Tag Archives: Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks S1E04: Kim Kelly Is My Friend

The fourth episode of Freaks and Geeks is the first to turn the primary focus of the hour onto someone lacking the last name of Weir. “Kim Kelly Is My Friend” focuses on, surprise, Kim Kelly, the one member of the freaks who had yet to warm to Lindsay. A young Rashida Jones guest-stars as a friend of Kim’s and a tormentor of Sam’s. You can see my other posts on Freaks and Geeks here.

Lindsay’s efforts to warm Kim Kelly’s icy heart have been met repeatedly with put-downs and insults, so when she gets an invite to Kim’s house for dinner, she is more than a little bit skeptical. Kim brings Lindsay home to meet her mother and stepfather, both of whom are selfish, bitter, and abusive. The dinner quickly turns sour over Kim’s purported failings and Lindsay’s relative affluence and the two girls flee the scene, only to find Kim’s boyfriend, Daniel, flirting rather heavily with another girl, Karen. Anger and sadness follow in equal measures.

I don't have a comment for this one.
I don’t have a comment for this one.

Sam is having his own problems with that same Karen, after an honest mistake where he tries to open her locker, she makes a point of humiliating him on a daily basis. Sam’s embarrassment is compounded when he realizes that his sister is going to dinner at Karen’s best friend’s house. Sam’s frustration leads to friction with Neal, who still thinks he is too cool for school, when he actually is too school for cool (I know it doesn’t make much sense, just go with it).

The episode culminates and climaxes (in more ways than one…) at the Weir house, where all four Weirs, Kim, Daniel, and Nick all come together and hash things out. Everyone is left a little bit happy, a little bit sad, and a little bit worried. Except for Nick, he has a fruit roll-up, and therefore all is right in his world. Mr. and Mrs. Weir are also given their first full meeting with Lindsay’s new friends, and they are far from reassured about the influence they are having on the ex-Mathlete.

This is the first time the Weirs are not the central focus, though they are pretty close to the center, and the show is better for it. As much as I like Sam and Lindsay, giving other characters the spotlight contributes greatly to an ensemble show like it has ensemble, and Kim was a good choice to start with. Having her and Lindsay spend a good portion of an episode away from the rest of the gang allowed for the characters to realistically develop something of a bond, without having it feel forced by anything other than minor contrivances of the plot.

So much resignation in one picture.
So much resignation in one picture.

“Kim Kelly Is My Friend” is thus far the most focused episode of Freaks and Geeks to date, Ken does not appear and most of the recurring characters are completely absent, while Nick gets very little screen-time. I am personally a fan of shows not using characters when they are not needed for the plot (or it doesn’t make sense for them to be there, etc.), so I appreciated the tighter focus in this episode.

The subplot with Sam being bullied is a touch repetitive, but is also different in that there really isn’t a physical threat to the bullying, it is all about emotionally breaking down the freshman for the kicks of a screwed up upperclassman. It is always nice seeing Rashida Jones doing something besides The Office or Parks and Recreation, and she is delightfully against type here as the slutty-tough girl with a massive chip on her shoulder.

This is yet another strong episode from NBC’s Freak and Geeks, and is one that was not actually aired in the initial run of episodes, despite its importance to the development of several characters and some key plot development. Anyways, I liked this episode and I liked the focus on someone from the supporting cast. Oh, and Quincy Jones’ daughter is in it, so that’s something.

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Freaks and Geeks S1E03: Tricks and Treats

Ah, Halloween, it is a time for dressing skimpily, eating wantonly, and vandalizing frequently (honestly, it’s a great day to be alive if there ever was one). Halloween also unleashes an onslaught of holiday episodes upon scores of television screens; Freaks and Geeks was no exception to this rule, though it did manage to play with traditional holiday episode conventions. Sam wrangles with his rapidly waning youth and Lindsay is torn between going out with her friends or staying in with her mother in “Tricks and Treats”, the third episode of the show (my other write-ups for Freaks and Geeks can be found here).

In the episode, Sam is tasked with reading Crime and Punishment for a book report after his own literary choice, the novelization of Star Wars, is rightfully shot down. So, feeling the relentless onslaught on aging coming upon him (he shouldn’t have, I read Crime and Punishment for the first time when I was fourteen and I didn’t embrace nihilism until at least two years later), he decides to grasp more firmly onto his youth by going out trick or treating with his friends, something he had previously determined as being a younger man’s game. He decides to go as Gort, the robot from The Day The Earth Stood Still, while Neal goes as Groucho Marx, and Bill goes as the Bionic Woman. As you can guess, they look really cool.

