Of all the 80’s comedies to get a sitcom… This one makes a hell of a lot more sense than a sitcom for Weird Science. But still, converting a movie with scenes of panty raids, rape, and laughs that would drill holes in Beavis and Butt-Head doesn’t sound to me like the wisest idea.
Revenge of the Nerds was one of the better-regarded raunchy college comedies to follow in the Animal House vein, about (surprise!) a group of outcasts and misfits who resolve to fight back against the jocks who tormented them by forming their own fraternity and winning homecoming to rule the absurdly and criminally powerful school council. Looking back, it really wasn’t a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s heart was in the right place, and as an introverted geeky guy, it felt good to see the nerds accept themselves and get the other students to accept them too. Remember, this was back during the Reagan era, when jocks really did rule the campus, and anyone remotely different from that was ostracized, so this movie really was all we had. Well, not “we” literally, as I was born in 1995, but I still have a pretty big soft spot for the movie. The same can decidedly NOT be said for the sequels.
So that brings us to today’s topic. In 1991, when the RotN franchise had run its course at full speed and drove straight off the track into poison ivy bushes, a pilot for a TV series featuring our favorite nerds Lewis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowe was pitched. Needless to say, it tanked hard, and is now only available on the “Revenge of the Nerds: Fox Really Needs a Few Bucks Edition” (or the Panty Raid Edition, if you like using fake names). Why exactly did the pilot fail to be picked up? Well, you know how to find out the answer, don’t you? Watch it, of course!
In case you thought Josh Saviano became Marilyn Manson.
The theme song of this pilot is, to put it bluntly, crap. It’s basically a bunch of barely functional chords bolstering generic lyrics that sound whinier and more nasally than the opening of Death Note. It’s so forgettable, you’re likely to forget how to remember things after listening to it. The opening’s saving grace is the visuals; basically, it’s a bunch of nerdy re-imaginings of famous historical figures, with thick glasses and stuffy shirts and everything. That’s actually pretty amusing and creative, but about halfway through they go into generic sitcom opening fare, with our main heroes singing along with the cheesy theme tune. And it’s the bad kind of cheesy. Where are the Rubinoos when you need them?
Pictured above is the main nerd of the bunch, Lewis Skolnick. His main traits are his positive attitude, his annoyingly awesome laugh, and of course, being the “George Washington of nerds” (coined in Revenge of the Nerds III: the Next Generation, not by me!). Oh, wait, I’m talking about the one played by Robert Carradine, aren’t I? Yeah, I am. This guy, played by Rob Stone, is a walking glasses display. Next.This is Gilbert Lowe, Lewis’ best friend, and the more pessimistic of the two. Well, that’s only natural in an alternate universe where “nerds don’t have rights” (again, Revenge of the Nerds III. Say what?). While Lewis was the funnier and more animated of the duo, Gilbert was the true heart and soul of the nerds, the one who in the end brought everyone together to take pride in who they were. I am, of course, talking about Anthony Edwards’ Gilbert. This guy… he looks kinda like Matthew Perry. Next.This is Harold Wormser, an eleven-year-old prodigy who wants to study computers because aerodynamics was “too easy”. In the movie, he became fast friends with Lamar Latrelle, the gay black nerd, providing for some adorable moments, especially in the final talent show scene. Sadly, Lamar is nowhere in sight here, and so Wormser has nothing except for his perverted prepubescent mind.This… is NOT Dudley “Booger” Dawson. I don’t know who this blond hippie is, but I do know that he is just not Booger. Booger was a rough talking, gruff, nose picking ladies man, and was arguably the most iconic character in the movie, and Curtis Armstrong still has yet to separate himself from his character (he voices Snot from American Dad, who is designed to look like Booger. See the resemblance here? Yeah, me neither.) Whoever this guy is, he’d better get out of here and let Booger take over, or else!This is P. T. Turner. He’s a TV-exclusive character, so we’ll be finding out about him shortly. Now let’s get on with some plot! Heh, plot. Yeah, right.
