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Series / Square One TV

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Educational program from the Children's Television Workshop, which originally ran on PBS from November 2, 1987 to November 6, 1992, with reruns airing until October 7, 1994. Square One Television 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 Television 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 University of Michigan 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 characternote  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, Sgt. Kate Monday (later replaced by Sgt. Pat Tuesday) and Det. George Frankly, 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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The game shows of Square One TV, and their Game Show tropes:

  • Personnel: Mostly, if not entirely limited to the principal Square One TV cast, and who held what position tended to vary by episode within shows. Most game shows were introduced in Season 2, and discontinued after Season 4.
    • The Announcer: Reg E. Cathey for most Game Show segments
    • Game Show Host: Varied from segment to segment, and season to season. See folders for specifics.
    Close Call 
Players are shown estimation problems. The two out of the four that each give the closest answer to one get spots in the final round, and the one of them that wins that problem wins the game. Hosted by Arthur Howard in Seasons 2-3, and Luisa Leschin in Season 4 who was Howard's co-host the previous season.
  • Studio Audience: Assists during some of the problems, being given such things as colored hats or pom-poms.
  • Think Music: When the players are writing down their answers.
    Piece of the Pie 
A Family Feud-like game where the surveys are percentage-based. Differences are that play is in teams of three, 50% is the winning score, and the bonus round is three questions and played to 100 points (100%). Each team also gets one "huddle" during the game to consult with each other. Hosted by Cris Franco in Seasons 2-3, with Arthur Howard as co-host in season 2, and Franco hosting alone in season 3, and Beverly Mickins in Season 4.
    Square One Challenge 
Visual problems are shown, and the two panel members give their solutions. The two players lock in their guesses as to which ones were correct or a bluff. For the third and final problem, in season 3, the question was worth 200 points. In season 4, the players wager any amount of their points. The one with the most points after this wins. Introduced Season 3, as revamp of Square One Squares. Hosted by Larry Cedar in Seasons 3-4.
    Square One Squares 
Players take turns selecting a lettered space on a 3x3 grid (S-Q-U-A-R-E-1-T-V; the center, R, is "free"), and are shown visual problems. The panel of two each give one solution, and the player must correctly decide who is giving the correct one to claim the space. Three in a row of a player's color wins. Hosted by Larry Cedar. Only played during Season 2, but revamped as Square One Challenge for Seasons 3-4.
    Triple Play 
The two players spin two wheels with numbers (One of which has a "Square One TV" space which is wild), and use them to create an addition or multiplication problem to claim numbered spaces on the hex-formationed board. The player to claim three numbers in positions that form a triangle wins. Hosted by Cynthia Darlow. Only played during Season 2.
  • Bonus Space: The wild "Square One TV" space on one of the wheels.

This + show + provides + examples + of =:

  • 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.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • Mr. Glitch has occasionally had his own go at playing Mathman, vaporizing the correct items instead of eating them. He almost, if not always gets one wrong and ends up getting his from Mathman.
    • Some Mathnet episodes, such as "The View From the Rear Terrace" and "The Case of the Purloined Policies" have George doing the narration at certain points instead of Kate/Pat. In the former, his narration of one part's recap is heard as a recording.
    • Then in the first part of "The Galling Stones", it's Captain Joe Greco on the opening narration - as they're off to arrest Pat.
  • Abnormal Ammo: Mathnetters Kate Monday, George Frankly, and Pat Tuesday on Mathnet carry calculators as their primary weapons, instead of handguns (and may wield them in such a way). Averted, however, with Captain Joe Greco and Benny Pill in the New York era, as they wielded (but never fired) actual guns to apprehend suspects.
  • Advertised Extra: Despite Los Angeles Mathnet boss Chief Thad Green making very few in person appearances, his actor, James Earl Jones, was always billed in the main cast alongside Beverly Leech (Sgt. Kate Monday), Joe Howard (Det. George Frankly), and Mary Watson (Technical Analyst Debbie Williams). Unlike other instances of this trope, however, this generally only occurred in story arcs that Jones was actually appearing in. Similarly, in the New York era, despite New York Mathnet boss Captain Joe Greco making only slightly more in person appearances than Green did, his actor, Emilio Del Pozo, was always billed in the main cast alongside Leech, Toni Di Buono (Sgt. Pat Tuesday) when Leech left, Howard, and Bari K. Willerford (Officer Benny Pill). Again, this generally only occurred in story arcs that Del Pozo was appearing in.
