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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 6, “I’m With the Band”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 6, “I’m With the Band” (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 6: I’m With the Band
Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah

Originally aired November 13, 1999

“Hey, I want to play it again. Put more dry ice in the bucket!” — Nick

Alison: Matt, I may have told you in passing that I thought “Beers and Weirs” was the series’ most painfully awkward episode. Obviously, I was wrong. “I’m With the Band” is an absolute symphony of watch-with-your-hands-over-your-eyes moments, culminating in two sequences in which characters venture into new experiences and are rewarded with reoccurring nightmare-type outcomes.

Let’s start with the geeks. The show has established Sam’s discomfort with his own pre-pubescent physicality (and physicality in general) before, and in this episode he’s put in a position where he’s forced to face it — literally, in the case of Harris wanting to chat foreign language classes while walking around au naturel after P.E. (I’ll never tire of Harris’ unflappable self-possession, his nerd zen.)

And at first, the geeks’ storyline appears to be another, and at this point somewhat repetitive, look at the ritual humiliations inherent to the high school experience. Locker rooms are bad enough, but shared showers are torture for the self-conscious, and Sam gives it his all to avoid them with a series of poorly conceived plans — was he hoping to hide in the bathroom stall every day for the next few years?

08062010_fandg6_1.jpgEverything seems to ramping up to Sam’s successful completing of his ablutions and realizing that a little nudity’s not that big a deal, that everyone’s bodies are unique and beautiful things, blah, blah — but no. Instead of ending in anticlimactic self-acceptance, Sam’s slow motion walk to the shower, set, splendidly, to Cream’s “White Room,” climaxes in the stuff a lifetime’s worth of stress dreams are made of, with Sam running naked through the hallways of William McKinley High School, wearing nothing but a blue censored-for-network-sensibilities dot. Eek! And, oh, the look of contorted agony on John Francis Daley’s face, especially when he spots Cindy at her locker!

Matt, both Sam and Lindsay get let off the hook at this episode’s end — Sam because his classmates assumes he was intentionally streaking, and Lindsay, after Yoko-ing the band into temporarily breaking up, because she kisses Nick and provides new potential drama to replace the drama she set in motion. Does it all seem a little too easy, or do these things come to us, as to the characters, as a thankful relief? Lindsay’s actions, certainly, will have larger consequences.

Matt: They definitely will. To your question, let’s look at each example individually. In Sam’s case, that truly nightmarish scenario does flip pretty quickly from therapy sesson fodder to high school urban legend. Is the reversal too easy? Yeah, probably. But I like Sam’s storyline anyway for two reasons. First for its truthfulness: forced group showers are, for an underdeveloped teenager like Sam, a primal fear. My high school didn’t make the boys shower after gym class, but it did make anyone who stayed after school for sports, which explains why I never joined an intramural sports team (Yes, that and only that, was the reason. My total lack of athletic ability had absolutely nothing to do with it).

Secondly, that Robert Opel moment creates some interesting friction between the shower subplot and a similar storyline in “Tricks and Treats,” where Sam staunchly refuses his English teacher’s instructions to grow up, tries to hold on to his childhood for one Halloween too many, and winds up with literal egg on his face. In “I’m With the Band,” Sam’s facing a similar dilemma: Coach Fredericks orders him to shower, and he doesn’t want to. After repeated evasions, Sam finally decides to man up and strip down. And what happens? He’s humiliated in front of the entire school. In the world of “Freaks and Geeks,” teenagers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Whether they reject the responsibilities of adulthood or acquiesce and accept them, it really makes no difference. Either way, bad things are going to happen.

08062010_fandg6_2.jpgLindsay’s case is a bit different. For the third episode in a row, the freak side of things becomes a poignant character study: after exploring Kim Kelly and Daniel, Nick gets his time in the spotlight, literally, beneath the multicolored floods and dry ice smoke in his basement drum studio. For the third episode in a row, a freak is also revealed as a bit of a tragedy: for Nick, the sweetest and kindest soul in the “Freaks and Geeks” cast, it’s the discovery of the sad fact that his military father intends to throw out his drums and ship him off to the army if he can’t maintain a C+ average.

Just as she thought she could help Daniel work hard enough to pass Mr. Kowchevski’s class on “Tests and Breasts,” Lindsay believes that practice and focus can help Nick become a good enough drummer to turn music into a career. Though Nick is initially flattered and inspired by her confidence, that disastrous audition you mentioned makes him realize the truth: he’ll never be good enough to realize his drumming dreams. It’s at this moment that Lindsay, acting out pity, I think, more than any real attraction, kisses poor Nick.

Alison, you’re right that the surprise and even euphoria of that moment seems to erase an entire episode worth of despair and uncomfortableness. But let’s not forget that “I’m With the Band” marks series executive producer Judd Apatow’s first appearance as director, and that Apatow’s work is often defined by its unique mixture of warm sentimentality and black comedy, not to mention the fact that most of his films are about the way in which male screw-ups like Nick are redeemed through the love of far more stable women like Lindsay. While Lindsay’s kiss may be a convenient way for the show to elide Nick’s bleak prospects it also turns Nick and Lindsay’s story, however briefly, into the prototypical Apatow comedy.

More than any episode so far, “I’m With the Band” is rich with that sort of foreshadowing. Alison, was I alone in thinking of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Dracula’s Lament” during Jason Segel’s cold open drum solo? There aren’t too many actors that good at playing the awkward, earnest musician.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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