Friday, June 29, 2007

Freaks and Geeks Rewind: Kim Kelly Is My Friend

Spoilers for the "Freaks and Geeks" episode "Kim Kelly Is My Friend" coming up just as soon as I write an essay on why I should respect school property and why it should be respected...

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?
Up next: "Tests and Breasts," featuring a Daniel Desario tour de force and the best Sex Ed class scene since "The Wonder Years."

What did everybody else think?


David J. Loehr said...

And one of those sitcom moments that sticks in my head is back for the day, Jack Soo saying "mushy mushy" and Ron Glass cackling. Talk about your missing-on-DVD shows...

Edward Copeland said...

NBC seems to have a history of ignoring continuity and running episodes out of order for no apparent reason. They did that all the time with Homicide, when one week they were in special headquarters for no apparent reason, then they'd be back in the squad room, then air the episode that explained the move. They also did that by delaying Crosetti way out of order.

Edward Copeland said...

I forgot -- they did that on Scrubs this year too when Cox appeared with his buzz cut before the episode where the cut was explained aired.

Anonymous said...

I remember this episode being bumped at the time and finally watching it months later when it aired on the Family Channel. It was definitely dark, but I don't remember thinking it was so dark as to put off any of the show's audience. Frankly, I never understand why networks do this. I remember NBC also inexplicably bumped an episode of Miss Match (why is that not on DVD?) that set up the start of a major relationship. And that show was anything but dark. Even this year Ugly Betty randomly bumped an episode, forcing them to include scenes in the "previously" segment that never aired and then doing a weird "flashback" set-up when they finally aired the episode.

I also remember Apatow's other show, Undeclared, aired episodes out of order for no good reason. The most egregious was when a new roomate moved in with the girls (probably when the network requested they add a minority) and there was no explanation whatsoever because the episode with her arrival was never aired at all.

Elwood said...

The best thing about what Shout! did for this show, and it's DVD presentation, was to place the episodes back in their intended order. I liked the show when it aired, but only came to love it when I was able to watch the real thing on DVD.

Homicide and Undeclared both did the same thing, putting the shows back in production order.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What's funny is that the initial Shout! release of "Undeclared" (if not all their releases; I don't know if they ever fixed it) still screws up the episode order, with the Truth or Dare episode (very important to the central relationship) stuck in about six episodes before it's supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

Alan, thank you!
I just finished up the Undeclared episodes on Netflix - I have the "two at a time" verison. Truth or Dare was on two of the three discs! So now I have seen Truth or Dare twice and Rush and Pledge not at all. If there were different releases, they must have discs from both.
But THANK YOU for confirming that I am not crazy ("didn't I just watch this episode last week???")

Tish said...

I too never understood why they didn't air this one. I saw it as significant for the reasons you mentioned, but what I found particularly touching were the interactions between Kim and Lindsay's dad. It is sooooo clear that Kim needs a good dad, and she wants one, too. Also loved the scene at the end with Kim and Daniel making up. Jean's reaction is classic mom. If it were any other show I'd let the details slide, but we all know Harold owns a sporting goods store, not a hardware store. Thanks again for doing these recaps -- rewatching F&G is one of the highlights of my summer. Ouch.

Anonymous said...

As much as I hate to side with the suits, I think NBC might have had the right idea on this one.

I’m a new fan, now watching this series for the first time. Experienced as the fourth episode, “Kim Kelly is My Friend” was pretty off-putting. With my DVD set, I moved on quickly to "Tests and Breasts" and all was good; watching broadcast in 1999, it would have lingered for a week and maybe made me less inclined to tune in again.

I agree with Alan and Tish on the significance of this episode and the vital insight it gives into Kim (and Daniel too). I wonder if I would feel differently about it if I’d come to it after seeing the rest of the series.

But: Following the pilot and two other perfectly pitched episodes, the tone of this one just seems off to me. There is so much screaming from characters we barely know and not enough humor or signature rueful sweetness to offset all the ugliness. Nick and the Weirs -- with the fruit roll-up pilfering and his awesomely enthusiastic congratulations to them for doing such a good job with Lindsay -- is great but a little too little.

Also, given emotional realism we’d seen so far, it bothered me that Lindsay is able to shake off the very scary escape from Kim’s mother and stepfather so quickly. The scenes of the Weirs so passive and displaced in their own home also rang a little false. Sure, they're kind and accomodating folks who are thrown by the Freaks' infiltration, but shots of them just standing there agog makes them seem a little too clueless.(Sam excepted: Loved his incredulous "Get out of my room!")

