Image B+ Sound B Extras B+
"Square Pegs (Pilot)," "A Cafeteria Line," Pac-Man Fever," "Square Pigskins," "Halloween XII," "A Simple Attachment," "Weemaweegate," "Open 24 Hours," "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah," "Hardly Working," "A Child's Christmas in Weemawee," "It's All How You See Things," "Merry Pranksters," "It's Academical!," "The Stepanowicz Papers," "To Serve Weemawee All My Days," "No Substitutions," "No Joy in Weemawee," "The Arrangement"
GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
ZERO STARS/**** Image B- Sound B
starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt, Shannen Doherty, Lee Montgomery
screenplay by Amy Spies
directed by Alan Metter
by Ian Pugh The "square pegs" of the title are brainiac Patty (Sarah Jessica Parker, already having settled into a halting conversational style that never left her) and "fat girl" Lauren (Amy Linker), newly-initiated freshmen at Weemawee High School who pledge during the opening narration of each episode that this year, this year, they're going to be popular. Unfortunately, their never-ending--maybe even Wile E. Coyote-esque--bid to break into Weemawee's social elite always results in half-baked schemes and humiliating compromises. (Upon being ousted from a table in a crowded diner by the popular crowd, Lauren rationalizes that "having them sit where we were just sitting is almost as good as sitting with them.") While "Square Pegs" never fails to empathize with the folks who are young and foolish enough to believe in such a ridiculous enterprise--because it's all they know at this stage of their lives--what really makes the series special is how it forces older viewers to contemplate the people they were in high school and who they are now.
Just as we once failed to recognize that there was life beyond high school, we sometimes forget that life back then did not simply boil down to unbreakable cliques of unpopular heroes and popular villains. We certainly spend more time identifying with loner weirdo Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick) and his quest to break into the New Wave scene, but you can't exactly demonize the resident jock, Vinnie Pasetta (Jon Caliri), who vacilitates between cruelly enforcing the rules of an insular caste system and reaching across the aisle to perform the occasional good deed. Then there's aspiring comedian Marshall Blechtman (John Femia), whose awful celebrity impressions are just earnest enough to incite minor emotional introspection in trying to decide whether or not you should really laugh--and question the reasons why you eventually do (or did, as the case may be).
These ideas are at best fetally developed, though, and perhaps more interesting for their frank presentation than for anything genuinely funny or deep. You have a feeling the writers (mostly alumni from the glory days of "Saturday Night Live") were plumbing deep down to reconcile memories and regrets harboured since their freshman days, wanting to impress upon their characters the same painful learning process they lived through--to the point where they eventually regressed back to their former teenaged selves. As such, throughout its nineteen episodes, "Square Pegs" becomes a victim of its own desire for popularity: it never quite manages to balance its candid appraisal of high school with its appeasement of the "now" crowd, a quandary perhaps best exemplified by how the show has two opening themes--a guitar-backed version of "Chopsticks" (which perfectly encapsulates adolescent poserdom) and a fashionably hip song written and performed by The Waitresses--that are in constant rotation. Unfortunately, network television is far less forgiving than real life: CBS cancelled "Square Pegs" just shy of a full season. Given the chance to blossom, given the chance to follow its leads as they grew up and grew out of their surroundings, the series might have found its footing, and maybe we would be talking about "Square Pegs" with the same smirking cult reverence that "Freaks and Geeks" enjoys today.
Released a scant two years later, Girls Just Want to Have Fun would hire Parker to abandon the underlying humanity of "Square Pegs" and basically state that high-school popularity is the end-all/be-all of modern society. Here she plays Janey, a Catholic schoolgirl who loves to dance, and, omigod, her arrival in Chicago coincides with an audition for popular local show "Dance TV", which is precisely what she needs to prove to her parents and the kids at school that she can--well, the movie hasn't actually thought that far ahead. The film is basically interchangeable with any number of teen-steam/sports intrigue pictures from the era, complete with a hunky rebel (Lee Montgomery), a hip friend (Helen Hunt was hip?), a dorky friend (Jonathan Silverman, his generation's Jason Biggs), a snobby rival (Holly Gagnier), and a can't-stop-the-music aesthetic that feels like having an unfiltered dose of the '80s injected directly into your eyeballs. It would be doomed to total obscurity today if not for the appearance of future stars Parker, Hunt, and Shannen Doherty, but Girls Just Want to Have Fun still stands out on the basis of its haphazard editing--the aforementioned friendships and rivalries are formed in an excessively hasty fashion, as though a few vital scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. Maybe everyone realized how little effort they had to put into this scenario. In any case, it's pretty awful and nigh unwatchable (I had to shut it off after an hour before trying again from the beginning the following day), but it may be the perfect second half in a double-bill of bizarre pop culture artifacts of the decade in conjunction with the Fred Savage-NES vehicle The Wizard.
