Series: Square One TV
Educational program, from the creators of Sesame Street, which originally ran on PBS from 1987 to 1992. Square One was a half-hour sketch show which featured music videos, game shows, animations and parodies of other popular television programs designed to teach mathematics to children. Ironically, Square One was often criticized for being too entertaining. Some people just couldn't believe that it was really possible for something that children actually enjoyed watching to be educational. It is also notable for the large amounts of Parental Bonus (often coming in the form of shout outs to the University of Michigan, where many of the creators matriculated). A number of shorts were the earliest projects for Jumbo Pictures.Its stated goal was "To promote positive attitudes toward and enthusiasm for mathematics by showing that: A. Math is a powerful and widely applicable tool useful to solve problems, to illustrate concepts, and to increase efficiency. B. Math is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. C. Math can be understood by, be useful to, and even be innovated by nonspecialists." For all the claims of being overly entertaining, it did an excellent job in this, presenting an engaging introduction to a fair number of deep mathematical concepts, including Fibonacci Numbers, Pascal's Triangle, Bases Other Than 10, The Golden Section, Imaginary Numbers and Diophantine Equations.Recurring animated segments featured Mathman (an affectionate parody of Pac-Man in a Wolverines helmet, who existed to demonstrate common mathematical errors, and who would be eaten by his nemesis, Mr. Glitch, in a truly freaky Family-Unfriendly Death for getting answers wrong) and Dirk Niblick of the Math Brigade (a Roger Ramjet-like character [who even shared Ramjet's voice actor, Gary Owens; his animator, Fred Crippen, and his creator-writer, Jim Thurman] on the far shallow end of the Badass Normal scale, who uses his skills in math to help his friends and defeat scam artists). Every episode ended with part of a five-part "Mathnet" story (featuring a supposed "Mathnet" wing of the Los Angeles, and later New York, Police Department, whose members would use their skills in mathematics to solve crimes). "Mathnet" was particularly filled with Parental Bonuses (largely due to it being a parody of Dragnet) to the extent that collections of each serial were run in prime time on various PBS stations.
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- 20% More Awesome: There's a skit with a man singing about how he was giving "Eight Percent of my Love" to his girlfriend, with a breakdown for where the other 92% was going.
- Abnormal Weapon: The Mathnetters on Mathnet carry calculators as their primary weapons, instead of handguns (and may wield them in such a way).
- Affectionate Parody: The show was almost entirely constructed of affectionate parodies presenting mathematical ideas - from sitcoms (such as The Phoneymooners, Nobody's Inn, and The Odd Pair) to game shows (What's My Number?, But Who's Counting?, and Let's Do a Deal) to science fiction (Fax Headfull) to dramas and soap operas (General Mathpital and quintessentially Mathnet) to video games (Mathman and Pauline's Perilous Pyramid), as well as most of the musical numbers.
- Arc Number: In Kate Monday / Pat Tuesday's voiceover narrations for Mathnet, the times mentioned are always 43 minutes past the hour.
- As Himself: In Mathnet, Officers Sam and Steve, played by Sam Salazar and Steve Fellman. Also overlaps with Cast the Expert, as both men were actual police officers working for the LAPD at the time, as well as Fake Guest Star, as despite appearing in every Los Angeles segment, they were always listed in the guest cast.
- Based on a Great Big Lie: Mathnet, in the beginning of each segment.Narrator: The story you are about to see is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real.
- The Bermuda Triangle: In a Mathnet segment titled "The Case of the Bermuda Triangle," Pat and George debunk the Bermuda Triangle myth on television, leading to a case where a sunken boat could prove a man's innocence of treason.
- Broke the Rating Scale: Stanley O'Toole from the song "Less than Zero" manages to get negative scores in activities you wouldn't think it possible to do - diving, dancing, and rollerskating. Then he tries the hammerthrow and throws it backwards, so his official distance is -55 feet.
- The Butler Did It: The outcome of one the Mathnet cases, with the twist that the butler was actually the owner of the mansion in disguise.
- Butt Monkey: Mr. Beasley is often taken in by various math based scams, but luckily he has next door neighbor Dirk Niblick to expose the fraud and save the day. His other next door neighbor is George Frankly, who repeatedly borrowed and lost his things.
