by Bailey Herdé | May 31, 2021
It starts with the hair.
When it comes to Greek, the crown jewel of the network formerly known as ABC Family, there’s really only one head of hair worth mentioning: Cappie’s locks — which sit atop the head of the extremely charming Scott Michael Foster (and you would have to be charming, to rock that cut) — are a marvel that could only belong to the years between 2007 and 2010, a sensational sandy-brown helmet of neat cowlicks and accidentally-on-purpose bedhead. Cappie himself—who remains mononymous until the series finale — is a young-at-heart, self-possessed frat boy, always on the lookout for his next bit of fun between classes at the fictional Cyprus Rhodes University (CRU). Luckily, as president of his equally easy-going fraternity, Kappa Tau Gamma, or KT, and a general-lover of low-stakes mischief, Cappie has fun constantly served up to him on a sticky paper platter: be it forbidden keggers or midday jaunts to the local strip club, he’s crafted an existence in which he can constantly delight in the day-to-day debauchery of fraternity life.
Impressive haircuts aside, Cappie, of course, is not alone in his love for the uncomplicated elements of collegiate living.For the uninitiated, Greek is a show about the ins and outs of fraternity and sorority life at CRU, where loveable nerd Rusty Cartwright (Jacob Zachar) arrives on campus to begin his freshman year. Rusty, a polymer science major, is very much a fish out of water in this new world of swirling hormones and free-flowing beer taps, but he is determined to make college a place for fitting in. His older sister, Casey (Spencer Grammer) convinces Rusty, mostly out of impatience, that the cure to his dorkiness lies in the wilds of the Greek system. Like the eager-to-learn student he is, he takes her advice enthusiastically, and by twists and turns, he chooses to pledge (join) KT.
It’s clear from the moment that Rusty sets foot in their house that the KTs are everything the younger Cartwright is not: partiers, slackers, ladies (or men’s!) men. But this is what draws him into the fraternity: the chance to build a better, freer Rusty. The chance to live life easily. The KTs’ greatest appeal, however—to Rusty, and to me—is the roguish Peter Pan wannabe at their helm, the man who happily accepts him with open arms and who—crucially—happens to have a head of hair at the forefront of forehead-disappearing technology.
In middle school, a friend and I made a list of hot people. It began on a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper, but as it grew, we decided it deserved the honor of a serif font. We called it The List.
There were no limits as to who could be on The List. The criteria were simple: only one of us needed to find our entrant hot; the other simply needed not to be repelled. Notable entrants included: Keanu Reeves (ours; still yes), Tom Felton (hers; no longer), and Chad Michael Murray (mine; only when I watch A Cinderella Story).
I would like to say that The List was entirely pop-culture focused—and for the most part, it was!—but this was middle school, and I was a passionate congregant at the churches of Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen and annual rewatches of 10 Things I Hate About You; I believed in the possibility of capital-L Love. So there, among the Heath Ledgers and Brad Pitts and Cole Sprouses (please remember: it was middle school) was one glaring inclusion:
10. The Hair
Now, for The Hair’s sake (and my own; I’m not that brave!) I will not be naming names. But luckily, it’s not the name that matters.
Unfortunately for all involved, this was the age of the Bieber cut—just before it became synonymous with the Canadian crooner. For some reason, everyone had decided that foreheads were a thing of the past: eyebrows cowered under the Atlassian weight of unkempt bangs; ears were the stuff of rumor, rather than fact; necks lived in fear of each impending style adjustment. But, mercifully, for every twenty coconut-head haircuts shuffling about, there was always one beautiful, perfectly-tousled mane. And at my school, that mane belonged to him.
Of course, the face underneath didn’t hurt—but god, that hair! There’s a reason it was on The List: it flowed, it curled, it shone. I dreamed about running my fingers through it and watched (probably not as subtly as I thought), rapt as the object of my affections whipped it around. I was, as the kids say, down bad.
Maybe it’s an odd thing to say about what was once a nearly-ubiquitous style, but it feels like growing your hair out takes a certain degree of unbothered patience, of contagious live-and-let-live. It takes calm. In middle school, where the hallways were flooded daily with anxiety and self-consciousness, where everything was life and death and devastating in its immediacy, that was important. It felt like under that simple, unembellished hair, there was a person I could have fun with, one who would not take themselves too seriously and who I could trust not to judge. This was a person who maybe didn’t have it all together but who also wasn’t too worried about it—so why should I be?
When we meet Cappie, he’s slightly drunk, clad in nothing more than a cowboy hat and boxers. His boyish humor is immediately disarming, a heart-warming kind of persistent flirtatiousness you can’t help but smile at. “In my book,” he grins to Rusty’s sister, Casey (who is also his ex-girlfriend), “You gotta respect yourself a lot to walk around showing off the package this early before Christmas.” He’s posturing, of course, in search of the brief satisfaction of ruffling his ex’s feathers, but you can also tell that he’s in on the joke—it’s ridiculous, and he knows it. So what? So is college, and that’s why Cappie thrives at CRU. This is the life he was tailor-made for, as if he sprung from the lip of a red Solo cup, fully formed, right into a keg stand.
So, yes, Cappie is your stereotypical frat bro, and proudly so; but he’s also the one bro who frequently defies all expectations. He’s cheeky and a little too carefree, sure, but he’s also sweet and considerate: in the show’s second season, he befriends Rusty’s odd, religiously zealous roommate, Dale (Clark Duke)—in part because they’re both drunk and in part because they both hate Casey’s newest boyfriend, Max (Michael Rady)—and afterwards, meets with him frequently for a book club, of all things. “We should be best friends. You know what? We are best friends,” Cappie declares. “Cap ’n’ Dale!” When Rusty struggles to balance the demands of his course load with his pledge activities and worries about fitting in with his fellow KTs, Cappie calmly reassures him: “You belong here.” He then happily takes the extra step of enlisting the entire house’s help to distract Rusty’s physics professor long enough for Rusty to sneakily turn in a late problem set.