I can't imagine why girls don't go out with them.

I can’t imagine why girls don’t go out with them.

Meanwhile, Lindsay would much rather hang out with her new friends than spend the night at home in an embarrassing costume handing out candy. Lindsay, like most teenagers, lacks the tactfulness to avoid making it a huge issue, and winds up exiting the house at the last second to go drive around, and maybe commit a little bit of minor vandalism, with Daniel, Ken, Kim, and Nick. This leaves her mother hurt and a little confused, considering how convincing Lindsay had been in saying she was looking forward to spending the night in. Lindsay’s mother may have been a little (or a lot) naive, but Lindsay’s timidity made a non-issue into a time-bomb.

Lindsay is given her first true taste of something uniquely “freaky” in this episode, as the quintet decide to go around and vandalize. Over the course of the evening, the vandalism increases in severity, from quite mild to something more in the realm of moderate. Eventually, after crushing a few pumpkins and smashing a mailbox or two, Lindsay goes a little too far and does something she can’t take back.

This episode is the one most centrally focused on the Weirs yet, and that includes the parents for the first time. Lindsay and Sam’s parents are really only seen through the eyes of their children and, even taking that rather biased lens into consideration, are quite cliched. When Lindsay or Sam do something to avoid spending time with their parental units, I can’t judge them because, well, I simply would not want to be around those people for any length of time. “Tricks and Treats” does, however, take steps to humanize them a bit more than they had been.

So much worry in one picture

So much worry in one picture

Joe Flaherty’s father figure is prone to hyperbole but, for the first time, demonstrates some degree of wisdom regarding how Sam’s night would turn out. The gist of his good advice: a child at heart is not actually a child. Becky Ann Miller’s mother figure is about as naive as they come, but it is hard not to sympathize with her as so many things go wrong: her daughter ditches her for greener pastures, her homemade cookies may contain razor blades or hallucinogenics so they are not fit for consumption by costumed children, her husband can’t help but to say I told you so, et cetera.

Linda Cardellini and John Francis Daley each continue to do strong work in their roles, fully willing to give in to the more negative traits their characters display. Lindsay Weir has a lot of positive traits, but is also possessing of the most unattractive of character traits: desperation. Lindsay is desperate for the approval of her new group of friends, but the very act of trying too hard is just what is keeping her from being fully embraced (by Kim and Ken at least, Nick and Daniel both seem to have accepted her).

Sam Weir may be in high school, but he is still struggling to learn when it is okay to be childish and when not to. If you want to play Dungeons & Dragons with your friends, go for it because it is fun. Whereas, if you want to walk around at five o’clock getting candy along with little kids, it is probably best to hold off. The lesson here: buy your candy on the first of November when it is cheap and unlikely to see you beaten up. Secondary lesson here: it is much more worth your time to read Crime and Punishment than the novelization of Star Wars (or any novelization of any movie really).

This episode is as well written as the previous two, but has a resolution that is much too clean for comfort. Lindsay buckling under the pressure of guilt rang hollow (as does her agreeing to wear a costume sight unseen), though Sam finally reading of Crime and Punishment works by virtue of it being a homework assignment (and a good book). Something potentially interesting I noticed just now: Lindsay is the only one to commit a crime, but Sam is the only one to receive something actually akin to a punishment. I blame society.

I don't have a comment for this one.

I don’t have a comment for this one.

“Tricks and Treats” also sees Martin Starr continuing to be the most reliable, and frequent, source of laughter on Freaks and Geeks. His choice in costume and nonchalant manner of going about making and wearing it made me guffaw at least three times throughout the program. Neal’s struggle to do a mustache befitting Groucho Marx without descending into Hitler territory is also quite funny. Sam’s pair of geeky friends may lack as much development as Lindsay’s group at this point (excepting Ken, that man is still very much a cypher), but may have an edge in entertainment value.

The attention to period detail on Freaks and Geeks is always strong, but this episode kicks it into high gear. From the paranoia about the what people are putting in Halloween candy (it still occurred when I was of a trick or treating age) to Bill going as the Bionic Woman, it all felt authentically eighties. My opinion may not be totally worth listening to, however, considering I was born early into the following decade.

