This teen comedy TV series was years ahead of its time and unappreciated when it aired in 1982-83, cancelled before the full first season could be finished. It’s a shame because it’s so smart and funny and different from anything else on TV at the time. It probably would have done better 15 or 20 years later, but it’s so endearingly ‘80s, I can’t imagine it at any other time and being so charming.
The premise is this: two best friends are freshmen at a typical suburban American high school. Patty is a sweet, shy nerd who is too smart for her own good (played by a young Sarah Jessica Parker in her first TV role), and Lauren is obsessed with getting herself and Patty in with the in-crowd at school. Instead, they end up hanging out with two of the school’s other unpopular students: Marshall, the painfully unfunny aspiring comedian, and Johnny Slash, eccentric space case whose life revolves around music--”Not punk, new wave. Totally different head. Totally.” Rounding out the cast are popular girls Jennifer and LaDonna, Jennifer’s leather jacket-wearing tough-but-dumb boyfriend, Vinnie, and the uptight head of the pep committee, Muffy. There’s also a recurring cast of teachers and the school principal.
What sets the show apart from other teen sitcoms of the ‘80s is it was filmed on location with a single-camera set-up (like movies and most current TV shows) instead of the three-camera soundstage set-up that was standard for sitcoms, and it had a very limited laugh track, added only because the network insisted. Also unlike most sitcoms of the time, it wasn’t written by Hollywood writers but by New York writers who had previously worked on Saturday Night Live. They brought a younger, hipper sensibility with smart jokes and pop culture references. They even got new wave bands The Waitresses (who also wrote the theme song) and Devo onto the show, when most Hollywood producers and writers probably didn’t even know who those bands were.
While the show doesn’t have continuing story arcs the way most current shows do, the characters do show more depth and growing as the season goes on. The popular kids aren’t as shallow and mean as they first seem. Patty has a complicated home life and relationship with her parents, which helps explain why she’s shy. And while Lauren says she wants to be one of the popular kids no matter what the cost, she never stops dressing in her eclectic outfits. She wants the popular kids to like her, but for who she is, not who they might want her to be.
There are still some cringy bits. The school is named after a pretend Native American tribe and the mascot is the usual example of racist Indian cliches. (Thankfully, that only really shows up in one episode, so go ahead and skip "Weemaweegate" if you want to.) And there are a lot of jokes about Lauren being fat and compulsively eating (the actress had to wear padding to make her look “fat”). Despite these things, I love the show. I love the cast and characters. I love what it was trying to do and I’m sad at how unappreciated it was. And I love what a time capsule of ‘80s pop culture it is. It’s, like, totally ‘80s but, like, mostly in a good way and not, like, in a bad way. Like, you know?