- The Case Of: The Mathnet segments were generally named this way, though in the first season they were usually named "The Problem of..." instead.
- Cliff Hanger: Generally used at the end of every Mathnet segment except the final one in a set.
- Cloudcuckoolander: One Mathnet interrogation subject was a young woman who said that she was walking her dog (except she didn't really have one) and explained that her mother always said she had a great imagination - then she also mentioned something about a 'mean pterodactyl' and how she hoped it wouldn't get her dog.
- Content Warnings: Parodied at the beginning of re-packaged airings of Mathnet, read by Joe Howard in character as George Frankly. For example, the following aired as an introduction to "The Calpurnian Kugel Caper":The Mathematician General has determined that the following program contains graphic depictions of mathematics, including adult mathematicians generating random numbers, probability, correlation versus causality, and, of course, a talking llama. Viewer discretion is advised. (George Frankly signature laugh)
- Continuity Nod: In one episode of "The Problem of the Maltese Pigeon", Kate Monday and George Frankly are searching Jasper Stoutman's house for the eponymous statuette. George finds a baseball in the fireplace, a nod to the climax of "The Problem of the Missing Baseball".
- Day of the Week Name: Kate Monday, Pat Tuesday.
- Disaster Dominoes: In the Mathnet episode "The Case of the Deceptive Data", Kate and George are interviewing data tampering suspect Dwight Ledbetter (Jack Riley), who claimed to have broken his leg on the night of the tampering. After turning down a live sales call by two LAPD officers of tickets to the Policemen's Ball, he closed his front door and accidentally stepped on his cat. Jumping up in shock, he landed on his wife's skateboard and shot into the kitchen, bounced off the fridge door his son had just opened, and skated out of the back door and into his neighbor's driveway, where his neighbour, returning from a garden party, ran over his leg with a riding lawnmower. As Kate and George turn to leave, they hear a cat screech, followed by Ledbetter yelling "Not again!" as further sounds of chaos issue forth, ending with the sound of a lawnmower.
- Disney Death:
- George Frankly, in "The Case of the Great Car Robbery". They thought he was crushed in the junkyard along with the car they had rented over at LAX as their way of setting up a trap, so that they would be able to follow the lead of the head of the car theft ring, Henry Edsel III. George managed to roll out of the car, the moment he was about to be crushed.
- Again, in "The Case of Bermuda Triangle", wherein George's life is sought by Donnawhy, who was after the treasure the Mathnetters were seeking for Trudy. Luckily, George had surfaced quickly upon finding the loot and was picked up by the cops.
- Droste Image: Used in a sketch to demonstrate the concept of infinity.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The original pilot for Mathnet, the shows' most popular segment, was titled "The Problem of the Missing Baseball". It had a different opening title sequence, a different actress playing the head of their computer division, and, among other differences, was exactly like Dragnet, from the setting, to the rapid-changing close-ups during a conversation. It was filmed in one week in August 1985. note It was also the shortest Mathnet episode ever, at just under 33 minutes in length. The longest one was "Despair in Monterey Bay", at just under 87 minutes in length.
- Likewise, the original Mathman pilot had Mathman eat numbers that were smaller than 1/2. In that episode, the narrator says "When a number crosses your path...", instead of the usual "When you encounter a number...". An extremely earlier version of that episode (Mathman approaching a 1/3) can also be seen briefly in the opening credits to seasons 1-3, with a very funny-looking early version of Mathman and Mr. Glitch.
- Educational Song: Every episode featured at least one musical number, with the songs explaining everything from perpendicular lines to percentages to Roman numerals to map scales.
- Episode Code Number: Like most, if not all of CTW's productions, this show displayed its production code at the start of each episode. Each episode had a three-digit code; the first digit represented the season number, and the next two digits represented the episode number.
- Season 1 - 101-175
- Season 2 - 201-240
- Season 3 - 301-340
- Season 4 - 401-440
- Season 5 - 501-535
- Every Episode Ending: Each episode of Mathnet usually ended with George Frankly and Kate Monday (later Pat Tuesday) giving each other a high-five, followed by a picture of the recently-arrested criminal, and a narrator explaining what became of said criminal.
