The Office (U.K.)

In honor of the series finale of its much longer-running American cousin, I thought I’d share a look back at the original The Office.

Seeing as this one came first I’ll resist the urge to point out which British character = which American one. Ricky-Gervais-The-Office

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New Girl

Just in case you’re not one of the reported 10 million people who tuned in for the much-ballyhooed premiere of New Girl last week, here’s the deal. It’s terrible. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but as someone who loves most of Zooey Deschanel‘s work going back to Almost Famous, I found this show to be a huge disappointment. You can pick apart whether the jokes are cliche or the characters are likeable, but I don’t generally expect much from network sit-coms in that regard.

My main problem: Why Dirty Dancing? What is the fascination with that movie? And is Zooey’s character Jess even old enough to remember it?? It came out in 1987, and she’s probably supposed to be 30, tops, so what exactly is her attachment to a trite film about a skeevy old guy (no disrespect to the late Patrick Swayze, who played said skeevy old guy) preying upon an idealistic teenager wearing Keds? Continue reading

Square Pegs

Sarah Jessica ParkerGiven the current surge in nostalgia for the 80s, it’s a good time for Hulu to reintroduce the world to Square Pegs. From 1982, the show centers around two geeky high school girls trying to fit in. It stars Sarah Jessica Parker, even before Footloose and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Her co-star is Amy Linker who, according to IMDB hasn’t done anything since 1985. What I remember about this show is that the two lead actresses were on the cover of Dynamite magazine. Anyone? Dynamite magazine?

The show begins with the two of them talking, in voiceover, about their intentions to infiltrate the right cliques. “This year we’re gonna be popular,” the one with a slight Northern accent declares, “Even if it kills us.”

The pilot opens, as you might expect, on the first day of school. As the opening scene unfolds, at a pep rally, we learn that the one offering popularity instructions was braces-wearing Lauren (Linker). Glasses-wearing Patty (Parker) is her willing follower on the road to coolness. (See that? Glasses and braces are universal shorthand for geeky. Apparently Linker was also wearing padding to make her look fat, but she is only Hollywood fat, if anything.)

Lauren’s superior knowledge of who’s who gives the audience a chance to learn some names and ranks. The dreamiest guy in school is Larry Simpson. The most popular girl is Jennifer (Tracy Nelson – one of those Nelsons), who has a Princess Diana thing going on. Being popular also means talking with a Valley Girl accent, peppered with ‘like’s and ‘ya know’s. “Gross me out the door” she declares in once scene, prompted by nothing.

The pep rally scene also introduces Jami Gertz as Muffy Tepperman, the Patty Simcox of the group, and the token black student, L.D. The latter performs a song-and-dance number with the hideousness only the 80s could conjure.

For some reason the kids are dressed like it’s February, but forgetting that, the fashion paints us squarely in the 80s. Not in the send-up way that shows depict the 80s today, but realistically. )Seriously, we didn’t wear Madonna gloves and stirrup pants every day.) There are some really specific references to pop culture of the time too, like to a particular Budweiser commercial.

It takes a few scenes to get a feel for the tone of this show. Although it’s a half-hour comedy, it doesn’t feel like a sit-com. It’s single camera, with a lightly used laugh track. There’s a weightiness to it that would be seen in later shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, and still later, Glee. It’s nice to see high school girls drawn as intelligent and articulate, even if they do still turn to butter in the presence of dreamy senior boys. Although Patty is heartbroken to learn that Larry isn’t into her, she responds with, “Larry, you needn’t reproach yourself.” Actually, much of the episode’s humor derives from her intense seriousness.

Oddly, we never see any of the characters’ home lives. In a show of this kind, we expect to see fights with parents, rule breaking and groundings. The pilot takes us from the pep rally, to lunch, to gym class, and finally to a school dance. As a side note and further sign of the times, the Waitresses appear as the band playing the school dance. It’s as if the writers are letting us know that school is these characters’ whole world, which is how it often feels at age 14. “My life is over,” Patty observes at the end. And we know her life will end in some little way every week, because that what happens in high school.