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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 11, “Looks and Books”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 11, “Looks and Books” (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 11
“Looks and Books”
Written by Paul Feig
Directed by Ken Kwapis

“It’s all about confidence. It’s true. If I say, ‘I’m the coolest guy in the world.’ And I believe I’m the coolest guy in world then suddenly I become the coolest guy in the world.” — Mr. Rosso

Matt: Last week’s “Freaks and Geeks” was all about how surfaces lie outwardly, like when teenagers see someone who looks like a geek and assume he’s terrible at softball. This week is about how surfaces lie inwardly, like when teenagers change their own appearance to try to convince themselves they’re something they’re not. Both Weir children get radical makeovers in “Looks and Books” as a way of redefining their high school identities, as much to themselves as to anyone else.

Lindsay, corralled into yet another misadventure by Daniel, Kim and the rest of the freaks, crashes her mother’s station wagon. Horrified by her own behavior and the trauma of the incident, she temporarily reverts to her previous life a goody-goody Mathlete. And Sam, tired of watching Cindy Sanders run her fingers through Todd Schellinger’s lustrous mane of hair, decides he needs to class up his look with a new ‘do and clothes. Both transformations are revealing, hilarious and totally unsuccessful. Of course, I shouldn’t have to say they were unsuccessful; in the world of “Freaks and Geeks” that’s how things naturally and inevitably work. Disappointment is this world’s ultimate constant constant, like pi or the golden ratio. That’s a little Mathlete humor for y’all, by the way. Moving on…

As if often the case on “Freaks and Geeks,” Lindsay’s storyline is played for pathos, Sam’s for awkward comedy. When feathering his hair like Todd does not catch Cindy’s eye, Sam decides to upgrade his entire wardrobe. That brings him to the mall and the cheesy men’s store where Lindsay and company acquired fake IDs in “Carded and Discarded.” The store’s manager, played once again by “Mystery Science Theater 3000″‘s Joel Hodgson in a terrible, terrible wig, convinces Sam that all he needs to be the coolest kid in school is a “Parisian Nightsuit.” In other words, a jumpsuit.

What follows is a mass humiliation that rivals Sam’s infamous streaking incident in “I’m With the Band.” Sam confidently strolls through the hall of McKinley in his Parisian finest, oversized comb hanging out of his back pocket, but quickly realizes his tactical error: his suit makes him stand out from his peers, but not in an positive way. That’s what you get for taking fashion advice from the guy who spent four and a half seasons of MST3K watching bad movies in a jumpsuit Parisian nightsuit. After suffering through most of a tortuous day, Sam convinces Mr. Rosso to drive him home so he can change, where our beloved guidance counselor delivers some sage advice (and this week’s opening quote). Sam’s problem isn’t one of hair or clothes, but of confidence.

Lindsay, on the other hand, might have too much confidence. Her temporary breakup with the freaks sends her back into the ranks of the Mathletes, where she can’t stand to play second fiddle to arrogant “First Block” Shelley Weaver (Alex Breckenridge). After spending almost half a year with the unmotivated freaks, Lindsay’s drive to excel comes back big time. “If I’m going to be on the Mathletes I’m going to be number one or else I’m not going to do it,” she tells Millie, and she’s good to her word.

But that makes the end of this episode a bit confusing for me, Alison. Just as quickly as Lindsay returns to the Mathletes she leaves, even though she clearly enjoys (and thrives on) the competition. So the question becomes why does she quit again so suddenly? I’m not sure I have a great answer. In my opinion, the problem here is simply one of time; what should be a multiple episode arc or even a season-long story had to betold from start to finish in 44 minutes because Paul Feig and Judd Apatow could already see the writing on the wall. They did not have the creative freedom to tell a story that way, or a big and loyal enough audience that would endure to see it through. So plotlines like Lindsay’s departure from and return to freak culture had to expedited. At least that’s my take, Alison. Do you agree?

Alison: See, I’d disagree that Lindsay enjoys and thrives on competition. We’ve gotten indications that she was deeply unhappy with her earlier life before the start of the show — to the point where even her mom, at first thrilled by her regression, starts to becomes concerned. As effortlessly as Lindsay slips into her good girl outfit here, she also shrugs back into an earlier, less likable incarnation of her personality. “Freaks and Geeks” eschews flashbacks, and so this is the first time we’ve really gotten a window into her Mathlete persona, and honestly, she’s kind of a bitch.

I don’t say that lightly. It really is a minor shock to see Lindsay, our introspective, too eager to please heroine, transform into a relentless alpha female, but that’s really what she does when she puts Shelley Weaver in her (not unwarranted) crosshairs. Lindsay’s return to the Mathetes is both about getting back to her comfort level, where her smarts are put on display and appreciated, and also about social convenience, about being secure as the star somewhere after having been on unsure footing with the freaks for so long. We’ve seen bountiful evidence of how Millie can be practically worshipful of her friend — here she contentedly surrenders her place on the team to Lindsay without a whiff of resentment, though Lindsay’s horrified by how she’s unintentionally bumped Millie down to the reserve spot. The other members of the team are just as accepting of Lindsay’s reclamation of the role of mathletics queen bee.

Worse, Lindsay’s tough talk about competition and team dynamics — she demands Mr. Kowchevski (Steve Bannos) explains to her the difference between the Mathletes and the football team — is actually all just hot air obscuring the fact that what’s really gotten her blood up is territoriality. She’s not concerned about beating the other team in the slightest (not that it poses her a problem), what she’s focused on is taking down her in-house rival and replacement (“If I’m going to blow Shelley out of the water, I gotta know this stuff!”). And she does, psyching her out at the scrimmage and punishing her for having challenged Lindsay’s willingly vacated position, even though Shelley’s breaking down mid-question wasn’t exactly in the team’s best interest.

I love the freaks storyline in this episode because it shows such a prickly side to one of our main characters, and because it answers a question that’s been there from the beginning, one that Sam posed to Ken back in “Beers and Weirs” — do the freaks actually like Lindsay? Given the option, would they choose to spend time with her even if she wasn’t trying so hard to be their friend, or, in this case, isn’t at all?

Their reconciliation with her, arriving to cheer her raucously on and hold aloft a new fender for the car, is genuinely sweet, especially since it’s implied there was a certain amount of independence to each of their individual decisions to come — with the exception of Ken, who, as we discussed last week, affirms himself to be the lone freak not charmed by Lindsay (“it’s like hanging out with my grandma!”).

On the topic of Ken: This episode contains the interesting reveal that Seth Rogen’s character, unlike the other freaks, comes from money, and that his life plan is to live off what will be his inheritance (in Hawaii, naturally). That explains why Ken doesn’t give off that hint of tragedy the others do, but it also, watching this episode for the first time in years, made me consider something that hadn’t crossed my mind on initial viewing. Matt, when Daniel demanded a dollar from Ken to buy some Sno Balls — one Ken handed over without complaint — did you also wonder if Ken used to occupy Lindsay’s spot on the totem pole as the newcomer trying to win a place in the group with the greater resources at his/her disposal? It would explains his extra resistance to her attempting to join them.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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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.