For the record, THIS is Booger Dawson! Curtis Armstrong, you are a god!
So the episode begins at Adams College, with Lewis’ narration introducing the main characters. When he gets to Booger, he says, “You’ll be able to pick out Booger on your own.” Followed by laugh track. Yeah, this is the humor we’ll be dealing with. As another example, Gilbert’s first line is, “Oh boy! My poster on the history of mold!” Laugh track. Seriously? At least when Harold Ramis professed his love for mold in Ghostbusters, it was actually funny!
A really, REALLY condensed first grade version of the history of mold.
Lewis goes into a speech about how at college, brilliant minds such as theirs are valued, and the losers back at high school who made fun of them are working at McDonald’s. Followed by the annoying laugh. Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much, but combine the sound of nerd laughter with track laughter, and I just want to punch the screen real hard. But that would only make me have to explain to my father that he just blew his money on this laptop.
No, you are the fully grown and developed male homo sapien!
Lewis assures Gilbert that at college, no one will ever call them nerds ever again. Guess what happens next! Some jock walks by their room and calls them nerds! Hahahahaha! It’s funny because Lewis was contradicted! Lewis starts talking about how they will be raking in babes, and once they enter their room it will be “taking the number time!” What? As they’re discussing how they will handle a girl entering their room, much fake and forced laughter is made of Gilbert being unable to say the word “girl”. They come up with a system in which they hang a necktie with a certain number of knots indicating that there is a girl present. Of course, all this is pointless, as this pilot is basically a remake of the movie, and anyone who’s seen the movie knows that Gilbert and Lewis will not be in this dormitory for much longer.
Girls make Gilbert turn into King Kong.
After this boring exchange, Two jocks walk in, with Booger and Wormser in tow (Wormser having received a wedgie). Wormser schpiels how he “never realized how different the world looks when see from inside your underwear”. Laugh track. Ugh, enough already! How about some of those elusive things called jokes? Lewis, of course, takes this as an elaborate college prank and introduces himself. The lead jock introduces himself as Todd Channing, president of the Alpha Betas. He also introduces the “recording secretary”, Ogre, who looks a hell of a lot like Bulk from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Wormser responds with, “It must be hard writing while picking ticks from your fur.” Followed by you know what. Rather than making me laugh, all that line did was reaffirm that Grant Gelt cannot act for shit.
So underwear was made from plastic bags in the 80s. I never knew that!
Todd says that the room is his, and proceeds to start chucking Lewis and Gilbert’s stuff out the window. Like in the movie, the Alpha-Betas’ frat house burned down, and so the jocks are taking over the freshman dorms. Lewis tries to point out that they were assigned the room by their housing contract, but the Alpha Betas are backed by administrative blessing, so the nerds have no choice but to leave. Followed by a REALLY drawn out joke in which Gilbert corrects Todd’s grammar (he used “irregardless”, which isn’t a real word). Just more evidence that the writers have never actually met a real nerd. Or another human being, for that matter.
Grant Gelt continues to not be able to act his way out of his paper-mache underwear, and unsuccessfully tries to burn Ogre, who is carrying Gilbert on his shoulders now. Booger tries his own hand by saying that Ogre is gutless and that he’s “the world’s biggest weenie”. With a pause between the words “biggest” and “weenie”. Just so you know, pauses are only funny if done by William Shatner or Christopher Walken. Because these guys are all annoying and lame, I’m definitely cheering for Ogre on this one as he throws everyone out the window.
Me after I tell people I liked Tales from Earthsea.
Cut to a scene in a lobby in which a bunch of bitchy cheerleaders are laughing over what Ogre did to the nerds. As one of the girls asks why they should keep picking on the nerds, Betty Childs’ (I assume that’s the lead cheerleader’s name coming from the movie) response is, “‘Cause they’re nerds!” Laugh track. Apparently the writers are under the impression that the word “nerd” is inherently funny. Maybe they went on to write TBS commercials for The Big Bang Theory. Or, for that matter, The Big Bang Theory itself.
