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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 14, “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 14, “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” (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 14
Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers
Written by Judd Apatow & Bob Nickman
Directed by Judd Apatow

“You couldn’t see through my cloud of smoke / You held my heart, now it’s bloody and broke / And is your green army jacket the only thing keeping you warm tonight? / Lady L!” — Nick

Matt: There’s one really important aspect of “Freaks and Geeks” that we haven’t talked about enough in this column, and that’s its use of music. “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers,” a streamlined but very solid episode from Judd Apatow and co-writer Bob Nickman, is a good place to bring it into our discussion because features examples of all the different ways the creators worked their favorite songs into the show.

Yes “Freaks and Geeks” had a great soundtrack (filled this week with The Who, since Lindsay and the freaks are preparing for their big concert in Detroit). But it also used music as a vehicle for comedy or personal expression. Or sometimes both: I don’t know that there’s any moment on “Freaks and Geeks” as simultaneously funny and revealing about character as Nick’s musical tribute to Lindsay, “Lady L.” In another brilliant, fearless performance, Jason Segel terribly sings and terribly accompanies himself on guitar a song whose terrible lyrics he wrote himself (terribly). Those lyrics include both obvious jokes (the one about the green army jacket always kills me) and subtle nods to continuity — the line about his “cloud of smoke” is a clear reference to Lindsay’s objections to Nick’s pot use last week on “Chokin’ and Tokin.'”

There’s also another music-as-callback-moment in the final scene between Lindsay and Millie, who nearly becomes a freak this week in the wake of her beloved dog Goliath’s tragic death at the vehicularly dogslaughtering hands of Kim Kelly. Saved from the abyss of drink and Pete Townsend lyrics by Kim’s last minute admission of guilt, Millie retreats to her room with with Lindsay, where the pair reminisce about Goliath to the comforting sounds of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” a perfect choice for the scene for three reasons: the song matches the conversation’s nostalgic tone; it reassures us that after her flirtation with freakdom and rock and roll, Millie’s retreated to geekdom and easy listening; and it’s also callback to “Chokin’ and Tokin,'” where Millie mentioned learning what potheads look like at a Seals and Crofts concert last summer.

The other brilliant performance this week belongs to Martin Starr. He’s already proven himself “Freaks and Geeks” most dependable comic relief dozens of times over, but he surprises us this time with the strength of his dramatic chops during Bill’s storyline about coming to terms with his mom’s new boyfriend. In an ingenious (and also continuity-heavy) twist, Gloria Haverchuck is dating none other than McKinley gym teacher and Bill’s arch-nemesis in “The Diary” Mr. Fredericks. Starr’s front and center during two silent sequences: one in which Bill delights in the pleasures of solitude with a grilled cheese sandwich and “The Dinah Shore Show,” and another where he smolders at the sight of a boxer-shorted Fredericks refreshing himself after sleeping with Bill’s mom with a cup of orange juice he drinks out of Bill’s personal mug. Alison, both moments are series’ highlights for me, but which do you prefer and why?

Alison: That scene of Bill watching TV is my favorite of the two, a truly excellent mix of humor and pathos. We’ve seen early instances of the show turning things over to a solo Martin Starr, but it’s always been for the sake of pure comedy, watching him pretend to talk on the phone in character as Jaime Sommers or reenact Cindy’s squeaking chair/passing gas moment. This episode’s montage of Bill coming home to what’s obviously a ritual of chocolate cake, a grilled cheese sandwich and some quality time with the television is a touching ode to a latchkey childhood. It feels almost intrusive to take in Starr’s unguarded laughter at Gary Shandling’s unheard stand-up bit, direct to camera, around a mouthful of processed food product.

His happiness in that scene adds to our appreciation of his resentment of Coach Fredericks’ appearance in his mother’s life — Bill doesn’t exactly have an easy time of things socially, and his comfort at home alone stands in sharp contrast to the agonies he often has to endure during the school day. Any new addition to the place that serves as his sanctuary is bound to be resented. That the addition is the guy who oversees gym class, the setting of so many geek scenes of humiliation, that he seems like someone who always has and always will fail to understand Bill, and that he might be permanent, prompts Bill to act out in a way we’ve never seen before.

09302010_fandg14_2.jpgTom Wilson also deserves a salute for his fine work in this episode, articulating Fredericks’ good intentions and his cluelessness. He may work with kids, but he doesn’t have any of his own, and his half-informed attempts to befriend his girlfriend’s son are additionally handicapped by the fact that he and Bill might as well speak different languages. Whether insulting the geeks’ beloved Bill Murray (“the funniest man on the planet!”) or running Bill off the go-kart road in the name of competition, he can’t seem to help but take wrong steps, even when he’s on the right path. The expression on his face in the morning-after scene is a delightful mix of wary, abashed and purposefully casual — he forces himself to make eye-contact and offer Bill some orange juice, but it takes him a few tries and some deep breaths.

The moment between Bill and Fredericks in the car has the kind of no-bullshit brilliance of “Freaks and Geeks” at its finest — one that has, notably, no background music at all. Fredericks crawls into the back seat to talk to Bill, but that’s the only concession he makes in what’s otherwise a brutally honest conversation that boils down to the fact that if Bill’s mom wants to be with Fredericks, and if Bill wants her to be happy, then he’s going to have to learn to accept the man into his life, even if they never really get along. And oh, god, Bill crying is somehow extra sad, perhaps because he has to take off those coke-bottle glasses and without them seems a different person.

Matt, if there’s one aspect to this episode I have trouble with, it’s how quickly Millie descends into freakdom. Does her path seem a little accelerated to you, given what we know of her character?

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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