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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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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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