Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Freaks and Geeks Rewind: The Little Things

Spoilers for the penultimate episode of "Freaks and Geeks," "The Little Things," coming up just as soon as I get people to stay away from those cans...

Behold, the episode that launched a comedy empire. Sort of.

"The Little Things" was the episode that convinced Judd Apatow that Seth Rogen was a man he wanted to keep working with, which in turn led to him hiring Rogen as both actor and writer on "Undeclared," which in turn led to Rogen showing him the "Superbad" script he wrote with his childhood best friend, which in turn led to Rogen getting cast in "40-Year-Old Virgin," etc., etc., etc. I'm not saying that Apatow wouldn't be Hollywood's reigning Comedy God without Rogen, but the two men definitely bring out the best in each other.

But we'll get back to that. I want to kick off this look at "The Little Things" with the story that carries over from the previous episode: Sam's doomed relationship with Cindy Sanders.

A fair amount of time seems to have passed since "Smooching and Mooching," enough that Bill can later refer to his Seven Minutes in Heaven in a "Did I ever tell you about that time?" way to Neal. We open up with Cindy dining with the Weirs, Cindy kissing up to Harold with her talk about being a young Republican (George H.W. Bush, then the VP, is due to speak at McKinley High, and she gets to introduce him) and her hatred of poor people. Sam, in turn, is already learning to hate her. At school, he now eats at the popular kids' table, while the other geeks look on resentfully. (Harris as Yoda: "Once you start down that dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.") Cindy continues to prove herself to be judgmental and manipulative, first by insulting a rival school's cheerleaders for being ugly, then trying to goad Sam into fighting Todd. Sam still hasn't quite grasped that Cindy is definining him only in comparison to Todd, but Todd gets it and tells Cindy that he likes Sam too much to beat him up.

After school, Sam complains to Bill and Neal that Cindy's boring, and only wants to make out. (Neal, predictably: "I'd kill to be that boring.") Bill suggests that Sam take Cindy on a real date to do something that he wants to do instead of one of her ideas, and when Sam is skeptical about Cindy's desire to do something that Sam enjoys, Bill the wise man asks, "Then why are you going out with her?" (Neal the horndog: "Because she's a goddess!")

So Sam gets Cindy's permission to take her on a date of his own design (because it's that kind of relationship that he needs permission), and we get our final glimpse of the collected geeks' views on dating. Gordon adopts an awful British accent and suggests a Broadway show of some kind. Bill suggests a screening of "The Jerk" (no doubt he remembers how it helped him get over with Vicki), and when Neal insists that that's not a romantic movie, Harris counters, "Laughter is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Get a woman laughing, you get a woman loving." The matter of the locale having apparently been settled, they turn to a discussion of the appropriate gift, and Sam asks Harris what he gets for the much-discussed but rarely-seen Judith. Unfortunately, he's no use -- Judith wants only scented oils "and time with her man" -- so Sam turns to his mom. Jean, beaming at the idea of her son becoming a man (and that he still wants her counsel in a way that Lindsay doesn't), gets out an heirloom necklace from her mother, positive that Cindy will love it. (Clearly, she hasn't been paying attention when Cindy comes over for dinner.)

And then, disaster on every level. At the movie theater, Cindy hates the necklace, both because it's old and not her style, and because Sam didn't spend any money on it. (With Cindy, it's not the thought that counts.) But you know what she hates even more? "The Jerk." While Sam is laughing uproariously at the legendary "He hates these cans!" scene, Cindy's putting on the lemon face to end all lemon faces. Sam notices Cindy's displeasure and offers to buy her popcorn. "Will popcorn make this movie funnier?" she asks, her voice dripping with scorn. This in turn pisses off Sam so obviously that even Cindy realizes she's gone too far with her boytoy, so she tries to distract him with a hickey, which only annoys him more. (Nothing like a girl you've grown to loathe trying to give you a hematoma.)

Later that night, Sam tells Lindsay about this awful date, and when he mentions that Cindy hated "The Jerk," Lindsay knows her brother enough to say "Uh-oh." "What's wrong with me?" Sam asks. "She's so pretty; why don't I like her?" Lindsay explains that not all attractive people are cool, and that he should break up with her. Sam's afraid to do this because people already can't believe Cindy's willing to date him; what will they think of him if he dumps her? (Dude, did you not see "Can't Buy Me Love?" That's the whole premise. Oh, wait... seven years down the road. Sorry.) Lindsay, speaking from very painful experience, tells him that he can't keep dating someone he doesn't like.

Sam shows up for school the next day wearing a baggy turtleneck, the better to hide Cindy's love mark. Neal is deeply offended that Sam would be willing to break up with such a hot girl, and refuses to believe that a hot girl could be uncool. After Sam pukes out his courage and has a men's room chat with Ken (more on that below), he mans up and approaches Cindy, who immediately confirms his feelings by barking "What the hell is that?" at the sight of his hickey-hiding turtleneck. When he counters that she won't wear the heirloom necklace, she spits, "It was ugly!" She tries to get out of this fight because she needs to go introduce Vice-President Bush, but Sam's not going to let her wriggle off the hook. Sam tells her that he doesn't want to date her anymore, and would rather go back to being friends.

