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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 10, “The Diary”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 10, “The Diary” (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 10
“The Diary”
Directed by Ken Olin
Written by Judd Apatow (story) & Rebecca Kirshner (story and teleplay)

“Who wants their kid to have sex and do drugs? Nobody.” –Daniel

Alison: The search for identity and one’s place is in the crowd is a central theme of “Freaks and Geeks,” and in this episode, everyone’s fighting to change how they’re perceived and have been labeled by those around them. Lindsay wants her parents to see Kim as she sees her, as a fearless friend and not a sinister “bad banana” (and what’s wrong with apples, I ask?). Kim needs Lindsay to think of her as someone worth standing up for, Jean’s shaken by the revelation that her daughter believes her parents to be nothing more than repressed robots going through a routine. And all Bill desires is a chance at playing infield (“you know, I’m really shortstop,” he tells Gordon Crisp), to prove that he might not be the hopelessly unathletic geek everyone assumes he is (not that he’s particularly convinced he isn’t, but he thinks he at least deserves a try).

We’ve been overdue a parental intervention into Lindsay’s world from Mr. and Mrs. Weir, who’ve been comfortably raising decent, obedient children for long enough that they seem to have affected a willful blindness about the eldest’s recent lifestyle choices. And funnily enough, after hosting a kegger, cheating on a test, accidentally egging her brother and flirting with losing her virginity to Nick — the show has a pattern of pulling back from the expected consequences — what Lindsay’s caught at, what pushes things over the line in the eyes of her mom and dad, is practically innocuous.

09022010_fandg10_3.jpgShe hitchhikes with Kim, whose car is, I’m guessing, in the shop, and so small is the town that the man who picks them up is one of her dad’s customers. It’s ends up being Kim’s unpleasant mother (Ann Dowd) (last seen in “Kim Kelly Is My Friend”), rather than Kim herself, who unintentionally causes the Weirs to call an end to Lindsay’s friendship with her daughter by performing a self-congratulatory ode to her own parenting skills when it comes to her alleged demon spawn on the world’s tiniest violin.

The easy two-facedness of Kim’s mom stands in contrast to Kim’s own transparent vulnerability here. Her toughness, as scary as it can be, has become something Lindsay admires, while she’s oblivious to the fact that her friend is actually hurt, and why. It’s easy to say you don’t care about what two adults you have no connection with think of you — it’s far harder to take the fact that your friend, someone you’ve opened up to, might agree with their dismissive assessment of you.

My favorite part of the freaks storyline — beyond the classroom take-down of Jack Kerouac at the end, striking a blow on behalf of anyone who’s ever had to listen to someone over-romanticize “On the Road” — is the walk in the park, which provides another reminder that Daniel is the most insightful character in this series underneath his James Dean act. His counter to Kim’s endless complaints about the Weirs embodies the empathy “Freaks and Geeks” as a series usually demonstrates far more than any one character — it’s the rare teenager who’d be able to see things from a protective parent’s perspective and not just his own. It’s nicely acted by Franco, and encapsulates the push and pull, and underlying fondness, of Daniel and Kim’s tempestuous relationship.

09022010_fandg10_4.jpgMatt, the geeks side of this episode is a virtual parade of great Bill moments, bookended by those two music montages. While I love the crane shot that ends the first one, with Bill picked last for the team, it’s the bit in the second one (set to the overture from “Rocky II”!) where Neal signals a pitch to Sam and Sam responds with a bewildered “what?!” that just kills me. What’s your favorite of the two, and your take in general of the geeks’ day in the sun?

Matt: “Day in the sun” is a good choice of words, Alison, because of the overwhelming brightness of those outdoor sequences. The sun’s so strong in some of those scenes the characters literally have to shield their eyes to make out what’s happening on the field. I haven’t spent a lot of time in suburban Michigan, but the beautiful light raining down on Coach Fredericks’ (Tom Wilson) gym class sure looks like golden California sunshine to me.

Both geek sequences — “geekquences”? — you mention are good, but I’ll give the edge to the first one, where the geeks are chosen last to play softball, for a few reasons. First of all, the prevailing mood of the latter sequence, where Bill proves his merit as a shortstop (if not a scorekeeper), is triumphant, while, as we’ve affirmed week after week in this column, “Freaks and Geeks” is at its best when it mixes comedy and tragedy. That’s what the first montage does so well. It manages to elevate Bill’s hilariously small plight into an existential crisis of epic scope without ever removing tongue from cheek. Plus, episode director Ken Olin’s choice to conclude that first scene with a sweeping crane shot that frames a devastated Martin Starr with the McKinley scoreboard and the words “STRIKE” and OUT,” is visual storytelling of a caliber that just wasn’t seen on broadcast television in 1999.

You’re right on the money about this episode’s predominant theme being the gulf between the way people want to be perceived and the way they are perceived by others. Most “Freaks and Geeks” episodes have stuff bubbling beneath their superficial storylines, but few go so deeply into a single idea and explore it through all of the show’s different social structures, from freak to geek to parent to teacher. I particularly like the way the characters in “The Diary” upend those perceptions through their own actions: the freak acting like a geek (Kim attempts to engage with a class assignment), the geek acting like a freak (Bill makes prank phone calls to Coach Fredericks to protest the unfair softball teams), the hard-ass teacher who acts like a slob (Fredericks receives Bill’s calls in his underwear, chowing on ice cream), and the straight-laced mom acting like a freak of a different sort (by getting it on with her husband for hours on end).

09032010_fandg10_6.jpgI know I’ve brought this up in our column before Alison, but if there’s one thing about “Freaks and Geeks” that doesn’t jive with my memory of watching the show for the first time a decade ago, it’s just how minor a character Seth Rogen’s Ken was on the show. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s gone on to the most high profile movie career of any of main cast (though Jason Segel’s a close second) or the fact that he played a much more central role, acting as well as writing, on Judd Apatow’s follow-up series “Undeclared,” but I could have sworn Rogen was more crucial to “Freaks and Geeks.” He’ll start to come into focus more clearly as the series reaches his conclusion, but he’s totally absent from three of the first nine episodes, and he’s nowhere to be seen once again in “The Diary.”

Meanwhile poor Busy Phillips plays arguably the third or fourth most important character in the series, and has appeared in every episode so far, but she only receives a lowly “Also Starring” credit. Alison why do you think Rogen’s appearances are so sporadic? Were the writers just devoid of ideas for the character? Or could it be that they had so large a cast, with so many storylines to juggle, that poor Ken — who was always more of the comic relief than the focus, at least until “The Little Things” — someone had to sit on the bench once in a while?

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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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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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