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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 16, “Smooching and Mooching”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 16, “Smooching and Mooching” (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 16
Smooching and Mooching
Written by Steve Bannos
Directed by Jake Kasdan

“That’s one cult I wouldn’t mind joining.” — Neal

Of all the storylines that would have benefited from more space to breathe as we near the end of “Freaks and Geeks,” I think that Sam’s, in this episode, could have most used a few episodes over which to build. But “Smooching and Mooching” is the third to last episode of the series, and at this point the creators were obviously just trying to fit in as many of their best ideas as possible. And so we see Neal’s thwarted spin the bottle expertise, Bill ending up in the closet with Vicki Appleby (Joanna García), Nick staying at and hanging out with the Weirs, and Sam finally getting together with his dream girl Cindy.

Does the last have a touch of nerd wish fulfillment? A little, though in typical “Freaks and Geeks” fashion, it comes with a brutal twist that will be unveiled in the next episode. (Bill making out with the head cheerleader is much more blatant wish fulfillment, but it’s handled so sweetly that I adore it anyway.) And there’s been foreshadowing of the ways in which Cindy is more complicated and less perfect than Sam’s idealized conception of her, in lab partner Bill’s glimpse into her home life in “Girlfriends and Boyfriend,” and in this episode’s troubling declaration that Cindy wants to get together with Sam because “I never date nice guys. I should try it, I think I deserve to.” After experiencing heartbreak and apparent handsiness from Todd Schellinger, Cindy’s looking for someone to adore her completely and treat her well — a relationship that’s safe, at least for her, and one that she’ll be able to control. The future doesn’t look bright for Sam in that scenario.

10152010_fandg16_3.jpgBut for now, for a little while, things looks great for the geeks, with Sam overcoming his insecurities and, with no small amount of guidance from Cindy, asking his longterm crush out and getting to kiss her (and I love John Francis Daley’s alarmed face and flopping legs as she pushes him down on the bed), and Bill overcoming his aversion to French kissing thanks to Vicki’s expertise. Poor Neal, after all that practice with the bottle and that test peck on Morty the ventriloquist’s figure from “Noshing and Moshing,” can’t replicate his accuracy at home (my guess — different carpet texture) and ends up alone. He most deserves the great tune playing during the spin the bottle scene, Warren Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.”

As unlikely as the pairing of Vicki and Bill is, I like how it’s handled here, with Bill’s fears of being treated as repellent by the girls forced into contact with him by the inescapable power of a party game (“I just don’t want to see the expression of their face when they see that the bottle lands on me”) all being realized. Vicki grimaces and rolls her eyes and can only bring herself to offer him her hand and then her cheek, and Bill puts her in her place when chance compels them to spend seven minutes in heaven, calling her out on her behavior and telling her how little interest he has in touching her. The conversation they have after — with Bill asking “What’s it like being pretty?” — is funny and heartbreaking and another quintessential moment for the character, another of those startling, moving instances of honesty that this show does so well.

Speaking of honesty, Matt, Nick’s stint as houseguest of the Weirs brings out some wonderful openness from Harold, who obviously sees in Nick a bit of himself as a boy, and who explains to Lindsay why he will always see her as his daughter foremost and someone to be protected. What did you make of his unexpected compassion for Nick and what it implies about his relationship with his own father?

Matt: It’s a wonderful series of scenes, and perfectly in keeping with the primarily theme of “Smooching and Mooching” (and one of the main themes of “Freaks and Geeks” as a whole): people aren’t always who we think they are. Vicki isn’t quite the snob she appears to be, Cindi isn’t quite the uncomplicated pretty girl she appears to be, and, yes, Mr. Weir isn’t quite the tyrannical patriarch he often appears to be. I love that his kindness to Nick — letting him stay on the Weir family couch for a few days, complimenting his smarts — is tempered by his trademark brutal honesty. Mr. Weir feels bad for Nick because his father treated him in a similar way. But that doesn’t mean he won’t call him on his laziness. When Nick’s rock music interrupts the Weirs’ “quiet hour,” Harold gives Nick some straight talk. Listening to rock music isn’t homework for a drummer, as Nick claims, it’s procrastination; practicing the drums would be homework. And if your father took your drums, as Nick’s dad did? Take your sticks and practice on something else. It’s great advice, particularly when you consider that by giving it Mr. Weir is actively and knowingly encouraging Nick to make more noise in his house, not less.

10152010_fandg16_5.jpgThough I feel like we could say this every week in this column (and practically do), this is one of my very favorite episodes of “Freaks and Geeks.” It’s got that perfect blend of sweetness and sadness (sort of the televisual equivalent of a Sour Patch Kid), with amazing characters and compelling storylines. And even though there’s no doubt the Sam and Cindy relationship gets compressed, the show still found time to dawdle. I love the scene, for example, where the geeks debate which movie is superior: “Caddyshack” or “The Jerk” (My vote: “Caddyshack,” though it’s close). It serves no narrative purpose, and it doesn’t contribute to our knowledge of the characters (unless I’m missing how Neal being able to recite the terrible third act of “Stripes” enriches our understanding of his struggle with his parents’ divorce). But it’s a faithful recreation of a conversation that thousands of geeks have had in thousands of high school cafeteria about thousands of movies. It reminds us that high school is high drama, but it’s also about trivial conversations with your buddies like that one.

Details like that that make the series special. You can tell “Freaks and Geeks” was made by people who cared, simply by paying attention to the work on those details, the things that don’t need to be there, but are. Watching the background on “Freaks and Geeks” always pays off. For example, check out the TV stand behind Bill while Neal teaches him how to play (and cheat at) spin the bottle. Notice the stack of board games. Observe their titles: Risk and Probe. Now consider the content of Neal and Bill’s conversation (as well as Bill’s pathological fear of French kisses). Alison, that can’t be a coincidence, no?

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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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