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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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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.