In the wake of Saturday Night Live's success, multiplexes and TV sets were stuffed with comedies about dope-smoking slobs getting the best of prim, authoritarian snobs—and in none of them was there any mistaking which camp was meant to be awesome. But when former SNL writer Anne Beatts created the short-lived early-'80s sitcom Square Pegs, she shifted the paradigm a little, making her heroes outright geeks who envied the popular crowd. Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker played high-school freshmen perpetually failing at social climbing, spending their afternoons and weekends with dweeby class clown John Femia and spacey new-waver Merritt Butrick. Because none of these kids looked or acted cool—and because even Weemawee High's popular kids were kind of gawky—Square Pegs smartly captured the high-school experience for a large number of '80s teens. The show's cult success carried over to Freaks And Geeks and the films of John Hughes, which all shared Beatts' understanding of how loserdom could be painful, yet companionable.
The 20 episodes on the complete-series Square Pegs DVD set hold up well as nostalgia, and the show's characters still resonate, even when the plots come off as too sitcom-y, and the laugh track distracts. Square Pegs was never a conventional laugh-out-loud comedy; its wit derived from the way the mousy Parker would make softly acidic quips about whatever ridiculous situation Linker had gotten her into, and from the way the writers carried over jokes and references from week to week. (One of the best: preppy busybody Jami Gertz's multiple schemes for raising money "to house and clothe our little Guatemalan child.") And it's as refreshing now as it was in 1982 to hear actual teens talk about actual bands, movies, TV shows, and videogames, from Monty Python to Pac-Man to Devo. Beatts and company cannily cultivated viewers who were into pop's cutting edge, because that was part of the show's message. In Butrick's character in particular—so odd yet so sweet, with his ever-present Walkman headphones and B-52's T-shirts—Square Pegs offered hope to outsiders everywhere, by promising that while we may never figure out how to be popular, at least we'll be free to enjoy the coolest stuff.
Key features: Almost two hours worth of reflective, at times movingly regretful interviews with Beatts, Parker, and the rest of the surviving cast.