  • Affably Evil: Peter Pickwick (played by Seinfeld actor Wayne Knight) is a jolly and friendly copy-center proprietor who poaches parking meters just when they're due to be emptied, for maximum haul. Maximum haul.
  • 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: How appropriate for a show about math!
    • In Kate Monday / Pat Tuesday's voiceover narrations for Mathnet, the times mentioned are always 43 minutes past the hour.
    • The Mathnet police procedural also has the number 313 appear now and then: tow truck numbers, apartment numbers, made-up crime codes, etc.
  • Artistic License – Law: In the Mathnet story "The Trial of George Frankly", George mentions that two criminals, the brothers Karamazov, had been sending him death threats before they escaped. As George is a police officer, this would be a serious crime. This would have led the brothers to having time added to their sentence and probably getting sent to a more secure prison (making an escape harder).
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Mathnet, as fitting for a Dragnet parody, sends up the famous "The story you are about to see is true" announcement:
    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.
  • Beneath Notice: How the car thieves were able to act undetected in the Mathnet segment "The Case of the Great Car Robbery". Specifically they used a tow truck that looked like the ones used by the police and targeted illegally parked cars. Anyone witnessing them would only see a police tow vehicle doing their duty. Their scheme was eventually exposed when some of the car owners were able to witness their cars being towed, upon which they went to the police to recover their vehicles, only for the police being unable to locate the towed cars at their garages. They also only sold the cars for scrap meaning that none of the missing cars ever got back into circulation only taking a handful of cars every day. It only got noticed once the volume of the missing cars got into the several thousand after several months.
  • 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.
  • Brick Joke: At the start of "Purloined Policies", George accidentally throws a dart out the window. Where does it turn up? In the tire of Stanley Swinnen's stolen bike after it's recovered. So that's why George didn't want to talk about the missing dart.
  • 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.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: George Frankly, and to a lesser extent, Kate Monday of Mathnet. Considering the show was aimed at kids, it's to be expected.
    • Dirk Niblick. He's a goofball, but dude's a lieutenant in the Math Brigade for a reason.
  • 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.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: All that is seen of Dirk Niblick's mother is her silhouette and eyes.
  • Calvinball: The game show board game "Wheel of Jeopardy", as seen in "The Calpurnian Kugel Caper".
  • The Case of...: The Mathnet segments were generally named this way, though in the first season they were usually named "The Problem of..." instead.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • In part one of the Mathnet story arc The View from the Rear Terrace, George gets Kate a model airplane, to help her cope with having a broken leg. In part five, George talks Kate into using it to save her life.
    • Used by Kaboom Pickens in "The Calpurnian Kugel Caper", it's revealed that a "Wheel of Jeopardy" game was what generated the suspicious serial numbers for the counterfeit kugels.How it was done
  • Clear My Name: George Frankly in "The Trial of George Frankly" when he's accused of robbing a bank, and Pat Tuesday, in "The Case of the Galling Stones", when she's accused of stealing jewelry.
  • Clear Their Name: Kate Monday's old college friend, Eve Adams, in "The Case of the Unkidnapping", who's also an aspiring actress, when she's accused of kidnapping veteran theatre star Lauren Bacchanal, whom she had been acting with and understudying in the in-show musical "Anything Went", which Ms. Bacchanal had been starring in and producing as well. In reality, however, Ms. Bacchanal actually faked the kidnapping because she wanted the show to close in order to avoid having to pay investors and pocket the unused funds and Ms. Adams was getting such rave reviews for her performance that it was putting a monkey wrench into Ms. Bacchanal's plans.
  • Cliffhanger: 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.
    • Roy "Lefty" Cobbs for much of "The Unnatural"...Until we learn this one is actually an adenoid—er, android.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: Cynthia's costume for a "Neighborhood Super-Spy" music video explaining numerical ciphers started with a fedora, a trench coat, and sunglasses. She transitioned to a sparkling silver dress halfway through.
  • Company Cross References: Episode #172 features a spoof of the the Children's Television Workshop's flagship series Sesame Street. Although they title the sketch "Caraway Street," they don't bother naming the Ernie and Bert Expies anything different.
  • 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)
    • A couple of the music videos also had joke content warnings, for instance "Angle Dance".
  • 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".
  • Controllable Helplessness: At the end of most Mathman segments, after getting a wrong answer Mathman attempts to escape from Mr. Glitch, but there seems to be no way for him to actually get away, so his death is inevitable.
  • Da Chief: In the L.A. era of Mathnet, Chief Thad Green. In the New York era, Captain Joe Greco.
