In the deleted scenes commentary for "Girlfriends and Boyfriends," Judd Apatow discusses the thinking behind Lindsay and Nick's doomed romance: he wanted to do the kind of relationship story he'd never seen on TV before, one involving a girl who hates her boyfriend but doesn't have the guts to break up with him.
"Do you think that's why we were canceled?" he asks, laughing. "No one on earth wants to watch that play out?"
On another show, I imagine the Nick/Lindsay dynamic would have played out as follows: Lindsay spends a half season to a season mooning over Daniel while feeling guilty about the fact that he's dating her new best friend Kim, Nick keeps performing kind gestures that Lindsay barely notices, Nick complains a lot to Ken about the situation, Lindsay starts to notice Nick's attentions just as Daniel and Kim break up for real, etc., etc. You can write the rest; you've seen it often enough.
How things actually played out was much more unexpected -- and definitely much squirmier. Jason Segel's complete fearlessness and lack of shame coupled with Linda Cardellini's ability to register as many different expressions of discomfort as Eskimos have words for snow made this one of the more memorable, albeit deservedly short-lived, TV couples of all time.
The official stage of the relationship -- after some preambling in "I'm With the Band" and "Carded and Discarded" -- opens on an ominous note, with the doomsday chords of The Allman Brothers "Whipping Post" accompanying Lindsay's walk through a gauntlet of happy McKinley High couples. She's still not sure what she wants to do about Nick (as this episode was made before "Carded and Discarded," the bit where she declares him her boyfriend to protect herself from Toby is ignored), while he couldn't be clearer with his intentions, eradicating her personal space, sticking his hand down her back pocket, awkwardly kissing her and, most ominously, inviting her to "hang" with him at his house on Friday night.
As Daniel and Kim strongly imply that Nick intends to take Lindsay's flower, ASAP, the more respectable figures in her life try to offer some advice about sex. Rosso gives her a TMI sex ed lecture that includes sentences like, "I got it on in a van at Woodstock, so I'm not judging anybody" and "Now I get sores on my lip once a month. I have herpes. doesn't hurt that much, but believe me, you don't want it." Millie warns her that only "freak girls" go all the way and later offers the familiar "why should they buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?" cliche. Harold, worried that Lindsay's dating that boy who ate all of Jean's fruit roll-ups (a "Kim Kelly Is My Friend" reference that works even for the NBC viewers who didn't see that episode, as everyone knew what a stoner Nick was) insists he won't be raising some "wedlock baby, then at Jean's urging tells her the story of losing his virginity at a Korean massage parlor during the war. ("I wish I could get that five dollars back.") It's just one cringe-inducing scene after another. As people pointed out in the discussion of "Tests and Breasts," there really isn't an appropriate authority figure for Lindsay to talk to the way Coach Fredricks helped out Sam on the same subject; of course, the only authority figures we really get to know at the school are men, and Jean's far too old-fashioned to be of use to Lindsay.
In the end, everyone's sexual panic turns out to be for naught, as Nick doesn't even want to make out with Lindsay, let alone make a woman out of her. Instead, he leads her into his candle-filled basement, pops an eight-track of Styx's "Lady" onto the stereo and talk-sings along with the lyrics, which he claims expresses his feelings about Lindsay better than he ever could. Segel deserves a red badge of courage for getting through the scene without a trace of self-consciousness, but what makes the whole thing work are Cardellini's reactions, which keep alternating between being flattered and being bewildered. On the one hand, it seems such a sweet gesture, you know? On the other, he's quoting all of the lyrics to Styx's "Lady" without a trace of irony.
When he finishes by delcaring "We were made for each other," she panics and asks (pleads, really) if he wants to make out with her. "No," he insists. "All guys want to make out. But I just want to hold you." She looks terrified as he nuzzles her and asks, "What's better than this?" (See above picture.)
As Lindsay starts learning how scary a relationship with Nick is going to be, we the viewers get an inkling of how scary Cindy Sanders is, even if Sam's too blinded by lust to really notice or care.
The geeks' biology class gets divided up into lab partnerships, and while Sam is stuck with the foul-smelling Gordon Crisp, Bill gets to work with Cindy, who allegedly smells like flowers. Bill fans the flames of Sam's jealousy by pretending to be into Cindy (when he first walks over to work with her, he mimes grabbing her ass, in one of several bits of Martin Starr physical genius of the episode), and the surprisingly savvy Gordon suggests that Sam's best option to win Cindy is to find excuses to bump into her in the hall, study up on her interests so they have things to talk about, and join all her extracurricular activities so they can hang out together. In 2007, we call this stalking; in 1980, it was the only shot a kid like Sam Weir had.