Ah, the old Sarah Michelle Gellar stare. It works every time.
So the nerds enter the… wherever it is, and see Roommates Wanted notices. But Booger ruins everything when he shouts, “What lucky person gets to live with me?” and everyone immediately removes their notices. Okay, that was actually kind of amusing. Not laugh out loud funny or anything, but I’ll take what I can get. As Lewis notices the cheerleaders, some more lame jokes are made of Gilbert not being able to talk to girls. Booger takes the initiative and puts on his moves. By eating leftovers and drinking ketchup directly from the bottle. Ugh. We get it, Booger’s a slob! Sure, he was one in the movie, too, but Curtis Armstrong managed to give his slob an actual likeable character!
It took 52 takes before he stopped missing the mouth.
As Lewis asks the cheerleaders for suggestions on where to live, they respond by jokingly telling them to join a fraternity. Right about here, Todd and Ogre reappear, along with a weak “Ogre is stupid” joke. Intimidated, the nerds try to leave, but Wormser is a little… distracted.
No! Grant Gelt, you have not earned such privileges!
And to make things extra squicky, Grant says the line, “Great pair of A’s”. Argh! Grant Gelt, you are no Leslie Nielsen, and Mr. Peter Baldwin, you are no Zucker brother! So Betty and Todd again try to pick on the nerds by suggesting that they try to be Alpha Betas. Of course, the four are rather hesitant based on what happened earlier, but the cheerleaders of course manage to seduce their way into their consideration.
This is the sexiest dentist appointment ever.
So the nerds are all put through a trial to try and get into the Alpha Betas. Basically, the message here is, “Look, we said the word ‘sex’ and we’re pouring water on people in huge glasses! That’s funny, right?” It isn’t. The scene immediately after sees the nerds returning to the lobby-stage set, all covered in tar and feathers. For some reason, a cheering track is played over this. What is the reason for this? It’s not like anyone did anything amazing or had an especially hammy performance or anything. The nerds haven’t even gotten their “revenge” yet!
The following scene is basically a slew of more painfully unfunny jokes, mostly involving Gilbert trying to be Sheldon Cooper and failing miserably. And I hate Sheldon. Finally, Lewis gives an inspirational speech about how he is totally not a loser, and how they should fight back. Guess how everyone else reacts? If you guessed with casual indifference, congratulations, you have officially seen this pilot! In the form of The Big Bang Theory! Eventually, however, the other nerds come around, and they all swear revenge, still in their feathered forms. Commercial break time!
Okay, this amused me, too.
The next scene marks the nerds’ quest to find a national fraternity to sponsor a new chapter for them, this time with Lambda Lambda Lambda. Of course, this is a last resort because no one else would take them. Aw, isn’t blatant discrimination hilarious? Apparently, whoever wrote Revenge of the Nerds III thought so, too. Anyway, the Tri-Lambs are reluctant to take the nerds in because it’s kind of an all-black fraternity and everything. Which makes me wonder where the hell Lamar Latrelle and Takashi Toshiro from the movie are. One of the reasons the movie is still remembered is because it had minority actors cast in featured roles as protagonists who the audience was supposed to root for, back when college movies were white as snow.
Freddy was not the only one who got fingered that day.
P. T. Turner from the credits shows up, as he’s the resident adviser for the Tri-Lambs. He suggests that they work out, to which Booger and Wormser try to demonstrate how “cool” they are. It’s as funny as it sounds. As P. T. tries to measure them up for worthiness of being Tri-Lambdas, he asks Gilbert, “You call that a chest?” to which he responds, “Actually, it’s a place to hang my nipples.” I get that they’re going for Gilbert being the sarcastic snarky guy, but, well, Lightfield Lewis just sucks at it. Hard.