"No, Sam," she tells him in complete disbelief. "You can't break up with me. You're supposed to be nice. That's the only reason I'm going out with you in the first place!" Sam points out that he, in fact, is a nice guy, but they have nothing in common and they're not having any fun. Cindy admits this is true, but she can't deal with the humiliation of being dumped by her nerdy rebound guy, so she throws the necklace at him and storms off. (Our final glimpse -- ever -- of Ms. Sanders is her all red-eyed and unrecognizable as she introduces a future Commander in Chief.) Neal and Bill wander over for moral support, and Neal's enough of a friend to tell Sam he did the right thing. Bill asks if this means Sam will go back to eating lunch with them, and when Sam says yes, Bill says, "Thank God."

Can I just say how much I love the turn this story took? Whatever plausibility issues people may have had with Cindy asking Sam out in the first place, this is pretty much how the story should have gone once they went out, even if it was completely unexpected. Any other show would have had Cindy turn out to be awesome, or else would have had her be the dumper, not the dumpee. It's not even that she's a bad person, just spoiled and a little selfish. But she's a terrible match for Sam, and he was too blinded by her looks to realize that until he got to spend a lot of up close and personal time with her. (The idea of the cheerleader goddess not being the perfect woman is something the writers from "Ed" could have really learned from; I kept waiting for that show's hero to realize that his dream girl from high school was a fairly dull adult.) Some great squirmy comedy performed by both John Daley and Natasha Melnick.

The episode's other relationship story is even squirmier and more unexpected, as Ken has to wrestle with the discovery that Amy was, as he puts it so memorably to Daniel and Nick, born with both the gun and the holster.

Things have seemingly been going great with Amy since they hooked up back in "The Garage Door," and the only source of stress in their lives is Amy's nervousness about having to play "Hail to the Chief" at the Bush assembly. ("There's a lot of tuba," she notes.)

While hanging out in her bedroom for a "study" session, Ken opens up about his distant relationship with his parents -- they're not bad people, but "I guess raising me wasn't one of the things they learned in college" -- and how he's closer with his nanny. Amy in turn decides it's time to let Ken in on her deepest secret and explains that, "When I was born, I had the potential to be male or female." Ken, confused, says, "Yeah, me too." And so she delicately walks him through the concept of being born with ambiguous genitalia, and how her parents and the doctors decided the best thing would be to make her a girl.

Ken, not surprisingly, doesn't know how to respond to this. "No... This is good... that you told me... this," he tells her, trying to play cool. He acts reassured when she tells him that she's all-girl now, but when they bump into each other in school the next day, he engages in clumsy small talk and then makes a point of hugging her instead of kissing her. Later, she confronts him directly, and he gets more and more worked up about his inability to do anything to change this situation. "It's over, move on," he insists. She says it's not that easy, that there will always be a part of her that's...

"... a guy?" Ken asks, and Amy brushes him off.

That night, the male freaks are sleeping over in Nick's basement. Ken declares that he's going to break up with Amy, and when Daniel and Nick protest, he explains about the gun and holster situation. Nick seems appeased by news of Amy's long-ago surgery making her into a girl, but Daniel -- in maybe his harshest moment of the series (if he's not goofing around, and Franco plays the scene so oddly that it's hard to tell) -- says "I don't think it works that way. I think you better get rid of her." Ken realizes he doesn't want to break up with her, he "might even love her." Daniel asks if that means Ken's gay, and Ken angrily replies, "I don't know, does it?" Daniel insists he was joking (or was he?), but now it's all Ken can think about.

Ken needs advice, and tries to get some from Mr. Rosso, but only after explaining that he assumed Rosso was gay. Rosso (already suffering a lot of indignities that week; for more, see below) then turns the counseling session into an interrogation to figure out why Ken might think that of him, and Ken quickly bolts for yet another half-baked attempt to figure out which way he swings. First he puts on a David Bowie record, then some heavy metal, then a disco album to see which one he responds best to. When that (shockingly) fails to provide a concrete answer, he pulls out two nudie mags, one featuring men, one women, and studies them intensely. Rogen's reactions throughout are priceless. (If I had to guess which moment during the episode made the lightbulb go off above Apatow's head, I'd pick the filming of this sequence.)

The freaks are hanging around at night, and Ken reads way too much into Daniel greeting him and Amy with "Hey, guys," demanding to know what Daniel meant by that and then punching him in the face. Amy, realizing that Ken told the others her secret, runs off and refuses to let him in to explain when he comes tapping on her bedroom window. In a very nice little moment scored to Jackson Browne's "The Road," Ken starts walking home alone from Amy's house; Daniel pulls up in his Trans Am and sheepishly offers to drive Ken home. Not a word is said about the punch, or about the earlier conversation in Nick's basement; nothing needs to be said.