As Sam starts plotting the conquest of Cindy, we start getting glimpses that she's no prize. She can't remember Neal's name, dismissively referring to him as "Nate." She farts in front of Bill, then tries to blame it on a vinyl chair. (This leads to one of the all-time great Martin Starr solo moments, as Bill tries to recreate the sound while Cindy's out of the room.) When Sam joins yearbook to be closer to her, he bears witness to her overwrought poetry, which the yearbook advisor compares derisively to Sylvia Plath.
When they're paired up to sell yearbook ads, Cindy spends the whole time complaining about her period. And when Cindy invites Sam to go out for some fast food after school, it's to get Sam's opinion about her crush, star jock Todd Schellinger. To stick the dagger in even more, she tells him, "You're so easy to talk to. You're just like my sister." Yet after all of these danger signs (admittedly, Sam doesn't see all of it), Sam's crush remains untarnished, and he even takes a call from Cindy that night and listens to her go on and on and on about Todd.
The writers (in this case, Feig and Patty Lin) do such a perfect job of capturing the dynamics of the popular girl crush. Cindy's not a bad person; she's just a bad match for Sam. She doesn't deliver the sister line to be mean; she just can't even imagine Sam as someone she'd date, or who would want to date her. He, meanwhile, has no idea how to get her to like-him-like-him, assuming that taking up space in the Friend Zone will leave him just a hop, skip and a jump from boyfriend territory. (What Sam needs is his own Joey Tribbiani to explain, "Dude, you're Mayor of the Zone.")
Of course, things will change come "Smooching and Mooching," but we'll deal with that when it happens. In the meantime, some other thoughts on "Girlfriends and Boyfriends":
- This is also a good Gordon Crisp episode. Where Sam's too blinded by Cindy's looks and scent to recognize that she's probably not the right girl for him, he manages to see past Gordon's size and odor to realize he's a pretty cool guy. (The odor turns out to be the result of a medical condition, which Gordon has managed to view as a blessing, as it helps weed out the jerks because nice people don't care.) Despite Sam's complaint to Lindsay, re: Cindy, that he doesn't need any more friends, he invites Gordon to join a geek outing to see "Airplane!," and Gordon will take on Fifth Beatle status for much of the remaining episodes.
- I like that Sam and Lindsay really like each other's company (when Lindsay's friendship with the freaks isn't causing Sam problems, that is), and they have a really sweet moment at the end where they horse around while Sam's stuck on the phone with Cindy.
- Interesting how Cindy tries to maintain her Little Miss Perfect front with Bill, where she treats her parents' anti-junk food stance as admirable, while she lets down her guard and discusses all her flaws and weaknesses (her period, her love of fast food) with Sam.
- One of Neal's best lines ever, after Sam has had another completely awkward conversation with Cindy: "Oh, hey, Merv Griffin; nice interview!"
- I always love the geeks' little debates about pop culture, like the Thing vs. Hulk argument from "Tests and Breasts" or Bill arguing here that the Swedish Chef is cool, most of the other Muppets are average and Miss Piggy is just lame. (In other pop culture minutiae, I love that both Bill and Cindy's favorite "Welcome Back, Kotter" character was Mr. Woodman.)
- During Rosso's accounting of how he got herpes, he notes that he met the not-so-groovy chick in question at "the disco bowling alley on 15 Mile," which will of course be a crucial setting in the series finale.
- Nice little bit where an attractive younger teacher interrupts Lindsay and Daniel's study hall conversation, Daniel pretends to flirt with her to get her to leave, then comments, sincerely, "I like that dress." Franco's really endearing in moments like that.
- Like Millie and Lindsay, I used to buy Dynamite magazine all the time. Unlike them, I didn't even notice all the pictures of cute boys; I was buying it for that running superhero strip, The Dynamite Duo.
- During the geeks' discussion of getting taller and filling out, Neal notes that he's due for a growth spurt, since his dad is 6'3". I have to assume that the relatively tall Sam McMurray had already been cast as Dr. Schweiber by this point (he first appears two episodes down the line, in "The Diary").
- If you have the DVD's and haven't already watched the deleted scenes for this episode, do so immediately, as they include the first of what will be a recurring DVD feature: extended outtakes of Joe Flaherty being given permission to improvise, and generally cracking up the other actors and himself in the process. In this case, it's a series of variations on the Korean massage parlor scene, and I won't ruin the better jokes by mentioning the name Flaherty gives the place.
What did everybody else think?