This is the thing about Cappie that draws you in, more so than the charm, more so than the hair: he cares. And, unlike so many men his age — unlike so many men, period — he isn’t afraid to show it. In fact, he can’t help showing it: his face is an open book, honest and kind. Foster’s expertise at letting his emotions show plainly, no matter what, is undeniable. Which is why you know within seconds of meeting him that, despite his protests, despite his jest, Cappie’s still in love with Casey.
Greek is full of moments of yearning—this is college, after all—but no one does it like Cappie. As I am constantly reminding everyone, writer Alanna Bennett once tweeted, “The number one thing a man in a romcom needs, TV or movie, is the ability to look at their love interest REALLY WELL. The man barely even needs to speak if he just knows how [to] LOOK at a person.” And boy, can Cappie look. The instance I think about most is one of the earliest, arguably the strongest and most compelling scenes in a strong and compelling pilot. After Casey discovers that her boyfriend, Evan Chambers (Jake McDorman), has been unfaithful, her Big Sister, Frannie (Tiffany Dupont), suggests that she find some way to “get even” before reconciling with him. She finds solace at a seedy bar, clearly off-campus, and there, she runs into none other than Cappie, who cheekily reminds her that he’s the only reason she knows about it in the first place. They talk a little, then decide to play a friendly game of pool, with stakes: “How about a hundred bucks?” Casey proposes when Cappie asks what she wants her winnings to be. He nods, and she asks him what he wants from her. His eyes light up: “What do you think?”
Cappie’s wearing that same shit-eating grin from earlier, like he couldn’t resist asking even though he knows what she’ll say: there’s just no way this girl, who he definitely wants, but who is not single and who—as an organized, peppy, career-driven sorority girl—is on a radically different path than him regardless, would ever say yes to his bawdy request. It’s just that it’s in his bones to take a little risk and have a little fun. But then Casey does something that Cappie, who clearly prides himself on being the unpredictable one, doesn’t expect: she surprises him. She smiles right back, her face a subtle mirror of his own, knowing and confident: “You’re on.” And for once, Cappie let’s the façade drop. He looks at her with such hope, with such unadulterated desire, that you can’t help but hope that Casey, who privately plans for this to be nothing more than rebound sex, changes her mind somewhere along the way. Of course, he quickly builds the wall of humor back up, making an easy joke about giving her a two-ball handicap, but the damage is done. It’s obvious. He’s gone for her.
It’s now been ten years since the show ended and eleven years since I left middle school. I’ve recently watched Greek again, older and only moderately wiser, still extremely susceptible to Cappie’s charms. And this time around, I’ve finally realized what I saw in The Hair that was so exhilarating: Cappie.
In reality, Cappie and The Hair had nothing in common, except maybe their shared susceptibility to unfortunate coiffing trends. But isn’t the magic of crushes in the fantasy? Without it, The Hair would not have been nearly as intoxicating. Life could never measure up. (And unfortunately, it didn’t.) Without fantasy, I can now admit that—as much as I relate to his hatred of all things adulthood— Cappie could never make an ideal boyfriend; the Kappa Tau house alone is enough of a dealbreaker for me. What these boys share, however, what I saw in them and loved, was not reality: it was the possibility of something more. I saw a fantastic guy with “fantastic” hair, someone who loved to have fun, who I could rely on for help when I needed it, who wasn’t afraid to care. Someone who could also be gone for me.
This is a pretty low bar, let’s be real (even Cappie himself doesn’t always live up to it), but as a teen in the throes of an embarrassingly strong crush, this was my ideal. Greek gives you the sense that Cappie has never been anyone but himself, that, to him, unflinching authenticity is as natural as breathing or drinking, and I craved that confidence, in my life and in myself. It was a joy to see it in Cappie, a thrill to imagine it in The Hair. And it was moving to see that, in spite of that confidence, Cappie also has his doubts and insecurities: he and Casey dance around their mutual attraction for seasons in part because of it, and even when they finally get together (a moment!), his love of college, of youth and irresponsibility comes between them. Confidence is compelling, but it’s not consistent, and feeling this in Cappie helped me bring my crush back down to Earth. Don’t get me wrong: I still got heart palpitations every time I saw The Hair. But I could be around him. We talked, we joked. He was a person, just like me, just like Cappie. And, in those many moments when we weren’t together, he was still a damn good crush.
I don’t think about The Hair too much anymore, not least because that definitive cut is very much a thing of the past. But I do think about Greek, and about Cappie. He makes a lasting impression, not only as Casey’s happy-go-lucky himbo, but also as a generous friend and fraternity brother. In his best moments, he’s fantastic, whether he’s accepting the end of a friends-with-benefits relationship with grace or telling Casey that no other girl in the world compares to her. And in his worst moments, he’s simply a person with anxieties and insecurities, flawed but trying nonetheless. Through Cappie all things are possible. And though I can’t say Greek taught me much about college—I went to a school that steered clear of the Greek system entirely—it did teach me about the joys of crushing, of yearning and being yearned for. Cappie and company showed me that, in crushes and in life, it’s okay to let yourself have a little fun. Most importantly, though, I learned that, sometimes, a bad haircut is a good thing.