Amy realizes in a conversation with Lindsay the next day that Ken didn't tell everyone, but she's too caught up in "Hail to the Chief" nerves to concentrate on her Ken problem. Ken, meanwhile, goes to the men's room to figure out what to do and comes across Sam Weir, puking in anticipation of his Cindy break-up. Ken, who knows Sam in passing as Lindsay's kid brother, asks why Sam would want to dump a girl that hot. "She's really different than I am," Sam explains, to which Ken replies wearily, "Yeah, I know how that one goes." Ken says he's on the verge of dumping his girlfriend, too, but can't explain why, so Sam offers up his tale of woe about how Cindy hated "The Jerk," how they have nothing to talk about, and don't have any fun together. Ken explains that Amy's really cool about all that stuff, and Sam bitterly asks him, "God, then what's the problem?" Ken realizes what an idiot he's been and wishes Sam luck.

(Just a perfect scene, as almost every geek/freak world-colliding moment tended to be. Maybe that's why so many people consider "Beers and Weirs" their favorite episode. Among the many reasons I lament the non-existent second season is that at some point the writers would have had no choice but to put Bill and Kim in a room together, if only to see what happened.)

The camera work switches over to hero-style as Ken walks (marches?) through the long line of McKinley marching banders in search of his tuba girl. He finally finds her near the front of the line and declares, sincerely, "I'm sorry, and I don't care, and I'm sorry." Amy smiles, he smiles, and they hug -- only this time, the hug feels like a huge step forward instead of two steps back. (And as a nice real-world touch, ala Lindsay's bag getting stuck on a desk while she tries to storm out of Kowchevski's classroom in "Tests and Breasts," Ken bonks his head on the rim of the tuba while he's moving in.) The Bush assembly begins, and as Amy begins playing "Hail to the Chief," Ken catches her eye and yells out, "Yeah! 'Hail to the Chief!' This song rocks!"

This subplot got the episode nominated for a GLAAD award (they lost to an episode of "Ed," as a matter of fact), and it's not hard to see why. The writers (Apatow, Jon Kasdan and Mike White) get some big laughs out of Ken's confusion, but they also take the situation itself seriously; none of the laughs ever come at Amy's expense. It's a minefield topic, and the writers avoided blowing up.

Considering how much of the episode hangs on Ken and Sam's relationships, it's funny how the climax has little to do with either one, but instead on a third, non-romantic subplot. (The deeper we got into the season, the more the writers seemed interested in moving away from the familiar "This and That" story structure, which may also explain this episode's non-traditional title. Either that, or Apatow, Kasdan and White couldn't come up with a variation on "(Blank) and Bush" that would pass Standards & Practices.)

After treating Mr. Rosso as the very easy butt of jokes for most of the season, the show's penultimate episode (last, really, as "Discos and Dragons" was made several weeks ahead of schedule) finally decides to give our guidance counselor a little respect -- but only after piling one humiliation after another onto the guy.

Rosso proudly tells Lindsay that she's been selected to ask VP Bush the first question in the informal cafeteria Q&A and is bewildered that Lindsay seems so unhappy with this honor. She notes that she's a Democrat, and he responds that they live in a country where you're supposed to question your leaders, but "I guess me and all my hippie friends were just wasting our time at Berkeley." He finally gets her into the spirit of things by explaining that she's special (not in the Eli way) and destined to be around world leaders. At seeing Lindsay's excited face, he utters the "I've got the best job in the world!" line that was cut from the end of the pilot as being too ironic. Before he can bask in the moment, a Secret Service agent -- played by Apatow's old boss, Ben Stiller -- enters and explains that they're commandeering his office as a workspace until the VP's visit is over. As Rosso walks out, Agent Meara (named for Ben's momma) keys his mic and requests a background check on this teacher, who he describes as "about 6'3," a real Dr. Feelgood look."

Lindsay invites Kim to help her brainstorm a really tough question for Bush (Kim jokes that she should ask about Area 51). We don't know what they come up with, but when Lindsay runs into Mr. Rosso in the parking lot -- locked out of his car, because it's just one of those weeks for him -- he bitterly explains that Bush's people rejected whatever the question was as "too... sophisticated" and instead wrote a vapid one of their own: "What is your favorite place to eat in Michigan?" Rosso is really down at the realization that this is a "glorified photo op" and suggests that his Berkeley protesting didn't accomplish much, that "they" stopped the war when they felt like it. Rosso's friends have all sold out for Wall Street jobs that no doubt pay many times his $12 grand salary, "and I can't get the keys out of my mother's car!"

By this point, Lindsay's developed an odd little crush on Rosso ("He's actually kind of good-looking," she tells the disbelieving freaks), but when she complains about the situation to Harold, he asks her not to make waves -- and, in fact, to use the opportunity to put in a plug for his store, which is facing an uncertain future with a chain megastore moving into the mall. "Your only affiliation right now to any party is to the Weir party," he tells her, half-threatening, half-pleading. He even produces an A1 t-shirt for her to wear (which we'll later discover has "Welcome George Bush" stenciled on the back).