  • "Day of the Week" Name: Kate Monday, Pat Tuesday.
    • In the skit "The Adding Family", a girl named Thursday is mentioned.
  • 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.
  • Doomed Autographed Item: In the Pilot Episode for Mathnet, a kid lost his dad's prized baseball that was signed by Babe Ruth, so Kate Monday and George Frankly from the LAPD are called in to solve where the ball went of to with the power of math. The first part of the sketch ends with the two of them determining that the ball ended inside the house of an old lady, but only to learn that the house itself was stolen. The rest of the sketch has the two of them on a Timed Mission to locate the house before the kid ends up getting in trouble with his dad.
  • Door Roulette: "Ghost of a Chance".
  • Droste Image: Used in a sketch to demonstrate the concept of infinity.
  • Dull Surprise: Mr. Glitch's reaction in one Mathman sketch when the square Mathman eats is judged a rectangle, against Mr. Glitch's skepticism.
    Mr. Glitch: Huh. So it is...
  • 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, Ginnie Carlson as the Mathnet duo's technical analyst instead of regular technical analyst Debbie Williams, 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.
    • 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....
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The goon caught in part 4 of "The Poconos Paradise" and brought to the Mathnetters' office goes by "Thug".
  • 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.
  • Fake Guest Star: In the L.A. era of Mathnet, Officers Sam and Steve, played by Sam Salazar and Steve Fellman. Despite appearing in every Los Angeles storynote  they were always listed in the guest cast.
  • Faked Kidnapping: Occurs twice in Mathnet
    • The first time was in "The Problem of the Trojan Hamburger", where the culprit faked his abduction in order to have an alibi while he stole the Despair Diamond.
    • The second time was in "The Case of the Unkidnapping", where a starlet running the same scam from The Producers resorts to faking her kidnapping when the show was unexpectedly a hit.
  • 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 kinda steep for a pencil?
    Boy: Maybe, but if I could sell just one...
  • Fantastic Measurement System: Zook & Alison's home planet of Neon uses "zots" to measure distance. When their uncle goes off to a store on Earth and ends up winning tickets to a concert, they must figure out how to convert zots to miles if they're to catch up with him while he's still there.Answer
  • Fun with Palindromes: The song "Palindromes" is about numbers that are palindromes, including the fact that if a number is not a palindrome, you can add it to itself reversed and eventually get a number that is a palindrome.note 
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Mathman has a few.
    • The time there were only two correct answers, the game overlooked Mathman getting them both and kept the game going; Mathman goofed on the next polygon.
    • On one of the Glitch segments, there were two paths to one of the correct answers, both of them blocked by wrong answers.
    • In one segment, Mister Glitch ate Mathman right off the bat.
  • Genre Roulette: "Wink, If You Think, I Stink", heard in "The Case of Off the Record", shifts from standard rock to country to opera.
    • The aforementioned "Palindromes" goes from a tango, to a waltz, to disco.
  • 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?
  • Heads or Tails?: According to Benny in "The Case of the Bermuda Triangle", this was the reason George was being sent to dive for the treasure instead of him. Probability, another part of mathematics.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: In one Mathman skit, Mr. Glitch explained that Mathman wasn't ready to play because "he's in the mathroom".
  • Insistent Terminology: The show made a point of using the correct mathematical terms, such as "one hundred seven" instead of "a hundred and seven."
  • Interface Spoiler: Generally speaking, if there were more than 3 correct answers on a given Mathman board, he wasn't going to win that game.
  • Internal Affairs: Averted in the Mathnet segments. In the respective Clear My Name story arcs, the Mathnetters meet directly with Da Chief.
  • It's Personal: One episode of Mathnet involved a clown on an edutainment show telling the kids at home incorrect information. George couldn't stand for this, and immediately marched on-camera and started immediately telling the audience the right answers.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Averted in the Mathnet segments. Whenever the Mathnetters happen to meet up with an outside organization, said organization is very willing, and often excited, to be working together with Mathnet. Though it seems Agent Ovitz just barely tolerated them.
  • 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] you.
  • 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.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In Mathnet story arc "View From the Rear Terrace", George, in his voice-over in part 5, talks about preferring TV cops to real-life cops because the TV cops have better luck with traffic and parking.
  • 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 has more cloned layers fade in to the top right 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".
  • Malicious Slander: In "The Calpurnian Kugel Caper", the main export of Calpurnia, Chuck Berries, see sales drops from the combination of high prices and an article claiming it causes pimples. In truth, the latter is engaging in the False Cause Logical Fallacy, with the Chuck Berry eaters who got pimples being all teenagers, while those who didn't get pimples were the eldery. In any case, its pointed out even if the bad research is retracted, there is little chance the public will know of the retraction, meaning the market for Chuck Berries is gone, taking down Calpurnia's economy with it.
