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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 4, “Kim Kelly Is My Friend”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 4, “Kim Kelly Is My Friend” (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 Friday, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore will be offering their thoughts on that night’s episode.

Episode 4: Kim Kelly Is My Friend
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Written by Mike White
Originally aired September 5, 2000

“Kim Kelly’s a psycho. She and Karen Scarfolli — they’re violent. They run around the school being evil.” –Sam

Alison: A confession: Kim Kelly is my favorite “Freaks and Geeks” character, and this episode — written by Mike White, who appears as Kim’s “brain damaged” older brother Chip — is one of the series highlights for me. Throughout the first few episodes, Busy Philipps has been unrelentingly terrifying as Kim, territorial, intimidating and blessed with an uncanny ability to zoom in on people’s weak spots — like her “joke” about Lindsay’s being a narc in “Tricks and Treats,” because what would mortify aspiring bad girl Lindsay more than being accursed of acting as some kind of spy for the authorities?

In “Kim Kelly Is My Friend,” we get to see the more vulnerable side of Kim, which is — well, terrifying in its own right. But it puts her character in perspective. Kim acts nuts because her family is, or at least acts, nuts, escalating instantly into screaming matches over dinner in their half-renovated house, chasing Lindsay and Kim out to the latter’s precious Gremlin in an attempt to confiscate it.

And Kim acts aggressive because she’s used to having to fight tooth and nail to hold on to what she has, whether it’s the car or her straying boyfriend Daniel, who, in her view, can’t really be blamed for being “a normal guy, you know? He’ll screw anything that moves.” Kim’s is a world under constant siege, and sometimes the rage that she often seems to be barely suppressing needs a release — hence her doing an incensed donut right over the basketball court while shrieking like a banshee when she sees Daniel flirting with her alleged friend Karen (Rashida Jones, in a memorable guest spot).

Dinner at the Kelly household — with the bucket of Chicken Deluxe fried chicken (versus Jean Weir’s veal piccata), Kim’s class-climbing harpy mother, her sleazy stepfather, the sheets of plastic and Chip permanently napping in the wall-less next room — is like a low-key David Lynch movie, and it was likely that, combined with the girls’ shrieking escape when Kim’s parents try to claim her precious automobile, that led to this episode’s being deemed too dark and getting yanked from its original air date. Yes, if you were watching the first airing of this series back in 1999, you’d have no idea what broke the ice between Lindsay and Kim, and no sense of the elder Weirs first brush with Lindsay’s new friends.

Speaking of, one of the things that makes this episode so enjoyable is the way it unites the worlds of the freaks, the geeks and the parents. Matt, what’d you think of the geek storyline, with Karen’s accusations of geekdom temporarily causing a schism between Sam and Neal?

07222010_fandg4_5.jpgMatt: That storyline is clearly an offshoot of last episode’s subplot about how the geeks need to grow up. In “Tricks and Treats,” they got scolded for their lowbrow book report selections. Now Sam and Neal each insist the other is the bigger geek, and the evidence they use to prove their case is the fact that they’re both still obsessed with childhood hobbies: Neal plays with his chemistry set while Sam can’t bear to part with his collection of Tonka trucks. Their dust-up culminates in a heartbreaking image of innocence lost: Sam reluctantly dumping his trucks in the garbage so no one can make fun of him for having them ever again.

Though the idea of high school as a transformative experience is key to both of these episodes; there’s one importance difference in the way that transformation is represented. In “Tricks and Treats,” adulthood is something to be avoided, and the geeks only embrace it reluctantly after the pleasures of childhood are transformed by their crueler peers into the nightmares of adolescence (i.e. Sam tosses aside his copy of Dostoyevsky to go out in his infantilizing homemade costume, then begrudgingly starts reading it after getting beaten up and egged).

In “Kim Kelly is My Friend,” adulthood can’t come soon enough — Sam spends most of the episode eating as much as he can in the hopes of jumpstarting his pituitary gland. Therein lies one of the ultimate contradictions of high school: teenagers desperately pray for physical maturity while simultaneously avoiding the accompanying emotional maturity for as long as they possibly can.

07222010_fandg4_3.jpgSam’s humiliation in this episode definitely hits home with me: even though I was never tortured by older and more developed women, I, too, looked like a pygmy geek all through my freshman year. “Kim Kelly is My Friend” writer Mike White has the details of pubescent neuroses down perfectly; the shame, for example, of not having any hair in your pits, an embarrassment “late bloomers” like Sam and myself were forced to confront every day of our lives in the gym locker room, which I recall as a particularly harrowing gauntlet of fear and degradation.

All that said, the geeks are definitely the B story this week. We barely see them after Sam and Neal’s brawl; time constraints force their reconciliation to happen far too quickly and far too easily. The focus is squarely on the freaks, and particularly on Kim, whose fragile emotional state you so carefully laid out earlier. What I’d like to hear more of, though, are the reasons Kim Kelly is your favorite character, Alison. Were you a Kim Kelly in high school?

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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.