The day of the assembly, Lindsay's impressed to see Rosso all cleaned up in a suit, his hair pulled back into a neat braid. He apologizes for his parking lot meltdown and feigns enthusiasm about the VP's visit, but Agent Meara bars him from entering the cafeteria because he's on the mailing list of some questionable organization. As Meara escorts him to a "holding area" (really Rosso's own office), Mr. Rosso shoots Lindsay a beautiful, knowing look that makes it clear exactly what she needs to do.

Agent Meara takes advantage of the situation to get some career counseling from Rosso (being the vice-president's bodyguard feels as pointless a job to him as being a high school guidance counselor no doubt felt to Rosso in the parking lot). He says he just wants to rip off his vest and jacket sometimes and go make pancakes somewhere, "But that'd be crazy, right?" Rosso smiles wisely and offers to give him something like the Kuder preference test to determine his ideal career.

At the assembly, a tearful Cindy Sanders walks off and Lindsay rises nervously in her A1 t-shirt to ask the first question. As her parents gaze proudly at her, she says, "Mr. Vice-President, my name is Lindsay Weir. My dad owns A1 Sporting Goods on 16 Mile Road. My question is... why did your staff reject my question? Are you afraid of an open discourse with the students?" (Really, it's the best possible question she could have asked; if anything's going to make the ineffectual vice-president look bad, it's an attempted cover-up at a high school assembly.) Rosso is listening on the PA as Meara goes through the test ("Do you like working with major appliances?") and, smiling like the proud papa that Harold resembled moments earlier, calls Lindsay "One of McKinley's finest." You know, sometimes that job's not so bad, is it?

Some other thoughts on "The Little Things":
  • Two of the deleted scenes for this one are amazing, but one got cut for time and the other got cut because it was mortifying and creepy even by the standards of a show that had Nick stalking Lindsay for the better part of a season. The former is a sequel to Ken's failed visit to Mr. Rosso, in which we discover that while Rosso's not gay, Mr. Kowchevski is. (Kinda puts his whole "Tests and Breasts" speech about Daniel's bedroom eyes in a different light, doesn't it?) The latter features Cindy forcing Sam to recreate their slow dance from the pilot, and to sing "Come Sail Away" (because, of course, Todd never sang for her) and it is absolutely, wonderfully horrible. If you've got the DVDs, please check 'em out. They may be the two best cut scenes in the entire package.
  • Speaking of Kowchevski, his one surviving moment in the episode is a funny one, as he (on the Secret Service's orders, because he's a good soldier) chases the freaks from their usual stairwell hangout. Daniel cracks, "How are we ever going to plan our coup?" and Kowchevski seems very pleased by the prospect of getting Daniel arrested for saying that.
  • I remembered Stiller's performance as being far more mannered, but he really dials it down. You never don't notice that it's Stiller the movie star, but he has some nice moments like the pancake scene.
  • What's with the male freak sleepover? I would write it off as them just hanging out while high, but sleeping bags are involved.
  • Getting back to the issue of guns vs. holsters, can we get a gender breakdown of how everybody feels about "The Jerk"? While I've found some women who like it, the list isn't very long, and it feels like one of the more gender-polarizing members of the Geek Comedy Pantheon.
  • Need another ruling: is Bill a bad guy for telling Neal about his time with Vicki, or is it cool because he knows Neal will never believe him?
Up next: The end. But what a great and glorious end it is. I hope to be taking some days off later this week for some much-needed family time, so don't expect the "Discos and Dragons" review before, say, Monday. It's going to be a long one, and I want the time to do it right.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't exactly call Daniel's reaction "harsh". It seems to be an honest reaction. One of the great things about this show is that it doesn't go all "Afterschool Special" about things and sugarcoat them. A lesser show would have everyone taking a "you're different but you're okay" rose-colored view about things. But that's just not the real world. Daniel doesn't understand it so naturally he would take a "get rid of her" view. But if you notice in the later "Hey Guys" scene he doesn't treat Amy any different. I'm sure if there were another season, we'd have seen that being born with ambiguous genitalia really wasn't the most interesting thing about Amy. Speaking of which, did they establish whether Amy was a freak or a geek. Oh yeah ... band geek?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Again, part of my reaction is just the way Franco's playing that entire scene, with maybe his lowest energy level of the entire series. It makes it harder to read him and makes lines like that one sound colder than they probably could. But, yes, I appreciate the honesty of it.

And I think we already knew that Amy's genitalia were already not the most interesting part of her. Any girl who can match Ken sarcasm-for-sarcasm is pretty unique (and, as Ken realizes while talking with Sam, cool).

Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed the F&G blog, even without having seen the DVD's yet. I hope you turn your attention to another rewind subject after this. Firefly, perhaps? Arrested Development? (Too soon)
Shockingly, I have never seen "The Jerk" or any of the comedies from that era. At the time, my mom was all Christian and whatnot, so I saw verry few movies until I was old enough to get myself there. I never wanted to watch the butchered TV versions, and we didn't have cable.
I'd love to catch up. Can you guys rattle off a list of essentials?