Capitalizing on the Sex and the City movie hype, Sony brings all nineteen episodes of "Square Pegs" to DVD in a garish three-disc set labelled "The Like, Totally Complete Series... Totally." While "Square Pegs" spoke to the usual distrust in and contempt for previous generations ('60s idealism in ex-hippie Mr. Donovan (Steven Peterman), '70s feminism in pontificating Ms. Loomis (Catlin Adams)), it seems to me that marketing "Square Pegs" strictly as an '80s curio--complete with a package slathered in an obnoxious checkered-cab design--misses the point entirely. Nonetheless, the series proper is not treated like an afterthought: the full-frame, shot-on-film image is nice and clear despite the occasional scratch in the source print. The DD 2.0 stereo audio shows surprising depth in modulating music and dialogue, such as in 1.9, "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah," when Devo's "Jocko Homo" plays in the background through several scenes--although non-diegetic musical performances (like those from The Waitresses and Devo themselves) are a tad too loud for my tastes.
"Weemawee Yearbook Memories" (interviews with the cast and crew) are spread out across the set. The show is remembered with a fondness that borders on wistfulness, though a stream of engaging anecdotes keeps things from getting too sappy and nostalgic. Just about everyone gushes over their encounters with guest stars Devo and Bill Murray and shares fond memories of Merritt Butrick, who died of AIDS in 1989. A few more individualized highlights: Parker explains how Carrie Bradshaw was the natural evolutionary descendant of Patty Greene--a claim I'm willing to accept so long as we use Girls Just Want to Have Fun as the fatal turning point; lifelong friends Tracy Nelson and Claudette Wells recall funny lines they had to recite as popular girls Jennifer DiNuccio and LaDonna Fredericks; Chicagoan Jami Gertz (pep-squad preppie Muffy Tepperman) describes the culture shock of moving to Los Angeles; John Femia parses through his comedic influences at the time; Steven Peterman discusses the challenges of moving from acting to writing to producing; Amy Linker reflects on her own high-school life; and creator Anne Beatts takes us step-by-step through the inception of "Square Pegs".
"Minisodes" on Disc Three are cynical five-minute bowdlerizations of episodes of "The Facts of Life" ("Sex Symbol") and "Silver Spoons" ("Hey, Mrs. Robinson"). The initial terror that accompanies the idea that people would want to watch stripped-down, nonsensical versions of half-hour TV shows is either negated or accentuated--I'm not sure which--by the fact that the practice appears to be mostly limited to shows that weren't worth watching in the first place. A separate menu of "Previews"--for Blonde Ambition, My Mom's New Boyfriend, The Other Boleyn Girl, Saawariya, The Final Season, and generic DVD-shills for "'80s Hits" (Ghostbusters, The Big Chill, The Karate Kid, St. Elmo's Fire, Stripes, and Stand by Me) and "Ladies Night" (female-driven sitcoms from "Bewitched" to "V.I.P.")--can also be found on Disc Three. Note that original two-parter "A Child's Christmas in Weemawee" (featuring a rare non-"Leave It to Beaver" performance from Tony Dow-Ed.) has been consolidated into a single hour-long episode.
Anchor Bay also reissues Girls Just Want to Have Fun on DVD in tandem with the theatrical release of Sex and the City. At startup, the disc gives you the choice between fullscreen and (heavily-matted) 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen versions; while I'm more apt to blame film stock of the era and the picture's own lack of ambition, the transfer is awfully dull and grainy for a movie that wants to rely on electric-neon colours. Curiously, dark reds and browns stand out, giving Girls Just Want to Have Fun a palette not unlike that of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Chace Digital's DD 5.1 remix is surprisingly powerful at points (particularly in handling the synth drums) but otherwise nothing to write home about. The only extra is a trailer that labels the film as Girls Just Want to Have Fun: The Movie in an unsuccessful bid to make you think that it isn't an overblown music video. (For what it's worth, the eponymous Cyndi Lauper tune is covered by soundalikes in the film.) Apropos of nothing (or, perhaps, everything), the cover art is horrifying thanks to the too-obvious Photoshop attempt to paste the stars' heads onto body doubles. Originally published: June 17, 2008.
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