I've had many opportunities in my life to be brave, and I've usually passed the test. I got cut out of a car wreck without panicking. I held my daughter tight when she had to get some injections at the emergency room. I walked friends home through West Philly at 2 in the morning.
But I just couldn't bring myself to watch Nick blow his audition with Dimension. Just couldn't bear it.
Lots of humiliating things happen to these characters over the space of 18 episodes, but I think Nick's audition is by far the worst, because of how much is at stake. Nick's life sucks. His hardass old man (played with far more layers than mandatory by Kevin Tighe) has told him that he'll have to join the Army if he can't maintain a C+ average (which is a practical impossibility given the amount of pot he smokes). His only refuge is his ridiculous 29-piece drum kit and the dream of playing music professionally, but he has no idea whether he's any good because the other guys in his garage band (Daniel, Ken and Sean, the kid who mocked Eli in the pilot) don't give a crap.
Lindsay, trying to be helpful, suggests Nick attend an open audition of Dimension, a mid-level working band in need of a drummer, but when he goes, he doesn't just fail -- he fails spectacularly (even the groupie laughs at him), in a way that tells him he's not remotely as good as he thought he was. His dream isn't just beyond his grasp; it's beyond his range of vision. The whole thing is crushing, and I couldn't sit through it a second time, not even to see Paul Feig on guitar, Gabe Sachs as another auditioning drummer and Jeff Judah working the sound board. (Or is it Judah on drums and Sachs on the board? I always forget which is which; guys, if you're Google'ing yourselves, please stop by to clear up the confusion.)
"I'm With the Band" sets up two intertwined conflicts: Nick vs. Daniel and Lindsay vs. Daniel. The former is the more obvious one, as Nick and Daniel butt heads over leadership of the band, what its name should be (Nick suggests Creation, Daniel hates that but has no ideas of his own) and whether they should try to play well or just goof off. Nick's the optimist; the night he saw Dimension play at Cobo Hall, they badly upstaged the headliners. Daniel's the pessimist; the night he saw Dimension, they got booed off the stage (a fact confirmed by the band itself).
But the conflict between Daniel and Lindsay, working as Nick's proxy, is the more important one, I think. It's practically a battle for the souls of the freaks. As discussed in my review and the comments for "Tests and Breasts," Daniel's pretty much resigned to fulfilling the world's low expectations for him, and there are suggestions in this episode and elsewhere that he's trying to keep the other freaks down with him. He tries to caution Lindsay about getting Nick's hopes up, that Nick is destined to enlist in the Army, "So why don't you just let him have some fun before he has to ship off." It's a protective sentiment, but it also completely dismisses any hope Nick -- or Ken or Kim or Daniel himself -- has for the future.
Lindsay goes too far to the other extreme, not knowing enough about music to realize she's setting Nick up to fail in horrific fashion, but at least she's trying -- as she does throughout the series, as she failed to with Daniel in "Tests and Breasts" -- to raise the freaks up instead of letting herself be dragged down. We find out in "Smooching and Mooching" that Nick has never had any real formal training as a drummer, and when Mr. Weir signs him up for lessons, he takes to them far better than Daniel took to algebra tutoring. Maybe Nick will never be good enough to play for a major rock act, or even a journeymen group like Dimension, but telling someone to give up at 16 is just as terrible as being told you're dumb at 11, no? (When Mr. Andopolis dismisses Nick's dream by saying, "I really thought I could walk on the moon, and you just don't see any moon rocks around here," he establishes himself and Daniel as kindred spirits.)
The side effect of Lindsay's attempt to play talent scout is that she inadvertently becomes Nick's girlfriend. First he publically outs her as having encouraged him to crack the whip on the rest of the band (in a series in which Linda Cardellini had to deliver a lot of dismayed reactions, this may be my favorite), then she gives him a pity smooch after the Dimension fiasco, which will lead her deep into a relationship she doesn't want. But we can talk more about that in the next two episodes.
Perhaps to compensate for what would arguably be the series' most mortifying moment, the geek storyline is pretty light, as Sam, self-conscious about his pre-pubescent physique, tries to avoid the school's new mandatory showering policy. Sam's own moment of horror -- forced out into the hallway with no clothes or a towel by Alan -- is played for laughs (John Daley's groin is covered by a giant blue dot, which in turn becomes a large blue blur when we see him running through the background of a Nick and Lindsay scene), and eventually turns into a minor triumph when the popular kids (including Cindy) all assume he was streaking and applaud him for it. (Bill: "You're like a god. People are going to worship you.")
The showering subplot also features a quintessential "Freaks and Geeks" scene (as well as one of the few bits from the show you can find on YouTube), in which Jean and Harold force Lindsay to tell Sam he has a beautiful body to boost his self-confidence. It's a classic example of how the road to humiliating your child can be paved with good intentions.
Some other thoughts on "I'm With the Band":
- Overall, this is a fairly tragic episode for Nick, but Jason Segel still shows himself to be a fearless comedian, both in Nick's dry ice-backed solos that bookend the episode (the latter with poor Lindsay on dry ice duty), and also the extreme short shorts he wears during the rehearsal scenes. (Nick's explanation: "It's just a lot easier to drum without fabric between my thighs.")
- Samm Levine's from Jersey (Ft. Lee), so I did an interview with him around the time this episode aired. He talked a lot about the gym and locker room scenes, how the director had to work around the fact that Martin Starr (a decent athlete in real life) looked really ripped in the rope-climbing scene, and how Levine -- who was three years older than John Daley (hence all the chest hair) -- himself had become really body conscious after filming it. (It was a lunch interview; I abused my arteries with a burger and fries, while he had a salad.)
- After last episode's humanizing birds-and-the-bees chat with Sam, Coach Fredricks seems back to his obnoxious ways from the pilot, not being at all sympathetic to Sam's discomfort and obliviously flirting with a female teacher while Alan is busy locking Sam out of the locker room. But the deleted scenes include a really nice bit where, after Sam fakes an upset stomach to get out of showering, Fredricks visits him in the nurse's office and tries to explain that he'll be far worse off if he's known as the kid who won't take a shower than if he's just a little underdeveloped for his age, and that maybe he could try working out. (This in turn leads to another cut scene of Sam pounding dumbbells.) Fredricks was really a decent guy.
- While Creation (or Mission Control, or whatever prog rock name Nick and Lindsay suggested) stunk overall, Seth Rogen makes a convincing frontman. He can't sing worth a damn, but he has this weird charisma, such that I think he could do okay (in bars if nothing else) if backed by competent musicians. And after being absent from the last few episodes, Rogen comes back with some great one-liners taunting Lindsay, including (in anticipation of her list of potential band names) "Hope it's something catchy, like... Mathletes!," "This is Mission Control, requesting permission to rock out!" and "You and Yoko here turned music into school. What are you going to do, hand out homework?"
What did everybody else think?