  • Master of Disguise: Agent Ovitz in "The Calpurnian Kugel Caper". So skilled, he can take on an old lady, a dog, a llama, and a painting.
  • 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 Case of the Mystery Weekend", one of the guests recognize George and Pat and says he enjoys watching Mathnet. Later on, when the one holding everyone hostage is arrested, the narrator says his hatred of math was turned into a love of math, which allowed him to become a writer for Square One TV.
      • 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.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: In "The Case of the Unnatural" the daughter of a Minor League baseball team coach ask Mathnet to investigate the team's rising star for his strange behavior, namely the solutions to his number games don't make any mathimatical sense. It turns out the solutions were actually coded messages revealing that the player was kidnapped and where he was being held. The player was in truth kidnapped by his agent, who had replaced him with a robotic doppleganger, who would perform incredibly well on the field, and draw attention of major league teams willing to bid on a high performing player.
  • Mock Headroom: One of the recurring bits played between sketches was of a nameless character talking of about a random math related subject that was a clear expy of Max Headroom: he was depicted as faux-CGI, shown from the waist up in front of a dark patterned background, wore a suit and shades, and would randomly glitch causing himself and what he was currently saying to rapidly twitch and stammer.
  • 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.
    • In "The Problem of the Missing Monkey", George makes a reference to the fictional movie star, Sly Balboa.
    • "The Problem of the Passing Parade" involves the rescue of rock star "Steve Stringbean", who had been taken hostage by people who wanted to replace rock and roll with marches.
    • Chief Thad Green is a reference to Thad Brown, Chief of Detectives for much of Dragnet's radio run.
  • One-Neighbor Neighborhood: Downplayed; George Frankly and Dirk Niblick both have only one neighbor—but it's the same neighbor, Mr. Beasley.
  • Parody Commercial: "'Oops' is brought to you by erasers! Don't make a mistake without one!"
  • Phony Psychic: Mathnet had two stories that involved exposing con artists who claim to see the future.
    • "The Case of the Ersatz Earthquake", the last episode set in Los Angeles, features Sybil Divine, a psychic who claims to know when the next big earthquake will hit the city, but won't tell the exact date unless she is paid milliions. Her trick is that her predictions were sealed in envelopes which she always opens, allowing her to use slieght-of-hand tricks to swap the prediction with the correct answer.
    • "The Case of the Swami Scam", the first New York episode, features someone only known as a Swami. His schtick is to send mail to retired lawyers claiming to predict the winners of an event. The trick of his scam is that the letters would have one of the possible results of the event, and the lawyers who got the "correct prediction" would continue to receive letters. His goal was to get six lawyers hooked enough to be willing to bet on a horse race using his "predictions", and the lawyer who had the winning horse, he would scam claiming the winning lottery numbers of a future drawing, in exchange for all the winnings from the horserace bet.
  • Plot Allergy: George is shown to have an allergy to cats in "The Purloined Policies", specifically that of Johnny Dollar, which tags along in his car. When George and Pat go to visit his "mother" in the Friday episode, by which point Johnny had supposedly accidentally drove off a river bank, George outs him as Disguised in Drag by getting into a sneezing fit—And finding the cat, thought to have been lost in the crash.
  • 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").
  • Rank Inflation: In "The Case of the Map with a Gap", Bronco tells the mathnetters about a treasure hidden by Saddleshore Capone in 1853. There were 15 bars of gold, and using the troy system of 12 ounces, multiplying that with 15 comes to 180. Multiplying that with how much each bar was worth at that time ($20) comes to $3,600. As of the filming of the episode, each bar was worth $500, which resulted in $90,000.
  • 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.
  • Real Joke Name: Doctor Mal Practice from General Mathpital.
  • "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.
  • Replaced with Replica: The Mathnet episode "The Case of the Galling Stones" was about the leader of a small country who looted it's national treasure, a set of jewels, only for the country's government decide that the jewels should be in a museum, and not in the private collection of its monarchy. Said leader then made a set of fakes, and then went to jewelry stores swapping the fakes for real jewels.
  • 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.