- Doubly subverted in "The Parking Meter Massacre", where one criminal is arrested, and the Mathnetters think the case is solved, and make George's signature laugh at each other instead of the high-five. But they thought wrong....
- Evil Gloating: Inverted in a Mathman sequence where Mathman disputes the idea that math is only used in school. Unfortunately, he monologues so long that he neglects the seven-second timer, and gets eaten.
- Failure Is the Only Option: In Mathman, Mathman will usually get eaten by Mr. Glitch as he will eventually get an incorrect answer. Ditto for Mr. Glitch getting eaten whenever he runs in place of Mathman.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: In one Mathnet, George and Kate come across a youngster selling pencils in the park. At first George decides to take pity on him but when he finds out that the pencils are being sold for $50,000 each, he has second thoughts.George: Isn't that a little much for a pencil?
Boy: Yeah, but I only have to sell one...
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- In the music video for "Graph of Love", the intro concerns a group of teenage girls noticing that a friend's relationship must've gotten serious, as there is a "diagram" in her purse.
- Part 5 of the Mathnet episode "The Trial of George Frankly", when the real George arrives at the courtroom, with just his undershirt and heart boxers, to expose the fake one."May it please the court! I am George Ernest Frankly, and I just came out of the closet!"
- Goofy Print Underwear: In "The Trial of George Frankly", George shows up wearing heart-patterned boxer shorts.
- Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Whenever someone is sworn in during "The Trial of George Frankly":Bailiff: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you Gosh?
- Incredibly Lame Pun: In one Mathman skit, Mr. Glitch explained that Mathman wasn't ready to play because "he's in the mathroom".
- Kaizo Trap: In one Mathman skit, our hero successfully completed the maze and won a free game. When that bonus game started a few minutes later, a screen-sized Mr. Glitch ate Mathman during the introduction (that same bonus game was shown by itself in later episodes).Announcer: ...and beware the humorless Mr. Glitch... he will... [Beat] ...eat you.
- Klutz The Surgeon: Doctor Mal Practice from General Mathpital.
- Knights and Knaves: A "Spade Parade" sketch features the three-person variant with the Wisenheimer brothers, Tom (knight), Dick (knave), and Harry (alternator). Fortunately for Spade, when he tries to establish their identities, Harry gives himself away by claiming to be Dick (neither the knight nor the knave would claim to be the knave), and Dick gives himself away by claiming to be Harry; had they all claimed to be Tom, Spade would have nothing to go on.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Mr. Glitch cheated a couple of times, eating Mathman too soon. When Mr. Glitch himself ran the maze, he screwed up quickly, once getting eaten by Mathman's dog.
- Latex Perfection: The fake George Frankly in one episode of Mathnet was revealed to be wearing a latex mask. Subverted immediately afterwards when George attempts to pull the mask off the fake George's accomplice:Accomplice: Ow! The nose is real, try the hair!
- Logic Bomb: In a sketch parodying 2001: A Space Odyssey, a pair of astronauts stop their computer from singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" all day long by giving it an unsolvable algorithm: Start with 3, add 2, if answer is even, stop, if odd, add 2 again, repeat. Why exactly listening to the computer count by twos to infinity was less annoying than listening to it sing remains a mystery.
- Logo Joke: At the end of the series premiere episode, the PBS logo clones more PBS logos as we hear the chorus sing "And on, and on, and on, and on..." in a nod to the episode's opening musical number, "That's Infinity".
- Meaningful Name: If you can puzzle out what Mrs. I.O. Privacy's first and middle names were, you'd know that she dood it.
- Medium Awareness:
- The "Dirk Niblick" segments have No Fourth Wall, and so the characters frequently mention their status as cartoon characters. For example, when the Noodleman siblings, Fluff and Fold, drop by Dirk's house, the following exchange takes place:Dirk: Well, if it isn't the Noodlemans, come to pay a call!
Fold: If it isn't the Noodlemans, come to pay a call, we're in the wrong cartoon!
- The characters in Mathnet are clearly aware of their status as characters in a television series.
- The Previously On introductions by Kate (or Pat) frequently mention "look[ing] at scenes from previous episodes".
