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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 11, “Looks and Books”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 11, “Looks and Books” (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 11
“Looks and Books”
Written by Paul Feig
Directed by Ken Kwapis

“It’s all about confidence. It’s true. If I say, ‘I’m the coolest guy in the world.’ And I believe I’m the coolest guy in world then suddenly I become the coolest guy in the world.” — Mr. Rosso

Matt: Last week’s “Freaks and Geeks” was all about how surfaces lie outwardly, like when teenagers see someone who looks like a geek and assume he’s terrible at softball. This week is about how surfaces lie inwardly, like when teenagers change their own appearance to try to convince themselves they’re something they’re not. Both Weir children get radical makeovers in “Looks and Books” as a way of redefining their high school identities, as much to themselves as to anyone else.

Lindsay, corralled into yet another misadventure by Daniel, Kim and the rest of the freaks, crashes her mother’s station wagon. Horrified by her own behavior and the trauma of the incident, she temporarily reverts to her previous life a goody-goody Mathlete. And Sam, tired of watching Cindy Sanders run her fingers through Todd Schellinger’s lustrous mane of hair, decides he needs to class up his look with a new ‘do and clothes. Both transformations are revealing, hilarious and totally unsuccessful. Of course, I shouldn’t have to say they were unsuccessful; in the world of “Freaks and Geeks” that’s how things naturally and inevitably work. Disappointment is this world’s ultimate constant constant, like pi or the golden ratio. That’s a little Mathlete humor for y’all, by the way. Moving on…

As if often the case on “Freaks and Geeks,” Lindsay’s storyline is played for pathos, Sam’s for awkward comedy. When feathering his hair like Todd does not catch Cindy’s eye, Sam decides to upgrade his entire wardrobe. That brings him to the mall and the cheesy men’s store where Lindsay and company acquired fake IDs in “Carded and Discarded.” The store’s manager, played once again by “Mystery Science Theater 3000″‘s Joel Hodgson in a terrible, terrible wig, convinces Sam that all he needs to be the coolest kid in school is a “Parisian Nightsuit.” In other words, a jumpsuit.

What follows is a mass humiliation that rivals Sam’s infamous streaking incident in “I’m With the Band.” Sam confidently strolls through the hall of McKinley in his Parisian finest, oversized comb hanging out of his back pocket, but quickly realizes his tactical error: his suit makes him stand out from his peers, but not in an positive way. That’s what you get for taking fashion advice from the guy who spent four and a half seasons of MST3K watching bad movies in a jumpsuit Parisian nightsuit. After suffering through most of a tortuous day, Sam convinces Mr. Rosso to drive him home so he can change, where our beloved guidance counselor delivers some sage advice (and this week’s opening quote). Sam’s problem isn’t one of hair or clothes, but of confidence.

Lindsay, on the other hand, might have too much confidence. Her temporary breakup with the freaks sends her back into the ranks of the Mathletes, where she can’t stand to play second fiddle to arrogant “First Block” Shelley Weaver (Alex Breckenridge). After spending almost half a year with the unmotivated freaks, Lindsay’s drive to excel comes back big time. “If I’m going to be on the Mathletes I’m going to be number one or else I’m not going to do it,” she tells Millie, and she’s good to her word.

But that makes the end of this episode a bit confusing for me, Alison. Just as quickly as Lindsay returns to the Mathletes she leaves, even though she clearly enjoys (and thrives on) the competition. So the question becomes why does she quit again so suddenly? I’m not sure I have a great answer. In my opinion, the problem here is simply one of time; what should be a multiple episode arc or even a season-long story had to betold from start to finish in 44 minutes because Paul Feig and Judd Apatow could already see the writing on the wall. They did not have the creative freedom to tell a story that way, or a big and loyal enough audience that would endure to see it through. So plotlines like Lindsay’s departure from and return to freak culture had to expedited. At least that’s my take, Alison. Do you agree?

Alison: See, I’d disagree that Lindsay enjoys and thrives on competition. We’ve gotten indications that she was deeply unhappy with her earlier life before the start of the show — to the point where even her mom, at first thrilled by her regression, starts to becomes concerned. As effortlessly as Lindsay slips into her good girl outfit here, she also shrugs back into an earlier, less likable incarnation of her personality. “Freaks and Geeks” eschews flashbacks, and so this is the first time we’ve really gotten a window into her Mathlete persona, and honestly, she’s kind of a bitch.

I don’t say that lightly. It really is a minor shock to see Lindsay, our introspective, too eager to please heroine, transform into a relentless alpha female, but that’s really what she does when she puts Shelley Weaver in her (not unwarranted) crosshairs. Lindsay’s return to the Mathetes is both about getting back to her comfort level, where her smarts are put on display and appreciated, and also about social convenience, about being secure as the star somewhere after having been on unsure footing with the freaks for so long. We’ve seen bountiful evidence of how Millie can be practically worshipful of her friend — here she contentedly surrenders her place on the team to Lindsay without a whiff of resentment, though Lindsay’s horrified by how she’s unintentionally bumped Millie down to the reserve spot. The other members of the team are just as accepting of Lindsay’s reclamation of the role of mathletics queen bee.

Worse, Lindsay’s tough talk about competition and team dynamics — she demands Mr. Kowchevski (Steve Bannos) explains to her the difference between the Mathletes and the football team — is actually all just hot air obscuring the fact that what’s really gotten her blood up is territoriality. She’s not concerned about beating the other team in the slightest (not that it poses her a problem), what she’s focused on is taking down her in-house rival and replacement (“If I’m going to blow Shelley out of the water, I gotta know this stuff!”). And she does, psyching her out at the scrimmage and punishing her for having challenged Lindsay’s willingly vacated position, even though Shelley’s breaking down mid-question wasn’t exactly in the team’s best interest.

I love the freaks storyline in this episode because it shows such a prickly side to one of our main characters, and because it answers a question that’s been there from the beginning, one that Sam posed to Ken back in “Beers and Weirs” — do the freaks actually like Lindsay? Given the option, would they choose to spend time with her even if she wasn’t trying so hard to be their friend, or, in this case, isn’t at all?

Their reconciliation with her, arriving to cheer her raucously on and hold aloft a new fender for the car, is genuinely sweet, especially since it’s implied there was a certain amount of independence to each of their individual decisions to come — with the exception of Ken, who, as we discussed last week, affirms himself to be the lone freak not charmed by Lindsay (“it’s like hanging out with my grandma!”).

On the topic of Ken: This episode contains the interesting reveal that Seth Rogen’s character, unlike the other freaks, comes from money, and that his life plan is to live off what will be his inheritance (in Hawaii, naturally). That explains why Ken doesn’t give off that hint of tragedy the others do, but it also, watching this episode for the first time in years, made me consider something that hadn’t crossed my mind on initial viewing. Matt, when Daniel demanded a dollar from Ken to buy some Sno Balls — one Ken handed over without complaint — did you also wonder if Ken used to occupy Lindsay’s spot on the totem pole as the newcomer trying to win a place in the group with the greater resources at his/her disposal? It would explains his extra resistance to her attempting to join them.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

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You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

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Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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GIFs via Giphy

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.


Put A Bird On It

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

Colin the Chicken

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Dream Of The ’90s

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No You Go

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A-O River!

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One More Episode

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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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