Ahh, "Kim Kelly Is My Friend." The first sign that things were not going to end well at all between this show and the NBC executives.
Not that Garth Ancier and Scott Sassa, who were running NBC at the time, were big "Freaks" fans in general, but they hated hated hated this episode, hated it so much that they refused to air it, even though a rather major plot point -- why Kim stops being so awful to Lindsay and treats her like a pal in future episodes -- got lost when they stuck it on the shelf. I remember sitting at a lunch table with Ancier and some other reporters at midseason of that year, asking him how he could justify confusing viewers of the show like that. He trotted out that familiar statistic about how most viewers watch, on average, maybe half of the episodes of their favorite shows, and said that a lot of "Freaks and Geeks" viewers (or, at least, a large percentage of the small group watching the show) would have missed it, anyway.
Revisiting the episode all these years later, I can understand why they reacted so viscerally to it, even if I think they were complete numskulls for yanking it. The sequence at Kim's house, a beat-up shack where the living room walls have been yanked and replaced by plastic sheeting (no doubt awaiting a repair job that Kim's mom and stepdad won't be able to afford for a long time), was certainly scarier than anything the show had done before and almost anything it would do afterwards. As I recall, our visit to the Desario home in "Noshing and Moshing" was no treat, but that one didn't climax with two teenage girls screaming in terror as some royally pissed-off shady guy tried to get them out of a car that wouldn't start. Ancier and Sassa were operating under the (mistaken) assumption that this was in some way a kids show, or at least a show parents would watch with their kids, and they decided this was too intense and creepy for that audience.
Again, though, fixating on that one sequence caused fans to miss out on some major plot and character development. Years later, this is one of a handful of "Freaks and Geeks" episode that immediately comes to my mind whenever someone mentions the show, and it sucks that most of the audience had to wait months or even years to see it.
But let's go back to the beginning, since these reviews are turning into half-recap for the sake of you poor bastards who haven't watched the show yet. (And unless it's a legitimate financial reason, what the hell are you waiting for? These blog entries'll be waiting for you when you finish.)
"Kim Kelly Is My Friend" is an important episode because it humanizes Kim and explains both why she was treating Lindsay like crap (she knows Daniel has a wandering eye and Lindsay's cute) and why she starts treating her better (Lindsay's nice to her during a really bad stretch). But it's also important because of the way it builds on the "Tricks and Treats" theme of Lindsay's new lifestyle badly affecting Sam, and as the first real meeting between Lindsay's parents and the freaks.
Sam, dazed and confused by an inadvertent punch to the solar plexus, makes the mistake of trying to open the locker next to his own, which happens to belong to Karen Scarfolli, Kim's pal and a scarier version of Kim herself. With Kim -- who, remember, humiliated Sam back in the pilot -- egging her on, Karen writes "GEEK" in bright lipstick on Sam's locker, then threatens repeatedly to beat him up if he cleans it off.
Kim, meanwhile, reaches out to Lindsay to have dinner with her mom and stepdad. Lindsay's too happy to have Kim being friendly for a change to realize there's an ulterior motive at work: Kim's been invoking Lindsay as her alibi for all the nights she's been spending with Daniel, and now her mother Cookie wants to meet this alleged good girl who hosts sleepovers and takes Kim with her to her family's vacation house by the lake. Kim, naturally, doesn't explain this to Lindsay until five seconds before they go into the house, and Cookie cuts through this web of lies like Jack Bauer kneecapping a suspect, leading to the aforementioned creepy chase scene.
Then Kim catches Daniel flirting with Karen, nearly runs them both over, then seeks refuge at the Weir house, where Sam (whose victimization at the hands of Karen and Kim leads him to fight Neal over the question of who's a bigger geek) is resentful, Jean is confused and Harold is outright offended by her presence. (Not only does she talk openly about sex, but she complains about the prices at his store.)
In a great scene that illustrates how most teenagers live in their own worlds, oblivious to each other's concerns, Kim hides in Sam's room when Nick shows up to apologize on behalf of Daniel. Both she and Sam are pissed at Karen, but for completely different reasons, and they each vent with the other one barely being aware of it.
Daniel enters the house, scaring Jean, and brilliantly puts all the blame for the scene with Karen onto Karen. When Kim accuses him of lying, he gives her his best Brando stare and says "I'm not lying" over and over until she breaks down and takes him back. (Between that scene and the way Kim takes advantage of Lindsay's generous spirit to guilt her into being friends -- "You're my only friend, and you're a total loser! No offense." -- I'm not sure which half of this couple is the better manipulator. Either way, they're made for each other.)
The freaks exit, with Harold and Jean not at all happy about their daughter's new pals, and the next morning at school, Karen finds "SLUT" emblazoned on her locker. As she's about to beat up Sam for the crime, Kim makes a grand entrance to take credit and threatens to "hit on" Karen for the way Karen hit on Daniel. Karen bolts, scared, and when Sam thanks Kim for helping him out, she smiles and says, "No problem, geek."
It's such a perfect ending. Kim's more human, but she's still Kim. She's friends with Lindsay because she doesn't have much of a choice, she doesn't so much help Sam as attack a common enemy they share, and she's still going to cause all kinds of trouble as the series moves along.
Some other thoughts on "Kim Kelly Is My Friend":
- Until I popped in the DVD, I had completely forgotten that Karen was played by a young Rashida Jones (who was also on "Boston Public" around the same time as Chi McBride's gal Friday). She does a great job playing a slightly nastier version of Kim. Maybe she should always try to play characters named Karen.
- After Bill and maybe Ken, Millie was the show's most reliable joke machine, here with a hilarious bit where she tries to warn Lindsay from hanging out with Kim because "She does it! She fornicates it, okay?"
- The vagaries of having semi-famous relatives: Kim boasts that the aunt who gave her the Gremlin was an actress with two notable resume bumps: "She was on 'Kojak.' She doinked Ryan O'Neal once at a party!" Of course, I have a cousin who once played Luigi to Capt. Lou Albano's Mario on "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show," but I'm pretty sure he and Ryan O'Neal are just friends.
- Mike White, who also wrote the episode, plays Kim's possibly brain-damaged brother.
- I never get tired of hearing the geeks -- especially Neal -- present their completely ignorant views on women. Here, Bill suggests Karen might be a sex fiend out to jump Sam, and Neal replies that girls don't get horny. Uh-huh.
- The episode of "Barney Miller" that Harold and Jean watch with Kim is season three's "Hash," one of the single funniest sitcom episodes ever produced. Too bad only the first season is on DVD, or I'd order you all to Netflix it.
- Legend has it that at the start of filming for each scene in "The Big Lebowski," Jeff Bridges would ask the Coen brothers, "Did The Dude burn one on the way over?" and play the scene accordingly. One of the most entertaining aspects of rewatching this show is trying to figure out whether Nick burned one on the way over, especially since the writers were only occasionally allowed to even mention pot overtly, let alone show people using it. An episode like this makes the game almost too easy, though; is there any way Nick isn't baked when he cleans out the Weirs' entire supply of Fruit Roll-Ups?
What did everybody else think?