  • Roman à Clef: As a spoof of Dragnet, Mathnet naturally opened each episode with a spoof of this trope. "The story you're about to see is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up, but the (math) problems are 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,note  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 is working undercover as a diner cook, and has 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 is just an excuse to deliver some Educational Programming about tax and percentages. That said, the bill isn't that much bigger than he expected ($3.20, California sales tax at the time being 6.5%, vs. $3.00), and the patron is begrudgingly thankful for the arithmetic lesson - but not enough to leave a tip, to George's disappointment.
    • 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.)
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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". Meanwhile, the victim of Vermin's scams, TV detective Mike Pliers, is a spoof of the Mickey Spillane-created private eye Mike Hammer.
    • 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).
    • In one Mathnet intro, Pat Tuesday mentions New Yorkers complaining because they haven't anything to grumble at.
    • At the end of one Mathman sketch, after Mathman ate the wrong number and Mister Glitch ate him, Glitch hums the life-lost motif from Super Mario Bros.
  • Shown Their Work: For the suspects charged at the end of a Mathnet episode, all the charges are matched with a corresponding penal code. For the charges that would actually be real-life crimes rather than jokes (robbery, burglary, impersonating a police officer), the codes match their actual California Penal Code designations.
  • 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. In addition, they would also always be hosted and announced by the regular Square One TV cast members using their real names, as opposed to using fake names that they would use in sketches in which they were playing fictional characters.
  • Signature Laugh: George Frankly of Mathnet.
  • Similar Item Confusion: One brief sketch showed two men who were working at a restaurant discussing income and profit. One of the bills they were discussing involved window repair due to a customer's demonstration of how hard the Swedish Meatballs were, to which the cook replied "How was I supposed to know that flour and plaster weren't the same thing? I mean they're both all powdery and white...!"
  • Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: Subverted in one episode of the Mathnet Police Procedural miniseries called The Case of the Unnatural, and not in the way you'd think, either: a pitcher in a minor league baseball game is performing amazingly, and has an agent who says he owns him. This agent displays little empathy, and the pitcher seems like a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, but all is not as it seems: The pitcher is actually a Ridiculously Human Robot, and his remote control is the agent's cellular phone. And the pitcher was created to look like and impersonate a specific human being, who the agent had kidnapped!
  • Sore Loser: In one episode, Mathman correctly answered a True or False question (are math and arithmetic the same thing?). However, Mr. Glitch didn't agree with the answer and proceeded to chase Mathman through the maze, as though he had answered incorrectly. While being chased, Mathman made several points to justify his answer, prompting Mr. Glitch to stop and ask the announcer if he was correct. The announcer sided with Mathman and awarded him a free game.
  • Spanner in the Works: In Mystery Weekend, a less-than-sane scheme is derailed because Tuesday and Frankly turned up at the wrong manor by mistake.
  • 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. Likewise, when Kate and George moved to New York, Captain Joe Greco replaced Chief Thad Green as Da Chief. Averted, however, with Benny Pill replacing Debbie Williams in the move to New York, as their respective jobs within the Mathnet organization were drastically different. While Debbie was a technical analyst and thus she mostly stayed at the station, Benny was a taxi driver/undercover cop and thus he would often accompany Kate/Pat and George out in the field.
  • 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. In one episode where he needed to make an answer that was less than seven, he ended up being eaten by Mathman when he picked a zero. In the other episode, He answered true but it was a false answer and was eaten by Mathdog.
  • 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").
  • Talking Is a Free Action:
    • Averted when Mathman discusses using math when one would get a job. He talks too long explaining his reasoning for answering true and false questions which allows The Glitch to devour him.
    • He does it again on a later true-or-false question. Even after Mr. Glitch warns him multiple times. Getting preachy about math may very well be Mathman's hubris.
  • The Television Talks Back: During a segment on measurement, when the TV cook realizes the viewer used the wrong size spoon for baking powder in a popover.
  • Tempting Fate: Does Mathman say "I'm smart!" before he's done? Then you can expect him to screw up within the next couple decisions.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The result of most Mathman segments (though inverted on the rare occasions that Glitch played).
  • 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!
  • Trojan Horse: The Mathnet case "The Trojan Hamburger": a giant oak hamburger appears on the lawn of eccentric millionaire Orson Charles Kane, who collects oddities for his museum and the Mathnetters estimate its weight so it can be brought inside. Later that night the Despair Diamond is stolen from the museum. It doesn't take long to deduce that the thief snuck inside via the hamburger.
  • Verbal Tic: Peter Pickwick from "The Parking Meter Massacre" often repeats part of what he says. Of what he says.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In "The Case of Off The Records", we never find out if the What musician's assailant was ever identified.
  • 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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Alternative Title(s): Square One Television