After another rejection joke in which it’s revealed that the engineering fraternity the GEKs (hahaha so clever!) sent them there, Wormser finally takes action and mentions that any students in good standing must be given a 60 day trial for consideration of joining a fraternity. He also threatens the Tri-Lambs with a discrimination lawsuit if they don’t comply. You mean someone actually has to face legal consequences for their actions? Now I know I’m not watching Revenge of the Nerds.
The laugh track thinks this is totally lol-worthy. The laugh track was knocked on its head once.
So the nerds are given a trial chapter of the Tri-Lamb fraternity with P. T. as their resident adviser. P. T. tries pleads with the fraternity president, saying, “I don’t wanna be with ’em! Even other white people don’t wanna be with ’em!” Somehow, this joke worked better when Jerry Seinfeld was delivering it. So the nerds get their own place, which is actually a former scene of a murder crime. That last part wasn’t in the movie, so kudos to this pilot for at least including something original.
The murderer maded sure that his victim’s leg was bent that way as his trademark.
The first joke made in this new house is Gilbert casually mentioning that he and Lewis casually ran experiments on Lewis’ pet hamster, Puffy, last summer. Laugh track. I really didn’t think there was a nerdy character who could annoy me as much as Sheldon Cooper, but Gilbert takes the cake. Anyway, Lewis is working on a device to help the nerds exercise by triggering involuntary reflexes, essentially “jerking them into shape”. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it the action is reflexive, then not much muscular benefit will result. Could be wrong, though. Gilbert tries it on Puffy, but it flies through the air and crashes into the wall. Of course, it’s just a test dummy, so no harm was done. I’m not entirely sure how Lewis was planning to transition from a test dummy to an actual living, breathing human being, but who cares?
Who knew that reenacting the opening of The Simpsons with hamsters would backfire?
Booger, of course, sees the supposedly dead hamster and thinks it’s cool. The laugh track thinks that this disturbing opinion is funny somehow. As P. T. begins lecturing about being a Tri-Lambda, a brick flies through the window. There is a note that says, “This is your only warning, nerds. Get out or (continued on next brick)”. The next brick just says, “else.”. Okay, that made me laugh more than it probably should have. Though I must question why the Alpha Betas bothered to prepare a second brick if they had enough room to write “continued on next brick” on the first, as “else” takes up much less space”. I guess they just really hate the nerds’ windows.
No clothing present. Does not compute.
As Gilbert, Booger, and Wormser are discouraged by this turn of events, Lewis attempts to rally them together again to stand up as they are Tri-Lambdas now. Of course, P. T. is quick to deny them, saying that there is no hope of them ever being part of any fraternity. Awkward Gilbert Line #746: As P. T. talks about how Tri-Lambdas have “heart” (so they have the lamest powers for summoning Captain Planet?), he asks, “What have you got in there?” to which Gilbert says, “Pen protector, chapstick and some aspirin gum.” I actually wish Lightfield Lewis was Matthew Perry right now.
P. T. then rants about how the nerds will only take further punishment because they’re nerds, “and that’s what nerds do.” He goes on about how nerds get pushed around until they grow up and work for the government to make weapons of mass destruction. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a little too young to have truly appreciated the impact of the original movie, so as an outsider I ask: were people really that deluded back in the 80’s and early 90’s? I know that people were accused of being Satan worshipers because they played Dungeons and Dragons, so anything is possible. Gilbert’s reaction to this speech is a completely out of nowhere “Bwoosh!” sound. Now I’m not entirely sure that Gilbert is a human being. That’s a pretty important part of making these nerds sympathetic, you know.
Gilbert eloquently describing the plot of Pacific Rim.
