And here is where it becomes obvious that Apatow, Feig and company could see the cancellation writing on the wall, as they go ahead and do an episode where Sam gets to date Cindy Sanders.
This was actually something the writers had in the back of their heads from the start, but for a hypothetical second season, where one of the story arcs would be Sam falling in with the popular crowd and distancing himself from Bill and Neal. When they realized that there would be no second season, the arc got moved up and squeezed into two episodes while there was still time to do it, with this first one the giddy rush (sort of) and "The Little Things" the cold reality.
Back in the post for "Girlfriends and Boyfriends," a few commenters complained that Sam getting to date Cindy seemed like something that came from the network (it wasn't), and that they couldn't buy Cindy jeopardizing her social standing by going out with a geek. I'm okay with it, for a few reasons. First, Sam had been established as less blatantly geeky than Neal or Bill, and someone who the popular kids didn't automatically mock. (Alan did, but he was just as much of an outcast in his own way.) Todd liked him, for instance. Second (and somewhat tied to the first), Cindy hadn't been depicted in the past as someone who felt uncomfortable being seen with Sam, whether it was dancing him at Homecoming (remember, he asked her to dance in full view of several of her friends) getting a bite to eat with him at the fast food joint, etc. It probably would have worked a little better if the storyline had been allowed to progress at its intended pace, but it doesn't feel completely out of left field, either.
Anyway, on to recapping..
So Cindy and Todd have the break-up that Sam's been rooting for, and after once again using Sam as her shoulder to cry on, Cindy decides to give the poor kid a shot. As she explains to ex-lab partner Bill -- her go-between to get Sam to ask her out, since it's not cool for her to do it directly -- "It's like I never date nice guys. I should try it. I think I deserve to." (That line, by the way, is the other reason I totally buy this development. Cindy's not interested in Sam himself; it's the idea of Sam that seems appealing to her while she's on the rebound.)
The moment he's been dreaming about forever (or, at least, since the pilot) has finally arrived, and now Sam's so scared of it that he accuses Bill of lying to him as a cruel joke. Bill insists he's not, and Sam psyches himself up for a very long walk down the hall (bridging the large social gap between the geeks and the popular kids). In the usual halting, puppy dog affect he takes on whenever he's around Cindy, he asks, per her instructions to Bill, "I was wondering... do you want to come to Mona's party with me?" To his great relief and astonishment, she says, "I'd love to." Having achieved his goal, Sam doesn't know what to do next, so Cindy -- clearly enjoying her role as the dominant partner -- leans in and kisses him on the mouth.
Sam continues to panic about not being up to Cindy's high standards. He asks Lindsay for kissing advice; she's pleasantly surprised at the news that Cindy wants to date him, and assures him he'll know what to do when the moment arrives. "She's the lucky one," Lindsay says. "Be a gentleman and don't be weird, and don't smother her." (Even Sam's smart enough to realize that Lindsay's listing all the things Nick didn't do; as Lindsay admits, "Nick was so into me he made me want to move to a different country.")
Sam's fear only grows the next day at lunch, when the other geeks explain that Mona's party is a make-out party. As I've said before, geeks + romantic advice = gold, and here we get Bill ranting about the grossness of French kissing ("Hello? Germs, spit, mucus, old bits of food? I mean, why do you have to use your tongue, anyway?... What are you supposed to do, lick the inside of her mouth? Lick her teeth?"), Gordon explaining that he's saving his virginity "for the future Mrs. Crisp" (Gordon has a real gift for putting a positive spin on anything), and Harris passing on a chance to go the party because he has a date with Judith and "Every night's a make-out party with us."
(In a deleted scene that foreshadows the direction this story will go in with "The Little Things," Sam asks Cindy if Bill and Neal can come to the party; her lip curls like she's just been asked to eat something out of the trash, but she reluctantly says yes.)
Neal decides to give Bill a Spin the Bottle tutorial (and there are no special effects involved; Samm Levine took that bottle home to practice with it for hours), and Bill admits his aversion to kissing has nothing to do with hygiene, but with his very prescient fear that girls won't want to kiss him. He'd rather not go to the party than see a girl look disappointed (or worse) if Bill's bottle points at them. Neal tries to reassure him, and in a funny ad lib (Levine forgot the line, but his flub was funnier than what had been written), answers Bill's question about whether people French kiss during the game by saying, "Some do. Most don't. I do." This then leads to our first Bob Seger montage of the evening, as the geeks get ready to the tune of "Katmandu": Bill obsessively brushes his teeth and experiments with tongue positions in the mirror, Sam ponders fashion disasters like a clip-on tie and the Parisian night suit, and, in maybe the funniest (and/or creepiest) thing Samm Levine ever did on the show, Neal emerges from his bathroom in a smoking jacket, holding a brandy snifter and trying to act all Hugh Hefner for the benefit of Morty the ventriliquist's dummy, whom he proceeds to kiss.
