In Memory of Square One

I saw a Thundercats t-shirt on the street the other day, and it made me wonder why my favorite childhood TV show hasn’t experienced the same ironic revival as so many others. Here’s my attempt to help it along.

For those of you who never saw it, Square One was an educational show on PBS that taught grade school math — sort of a math equivalent to 3–2–1 Contact (science) or Reading Rainbow. Among other segments, it included Sesame Street style pop song parodies, occasionally featuring a major artist but more often just the house cast.

If you’re a fan of The Wire, you know Reginald Cathey as Norman Wilson, Mayor Carcetti’s political advisor. Here he is about twenty years earlier, singing a country song about the multiples of nine:

And working out a fraction:

My favorite music video was ‘8% of My Love,’ in which the singer enumerates for his girlfriend how the other 92% has already been allocated — which includes ‘6% for my Springsteen tapes’ and 9% for his science tutor. He even remembers to use the official full name of the ‘New York Football Giants’:

But the show’s crowning achievement was Mathnet, a parody of Dragnet that featured two police detectives who carried calculators in their holsters instead of guns, and solved every case via a series of math problems. The Joe Friday role was filled by Kate Monday:

Then there was “Mathcourt,” in which a dramatic case turns on the area of a triangle:

And “The Mathematics of Love,” in which a singer has to learn roman numerals to record his new single in ancient Rome:

Was this the inspiration for George Clinton’s “Mathematics of Love,” recorded just a few short years later in 1996? I report, you decide.

I won’t embed them all, but here are links to a few more highlights:

  • early rap group The Fat Boys singing ‘One Billion is Big’;
  • Tesselations’ (to the approximate tune of ‘Good Vibrations’);
  • the ‘Angle Dance’ (“The following song includes graphic descriptions of obtuse and acute angles. Viewers who might be offended…”);
  • and last but not least, Cathey again in ‘General Mathpital’ (“A rectangle was admitted, we need to double its area”).

Anyway, I’ll spare you the usual faux-nostalgic rant about how kids these days aren’t learning anything because they don’t have television like this. Actually, my favorite Youtube comment was “God i used to watch this and i still suck at math.” But as long as we’re revisiting everything from Thundercats to the Kool-Aid man, hopefully this excellent show is also fair game.