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Squaresville Review

on Fri, 07/27/2012 - 00:00

Teenage years have always been well represented on the small screen. Starting with 1988’s The Wonder Years, through My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, the joys, fears, trials and tribulations of high school life have been well documented. Each of those television series featured its own ruminations on the formative years of the main characters, from the adult musings of Kevin Arnold, the existential teenage angst of Angela Chase and the rebellious tendencies of Lindsay Weir. Even competing time periods are reflected in these creations, with The Wonder Years set against the nostalgic late 1960s/early 1970s, Freaks and Geeks in the early 1980s and My So-Called Life in the 1990s. The Twenty First Century, meanwhile, is now likewise represented by the smaller yet equally insightful web series Squaresville.

While The Wonder Years acted as a bridge between high school and adulthood, My So-Called Life explored the often meaningless nature of teenage years, and Freaks and Geeks placed the spotlight on the outcasts of William McKinley High School, the central storyline of Squaresville is an amalgamation of these various elements. The narrative focusses on best friends Zelda (Mary Kate Wiles) and Esther (Kylie Sparks), themselves social outcasts due to their preference for intellectual pursuits and an aversion to the “popular” aspects of teenage life. Zelda is the “lighter” of the two, perpetually upbeat and willing to forgive past transgressions by the “cool kids” while also filled with the desire to leave her imprint on the world.

Esther, meanwhile, is darker, edgier and far less tolerant of others, and is also not afraid to display these qualities to the world at large. “We told you, we’re on our periods,” she tells the physical education teacher in regards to why the two girls are walking the length of the outdoor track rather than running it. “We’re not going any faster!” she later screams when again asked to hurry up. Zelda eventually questions how Esther can get away with talking back in such a manner, and her best friend casually responds, “I feel like a bitch is the only way to sell it.” Esther, meanwhile, doesn’t understand why Zelda has reestablished her friendship with a popular girl who has recently fallen from grace. “I’m just saying, if you’re willing to let anyone be your friend no matter what they’ve done, then what does friendship even mean?”

Although Squaresville is clearly the story of both Zelda and Esther, it is Zelda who ultimately serves as the central character. In the initial episode entitled “Nerds on the Run,” for instance, it is Zelda who convinces Esther to wear a dress and feign attending a high school dance in order for the two of them to secretly perform “Guerilla Gardening” as a means of beautification disobedience. “This is important,” Zelda explains to her counterpart. “This is us deciding to be whoever we want to be. This is our chance to go out and do something.” Although the two best friends have sworn to someday leave town together and attend the same college upon graduation, however, Zelda also understands that life doesn’t always turn out the way one expects. “How come I never see your old friends from high school—do you still hang out with them?” she asks her older sister Sarah (Christine Weatherup). “When old friends move away, you make new ones,” Sarah explains.

Fellow male high school student Percy (Austin Rogers) is the third member of the Squaresville social group and displays the same disdain for the “popular” kids as his two female counterparts. In the episode “Mallscapade,” the group decides to play an interactive board game where the goal is to attend prom with the high school football star. Despite being geared towards teenage girls, Percy is initially the most enthusiastic about playing and that excitement soon rubs off on Zelda and Esther as well. When Esther later maneuvers into position to “win” the game, however, Percy protests. “Wait,” he says. “Who is this Dylan really? Some jerk? Dylan may be the freshest guy on campus, but I don’t think he’s all that great.”

The actual in-crowd of Squaresville also reflects Percy’s beliefs. While the scenes involving Zelda and Esther are realistic explorations of teenage life and insecurities, those centering on the reigning king and queen of their high school evolve as if they are a part of some nighttime soap chronicling the lives of the rich elite. Even their clothes reflect the lifestyle of the upper class, while the dialogue spoken by the characters themselves is both heightened and stilted. In Squaresville, the social divide is more than just economic but reflective of foreign ways of life between the insulated world of Britton (Shannon Lorance) and Braedon (Tyler Sellers) and the more grounded and relatable percentage that are represented by Zelda and Esther.

“I certainly wasn’t popular in high school,” actress Mary Kate Wiles told Geek Girl World in May 2012. “My friends and I were super weird, mostly drama geeks who would dress up like hobbits or wear prom skirts to school. But you know what was awesome about that? We didn’t care, and we had a freaking blast. My senior year in high school was one of the best years of my life because at that point it didn’t matter to me if I was popular or not, or what people thought of me, really—I had my friends and we did what we wanted and we loved doing it. We were a lot like Zelda and Esther in that way. Just be who you are and enjoy yourself.”

The above quote ultimately reflects what Squaresville itself is all about. In the end, Zelda is every teenager who has felt trapped in their small town community and wanted to someday escape into a better world of their own design. In the meantime, she is still able to make the best of the situation through her genuine friendship with Esther. Zelda may be a circle who does not quite fit in with the rest of her personal Squaresville, but rather than conform into a different shape peg, she does her best to reinvent the hole into her own self-image instead. “This is our chance to go out and do something,” she tells Esther in the initial episode of the web series—it is no doubt an aspiration shared in “Squaresvilles” across the country by the real-life Zeldas and Esthers of those communities as well.

Anthony Letizia (July 27, 2012)

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