At Mona's party (after Neal removes his dickie so he and Bill won't both be wearing turtlenecks), Cindy welcomes them wearing a bright pink angora sweater (it's a fashion choice I haven't been able to take seriously since I saw "Ed Wood") and again takes charge in the relationship, saying nice things to Sam that are designed to make him return the compliment. Neal and Bill, meanwhile, enter the party basement and all of Neal's bravado vanishes, as he compares their situation to the opening scene in "Animal House" where Pinto and Flounder keep getting sent to the room with the Indian and the blind guy. (Bill: "Blind guys are cool. They have supersonic hearing.")
As Neal predicted, there's a Spin the Bottle game, and to Sam's dismay, the bottle keeps landing on Cindy, no matter who's spinning. One couple kisses a third time, and they have to go into the laundry room for Seven Minutes in Heaven (foreshadowing!). When Cindy takes a nervous Sam off for a walk, Neal and Bill take their places in the circle, and to the tune of Warren Zevon's brilliant "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," all of Neal's fingertip control disappears, as his bottle keeps landing on Bill, even after he forces Bill to change spots in the circle. Bill, meanwhile, keeps spinning the bottle at Neal's beloved Vicki Appleby, who responds with exactly the level of disdain Bill had feared. (First she makes him kiss her hand, then peck her cheek.) To Vicki's disgust, Bill's fear and the crowd's amusement, Vicki's bottle lands on Bill and they have to go for Seven Minutes in Heaven. Vicki barks at a miserable Bill that they should "just get this over with."
Cindy and Sam, meanwhile, are upstairs. Sam remains at Defcon 1, but he's trying his best, first suggesting they pick a bedroom to "talk or something," then putting on the radio in search of some good make-out music, and finally asking Cindy for permission to kiss her; she smiles and says, "Of course." (It's a move that also worked for Ken in "The Garage Door." Maybe Daniel shouldn't trash talk it so much.) They finally have a real kiss, and then Cindy once again establishes that she wears the pants in this relationship by shoving Sam down onto the bed and turning off the light. The last thing we see is an expression of pure terror on Sam's face. Poor Sam's built the idea of dating Cindy up so high that he can't enjoy it even at this early stage. (Also, Cindy's kinda scary like this.)
Things aren't going much better at first for poor Bill, who's trying to suffer through his time with Vicki by making pointless commentary about fabric softener, only to have Vicki continually bark warnings at him. Finally, he loses it and tells her, "You're a jerk! I was just trying to make small talk! I couldn't be less happy to be in here with you! So quit acting like I want to kiss you!" Vicki, like Alan before her, is revealed to be a bully (of a different stripe) who hasn't completely lost her humanity, and she can tell how badly she's hurt Bill. She apologizes, and when he asks her what it's like to be pretty, she laughs and says she's always looked like this, so she doesn't know. Bill suggests that people treat her nicer because she's pretty, "'Cause they're never nice to me."
Vicki's heart grows three sizes and she points out that Bill always seems to be having a good time when she notices him, and asks what he's always laughing about. "I watch movies in my head," Bill explains, and the next thing we know, she's laughing uproariously as he quotes the "He hates these cans!" scene from "The Jerk." (Keep this in mind when we get to "The Little Things.") As Seger's "You'll Accomp'ny Me" soars on the soundtrack, Vicki studies Bill and, now that they've bonded a little, decides to cut him a break. She swears him to silence and then moves in on him for some serious make-out action. These McKinley cheerleaders are surprisingly aggressive, as well as geek-friendly, aren't they? (Speaking of the Vicki-Alan thing, I bought her willingness to kiss Bill in secret more than I bought Alan's closeted geekdom; given the reaction the last time, I imagine I'm going to get a few dozen comments calling this scene lame wish-fulfillment.)
While Sam is finally getting together with the object of his heart's desire (whether he's enjoying it or not), Lindsay has to deal with Nick -- who very clearly still desires her -- taking up semi-permanent residence on the Weir couch.
Nick comes home from a garage sale with Ken and discovers that his father has sold nearly all of his 29-piece drum kit (the stool and a few cymbals are lying askew on the basement floor), having grown tired of both the noise pollution and what he felt was a drain on Nick's schoolwork. Nick tries to stand up to the old man, but Mr. Andopolis shuts him down repeatedly (if you thought Kevin Tighe sounded contemptuous of Locke and Sawyer on "Lost," wait'll you hear him say "End of conversation" to Nick over and over), and when it becomes clear that his dad won't at least give him the money from the sale, Nick moves out.