Heather K said...

I think the jerk is fine, but I would probably pick another comedy to watch over it. If it came on tv, I would probably pick it over changing the channel (I know, not the highest praise).

Although, the person who introduced me to it in college (because I had never seen it) was a girl, and it is one of her all time favorites. She could watch it forever and never stop laughing.

The cans scene is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted Ed to end up with Molly. She was more fun and had better chemsitry with Tom Cavanagh.

rhamilton said...

The Jerk is probably the flat-out funniest movie of all time. I don't think I've ever watched it with a woman - I tend to sort of avoid the awkwardness of really wanting someone to like something that Sam obviously goes through here. When I have done it I'm a lot more likely to pick Freaks & Geeks than any of its references (and luckily I haven't dated anyone who didn't love it).

rhamilton said...

Oh wait that's not true. The last girl I dated said "It was ok, I guess? I don't really like sitcoms." She's an easy one to forget.

Anonymous said...

How does Daniel react to the "gun and holster" talk? I agree that Franco plays it really ambiguously. Even knowing Daniel's character it's tough to judge. On one hand, his best quality is his ability to accept people as they are - look at his talk with Harris, his trip to the AV room in the finale, or even his protective concern over Nick's fragile psyche throughout the series. On the other hand, paradoxically, his spends so much time worrying about appearances that looking cool is his main goal in life. It's not hard to imagine him telling Ken that no matter how fun Amy is, he's better off without tarnishing his rep.

Incidentally, I remember the commentaries mentioning that the scene with Daniel driving by Ken was the last scene they shot for the series. Presumably it helped add a little poignancy to an already touching scene.

Anonymous said...

My friends and I (mid-30s guys) have argued about this at length. Note that the honorable mention titles have not been fully vetted by the committee.

The Comedic Movie Pantheon (in no particular order):
The Jerk
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Blazing Saddles
Animal House
This is Spinal Tap
Something about Mary
National Lampoon's Vacation

Honorable Mention: Life of Brian, Real Genius, Blues Brothers, Best in Show, Young Frankenstein

Anonymous said...

I recently read Paul Feig's memoir, Kick Me, and the Sam/Cindy gift was right out of it. Feig asked his mom what he should get this girl he liked, and his mom gave him a piece of jewelry that belonged to her mother. The girl wasn’t even his girlfriend, just a crush, and Feig didn’t give it to her, he had a friend to it. Of course the girl freaked out and didn’t talk to him again. Real life – even worse than F&G.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I hope you turn your attention to another rewind subject after this.

It'd be a nice summer tradition, if nothing else. (Not sure I'd have enough time to do it in-season.) I've thought a little bit about what the next one would be. Undeclared would seem an obvious follow-up, but much as I loved that show, I don't know if it was deep enough (which was by design) for this kind of extended navel-gazing.

Freaks & Geeks is kind of a perfect show for this because: 1)Everybody loves it, 2)There was only a single season (and less than 22 episodes at that), and 3)There's so much going on in every episode that I can go on forever about each one.

I always wanted Ed to end up with Molly. She was more fun and had better chemsitry with Tom Cavanagh.

Exactly! The problem, as I recall, is that one of the creators (maybe Beckerman) had based Carol on his wife, so there was no way he was going to have Ed switch horses in mid-stream, even though it was obvious to almost everyone watching that there was no there there.

Real life – even worse than F&G.

Which is why I love F&G and always have to put down Feig's memoirs after, oh, 30 seconds of reading.

I'll have to study Rover's list at greater length before I can assess its validity, but the absence of The Naked Gun is pretty glaring. I still, to this day, cannot hear the national anthem without feeling compelled to sing the "Enrico Palazzo" version. ("And the rockets red glare... bunch of bombs in the air...")

Anonymous said...

That's cool, I've seen 7 of 15, I don't feel as bad, but "Mary" and "Show" aren't really from that period, either, so there's that.

Anonymous said...

How about blogging about Profit? Or Now and Again?

Anonymous said...

My-So-Called-Life I'm sure is bloggable too.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I've really been enjoying the F&G recaps this summer. It's been a lot of fun.

I found the whole GHWB subplot was rather prescient considering WHO he is and his son's whole hand-picked town meetings thing.

Anonymous said...

I've been enjoying these posts all summer, thanks Alan.

My suggestion for a new Rewind's Wonderfalls, I think it would be great.

Steven Timberman said...

Alan, I've been waiting for this episode recap for quite some time. Not only does it have the climax to the Sam/Cindy storyline that is note-perfect, not only does it have some great Rosso and Lindsey interaction, but Seth Rogen blew me away this episode.

While my personal favorite Rogen moment is his embarrassed crushing on Kim the tour guide in Undeclared I still can't help but love his "declaration" of love to Amy next to all the other band kids.