- In the Thursday episode of "The Problem of the Dirty Money", George observes, "In Tuesday's show, Mrs. Swaggle mentioned that the house had a carport."note
- In "The View From The Rear Terrace", Kate Monday is stuck at home with a broken leg. The start of Tuesday's episode has George comment that this is where they'd look at the previous episodes, but Kate was the one that knew how to do that, so George looks at his notebook instead and goes over the previous episode without footage. The last note reads "Pick up bell peppers for meatloaf" and George says that he'll do that in Thursday's episode.note Oddly, the rest of the episodes have previous footage in them.
- The "Dirk Niblick" segments have No Fourth Wall, and so the characters frequently mention their status as cartoon characters. For example, when the Noodleman siblings, Fluff and Fold, drop by Dirk's house, the following exchange takes place:
- Moebius Neighborhood: Averted; George Frankly and Dirk Niblick both have only one neighbor—but it's the same neighbor, Mr. Beasley.
- Mood Whiplash: When Pat and George are investigating disappearances from a staged Agatha Christie-like mystery weekend, they check the victims' rooms. George keeps complaining that everyone else has a bigger closet than he. That's actually a clue.
- Named After Somebody Famous: The criminal in one of the Mathnet storylines is named Archie Leach.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Used often in the Mathnet segments.
- No Pronunciation Guide: In "The Trial of George Frankly" episode of Mathnet, there's a running gag about the pronunciation of the last name of the two criminals (two brothers) that might be trying to have George framed for a bank robbery."I remember them. The brothers Karamazov (KAIR-ah-mah-zoff). Or was it kair-ah-MAHZ-off?"
- The judge takes it a step further by pronouncing it ka-RAAH-ma-zoff.
- Parody Commercial: "'Oops' is brought to you by erasers! Don't make a mistake without one!"
- Previously On: The Tuesday through Friday episodes of Mathnet began with summaries of previous episodes (Kate/Pat even mentioned "look[ing] at scenes from previous episodes").
- Ratings: Primarily the subject in an episode of Mathnet called "The Case of the Deceptive Data". Beloved children's programming host Mike Pliers (McLean Stevenson) lost his show due to poor ratings, which were more in favor of The Vicious Vinnie Vermin Show. But it was later revealed that the ratings were all a lie, that the people who allegedly watched Vinnie Vermin (Dick Sargent) were actually fans of Mike Pliers. To make matters worse, the ratings were tampered with by none other than Vinnie Vermin himself, who was actually a representative for the Hoover Ratings System named Wellworth Watching.
- Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Happens often in the fourth wall-lacking "Dirk Niblick" segments. For example, in an episode about rounding, the Noodleman siblings, Fluff and Fold, are shocked to discover that their haphazard use of rounding has led them to underestimate the price of their purchases:Fluff, Fold: Three dollars and four cents, question mark, exclamation point, question mark, exclamation point?!?!
Cashier: That's right, three dollars and four cents, period.
- Rear Window Witness: Mathnet used this plot: Kate is housebound with a broken leg and suspects that her neighbor is a mad bomber. Luckily, George believes her (and is significantly more mobile).
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Comical version. In the "Spade Parade" sketch with the Knights and Knaves puzzle (see the corresponding entry), Tom (the knight) delivers one to Spade as he is ushered out by his employer, Vanessa Van Vandervan.Tom: I hate your hat. And your office is abysmal. And-
Vanessa: Tom... (begins pushing him out of the door)
Tom: -that tie belongs in a 1942 DeSoto! And your eyes are too close together, and you're too thin for your own-
(Vanessa finally closes the door behind her, but Tom immediately re-opens it)
Tom: -good! (he slams the door; Spade looks momentarily self-conscious about his weight, then shrugs it off)
- Reference Overdosed: The series is packed with references to films, television series, and popular culture, most of which would have been over the heads of the target audience; the Mathnet serials in particular are a goldmine of Parental Bonus.
- Road Sign Reversal: This is an important plot point in an episode of Mathnet. George Frankly had two invitations to a mystery weekend at The Qualms, a quaint inn in the woods, where he would essentially be roleplaying as Sherlock Holmes. While making their way there, he and partner Pat Tuesday fail to notice that the wind blew the sign in a different direction until later. The butler informs them that they're not at the inn they thought they were, meaning that the kidnappings they thought were part of the roleplay are in fact real.
