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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks,” the Pilot Episode

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks,” the Pilot Episode (photo)

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“Freaks and Geeks” is now airing on IFC, and we thought we’d take this opportunity to revisit the show that launched a thousand bromance movies. Every week, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore will be offering their thoughts on that night’s episode.

Episode 1: Pilot
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Paul Feig
Originally aired September 25, 1999

“This my passion, you know? This is- this is the essence of who I am now. But before I had this, I was lost too. You see what I’m saying? You need to find…your reason for– for living, man. You’ve got to find, your big, just gigantic drum kit, you know?” –Nick

Alison: It’s become beside the point to proclaim the excellence of “Freaks and Geeks.” The success currently being enjoyed by creator Paul Feig, producer Judd Apatow and many of the cast members speaks for itself (and makes it all the easier to offer a derisive “I told you so ” sniff in the direction of what, a decade out, still stings as a total heartbreaker of a cancellation).

But rewatching the pilot, you have to appreciate the sheer craft with which it’s been made. Pilot episodes have a lot of business to manage — establishing characters, locations, relationships and, most essentially, audience expectations — and the pilot for “Freaks and Geeks” efficiently, ingenuously outlines all of its core dynamics in its long opening shot.

We start with a pretty blond cheerleader talking to a pretty blond football player, spouting the kind of overblown TV teenager dialogue we won’t hear again on the show (“It’s just that I love you so much it scares me”).

And then the camera pulls away from them and shifts to where it’ll keep its focus, on the outskirts of William McKinley High School society circa 1980. (It’s a joke given a more extended riff at the beginning of “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” with Robert Tinkler and Ethan Embry heading off on an overgrown frat boy adventure we never see, because we stay with John Cho back at the office.)

There are the freaks — at least the boy ones — hanging out under the bleachers, Daniel (James Franco) telling a story of minor rebellion, Nick (Jason Segel) beaming with pot-fueled sincerity and Ken (Seth Rogen) providing the sarcastic commentary. Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) lurks in the foreground, wanting but too shy to join them. And here comes Sam Weir (John Francis Daley) with his fellow geeks Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr), showing off their Bill Murray impressions until they’re interrupted by one of the many banes of their existence, bully Alan White (Chauncey Leopardi), and then, even more humiliatingly, by Lindsay coming in to save the day.

Poor Lindsay! Sam faces his share of humiliations over the course of this show — hell, over the course of this episode, with its epic dodgeball sequence, above, leaving him the last man standing, plastered against the wall of the gym like he’s awaiting execution by firing squad — but I’ve always found Lindsay’s desperate efforts to reinvent herself, to jump castes, to be cool, particularly in these early episodes, even more agonizing to watch.

Both of her attempts to rescue someone from social torment in this episode backfire, first with her brother, who even in his own cluelessness recognizes the ignominy of having your sister save you, and then with “special” kid Eli (a young Ben Foster), who doesn’t want to hear that the guys he thinks are his friends are actually making fun of him, and who slips running away and breaks his arm.

07022010_fandg12.jpgWhile it’s an early brush with mortality — being in the room as her grandmother died — that sets off her metamorphosis from Mathlete to freak, Lindsay’s desire to change reflects that universal teenage longing to be able to try different potential identities on for size, all the while pretending any earlier ones didn’t exist: I was never that girl, this is the real me.

But the new Lindsay, swimming in her dad’s old army jacket, trying so hard to please, isn’t any freer or any more comfortable in her own skin — not yet. The closest she gets is that moment of joy at the dance, inspired by, of all people, her supposedly hopeless little brother, when she really can ignore the (half-imagined) burden of all those eyes on her and the whole perilous labyrinth of high school and just be, well, herself. Whoever that might end up being.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.