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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 13, “Chokin’ and Tokin'”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 13, “Chokin’ and Tokin'” (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 13
“Chokin’ & Tokin'”
Written by Judd Apatow
Directed by Miguel Arteta

“I know what high people look like. I went to a Seals and Crofts concert last summer.” — Millie

Matt: “Chokin’ and Tokin'” is unique amongst “Freaks and Geeks” episodes in at least two ways. It is the only episode that makes the characters’ drug use explicit (or at least as explicit as network television circa 1999 could get; note the convenient cutaways whenever someone gets close to actually puffing on a joint) and it is the only one in which Judd Apatow receives sole writing credit. Which, to me, begs an obvious question: does this episode feel particularly Apatowian? Does it feel more like his later solo work than other “Freaks and Geeks” episodes?

Yes and no. I definitely see a strong connection between the representation of drug use in “Chokin’ and Tokin'” and Apatow’s 2007 film “Knocked Up.” In both cases getting high is portrayed as a fun but ultimately destructive behavior. Ben (Seth Rogen) in “Knocked Up” lives in a stoner’s paradise: hanging out all day, smoking weed, eating junk food, and punching his buddies with flaming boxing gloves. But when Rogen’s Ben accidentally gets a woman pregnant, his drug use almost kills the relationship and his chance to be the baby’s father. Eventually, he realizes he has give up the bo-bo, get a job, and get a life.

09222010_fandg13_2.jpgNick in “Freaks and Geeks” is the same guy, minus the epiphany. Throughout the series, we never see him use drugs, but the fact that he’s always stoned is frequently joked about and always understood. But that had previously always been portrayed as part of his easygoing charm. In “Chokin’ and Tokin,”’ his pot use is presented like a full-fledged addiction: when there’s a bambalacha shortage at McKinley, he finds himself incapable of functioning without it. And when he finally stops searching for a fix, he goes to the park with Lindsay and shows off some impressive basketball skills. If he could only cut out the doobs, Nick might make something of his life. Guess he’ll have to wait to knock someone up to figure that out.

Where “Chokin’ and Tokin'” differs from “Knocked Up” and pretty much everything else Apatow’s done, is in its meaty roles for women. In Apatow’s movies, the women are typically good looking props or killjoy girlfriends. But here, the ladies are the stars. A woman gives the funniest performance — that’d be Linda Cardellini, hilariously paranoid after Lindsay’s first disastrous taste of Nick’s ganja — and I love the richness of the scenes between Cardellini and Sarah Hagan’s Millie, who talks Lindsay through her highest moments, tries to restore her faith in God and humanity, and even gets some great punchlines of her own (including the quote that kicked off this week’s article). I look at the complexity of the Lindsay and Millie relationship, which is brimming with humor and pathos, and wonder where the hell the guy who wrote those scenes has gone to.

Which brings us to the geeks’ storyline: Bill and his near-terminal peanut allergy. School bully Alan (Chauncey Leopardi) either doesn’t believe that Bill is as allergic to peanuts as he claims or simply doesn’t care, and he spikes his jelly sandwich with a handful of Planters. That leads to the episode’s big revelatory moment: when Alan shares his jealousy of the geeks with a seemingly comatose Bill. Turns out Alan picks on the geeks because deep down inside, he’s a geek himself. My question to you Alison is this: do you buy it?

Alison: I have mixed feelings about Alan’s big reveal. On one hand, we’ve seen evidence before that Alan’s basically only a rung or two up the ladder, popularity-wise, from the geeks — he was the last non-geek picked at softball in “The Diary,” for instance, and showed obvious happiness and relief at that. It would make sense that his picking on Sam, Bill and Neal stems from his seeing in them aspects of himself he no longer likes, and that his persecution campaign is his way of differentiating himself from them in the eyes of the rest of the school, an “I’m obviously not a geek, because I hate geeks” tactic. And that definitely feeds into the moment at the episode’s close in which the geeks are happily waiting on their ride to the sci-fi convention, everyone except the wise Gordon Crisp already in costume. Alan, having been invited along in a gesture of near-saintly generousness by Bill, who he almost killed, lurks behind the hedge at the bottom of the driveway, unable, despite everything, to let his geek flag fly.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a fair amount of wish fulfillment in the idea that the guy who’s been bullying you relentlessly is actually just jealous and longing to be asked to join you. If you’re someone who was picked on as a kid — and I’m guessing almost everyone was, at one time or another, and in some way or another — then you’ve surely spent some time wondering about the motivations of your tormentor, why someone would be cruel to you because of your glasses, or your weight, or your grades, or your race, or your outfit, or the million other things that can make you a target in teeming social battlefield we call the school system. “They’re just jealous” is the kind of thing you’re told by a parent figure who can’t manage to make you believe that one day you’ll be an adult and the afflictions you suffered through will seem smaller and sillier — but is the truth ever really that comfortingly simple? To answer your question more directly, Matt — I buy it, but only at a discount.

09222010_fandg134.jpgOn a larger note, that idea, highlighted in this episode, that everyone else suffers from a bit of geek envy is one that runs through the series, in the sense that it’s the geeks, particularly Millie, Harris, Gordon and Bill, who are shown to be comfortable with themselves and most accepting of their own identity. Everyone else finds themselves making choices they don’t actually want to make in order to be cool, or working hard just to fit in — most of Lindsay’s storylines are shaped around her feeling pressured to do something she’s not comfortable with because she thinks she should for social acceptance. Sam, who would fit in if he thought he could, comes around to Gordon in “Girlfriends and Boyfriends” after learning how understanding and unapologetic about himself he is. Even Daniel, in “Looks and Books,” find himself admiring a “Monster Manual”-reading Harris, who he notes has “got it pretty wired.”

In this episode, it’s Bill and Millie who get to show their goodness. Bill’s aforementioned invitation to Alan — “George Takei’s going to be there and everything!” — and refusal to be angry leads to him being karmically rewarded with a new Doctor Who costume and the attentions of his pretty teacher Miss Foote (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real life wife and go-to killjoy girlfriend-player in his movies). Millie’s unquestioning care of her fair-weather friend Lindsay, on the other hand, has no such obvious payout — as Millie heartbreakingly observes, they’ve drifted apart not because she’s changed, but because Lindsay has, and that when they’re back at school, sober, “you’re not going to want to be my friend anymore.” Even if everyone is secretly jealous of you, life as a geek isn’t easy.

This episode also gives us our first glimpse of Bill’s hotcha mom Gloria (Claudia Christian, best known, fittingly, for her role in “Babylon 5”). Matt, what’d you make of her conversation with Jean Weir over feeling responsible for Bill’s allergies because she didn’t take proper care of herself when she was pregnant with him?

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.