And the Sam/Ken bathroom scene is easily my favorite scene in all of F&G. Not only did it show that Sam, despite being the butt of many jokes on the show, was unusually wise for his age but that the older Ken still had some growing up to do as well.

Sigh. Damn ratings.

Why was this episode shot last?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Why was this episode shot last?

Because Apatow and Feig were paranoid about production getting shut down before they got a chance to film a proper finale, so they did "Discos and Dragons" a few weeks ahead of schedule, even though it was intended to air last.

Anonymous said...

The key part of this episode for me was Lindsay's fateful Bush query, proving she has started to align herself not so much with her smoking-patio dilletante friends, but with a genuine '60s-'70s burnout - Jeff Rosso. The guitar-strumming counselor may have outgrown his Berkeley blue jeans but hasn't stopped trying to instill the old idealism, in his bumbling way, in a new generation. "Freaks and Geeks" is ostensibly about the '80s, but its spiritual roots reach back even further. 'Discos and Dragons' makes this explicit.

Anonymous said...

While the 10-member Pantheon is dominated by movies from the mid-70s through the mid-80s, this is because the movies from that era are SO FREAKING AWESOME, and not because of some chronological limitation. Funnier, and more quotable, than the rest of the field. These are the films that any guy of a certain demographic needs to be familiar with to be able to keep up with bar conversation among their peers. Younger men might insist on elevating American Pie, or Old School, to the Pantheon. They would, however, be horribly wrong.

Parenthetically, I'm not sure whether Something about Mary has held up -- as it rarely pops up on basic cable, I haven't re-watched it in ages.

Naked Gun was considered by the Committee, but fell short of an honorable mention. Too much Leslie Nielsen, who's funny, but somewhat monotonous with that much screen time. Good flick, though.

However, one honorable mention *was* (embarrassingly and irresponsibly) forgotten: Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "Learning about Cuba. Having some food." The closest call before the Committee. If the Pantheon went to 11, Fast Times would be on it.

Eric said...

My guess is next summer you'll be able to do "Pushing Daisies." I watched the pilot this weekend, and I'm predicting 12 episodes produced, 5 aired.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Parenthetically, I'm not sure whether Something about Mary has held up -- as it rarely pops up on basic cable, I haven't re-watched it in ages.

I'd argue that it hasn't. If you're going with a movie of recent vintage, it would have to be Anchorman. I have a friend who gets through tedious business meetings by passing notes to colleagues with quotes from that movie ("I'm in a glass cage of emotion!" or "I own many leatherbound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany") to see if he can crack them up. If I was in a profession where we had such tedious meetings, I no doubt would attempt the same thing.

"I love lamp."

Anonymous said...

Alan, you might want to check out The Adventures of Pete and Pete for a blog review. Not sure if you're familiar with the show or not. It aired on Nickelodeon in the 90's but is a very grown-up show. Very surreal, hilarious and pitch perfect. It was also filmed in South Orange and includes Magnetic Fields and a bunch of other great indie bands on the soundtrack. It holds up magnificently well and is truly a one-of-a-kind.

I love this episode of F&G. Nothing else needs to be said.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I think Something about Mary is vulnerable to substitution (although I remember thinking it was one of the funniest movies ever when I first saw it), but I'm not sure any of the recent-vintage Will Ferrell is up to snuff. The quotes you cite are a perfect example of why -- they're funny just because they're ridiculous. Nobody actually talks that way; nor do the lines draw much of their humor from the original context. This is typical of a lot of the comedy of recent years, I'd argue -- vacuously over-the-top is the only club in the bag. Acting really goofy, and saying really goofy things, is not, by itself, especially funny for very long.

But I believe I'm getting *extraordinarily* off the main track at this point.

Unknown said...

Notably absent from the list of essential Geek films: STRIPES and BLUES BROTHERS from the F&G era. And I would argue heavily in favor of 2 films of more recent vintage (actually about 10 years old now - where did the time go?): SWINGERS and THE BIG LEBOWSKI. I'm about to turn 40, which makes me just a year or two younger than Sam, and those four loom large in my psyche and are quoted incessantly by me and my buddies.

"That's the Fact, Jack"
"Your problems is no ones' ever given you the Aunt Jemima treatment."
"Talk about massive potential for growth!"
"We're On a mission from God."
"Where's my cheese whiz?"
"You're money and you don't even know it!"
"This is the guy behind the guy behind the guy..."
"Vegas, Baby, Vegas!!!"
"That rug really pulled the room together."
"Donnie, you're out of your element."

etc. etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

I love that the deleted Sam/Cindy scene is labeled "our creepiest moment" on the DVD. Because really, for as much as they (rightfully, don't get me wrong) go on about Nick being waaaaay too into Lindsay, wow, is that cringeworthy.

(BTW, I've really been enjoying these posts, Alan. I rewatched the series this summer too, and fell in love with it all over again. I'd just started getting over the cancellation, too. Oh, well. At least it's a righteous anger.)

rhamilton said...