Thus begins his odyssey in moocher-dom. First he crashes on Daniel's floor, but he gets a crick in his neck and, besides, Mrs. Desario bans him after Nick neglects to flush the toilet. (Maybe Nick got confused on the whole "If it's yellow, keep it mellow..." theory of conservation.) Ken's dad is too uptight to allow guests ("He doesn't even let my grandma stay over"), Kim's haunted house is clearly out of the question, and Lindsay tries to cut off any suggestion of him staying with her family. (Ken: "Nice try, though, Nick. What you should have done was, you should have pretended to cry.")
But if there's one thing all the freaks have learned by now, it's that the Weirs, together and individually, are such nice people that you can manipulate them to get what you want, especially in an emergency, and so Nick shows up at dinnertime and praises Jean's cooking until she invites him to join them. After faking (or maybe not) a major food orgasm over Jean's pot roast, Nick gets back to wheedling his way into the Weir's hearth and home by asking if Harold's store sells sleeping bags, since, you know, he's homeless right now. Lindsay tries to interrupt the pity party by noting that Nick moved out, and when Nick explains that his dad sold his drums because he felt they were interfering with his schoolwork, Harold begins to look at his daughter's goofy ex-boyfriend in a new light. "How are you doing at school?" he asks. "Terrible," Nick admits. To Lindsay's shock and dismay, Harold invites Nick to sleep on their couch.
After another scene, ala "The Garage Door," where Daniel and Kim respectively tell Nick and Lindsay how to either get back together or stay apart (Kim: "If he tries to give you a foot massage, run"), we return to the Weir house for Quiet Homework Hour, which Nick proceeds to disrupt by blasting "Tom Sawyer" at full volume on Lindsay's stereo. Harold complains that Nick ought to be doing his homework, and in a way that manages to be both strict and yet fair (I hope I'm half this good when my daughter becomes a teenager), cuts through all of Nick's excuses and says he should be working harder. (It's maybe the most persuasive "In my day..." speech I've ever heard.) He calls Nick smart -- clearly the first such compliment he's gotten from an authority figure in years, if ever -- and, as an aside, says that the drummer from Rush is terrible. Nick, as you'd expect, rises to the defense of Mr. Neal Peart, but Harold counters that he has some real drumming Nick can listen to.
Cut to one of my favorite scenes from the show ever: Nick having a sonic orgasm (it's good this guy's enjoying so much non-sexual activity, because he's definitely not going to get any from Lindsay) while listening to one of Harold's Gene Krupa albums. "How do they do that?" he asks, riveted. "Maybe they took a lesson?" Harold counters, and Nick suggests maybe it's time he took one. (Ya think? Knowing that Nick never had any training before explains so much.) Lindsay and Sam have been in the kitchen discussing his Cindy kissing problem, and they emerge to find Nick swing-dancing with Jean as Harold does some kind of jazz-hands freestyle. Lindsay is once again dismayed, and Sam says, "I don't think Nick's in love with you. I think he's in love with Mom and Dad."
Lindsay has trouble sleeping, too aware that her stalker ex is sleeping a few yards away on the couch, and Nick stays true to form by rapping on her door in the middle of the night, hoping to get in to, um, get in. Lindsay wisely refuses to open the door, but the camera cuts outside to show Nick wearing a pair of bikini briefs and looking as ridiculous as he has in every other episode combined. (In fairness to the ever-fearless Jason Segel, he's in decent shape, but any non-ripped guy is going to look dopey in those undies.) Nick insists he just wants to thank Lindsay for her parents' kindness, but she begs him to get back to the couch before he wakes Harold. Nick finally acquiesces, but just as Lindsay's head has hit the pillow again, she hears Nick groaning in pain. She goes out to investigate and has the appropriate reaction to his clothes (or lack thereof) while he explains that he stubbed his toe. (Making the wardrobe sight gag complete, Sam emerges from his room in a pair of Star Wars pajamas that Nick compliments.)
Nick is still an unofficial member of the family by the next dinnertime, and he raves about his first-ever drum lesson. Lindsay asks the obvious question of where Nick got the money to pay for it and is flabbergasted to hear that tight-fisted Harold loaned it to him, and is giving Nick a part-time job at A1 to help pay for the lessons. While Nick's helping Jean in the kitchen, Lindsay finally confronts her dad about why he's being so patient and generous with Nick, especially compared to her. "That's because I expect more from you," he tells her. "Nick's father's a hard man. My father was the same way." Lindsay jokes that she has some idea, and Harold freezes her with the simple way he says, "Lindsay, trust me: you don't." (Boy, Joe Flaherty was good at the dramatic stuff. Someone want to take another stab at explaining why he doesn't work more on either side of the business?)