I’ve gotten enough into F&G in the past 10 days to know the scripts have been published in book form. It would be interesting to see how this episode reads and contrast that with how it plays. Does anyone know if it was directed by one of the regulars or by someone else?

Alan Sepinwall said...

we all know Harold owns a sporting goods store, not a hardware store.

D'oh! Temporarily confused Harold Weir with Howard Cunningham. Have since gone back and deleted any hardware references.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Kate, Lesli Link Glatter directed a couple of episodes (this and "Boyfriends and Girlfriends"), and she may have also had a producing credit.

I can see your larger point, however. At this point, the ratings were so small (the pilot did decently and then the numbers plunged for episodes 2 and 3) that I'm sure Sassa and Ancier were worried that this one would scare the remaining viewers away. And there's definitely a difference between watching this one in isolation and getting to see "Tests and Breasts" (which, as I recall, was on the same screener tape at the time) back to back with it.

Anonymous said...

Firefly was aired out of order too. Hell, they showed the pilot LAST.

Anonymous said...

Busy Philips was so good in this role. Kim Kelly is a scary girl and reminded me of a lot of scary girls I went to high school with. Yes, I was a geek.

But this episode really gave us a chance to see Kim Kelly as more than just a one-dimensional character. It humanized her. And it helped us understand her a bit better.

Still, I can see why the network found it too dark at the time. However, nowadays, the script seems kind of tame compared to the creepy scripts that House cranks out each week.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible the network worried that the portrayal of Kim's home life would drive away viewers like, well, Kim's mom and stepfather?

Anonymous said...

So, first off, yes, bad bad NBC, this episode should have aired as scheduled and there's really no reason to have blocked it.

But it's also the only episode of Freaks and Geeks I consider a disappointment.

Oh, there's still very much good here, and they did need to humanize Kim Kelly. (The condition of her brother--his mom calls him a "wetbrain" at some point if I recall--probably even explains why she was so touched by Lindsay's dancing with Eli in the pilot.) Ironically, though, the show mostly humanizes Kim by demonizing her parents, practically shivering in disgust as these obnoxious, greedy slobs eat their Kentucky Fried Chicken and try to wheedle a discount.

Look, growing up I visited some scary homes. Like most, I'd wager, who grew up when I did, before corporal punishment became so stigmatized, I'd occasionally wait anxiously in my friend's room, pretending to read Mad or the liner notes to an album while his dad, home from work, dragged him into another room and swatted him for some just-discoverd offense. But the Kellys struck me as beyond the pale.

Watching the episode (on DVD, which is how I saw the series), I kept waiting for one beat from Mrs. Kelly to show she was concerned for Kim's future, not just pissed off that she wasn't being disobeyed. I hoped the stepdad (Mr. Kelly? I can't remember if this was mentioned either way.) would stop his open-mouthed chomping and ask Lindsay to leave the family in private to discuss the matter.

Daniel's homelife was rough but his mother still came off as sympathetic, juggling too many problems to hear her son's frustration. Kevin Tighe shaved the crisp off his military hardass with just the right touch of parental regret (it helped that Nick was so directionless). But the Kellys seem blown in from some other, much shallower show.

Sorry to have gone on so long, but these scenes are about my only complaint in all 18 hours of Freaks and Geeks. Now that I've delurked, I think I'll stick around for further discussion. And trust me, by the time I'm rhapsodizing about Ken's dating life or Daniel awakening his inner Dungeon Master, you'd hardly believe I ever had anything bad to say about this show.

The CineManiac said...

Why NBC, Why?
They really didn't know what they had when they had this show did they?
I like to just watch the episodes to see who all was on their that's getting huge now, like Shia Lebeouf and Ben Foster (whose amazing as Eli) but seriously EVERYONE was on this show!

Mike said...

Not sure if you're aware, but Rashida played yet another "Karen" on the pilot of "Stella", another one of my favorite canceled-too-early shows.

davelee said...

And Karen on the office...

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know what the song is at the very end of this episode, as Kim leaves the scene? Is this another of Michael Andrews' compositions?

I love this episode.

Marty said...

This may actually be my favorite Freaks and Geeks episode, because of the way it puts Kim Kelly in a very vulnerable position. Right from the beginning of the series, you could see that she was a "troubled teen." Emotionally traumatized and bitter/angry. This is the episode where we find out why. Busy Phillips should really be commended for the way she makes her often aggressive and vixen-like character seem very vulnerable and angsty when placed in her "natural habitat."

Also, it's a shame Karen never appeared in future episodes, as I always felt there should have been an angle where it's revealed that she's bi-polar (often women who act the way she does are either bi-polar or have something else mentally wrong with them).