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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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