Monday, January 16, 2006

'Square One TV' Hall-of-Fame

Back when I prided myself on my multiplication tables, I was obsessed with a PBS kids' show by the name of "Square One TV." If they had iTunes back in those days, I'd have been downloading the videos for Angle Dance and Tessellations.

Most people might remember Square One for its final segment, a crime parody of "Dragnet" called "Mathnet," featuring Joe Howard as George Frankly and Beverly Leetch as Sgt. Kate Monday. One of the Mathnet plots even featured James Earl Jones and a very young Yeardley Smith, also known as the voice of Lisa Simpson. But the weirdest turn of events was when I, as a 9-year-old, saw Beverly Leetch play another law enforcement character on a very different show during or shortly after her run on "Mathnet." In 1987, she played a psycho, oversexed officer who seduced the title character of "Sledge Hammer!" If she wanted to prevent type-casting, she did a good job. She also achieved her goal of weirding out a 9-year-old.

I also enjoyed the first part of "Square One," the one that featured seven legendary actors, all of whom I can recite by name without help: Reg E. Cathey, Larry Cedar, Cynthia Darlow, Cristobal Franco, Arthur Howard, Luisa Leschin and Beverly Mickins. They did Saturday Night Live-like skits, songs and parodies that were really clever, genuinely amusing, and -- God forbid -- educational.

After the show ended in 1992, one of my favorite games was finding the cast members of the show in other shows, preferably ones that didn't end my childhood innocence prematurely. I don't remember seeing Franco, Howard or Leschin again, but I did pick out Darlow on an episode of "The Sopranos." IMDb.com says Mickins has made more than a few appearances on the Lifetime network.

But the two most distinguished alums have to be Cathey and Cedar. Cathey's made the most appearances in relevant movies, including "S.W.A.T.", "Head of State," "Pootie Tang," "American Psycho," "Se7en" "Tank Girl," "Airheads" (my choice for all-time worst movie with the best cast), "Clear and Present Danger," "The Mask," "What About Bob?" and "Born on the Fourth of July." He's an excellent actor, but I can't help but remember him singing a country-western song about the multiplicative properties of the No. 9 every time I see him in other works. "Nine, nine, nine/Fantastic number nine/It's perfectly consistent/And it works out every time..."

Last but not least, let's also give props to Larry Cedar. He's rejuvenated his career on one of my favorite shows right now: "Deadwood." Looking back, he was probably the favorite to launch the greatest career: he could sing, act, be funny and carry an otherwise-dead skit. But after a bit part as an announcer in the awful "The Babe," he worked predominantly in voice-overs before HBO snagged him for "Deadwood." It's great hearing the same guy who sang about The Mathematics of Love, now spewing heinous, politically incorrect monologues on HBO. And now that I'm 18 years older than I was when I saw "Sledge Hammer!" the two worlds mesh with much more comforting results.

More nerdy Square One TV links here, here and here.

2 comments:

Bubb Rubb said...

You rule, yet make me depressed at the amount of educational TV I've watched in my life. And how much I reflexively quote it.

I still use the expression "N.G." all the time. It was one of George Frankly's many catchphrases. If you don't remember, allow me to refresh:

Frankly: "This is N.G."
Monday: "N.G.?"
Frankly: "Not Good."

Tremendous with his delivery.

Tesselation Tara said...

Now all we have to do is find ANY evidence of "Everybody Here"'s existence. Did we MAKE UP that show?