Halloween episodes of shows tend not to be as strong as other episodes in whatever program unleashed them, but “Tricks and Treats” manages to sidestep this particular trend with aplomb. It is a strong episode of Freaks and Geeks that contains some of the funnier moments of the show without sacrificing any dramatic heft. Plus, Martin Starr cross-dressing is worth price of admission on its own.

Freaks and Geeks S1E02: Beers and Weirs

The second episode of the under-seen classic Freaks and Geeks sees Lindsay Weir attempting to fit in and gain some credibility in the eyes of her new circle of friends by hosting a keg-party at her home. Meanwhile Sam and his friends worry about the potential for tragedy when alcohol is involved and concoct a plan to marginalize the risk. You can also see my write-up on the first episode of Freaks and Geeks here.

Like most high school students struggling to fit in with a new group of friends, Lindsay Weir is willing to do quite a bit to win their approval and gratitude, particularly if one of them (James Franco’s Daniel Desario) looks like he could one day play James Dean in a television movie. The opportunity arises for our heroine when her parents go out of town for the weekend and the house is suddenly a space in which a party where a moderate amount of alcohol can be served to a bunch of moderately rebellious teenagers willing to drink it without moderation, and exclaim to anyone willing to listen, “I’m so wasted.” Even if the beer doesn’t technically contain alcohol.

The title card is neither freaky nor geeky.

The title card is neither freaky nor geeky.

The lack of alcohol stems from a rather ingenious plot by Sam Weir, Lindsay’s younger brother, and his two friends Neal and Bill. The geeky trio has their rational, if exaggerated, worries about the dangers of beverages with a bit more kick, exacerbated after viewing a school assembly in which three students espouse the virtues of being cool without drinking (you can, but the assembly failed at showing it). Sam, Neal, and Bill use some of Neal’s Bar Mitzvah money to buy a keg of non-alcoholic beer, in order to exchange it for the real one. The perfect blend of shrewd and idiotic, their plan actually manages to work. Also, all three of the assembly “actors” show up to the party, two of them get drinks, while the other prefers to get high on life.

This episode’s central focus is on Lindsay, but aside from the implied crush on Daniel Desario being made more blatant, we really don’t learn much more about her than we learned from the pilot. The episode’s primary character development is centered on Neal (Samm Levine), and to a lesser extent Nick, Kim, and Daniel. Neal is revealed to have maintained a crush on Lindsay for the majority of his life, and is extremely disheartened to see her starting to hang out with a “bad” crowd. Neal also proves himself quite clever a couple of times throughout the episode and leaves a more positive impression on the audience in this episode than the last.

Look at how natural they're acting

Look at how naturally they’re acting

As was hinted in the pilot, Nick has taken a shine to Lindsay, and makes an ill-timed move on her. Additionally, when the nerdy Millie starts to (effectively) humiliate herself, he is the only person present that gets up to help her out. Admittedly, there is not much to be done when the girl voluntarily starts singing “Jesus is Alright With” at a keg-party, but it is the thought that counts I suppose.

This episode sees Daniel and Kim’s their relationship clarified to the extent their relationship lacks anything resembling clarity, they are perpetually swinging between the on and off sides of their relationship, and sometimes they make-out in Lindsay’s bedrooms. Lindsay seems to make headway with Kim, who has a genuinely non-caustic remark as she exits the premises following the party. There is also a telling moment where Daniel is legitimately puzzled as to why Lindsay is embarrassed about being a mathlete: he may lack motivation, but he doesn’t resent those who have it. Sam also seemingly makes headway with his crush Cindy, as she both comes to the party and strikes up a conversation with him rather than the other way around. We the viewers, however, can see the trap that Sam is unknowingly walking into regarding what he might see as his burgeoning relationship with Cindy.

They are not amused, but I am.

They are not amused, but I am.

Oh, it would be a crime not to mention that Martin Starr once again steals the show as the super-geek Bill. His standing up for his favorite television program, Dallas, is probably the biggest laugh of the episode. His getting drunk after being left alone with the keg filled with beer that actually contains alcohol is hilarious as well. Starr is both riotously funny and able to take a character type that could easily have been cloying and made him endearing in a very short period of time.