- Scooby-Dooby Doors: "Ghost of a Chance".
- Sesame Street Cred: This show was made by the same company that does Sesame Street. "Weird Al" Yankovic'' appeared several times as himself and there were at least a few other big names that appeared as themselves as well.
- She Who Must Not Be Seen: George Frankly's wife Martha, whose favorite recipe is apparently meatloaf. Together, they have no children, as indicated in one episode where the fake George, portrayed by Irving Karamazov, blew his cover by admitting he's guilty, and apologizing to the following people he may have hurt: "My friends, my sixth grade teacher Mrs. Burk, my scout master Mr. Hare, and of course, my beloved wife Martha, and our FINE CHILDREN".
- Shockingly Expensive Bill:
- In the Mathnet episode "The Problem of the Dirty Money", George was working undercover as a diner cook, and had to deal with a patron who didn't expect tax on his bill, snarling, "I didn't order tax on my hamburger, just ketchup!" Of course this was just an excuse to deliver some Educational Programming about tax and percentages. The bill wasn't that much bigger than he expected ($3.20, California sales tax at the time being 6.5%, vs. $3.00), but it was bigger.
- In a "Dirk Niblick" segment, siblings Fluff and Fold have three dollars to spend on birthday presents for a set of quadruplets, and they estimate that their four toys cost the full three dollars. However, because Fluff has rounded her prices up and Fold has rounded his prices down, they are four cents short, leading to the outburst in Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud.note
- Another "Dirk Niblick" segment had everyone in town lamenting their shockingly expensive bills, like Mr. Beasley lamenting that he didn't know the car he just bought cost $400,000! (It turns out that no one in town noticed the decimal point, "a little dot that makes a big difference", and his car only cost $4,000.00.)
- Many to the University of Michigan; executive producer David D. Connell and senior producer and head writer Jim Thurman were both UMich graduates.
- Mathman wears a Michigan helmet.
- When Dirk Niblick takes phone calls from his mother, the inflections of her voice sometimes form the melody of the Michigan football team fight song, "Hail to the Victors".
- Various segments illustrate how many of a particular item (such as ping-pong balls) it would take to fill Michigan Stadium.
- In the earlier seasons, Mathnet chief Thad Green (James Earl Jones, also a UMich alum) has a Michigan pennant on his office wall.
- One "Oops!" mistake was implied to have led to the 1923 filmed collapse of the seven-winged Gerhardt Cycleplane. The designer of the aircraft, W. Frederick Gerhardt, was the head of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at Michigan in the 1920s.
- In the Mathnet episode "The Case of the Dirty Money", when Kate asks George what he did last night, George replies that he was watching a rerun of Jack Webb in Dragnet, describing it as a "great series."
- This memorable line from the Mathnet episode "The Trial of George Frankly":
- In "The Case of the Deceptive Data", the character of Vicious Vinnie Vermin wears clown makeup patterned after Emmett Kelly's "Weary Willie" character. At the end of the serial, the crimes of which he is convicted include "an 812: using Emmett Kelly's makeup to misinform kids".
- The contestants played by the regular cast members in "But Who's Counting?" sometimes had names that referenced real people. For example, one episode featured the Maldens, Karl and Priscilla (who both had large noses similar to that of the real Karl Malden and made various references to his then-contemporary status as the frontman of American Express' "Don't leave home without it!" ad campaign), against the Sullivans, Gilbert and Edna (named for British songwriting duo Gilbert and Sullivan and American variety host Ed Sullivan; they were stated to be from Penzance, England and delivered all of their lines in precise rhythm while conducting themselves with batons).
- Many to the University of Michigan; executive producer David D. Connell and senior producer and head writer Jim Thurman were both UMich graduates.
- Shown Their Work: The penal code numbers for crimes given at the end of Mathnet episodes are more or less correct.
- Show Within a Show: Many of the game shows depicted were essentially clones of other popular game shows, given a mathematical twist, such as Family Feud ("Piece of the Pie"), The Hollywood Squares ("Square One Squares"), The Price Is Right ("Close Call"), Pac-Man ("Mathman") and others. While some of the parodied game shows remained mock parodies, many of them were actual mini-game shows in their own right, using actual child contestants and even awarding small prizes with the show's branding.