Later that evening, Mr. Andopolis shows up and declares, without give, that it's time for Nick to come home. Nick immediately caves (he later tries to justify it by saying, "I mean, he came looking for me. I didn't think that was going to happen."), and while he's packing up his meager possessions, Harold tries to reason with Andopolis. He tells a story of how he used to get on his own taskmaster father's nerves by bringing dogs home and says, "Teenagers will try all sorts of things. Sometimes, you've just gotta let 'em be kids." Andopolis looks at Harold like he's the most naive man he's ever met and asks how old Harold's son is; told that Sam is 14, he replies, coldly, "You call me when he turns 16."
(What makes the scene work, I think, is that we have some knowledge that each man doesn't. We know that Nick's a lazy pothead who has justified at least some of his dad's scorn, just as we know that Nick genuinely responded to Harold's slightly gentler approach. At the same time, you could argue that Nick acts the way he does to rebel against his hardass dad, or that he would start slacking off and taking advantage of Harold within another week or two. The point is, it's not completely black and white, even as Harold sees Mr. Andopolis as a mirror image of his own brutal pop and Mr. Andopolis sees Harold as a sap. Because the series ended two episodes later, we never found out whether Nick stuck to the part-time job and drum lessons or just took his father's arrival as another excuse to lie in the basement and get high all day.)
After Nick leaves, Lindsay (who finally felt sympathy for Nick once he was leaving, and once she got a closer look at his dad) thanks Harold for helping out. Harold in turn apologizes for making her feel like he doesn't treat her fairly. She wishes he could talk to her the way he talks to Nick, and he tells her there's an obvious difference: "You're my daughter. Every second you're out of this house, every second that I can't see you or know what you're doing, it's absolute torture for me." She says she can't stay in the house all the time, and after he acknowledges that, he jokes, "Why not?" and they have a nice father-daughter hug.
It's a really sweet storyline all around, as much a Harold spotlight as it is a Nick subplot.
Some other thoughts on "Smooching and Mooching":
- This episode was written by Steve Bannos, better known to you all as Mr. Kowchevski. I always find it interesting that when actors write for the series they act on, they almost never write a lot for themselves (Michael Imperioli's "Sopranos," for instanced, tended to be much heavier on Paulie than Christopher), and there's no Kowchevski at all here.
- Blink and you'll miss Samaire Armstrong (later to play Anna on "The O.C." and now the Paris Hilton clone on "Dirty Sexy Money") borrowing a cafeteria chair from the freaks in the first of her two appearances as one of McKinley High's handful of Deadheads. And, yes, her appearance is entirely to set up the events of the finale.
- Great Moments in DVD Commentary: there's a very long (three-plus minutes) alternate version of the scene where Nick disrupts Quiet Homework Hour at the Weir house. Because he has nothing to say, Judd invites Martin Starr to help fill the time however he sees fit, and Martin begins quizzing Judd about the gory details of childbirth. It's really gross, really funny, and I'd like to think it helped inspire the climactic scene in "Knocked Up." (Also, one of the trio -- I think it's John Daley -- starts joking that no one could possibly be listening to this, so go and prove him wrong, okay?)
- More Great Moments in DVD Commentary: Samm Levine tells a story about how Natasha Melnick, who played Cindy, called him up after she shot her first kissing scene with John Daley to ask whether Daley was supposed to be using his tongue for their stage kisses. Daley (who, to be fair, was just entering puberty back in the day) denies having done this, but Melnick sheepishly confirms her side of the story.
- In the discussion of "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers," I suggested that the writers made Mark the frizzy-haired kid into Nick's new pot connection because Sean (the bass player in Creation) wasn't available to be on the show anymore. Whoops; he's at the makeout party, having himself a fine time mocking Neal's bad luck at Spin the Bottle.
- Speaking of which, I always wonder how old some of the recurring characters are supposed to be. Harris is clearly established as a year or two older than the main geeks (though he seems to only hang out with them). Vicki would seem to be older than Cindy and the other freshmen, by dint of being head cheerleader, but she has classes with them all and clearly knows what's what with Bill. Mark is in the geeks' freshman gym class in the pilot but is written as a contemporary of the freaks (all juniors) in later episodes. I guess the writers figured, correctly, that no one would notice or care about that stuff except the real anal-retentives like yours truly.
- And speaking of anal-retentiveness, great throwaway moment where the geeks debate the positions in the Comedy Pantheon for the likes of "The Jerk," "Caddyshack" and "Stripes." Sam challenges any of them to describe what happens in the second, much weaker half of "Stripes," and Neal rattles off a detailed plot synopsis. Based on what I know of Samm Levine, I'm guessing they didn't even have to script that part.
- More on Samm Levine: Bill and Sam's make-out sessions leave Neal as the only regular character to never get any on the show; in one of the commentaries, Feig admits it was karmic payback for the many, many, many young women Levine hit on (unsuccessfully) while they were in production. (Samm is, thankfully, a good sport about it.)
What did everybody else think?