so many consecutive good episodes, I suppose it’s inevitable that Pegs would falter eventually. “Attachment” becomes the weakest show since the “Pilot”, as it fails to produce the usual allotment of laughs. The romantic entanglements give the program a more serious bent, and that just doesn’t work for this series, as it fares best when it sticks with comedy.
Weemaweegate: “Inspired by Watergate, school reporters Patty and Lauren try to uncover who might be trying to sabotage Vinnie’s campaign to become the school mascot.”
After the lackluster “Attachments”, the series rebounds a bit with this episode, though not as much as I’d like. I could live without the aging hippie journalism teacher, and the show doesn’t throw out a great number of laughs. At least we get more Slash than normal since he runs against Vinnie, and that helps.
Open 24 Hours: “Johnny Slash gets songwriter’s block after Marshall books his band for their first gig – performing at the opening of a supermarket’s new deli counter.”
I always liked that Pegs took the “out there” character, the one who should be nasty and abrasive, and made him so sweet and gentle. Butrick’s take on Johnny renders him as such a lovable character that he becomes a consistent highlight. It’s good to see him at the center of this enjoyable episode.
Muffy’s Bat Mitzvah: “Muffy’s ‘New Wave’ celebration is Weemawee’s hottest ticket. When Devo cancels, Muffy enlists Johnny’s band to fill in. But then she finds out Devo can make it after all.”
I love Muffy as a supporting character – will she still delight when she comes to the forefront? Unfortunately, not really, but not so much due to her overexposure. Instead, Muffy loses some luster just because the episode makes her look too mean. She’s still funny, but I like her more when she’s simply self-centered, not openly cruel.
Hardly Working: “When Jennifer is forced to get an ‘uncool’ job due to the recession, Muffy spots a new cause and plans a telethon for Jennifer, with Marshall emceeing.”
“Working” returns Muffy to her more appropriate place as an annoying overachiever. I love the concept of the telethon to help out a classmate, and Jennifer makes a delightfully surly waitress. This becomes one of the better shows.
A Child’s Christmas in Weemawee (Parts 1 and 2): “After Lauren makes plans for them to crash all of the popular Christmas parties, Patty finds out she has to spend Christmas with her estranged dad (Tony Dow). Lauren then has trouble getting into the holiday spirit without her around.”
Woo – a double-length episode! To this day, when I meet someone named “Jennifer”, I always want to call her “Fennifer”. “Christmas” provides a rather up and down show, though it usually succeeds. The weakest parts come from those between Patty and her dad. The use of Dow feels like stunt casting, and this side of things simply doesn’t mesh with the rest of the program – it’s way too “Afterschool Special”.
Otherwise, “Christmas” offers good stuff. The show packs in too many fat jokes about Lauren – we find more than in all the prior episodes combined – but there’s too much nice comedy here to ruin the fun. Heck, it even undercuts some of the sappier moments; when Lauren refers to herself as “the fat girl”, LaDonna briefly feels guilty, but she immediately reverts to the use of that term. It’s mean, but it’s in keeping with the series, as Pegs works best when it’s snarky.
It’s All How You See Things: “Lauren convinces Patty to remove her glasses so she will attract guys, but then Patty trips at Muffy’s bake sale and breaks Lauren’s leg.”
As usual, the dramatic parts of the episode work the worst; it’s just no fun when we get stuck with bickering between Patty and Lauren. Because of that theme, “See” never really gets up a head of steam. It fares best in its early moments, especially when Muffy runs the bake sale, but otherwise, it’s an average show.
Merry Pranksters: “Patty and Lauren think pulling pranks will increase their popularity. However, after the duo graffitis the hallways, Vinnie gets the credit and the blame.”
You know what bugs me? How can Vinnie be a freshman even though he drives his own van? I suppose he may’ve been held back in the past, but this episode implies that he’s on target, so we’re supposed to accept him as 14 – with a driver’s license. At least the series explained why Slash looks so much older than the other kids; the show makes Vinnie older with no explanation whatsoever.
Grumbling over. “Pranksters” is one of the shows that best captures a real high school feeling, as it demonstrates the desire for smart kids to act moronic to get attention. Patty and Lauren’s gags aren’t that great, but the program still musters a mix of good laughs. Though not one of the series’ best, it entertains.
It’s Academical!: “While competing on a local TV quiz show, Patty and Muffy also compete for the attention of their attractive teammate.”
Is it just me or does it seem unlikely that a team made up from members of the entire student body would include two freshmen? At least we get a lot of good Muffy moments, as she throws herself at Larry Simpson; it’s a new side of her, since she always seemed a bit asexual in the past. She’s even funnier as her feminine wiles emerge in this very good episode.
The Stepanowicz Papers: “With the janitor out sick, his handsome son (Robin Strand) fills in and has an immediate effect on all the girls in school, particularly Lauren and Ms. Loomis.”
“Papers” provides a rather lackluster story, but it gains points due to its fairly goofy look at the romantic battle between Lauren and Loomis. It doesn’t go for the usual sentimental route, so it offers a good tale. It’s also nice to see Lauren in the lead, since the series usually focuses on Patty.
To Serve Weemawee All My Days: “Popular teacher Mr. Donovan (Steven Peterman) may be fired from Weemawee High due to his ‘unconventional’ teaching methods and ‘radical’ lifestyle. The gang takes a cue from the ‘60s and stages a sit-in.”
I must admit that I think Donovan is the least interesting faculty member; the aging hippie thing gets tedious quickly. It’s also too soon for another episode in which Lauren pines for another older man. I do like the Moral Majority-style Muffy and her self-righteous crusade, though. Otherwise, this is an average show.
No Substitutions: “The hip new substitute is popular with everyone. Jealousy rears its ugly head when the teacher favors Patty over Lauren.”
“Substitutions” boasts a guest spot from a Really Really Big Star. He hadn’t quite hit his peak by 1983, but he was already a Really Really Big Star; series producer Anne Beatts must’ve called in some chits to get him. (I’m leaving his identity out of it so it can be a surprise.)
Really Really Big Star doesn’t exactly stretch his established comedic persona, but he adds some good comedy to the proceedings. The assignment that weds various students creates many funny moments as well. This all adds up to one of the series’ best shows.
No Joy In Weemawee: “It turns out that Johnny Slash has a hidden talent. He can hit the baseball out of the park every time, and even gets scouted by Los Angeles Dodger Steve Sax.”
“Joy” loses some points for its goofy “Casey At the Bat” inspired narration; it’s a little too pretentious for my liking. Nonetheless, I like the program’s concept, and the sight of a popular, athletic Johnny is a hoot. The good points overcome the weaker ones to create a generally fine show.
The Arrangement: “Jennifer and LaDonna mysteriously invite Patty and Lauren to Vinnie’s party. Convinced popularity is finally within reach, Patty and Lauren soon discover the invitation comes with a price.”
Pegs concludes with Patty and Lauren on the verge of apparent popularity. Of course, they end up right where they began, but at least their brush with hipness allows the series to finish on an appropriate note – though not with a great episode. A few good laughs pop up here, but not enough to make this a satisfying conclusion to the series.