So the nerds arrange to meet with the Alpha Betas on the day that the cheerleaders are getting their pictures taken for the yearbook. Of course, it just cuts to the day of the revenge, rather than show any buildup or bonding or anything that could get us to know these guys a little more. All I know is that I want Gilbert to get his ass kicked. Booger gets things started by telling the cheerleaders that when the pyramid collapses, he wants to be under it. You just know Curtis Armstrong would have made that line Oscar-worthy.
I see their tuition money largely goes to hamstring pain relief.
So the Alpha Betas arrive, and are about to bust them some nerds, when P. T. intervenes. Aw, how sweet! He still puts his duty ahead of his personal feelings after all! However, Lewis simply tells him to back off and let them handle this. And so Lewis threatens Todd with a cold, squinty stare. Actually, the laugh track is making him seem less badass than he should. Go figure. Finally, we get into a fairly lame Mexican standoff parody. By “Mexican standoff parody”, I mean “the two groups stand there and stare at each other while a hollow rendition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘s theme song plays”. Somehow, this fails to generate the same amount of suspense and chills as in the actual movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The laugh track actually shows some surprising restraint by only playing once throughout this whole thing. That’s progress!
Ten points if that face is only a mask and the real Booger Dawson is under there!
The awkward silence finally ends with Lewis saying, “Go ahead. Make my semester!” Because what you are doing is clearly more noble and badass than anything that pussy Harry Callahan ever did. We’re on a roll with the shallow Clint Eastwood references here! As the jocks prepare to attack, the nerds all take out their newly developed “exercise devices” from earlier and make the jocks jerk around until they run out scared. Again, the laugh track must have grown a brain, because it doesn’t play over this incredibly forced and ill-conceived slapstick. But at least P. T. accepts them now! And even better news: the names of the Executive Producers flashing across the screen! It’s over!
They see me Mollin. They hatin’…
Well, not quite. There is, in typical sitcom format, a post-credits scene, complete with Awkward Gilbert Line #16,384: As Lewis declares that they will be the coolest fraternity on campus, Wormser (the little shithead) adds, “the one that gets all the babes!” and Gilbert adds, “The one that gets all the flu shots!” Where did that even come from? It’s funny because he likes flu shots? This thing finally ends once and for all when Booger uses the exercise device to make the cheerleader pyramid topple on top of him right when their photo is taken. So the earlier commotion didn’t make them transfer their photo location? Whatever, it’s actually over, no time to think about this anymore!
So that was Revenge of the Nerds, the TV pilot. Why wasn’t it picked up? Well, because there are plenty of TV shows that it had to compete with for a TV slot, and the one to get picked would probably have to have something memorable about it, which this episode sorely lacks. The likeable characters from the movie are now boiled down to walking punchlines, losing out on what made audiences want to see them win in the movie. Wormser, in particular, suffers the most. Granted, he didn’t have much personality in the movie, either, but his relationship with Lamar Latrelle was still fun to see develop on the side. Here, he doesn’t even have a line for an entire scene. And of course, there’s Gilbert, who went from being the voice of reason and the true heart and soul of the movie to a human punching bag. And Booger… you already know about that one. The only nerd with any of his personality retained from the movie is Lewis, and it’s not nearly enough to compensate. P. T. Turner is another token black sitcom archetype, and is also not very memorable. Richard E. Gant isn’t half bad an actor, but the material he has to work with is lacking, to say the least.
The jokes are mostly relegated to throwaway one liners that leave one’s head the instant they are heard, and the final showdown with the jocks feels like a quick fix rather than a resolution. It seems that the priority is not to get us to sympathize with and get to know the nerds, but to spew out “witty” dialogue that is certainly not what the writers think it is. The movie may have been crass and crude, but it knew that the characters came first.
And so our break from Sailor Moon ends unceremoniously and unremarkably. Next week, we return to the Opinionated Sailor Moon Super S Retrospective with Episode 132 – A Couple Made for Each Other! Usagi and Mamoru’s Love. Wow, it must have taken all day to come up with that title.