Starring Rob Stone, Lightfield Lewis, Julie McCullough, Robbie Rist
"I'm either allergic to pom poms or pretty girls with perky breasts. I'm just hoping it's the pom poms."
Although it almost always ended in either tears or bitter disappointment, throughout the 70's and 80's, desperate television execs would green-light woefully inadequate sitcom spinoffs of popular Hollywood comedies, usually employing one or two minor characters and just bullshitting through the rest of it. Ok, so MASH worked, and Private Benjamin had a decent run, but what about Fast Times at Ridgemont High...the series (1986)? Or Delta House (1979)? Or Harper Valley PTA (1981)? Those, not so much.
One film series that actually did seem like a sensible pick for small-screen treatment was Revenge of the Nerds. For one thing, the first two movies were already playing on television pretty relentlessly, with only a smidgen of nude scenes to excise and a few bleeps to make them family-friendly. The concept also had potential for long-running storylines as well, since college does, after all, take a good seven or so years to get through. Most importantly, people adored the characters. Who doesn't love an underdog who bests the golden-boy douchebag and gets his girl? It was money in the bank, this idea.
Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
There are many things wrong with the Revenge of the Nerds TV pilot. In fact, the only thing right about it is that it went unaired. Big mistake number one was to recast every character with new actors who bore no resemblance to the Robert Carradines and Anthony Edwards-es we knew and loved. The second biggest mistake was to go broad. The original 1984 film had its share of sight gags, but was, at its heart, a character-driven comedy, one that fairly bubbled over with do-the-right-thing sentiment. Revenge of the Nerds had a fuckin' message, Jack, about overcoming the vanilla-flavored alpha-jerks of this world by standing your ground and, you know, being yourself. The TV pilot aimed for an impossibility - a G-rated Animal House - and ended up with a warmed-over rehash of the original film with lesser actors and cheapjack production values.
After an admittedly bouncy synth-pop theme song ("Get ready for the nerd attack!"), the show opens on the first day of classes at Adams University. We are introduced to the 'new' Louis (Rob Stone) and Gilbert (Lightfield Lewis), the two asthmatic, horn-rimmed, supergenius protagonists from the films, as they unpack in their new dorm room.
"Wow," says Louis, "My poster on the history of mold. It's beginning to look like home already."
"It's gonna be a great year," says Gilbert. "And this time, no one's going to call us nerds."
A thick-necked jock walks by their door and yells at them.
"Nerds!" He barks. He is joined by another musclehead.
They both chime in. "Nerds!"
Cue the laugh track.
Moments later, the fatheads from the football team barge in, carrying the rest of our motley crew under their arms. There's Harold Wormser (Grant Gelt), the twelve-year old law-student wunderkid, and fan-favorite Booger, now essayed by former child star Robbie Rist, who re-imagines the snot-eating gross-out as an over-confident, pony-tailed slacker tool in a Hawaiian shirt. Ogre (one-time American Gladiator Jeff Benson) drops the dorks. A furious Booger calls him "Steroid breath". Harold makes a smarmy comment about the metaphysical implications of wearing another man's underwear on your head. He says this because he's got underwear on his head.
Seems the Alpha-Beta fraternity house burned down, so the frat assholes want the nerds' dorm. They make this point clear by throwing all of Gilbert's stuff - and then Gilbert himself - out the window. The fellas storm off to the cafeteria, where they run into a gang of evil cheerleaders, led by tasty, fresh-faced blonde Julie McCullough, who had just made a splash as Kirk Cameron's girlfriend on Growing Pains. Julie and her boner-popping pals convince our nerdy heroes to pledge Alpha Beta, since they're already living in their house, and all. Cue the humiliating hazing, including a bizarre scene where they stand in the shower in their underwear while Ogre cracks eggs on their heads, and that old comedic standby, tar and feathers.
"I think our dignity is being offended," says Booger. That can be said for all of us at this point, Mr. Rist.
Realizing they've been had, the plucky young geeks vow revenge. Well, it is in the title.
As may seem obvious by now, the TV pilot apes the first film's plot. The boys blunder their way into being sponsored by all-black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda. They find a cheap house to move into (there'd been a few unfortunate axe murders in the parlor), get threatened - for no reason - by the Alpha Betas, and square off with them the following day. Facing down the entire football team, the nerds pull out mechanical gizmos and shock the jocks into submission. It ends with a weapon of mass destruction joke (a decade ahead of it's time!) and Robbie Rist rolling around under a pile of cheerleaders. That sounds more fun than it is.
The series was never picked up, so this episode is all that remains of Nerd-TV. Director Peter Baldwin could cook stuff like this up in his sleep already - he'd done episodes of everything from The Brady Bunch to Full House by this point. He stepped right over this corpse and carried on, directing dozens of series until he retired in 2002. Writer Eric Cohen attempted to revamp the nerd-com with Dweebs, a short-lived 1995 series starring Corey Feldman. Lightfield Lewis appeared in 2006's Hookers, Inc. alongside Kato Kaelin. So things are going well with him. Julie McCullough appeared in Playboy a few times, had sex with Scott Baio, and is still waiting for her big break.
The Revenge of the Nerds series did not die with this stillborn television show. It was revamped for two overbearing TV movies: 1992's Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation, and 1994's Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love. Both films sensibly brought back many of the original actors. A raunchy, R-rated remake was planned by Fox in 2006 starring Napolean Dynamite's own Efren "Pedro" Ramirez and some of the jiggle-bunnies from teen drama Laguna Beach, but production shut down after the studio heads balked at the dailies. It is reasonable to assume, however, that we will experience Nerd-vana again sometime soon. And that Robbie Rist will not be involved.
Availability: the Revenge of the Nerds TV pilot is available as an extra on the Panty Raid edition of the original Revenge of the Nerds DVD and on the Atomic Wedgie Collection. (Fox).
Buy Revenge of the Nerds: The Atomic Wedgie Collection at Amazon.
Clip: The First six inglorious minutes of the pilot. Theme song included!