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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 17, “The Little Things”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 17, “The Little Things” (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 17
The Little Things
Teleplay by Jon Kasdan
Story by Jon Kasdan & Judd Apatow & Mike White
Directed by Jake Kasdan

“You know what all my protesting accomplished in the ’60s at Berkeley? 16 scars on my head from a teargas canister.” — Mr. Rosso

Three storylines run through “The Little Things”: the impending arrival of Vice President George H.W. Bush at McKinley (and the possibility that Lindsay might get to ask him a question), Sam’s growing dissatisfaction with his relationship with Cindy Sanders, and the revelation that Ken’s girlfriend Amy (Jessica Campbell) was born with both male and female genitalia. They seem like vastly different subjects for a single episode, political intrigue, relationship drama, and gender issues, but they’re united by a common theme that’s been touched on before on “Freaks and Geeks” but never to this degree of detail: the need for transparency and open dialogue in one’s life.

Rosso’s angry outburst, quoted above, is partly because he’s having one honey of a bad week and just locked his keys inside his car (actually it’s his mother’s car, which isn’t helping matters). But really he’s “p.o.’ed” because he, the eternal optimist, convinced Lindsay, the cynic, that she should be excited for the opportunity to talk to Bush, only to discover that his dreams of a frank, political discussion were a hippie’s fantasy.

10222010_fandg17_4c.jpgInstead of asking whatever question she wants, Lindsay must ask the Vice President what his favorite local restaurant is (and what’s worse, she’s going to have to do it while pimping our her dad’s sporting goods store). Though Lindsay reluctantly agrees, when she sees Mr. Rosso excluded from the assembly with Bush she pushes through and improvises a new question: “Why did your staff reject my question? Are you afraid of an open discourse with the students?”

Fear of an open discourse is what links Bush’s visit to Amy and Ken’s relationship troubles. In a moment of intimacy, Amy confesses her most closely guarded secret and provincial, inexperienced Ken has what I would describe as a moment of existential crisis. If she’s still in some small way (or in some “little things”) a guy, does that make Ken gay? Suddenly Ken and Amy, “Freaks and Geeks”‘ most stable young couple, is thrown into chaos.

Though Ken seeks advice from Rosso (and, in a really fantastic and surprising deleted scene, from Mr. Kowchevski), his moment of epiphany comes thanks to, what else, an open and frank conversation with another character who’s having his own problems with a girl: Sam, who’s slowly coming to the realization that life as Cindy’s boyfriend ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. He doesn’t like her friends, and all she wants to do is make out. Then the final straw: she doesn’t laugh once at “The Jerk.” When Sam and Ken bump into each other in the bathroom before Bush’s speech, Sam’s complaints about Cindy remind Ken why he likes Amy regardless of intersexual confusion. In a rare moment of happiness and triumph on “Freaks and Geeks” Ken apologizes profusely and asks for a second chance, which Amy happily gives him. Of course, in a typical moment of undercutting sweetness with humor on “Freaks and Geeks,” Seth Rogen knocks his head on Campbell’s tuba when he moves in for a kiss.

No such happy ending for Sam and Cindy though which, in many ways, is the relationship that defines the entire series (Since it lasted only 18 episodes, this show could only be defined by a relationship that ends badly). Alison, what do you make of their breakup and of the obvious parallels between Sam and Cindy’s problems and Lindsay and Nick’s?

Alison: Completely agreed that “Freaks & Geeks” could only be defined by an unhappy relationship — not just because of the creators’ own eventual unhappy relationship with their network, but because it would go against the nature of the show to cut away after two characters’ joyous coming together. That’s where the real story starts. And after years of pining and always slightly surprised “Oh! Hey, Cindy”s, it was inevitable that if Sam and Cindy somehow actually got together, their relationship was doomed.

Firstly, there’s always going to be a major gap between your idealized crush and the more complicated, farting, Republican reality you were too starry-eyed and far away to see before. Secondly, they’re terribly mismatched. There’s a reason any nerd-manages-to-date-the-cheerleader storyline tends to end with the first kiss — what would they have to talk about afterward? Cindy’s together with Sam, as she tells him when he breaks things off, because “you’re supposed to be nice, that’s the only reason I’m going out with you in the first place.” Their relationship is founded on her assuming he’s going to be so grateful that she deemed to date him that he would never do anything to upset or displease her. And while would-be ladies’ man Neal claims he’d be perfectly content to be with a pretty girl with whom he had nothing in common, Sam heeds the advice Lindsay gives him, that “you can’t just keep dating someone if you don’t like them.”

10222010_fandg17_2.jpgInteresting that the Weir siblings both ended up in relationships in which the other partner was the aggressor. Lindsay ends up the unwilling target for Nick’s bunny-boiling, Styx-singing suffocating adoration, and Sam here becomes embroiled in a vaguely, amusingly D/s affair with Cindy, in which she gets upset when he tries to do anything other than accompany her where she pleases, and reacts angrily when he hides the hickey she gives him as proof of ownership. In both cases, friends react badly when the desire for a break-up is mentioned, for Lindsay because the other freaks think Nick will fall apart, and for Sam because Neal can’t imagine someone’s attractiveness not taking precedent over their personality. And Cindy does turn out to be pretty awful in this episode, with her thoughts on the laziness of poor people and her need for gifts to cost a lot of money, though the unfortunate timing of Sam’s break-up does lead to a typically funny-sad “Freaks and Geeks” moment in which she gives a teary intro to the VP.

We’ve discussed before how relatively little Seth Rogen we get in this series, considering his later fame, but this episode highlights the actor’s ability to project doofus charm like none other. He’s so good at showing normally sarcastic Ken’s absolutely earnest desire to figure out what he should do next — first he confides in his best friends, who seem just as clueless about the situation as he is, and then in Mr. Rosso, who ends up taking more time affirming his own heterosexuality than addressing why Ken is questioning his. And then, brilliantly, he attempts to explore his sexuality by way of stereotypical music choices, trying out some David Bowie, then nodding along to some heavy metal, and finally, skeptically, taking in Linda Clifford’s disco interpretation of “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” He studies with great seriousness Boudoir and Playpen magazine to see if one appeals to him more than the other.

Matt, “The Little Things” is often described as the episode that launched Rogen’s movie career, with Judd Apatow spotting some real star quality in this performance — do you see the same? And what do you think of Ben Stiller’s guest spot as the career-questioning Secret Service agent?

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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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GIFs via Giphy

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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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