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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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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.

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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.