Swingers you could argure for as a slightly different genre (getting awfully close to romantic comedy, despite it being a "guy" film), but Big Lebowski I think has to be included. Besides it being, you know, really amazingly funny, I think it might be the most commonly owned dvd among People My Age. Besides maybe the Shawshank Redemption?

Anonymous said...

Well, if the Pantheon is open to all eras, I would have to put in a vote for the way-overexposed, but still genuinely hilarious, Austin Powers. Being pelted endlessly by it's catchphrases has blunted it's impact somewhat, but the quality is there.

Anonymous said...

I second the Pete & Pete suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Arriving late to the party. Just seeing you mention it's the "penultimate" episode chokes me up. I, too, fell hard watching this show again this summer. I don't even feel as if I'm watching a TV show. Does anyone else feel this way? I feel like they're real people torn from my life...which sucks! In a weird way, it reminds me of the documentaries where they revisit the British group every 7 years.

This is one of my favorite episodes. I wish, wish, wish we had gotten more Amy. ( also can't believe that actress isn't doing more) Seth Rogen blows me away in this episode. His declaration of love to his "tuba girl" is fantastic. It's small, I know, but I just like that they worded his line at the end with "*and* I'm sorry."

The only other things I can say about that episode are: 1) my dad would totally have pulled out that "you're with the Weir party" if he could have in my youth and 2) Kim's response to Lindsay's crush," Yeah, if you like guys that look like Jesus!"

As to Alan's question about comedy lines. I'll be honest. My husband got me to watch The Jerk which my father wouldn't let me watch at the time. I thought it was very funny, but it could never hold a candle to Caddyshack for me. I could watch that movie every day.

I'm typically a guy's gal so most typical guy humor is not lost on me. As for Rover's list it's a really good one. I'm not the biggest fan of "There's Something About Mary" only b/c it doesn't hold up too well; Chris Elliott skeeves me out too much by the end and, every once in awhile, there's only so much I can take of Cameron Diaz. There, I said it.

My Dad introduced me to all of those movies, but Spinal Tap (college) and Mary (after college.) On your HM's list he intro'd me to YF and BB. Love BB. The whole family of Jaroch's quotes Caddyshack and BB the most at family gatherings. Maybe it's a Chicago thing.

Of all the other HM's mentioned throughout: never seen Life of Brian, but my hubby loves it; dig Fast Times; Best in Show is scary/funny; loved Real Genius the more I saw it growing up.

Alan: I love "I love lamp." Here's one of my favorite lines from Anchorman...about Odeon's Sex Panther, "They've done studies, you know. 60% of the time it works, every time."

Today's comedies that I watch the most: Dodgeball (I can't *not* quote this movie!);Borat; Old School; The Big Lebowski; Anchorman; Wedding Crashers. I imagine Knocked Up and Superbad will get added to that list.

By the way, I'd love to hear anyone's opinions on The Cable Guy; Zoolander and Talledega Nights.

"Pepper needs new shorts."

Anonymous said...

Talledega is hysterical. I really love the outtakes on the DVD.
Cable Guy I have to watch again, I think I'm more ready for it now.

Anonymous said...

Big Lebowski is a very solid candidate. Perfect fit for the kind of movies on the list.

I disagree about Austin Powers, though -- the fact that the catch phrases don't hold up is exactly why it wouldn't make the cut.

Jennifer: to put something on the list, you have to knock something off. Do you really think Dodgeball is funnier or more quotable than Caddyshack or Blazing Saddles? I mean, maybe its a male thing, or a generational thing (as originally noted, this is a specific demographic we were talking about), but: you gotta be kidding me.

Good talk, Russ.

Toby O'B said...

Have you seen this casting story re: an F&G alumnus?


Anonymous said...

Rover: you are completely right. It wouldn't take their place. As I'm a woman, I choose to have a group of 20! Solves *my* problem! ;)P

Karen said...

Wow. Seriously? No one mentioned "Ghostbusters"? That movie leaves me paralyzed, and I quote from it constantly. Even in class--if you're trying to describe an implausible situation, all you have to say is "DOGS and cats, LIVING together!" and the whole room--no matter the ages involved--will dissolve with laughter.

About Daniel in the confession scene--I thought he was being pragmatic and realistic, just as he was with Lindsay when she set up Nick's drums audition: "He's just got a little time before he ships out. Let him enjoy himself." Daniel understands all the freaks so well (Kim is one big exposed nerve; he's been waiting for Ken to like someone since the third grade; he's terrified of what will happen if Lindsay breaks up with Nick), and he harbors no illusions. What makes Ken's actions in the end so admirable is that he stepped up and was a man about it--not a lot of teenage boys would act that way, in the final event. And, frankly, I don't think Daniel would, himself. Not at this point in his life, anyway, and not once all his best friends knew about the situation.

About Ben Stiller--I have never been a fan, and I found his presence extremely disruptive in what was otherwise an incredibly powerful episode. So much going on: Sam and Cindy, Ken and Amy, Lindsay and Bush--and up pops Stiller doing shtick. The final scene with Rosso, where he's taking the test...it's not even believable, and if there's one thing F&G was uncompromising on it was its realism.