This is another strong episode for Freaks and Geeks and one that makes the most out of a situation that could have easily devolved into a big bundle of cliches towards the end. The considerably smaller and quieter bundle of cliches we receive is a rather welcome surprise. Strong performances are had all around and the writing is sharp, “Beers and Weirs” does not disappoint. I must also add that the large aspect of my personality that almost entirely subsists on wordplay and bad puns really appreciates the title of this episode.

Freaks and Geeks S1E01: Pilot

When listing off shows that went off the air before they had received a fair shake, odds are that the 1999 cult classic Freaks and Geeks settles somewhere near the top (along with Firefly). Freaks and Geeks is set in 1980 and centers on Lindsay and Sam Weir (Linda Cardellini and John Francis Daley), and their circles of friends, as they deal with all the trials, tribulations, and awkward situations that high school can throw at them. The show was produced by Judd Apatow and Paul Feig and launched many of its cast-members to movie-stardom, including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel. Anyways, here is my review of the first episode, christened without much originality as “Pilot.”

Lindsay Weir is a fairly ordinary high school student, apparently an ace mathlete, and at a bit of a loss of exactly what to do about anything. She is very intelligent and excels scholastically, but is intrigued by the titular “Freaks” made up by Daniel (James Franco), Ken (Seth Rogen), Nick (Jason Segel), and Kim (Busy Philipps) who skip class and get high, yet are also generally accepting and lacking in obvious pretension, even if they are a bit rougher around the edges.

The title card is neither freaky nor geeky.

The title card is neither freaky nor geeky.

Lindsay is also, like so many slightly-outcast teenagers, a bit self-righteous and mistaken in thinking that withdrawing from social-situations is really some vague protest. So when she is coerced into attending the homecoming dance by her parents (fun fact: I did not attend any of mine, it wouldn’t have been fair to the all the girls who would be heartbroken by my attending with someone else. My nobility astounds even me.), she decides to take the mentally-handicapped Eli (a young Ben Foster), who is perpetually happy, but often the butt of jokes. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

Sam Weir, Lindsay’s younger brother, is struggling to find a foothold in something other than his clique of friends (the titular “Geeks”). Sam is close with his friends Neal and Bill (Samm Levine and Martin Starr), but he is viciously bullied regularly and can’t get up the courage to ask his crush Cindy, a cheerleader, out. Cindy is friendly, attentive, tall, and, like so many girls, is even further out of reach because she is actually willing to stand close. Sam, put in the same homecoming dance conundrum as Lindsay, resolves to ask Cindy to the dance and finally stand up to his bully (by ganging up with his friends and beating him up).

"I had a dream it would end this way."

“I had a dream it would end this way.”

This first episode is, rightfully, primarily a showcase for Linda Cardellini as Lindsay and John Francis Daly as Sam (who both excel), but some of the supporting characters are also given a chance to shine. James Franco is both greasy and charming as Daniel Desario, and Jason Segel as Nick Andropolis is a surprising source of wisdom for our heroine. Additionally, Martin Starr steals most of his scenes as the geekiest of the three geeks, Bill Haverchuck. Also: Seth Rogen plays acerbic rather well.

Part of the reason Freaks and Geeks has latched itself so strongly in the minds of its viewers despite such a short run (eighteen episodes, three were unaired), is how strong it came out of the gate. The pilot is a good introduction to the show and a strong individual episode in its own right, which something commendable (I commend you Freaks and Geeks, fourteen years after the fact).

I don't have a comment for this one.

I don’t have a comment for this one.

Freaks and Geeks greatest accomplishment, in my mind, is that the adolescent characters are all believable and realistic. Even, the characters that are more thinly drawn at this stage of the game appear to have complexities, even if they haven’t been revealed yet. Furthermore, the fact that none of the characters are really black and white in their moralities, is a welcome change from the typical geeky/popular paradigm. Sam has a bully and cannot be described as popular, but the popular Cindy is nice to him without any apparent motivation. Nick goes out of his way to cheer Lindsay up, but his method ends with her in trouble with the school. Inherent complexities and contradictions like this can make a show feel as real as life, and can turn a one-season network run into something much more enduring.

Freaks and Geeks starts out strong, and if you haven’t seen it, it is probably something well worth your time, if only to be able to say “Yeah, I’ve seen it” when asked, unprompted via some thin conversational connection by someone as arrogant in their particular brand of television-watching as myself. Anyways, this pilot episode flew straight (as always, the pun is intentional).