- Signature Laugh: George Frankly of Mathnet.
- Spiritual Successor: Numb3rs, much like Mathnet, has detectives using mathematics to solve crimes.
- Spotting the Thread: In "The Trial of George Frankly", George confesses to the bank robbery, and says how sorry he is to his wife and children. The real George Frankly has no kids.
- Steal the Surroundings: In the first story arc of Mathnet, "The Problem of the Missing Baseball", a woman's house is stolen in order to find some gold bricks which had been hidden in the house. The house was stolen by XY-313, one of the few helicopters that could steal one. The chopper was piloted by a man named Clarance Sampson (alias Charles Sampson, alias Carl Sampson, alias William Howard Taft Sampson), because the house belonged to an accomplice of his, and he needed the gold that was in there.
- Stock Footage: The "Oops!" mistakes are implied to lead to various stock footage misfortunes, such as the 1940 collapse of Gallopin' Gertie (the Tacoma Narrows Bridge), or the 1923 collapse of the Gerhardt Cycleplane.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
- When Kate Monday left, Pat Tuesday replaced her. She had the same deadpan delivery style as Kate, as well as a good deal more common sense than George Frankly.
- When Kate and George moved to New York, Joe Greco replaced Thad Green as their boss, while Benny Pill replaced Debbie Williams as their technical analyst and back up support.
- Swapped Roles: When Mathman is unable to play his mission (for example: Mathman is busy walking his dog), Mr. Glitch would substitute Mathman's mission.
- Take That: Just as the series featured many Shout Outs to the University of Michigan, so it took potshots at the university's athletic rivals, such as Michigan State University (multiple Mathnet episodes featured villains who had graduated from MSU, in some cases after flunking out of Michigan) and Ohio State University (in another Mathnet episode, a theft of $136 from the OSU alumni fund is said to have "cleaned the whole thing out").
- This Is a Work of Fiction: At the beginning of every Mathnet:The story you are about to see is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real.
- Tomboy: Kate Monday was one - George awkwardly suggests she wouldn't have been interested in toy trains because she was a girl, and she points out that she had a train set, a baseball glove, and a hockey stick.
- Totally Radical: In a dual parody of American Bandstand and Star Trek, Captain Jamie Lee Curt and Science Officer Sprock of the Starship Interface accidentally beam into a recording of American Blandstand with Rick Clark. After the two take a moment to get their bearings, Curt decides that he and Sprock should "try and speak his language", and proceeds to clumsily pepper his speech with 1950s slang (Sprock, of course, sticks with Spock Speak). Clark is also trying too hard to fit with the times, but for the opposite reason.Curt: (stiltedly) Say, hep cat... quite a, uh, groovy pad you got here, uh, you dig?
Clark: (enthusiastically) Hey, for sure, I dig! Now, maybe you guys would like to join us for a game of "Rate - That - Record"!
Sprock: Captain, it would be interesting to see some of the society's primitive rituals. I say we proceed.
Curt: Very well. (to Clark) Uh, right on, daddy-o.
Clark: (brightly) Daddy-O! Fantastic!
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Lampshaded in the Common Multiple Man sketch; Common Multiple Man's only superpower is an ability to instantly find common multiples of any set of numbers, which he himself sheepishly describes as "a pretty nutty superpower... well, you go with what you've got."
- Whole Plot Reference: Mathnet had several:
- "The Problem of the Maltese Pigeon": Lifted heavily from The Maltese Falcon (George even lapses into a Humphrey Bogart impression for the climactic confrontation with Maureen O'Reilly).
- "The View from the Rear Terrace": A spoof of Rear Window.
- "The Case of the Mystery Weekend": A reworking of And Then There Were None (the villain even has the same motive).
- "Despair in Monterey Bay": Owes something to To Catch a Thief (George references the film's title directly, and the villain is named Archie Leach).
- You Are Already Dead: (Mathman makes a mistake) (BWOOOOMP) However he dodges, Mathman can only delay the inevitable.
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And on! And on! And on! And on!