I'd like to propose--as I think I have elsewhere--that for a DVD blogging event you take a look at the British series "Shameless." It's simply remarkable! And only one 7-episode season is available on DVD, so it wouldn't even take up that much of your time. Probably not a lot of your readers have seen it, but it's looked like a lot of commenters hadn't seen F&G before you started blogging it, so that's almost moot.

But if you want to go strictly American, then I second the nomination of "Firefly."

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cinemania said...

If we're going overseas for inspiration for future summertime blogging, there's also the British series (two seasons, twelve episodes) Spaced, by the folks behind Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead. Very clever stuff.

Anonymous said...

Karen: After these posts I found myself looking at our DVD collection. I saw Ghostbusters and immediately smiled. You're right. That movie is very funny and so quotable. By the way, it's nice to have another gal giving her opinion now. ;)

Unknown said...

Haven't seen anyone mention one of my favorite exchange of the whole series, so I thought I'd toss it in:

"George Bush is coming."
"The porn star?"
"No, the Vice President."

Can't believe it's almost over. Thanks for doing this, Alan. My vote for next summer goes to Firefly.

Anonymous said...

Ken grasping Amy's tuba as he kisses her is one of the best images in the show. I love the Ken/Amy relationship--what a shame Jessica Campbell only appears on two episodes. Nick's and Daniel's reactions to the news is perfectly in character for each--Nick's optimistic, kind of "who cares if you're in love (I wish I were)" attitude vs. Daniel's pessimism

Anonymous said...

Love F&G and this blog is great.

Wayne's World as a top comedy.

Anonymous said...

I also found Stiller's presence annoying and distracting in this episode. It's a shame.

Anonymous said...

i didn't mind stiller. i thought it was kind of sweet. i really like that last joke about working with major appliances. "that would be a yes" :D

i guess knowing they were getting cancelled anyway they took the opportunity to get a big political 'up yours' in with this episode

sort of like mr. rosso

Anonymous said...

Concerning the Comedic Movie Parthenon, I would strongly lobby for Robert Zemeckis' "Used Cars". It's not as well-known as the others on the list, but I find it to be one of the funniest and most eminently quotable comedies of that late '70s/early '80s period.

A little late to the party here, I know.

Anonymous said...

As long as we're doing the "late to the party"-thing I want to mention Nick's panic after Daniel kept going "coup, coup, coup...". "Don't joke about that, man!" Cracked me up for some reason.

Anonymous said...

Even later to the party: I was really surprised to read your take on the sleepover. My assumption was that Daniel thought Ken was being a complete idiot and was mocking him for thinking that he was teetering on the edge of gayness because of his girlfriend's gun/holster situation.
Am I giving him too much credit?

Anonymous said...

I'm finally watching this on IFC and love it. The one thing I didn't buy was Sam's mom giving him a family heirloom to give to his 14 year old girlfriend. Seriously?

Anonymous said...

What's particularly great about the Cindy/Sam break-up is that, even when Sam is totally fed up with her, he's a nice and understanding enough guy to not succumb to any kind of malicious feelings towards her. He simply admits that the two have nothing in common and really aren't compatible with each other, but he never spitefully judges her as a "bad person" or plots any kind of needless revenge. Cindy's final scene in the episode, where she tearfully introduces George Bush Sr., is also interesting in that it suggests she realizes that she lost a really good guy in Sam and, perhaps, learned something from her time with him.

If only more television producers would learn from the realism of the Sam/Cindy relationship. We then wouldn't have so many would-be-disasterous-in-real-life couples like Ross and Rachel.

I also like the Ken/Amy angle, because of the way it demonstrates a simple relationship reality: No matter how great somebody may seem, he/she is bound to have at least one quirk or flaw that bothers you in some way. The question is whether or not you can accept it.

Marty said...

I was reading some of the comments in Boyfriends And Girlfriends, and I think Alan's assessment of them in his Smooching And Mooching recap is pretty spot on: Cindy curiously dating Sam isn't too far out of the question, because Sam is decidedly less geeky than Bill and Neil - he's not as spacey as Bill or socially inept as Neil, and in a lot of ways, his "geekiness" seems to stem mostly just from the fact that he's more into Star Wars than basketball (although it IS indicated that he's a fan of pro sports - witness the Detroit Lions helmet in Carded And Discarded).

Plus, in real life, the popular/unpopular divide generally isn't nearly as pronounced as what you typically see in movies (Revenge Of The Nerds) and TV shows (Popular). There are varying degrees of popularity/unpopularity. And, while Sam was technically "unpopular," he wasn't quite unpopular enough for Cindy to be embarassed about dating him. In fact, she probably didn't even totally notice his lack of popularity, since he wasn't routinely bullied or picked on by the other kids the way Bill and Neil sometimes were.

Heck, if you were unpopular in high school, it's very possible one of the popular girls had a secret crush on you but knew she couldn't act on it for fear of jeopardizing her social standing!