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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 9, “We’ve Got Spirit”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 9, “We’ve Got Spirit” (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 9
We’ve Got Spirit
Directed by Danny Leiner
Written by Mike White

“Cheerleaders have to date athletes. It’s the law.” — Neal

Matt: The stories of “Freaks and Geeks” are stories of the high school underclass. But with “We’ve Got Spirit,” the tenuous armistice that’s held for eight episodes between the burnouts and dweebs and their social betters erupts into full-blown class warfare. The athletically indifferent freaks discover their school spirit during a series of skirmishes — water balloons, spray paint, fist fights — with jocks from rival school Lincoln High (we can tell they’re not freaks by their varsity jackets).

Meanwhile, Sam becomes the McKinley High mascot in an attempt to climb the social ladder from geek to jock, thereby putting the lie to the unwritten but rigidly enforced law Neal explains above. In typical “Freaks and Geeks” fashion, who gets the only happy ending in sight? The star player on the basketball team.

That star player would be Todd Schellinger, whose prowess with women was legendary on “Freaks and Geeks” before he ever appeared in an episode. Weeks ago, Sam and the geeks speculated about Todd and his mystifying habit of taking off his shirt when he makes out with girls. When we finally meet him, Todd, as played by the short, slight Riley Smith, doesn’t seem like much of a lothario — he’s barely taller than Sam. He doesn’t look like much of a big man on campus, and he doesn’t act like one either; as the big game against McKinley is about to begin, Sam finds a nervous Todd puking his guts out in the locker room. This, too, is in typical “Freaks and Geeks” fashion, where even the coolest of characters is revealed as just as damaged and imperfect as the rest of us.

08272010_fandg9_6.jpgIt’s that moment in the locker room that makes Sam — and those of us in the audience who identify with him — reassess his hatred of Todd. Prior to that, Sam despised Todd without knowing anything about him for two simple reasons: because he was a popular jock and because his crush, Cindy Sanders, liked Todd because he was a popular jock. After Cindy discovers that Todd likes her back, and shares the news with Sam, he explodes at her in a jealous rage. “Todd’s a jerk!” he says. “He’s not even nice to you! He’s all cocky…it’s just stupid that you like him. I mean just because you’re a cheerleader and he’s a jock, it’s so obvious!”

Sam is in a position to witness Cindy and Todd’s first kiss because he’s assumed the mantle — not to mention the freakishly large, disturbingly detailed, and utterly hilarious head — of the McKinley High Norseman, the school mascot. And as her non-threatening male friend and confidant, Sam has sort of become Cindy’s mascot too. And any geek who played that role for a pretty girl who was out of their league in high school knows where Sam is coming from in that tirade. For Sam, Cindy’s feelings for Todd are all the more frustrating after the small but crucial victory he’d achieved earlier in the episode, winning the mascot contest and earning an affectionate hug from Cindy. But Sam only won the battle, not the war.

War imagery is everywhere in “We’ve Got Spirit,” from the “Assassinate Lincoln!” banners in the halls of McKinley to the book of Korean War history Mr. Weir is reading. The name of that book, by the way, is “Conflict,” and this episode has plenty of it: between lovers and friends, between opposing basketball teams and jealous cheerleaders on the same pep squad. But there’s also one important character who’s intentionally avoiding conflict. That would be Lindsay, who repeatedly puts off her breakup with the perpetually stoned and increasingly creepy Nick. That leads to a scene that rivals the infamous audition sequence from “I’m With the Band” for sheer discomfort: Mrs. Weir accidentally dumps her daughter’s boyfriend for her. Alison, I know you squirmed mightily at the sight of Nick blowing his audition with Dimension. But does Mrs. Weir’s “Oops!” with Nick top it? It does for me.

Alison: First, I should point out that I think you’re sorely underestimating Todd Schellinger’s charms — for one thing, given the whims of adolescent growth spurts, getting picky about a guy’s height isn’t a luxury afforded many high school girls. And who could resist that magnificent head of feathered hair?

As for the “Oops!” scene, it’s incredibly painful — there’s no debate that Jason Segel is the king of the uncomfortable in this series. What makes it all the more agonizing is how much Jean means well — she’s just so excited to be included in Lindsay life (“She confided in me, Harold, and she took my advice!”) that she oversteps and commits a serious faux pas. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which your newly ex-significant other’s mom stopping by to offer her condolences would be welcome (particularly when you haven’t been told about the whole “ex” thing yet), but Jean glows with goodwill as she gives Nick that pat on the arm. The understanding that dawns on Nick’s face as she talks — it’s like a slow motion car accident.

08272010_fandg9_11.jpgJean does, at least, manage to leave Nick with some dignity, as he’s able to preemptively break up with Lindsay before circumstances finally force her to step up and be honest with him after an episode-worth of avoidance. And while the relationship being over is all Lindsay’s wanted since it basically began, she still ends up crying in her mother’s arms. Rejection always stings.

That breakup, and Nick’s quiet solo grieving in the car — set to The Who’s “The Song Is Over” — seem like the show’s own way of giving the character some of his dignity back. And it’s needed, because wow, does Nick come across as a bunny-boiler in this episode. I’d say that the creepy, suffocating sweetness of the “Lady” segment in “Girlfriends and Boyfriends” might actually be bested by the one here in which Nick turns up outside Lindsay’s bedroom window in the middle of the night — not even in search of some nookie, just because, as he explains to an unwelcoming Lindsay, he “had to see your face.”

Then there are the freaks’ horrified reactions when Lindsay tells them she’s considering ending things with Nick, prefaced by a nice Kim moment in which she yells at Ken “Don’t be such a pig!” when he asks if Lindsay’s pregnant, only to ask “so, are you pregnant?” as soon as they’re out of earshot. And there’s Lindsay’s gumshoe work with Nick’s previous girlfriend Heidi Henderson (Samantha Shelton), the one whose face he’s cut out of photos, who calls Nick “crazy” and tells Lindsay that “breaking up with him is like a nightmare,” only to scurry away in terror when Nick arrives, accompanied by an ominous thrum in the soundtrack.

08272010_fandg9_9.jpgAfter so much horror movie set-up, to see Nick act like such a grown-up and not Glenn Close at the end isn’t just a relief, it’s a reminder of the generosity underlying all of “Freaks and Geeks.” It may be a series rife with humiliations and minor tragedies, as were many of our high school experiences, but it’s also unfailingly honest. Nick is ridiculous, but he’s not a caricature or an easy joke. That’s also the takeaway of the scene you pointed out, Matt, in which Sam spies Todd throwing up. Even when Sam’s determined to see him as just another jock, the show refuses to take that easy route, and gives us a glimpse of someone whose inner life is obviously not as straightforward and trouble-free as Sam would like to believe.

Speaking of Sam, what did you make of his mascot work (under the stern eye of Vicki Appleby (Joanna Garcia)) versus the clowning Neal obviously feels he was born to do? And what’d you think of little Shia LaBeouf as the injured previous mascot Herbert?

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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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