Monday, August 13, 2007

Freaks and Geeks Rewind: Noshing and Moshing

Spoilers for the "Freaks and Geeks" episode "Noshing and Moshing" coming up just as soon as I crack open a few raw eggs...

The last few episodes featured fairly obvious links between their spotlight characters -- Ken and Neal, Bill and Millie -- and while "Noshing and Moshing" protagonists Neal and Daniel wouldn't seem at first blush to have that much in common, they actually work very well in parallel. Both are the closest thing their social group has to a leader (Neal's more the self-appointed kind and Sam and Bill don't care enough to challenge him, while the freaks genuinely look to Daniel to set the tone). Both initially seem to have it so much better than their friends (Neal moreso than Daniel, but Daniel still had the cool car and the ability to get away with almost anything), and yet bad news on the home front has both of them trying on a laughable new identity in this episode: Neal as a ventriliquist, Daniel as a "punker." (And in the hidden third prong of the episode, Lindsay learns from Neal's brother that reinventing yourself is a lot easier after you get away from high school and go to college.)

Daniel going punk was Franco's idea, and it was a good one. We had hints throughout the series that his home life wasn't something to be envied, but a trio of scenes reveal just how bad it is, and why he might be drawn to the punk scene. In the first, we find out that Daniel's father is an invalid (we don't know his exact condition, as we never see him), and his mother insists that Daniel be late for school so he can pick up his dad's medicine. He notes that he has too many tardy slips already and asks what he's supposed to do while he's in high school; should he drop out and get some dead-end minimum wage job? Mrs. Desario, clearly overextended herself, suggests that might be very helpful, yes. (Daniel is, after all, 18.)

"You're supposed to go inside, take care of him, and I'm supposed to go to school!" he barks at her "It's called Wednesday!"

But family is family, and Daniel goes to get the pills, which leads to him getting a royal ass-chewing from Kim, who had left her notes for an open-note quiz in Daniel's car and failed a test because he was late to school. He doesn't bother to explain -- he's too ashamed of his parents -- and instead starts chewing right back. It's the exact same fight we've seen them have a few dozen times in previous episodes, but for the first time, we understand exactly why Daniel can seem so absent-minded and insensitive: he's carrying far too heavy a load for a high school junior, even one who got left back twice, and important things and people keep getting missed. He and Kim have one of their periodic break-ups, but one that seems (slightly) more permanent than usual. Daniel's attention is drawn to Jenna Zank, a McKinley High drop-out who works in a local liquor store and has gone full-on punk. He's attracted both to the girl and to the angry, nihilistic punk ethos.

In a perfect scene that's Daniel's equivalent to Bill's afternoon snack sequence in "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers," we see Daniel entering his hole of a bedroom, promising his mom that he won't wake up his dad. ("He's always trying to sleep," Daniel mutters to himself.) He takes a newly-bought Black Flag album out of its record sleeve, puts on a giant pair of headphones and sits very quiet and still in the center of the room as he listens to "Rise Above." This is not music meant to be heard under these conditions -- the speakers should be blasting, Daniel should be on his feet, shouting along to the chorus, maybe bouncing off a wall or 12 -- but this is the life he has and the house he lives in, and so he sits there, small and silent as can be, and fantasizes about rising above and out of this crappy situation.

Daniel tries to play punker while asking out Jenna. She can smell the poseur all over him -- "You know what punkers don't do?" she asks. "Call themselves 'punkers.'" -- but Daniel's hot and he's interested. She invites him to hang with her at a club called (of course) The Armpit. (Further getting Daniel's interest: she writes the address on his forearm, which was a bold physical move in 1980 and is now practiced by drunken sorority girls from coast to coast.)

In yet another "Freaks and Geeks" sequence of a character trying on a new persona in front of a mirror (see Bill as the Bionic Woman, Sam as the super-stud, etc.), Daniel decks himself out in the punkiest look he can create, self-consciously putting more cuts into his t-shirt and sticking more safety pins into his leather jacket, then rubbing raw egg into his hair. When he pulls up to grab Ken and Nick (tagging along to The Armpit for the hell of it), they mock the new look, which includes eyeliner and spikey, white hair. (Question for the amateur punkologists/hair stylists: was it the egg alone that caused the color change, or would Daniel have had to use additional household products?)

It's really interesting to see Daniel at the punk club. It's the first time in the series he's completely out of his element, and you can tell how badly he wants to fit in. When he accidentally bumps into some shirtless punk, he looks terrified that he's going to get in trouble, and when the guy lets out a big spray of beer and roars, "YEAHHH!!!!," Daniel joins in with as much relief as enthusiasm. When he runs into Jenna, he tells her this look "is the real me," but doesn't even know the name of the band on stage. ("Puss rules!" "It's Pus. And they're on next.")

He gets kicked in the head by a crowd surfer and takes a cut to the back of the head so bad he needs to go to the bathroom to wash it. Another bathroom-goer tells Daniel about all the poseurs he's spotted, and Daniel gets loud and defensive. (Dude, nobody thought you were a poseur until you said that you weren't.) After cleaning up the cut a bit, he emerges twice as determined to show Jenna and everyone else that he belongs. He spots a woman performing nose piercings with a safety pin and volunteers to go next, but a half-second before the needle goes in, he spots Jenna making out with some other guy, flinches and suffers a nasty cut for his trouble.

Realizing that both Jenna and the punk world aren't the sweet escape he had made them out to be, Daniel decides to bail (Ken, who's discovered the joy of the mosh pit, sticks around) and makes a beeline for Kim's house. In a scene scored beautifully to Dean Martin's "You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You" -- part of a larger montage that begins with the Neal and Lindsay half of the episode -- he raps on her door, Kim comes out, sees the pain in his eyes and takes him back without either of them needing to say a word to each other. (Though, in a funny little grace note, Kim starts fingering the safety pins in confusion as she and Daniel hug.) They fight to the point of violence and then some, but Kim and Daniel love and understand each other as no one else could love or understand either one of them.

The other half of the episode is a sequel to "The Garage Door." (Because it was one of the episodes that didn't air until the next fall on Fox Family, there's a "Previously, on 'Freaks and Geeks'" -- narrated by the guy who played Harris -- montage at the start of the episode, which survives to the DVD.) Neal, still reeling over the discovery of his dad's adultery, starts channeling his energy into a career as a ventriliquist, to the dismay of Sam (who views Neal's dummy Morty as yet another obstacle on his path to coolness) and Bill (who's afraid of Morty).

(Though we may be just as horrified by the dummy as Sam and Bill are, it's actually a very period-appropriate choice for an old-beyond-his-years kid like Neal. "Soap" -- whose main cast included a ventriliquist and his angry dummy -- was still on the air and Willie Tyler and Lester were still popular on the comedy and game show circuits.)

While his mom and dad act like nothing's wrong in their marriage and plan their annual shindig for Dr. Schweiber's patients -- a "smarmy" event Harold Weir has to be dragged kicking and screaming to every year -- Neal begins acting out at school. He lets his grades drop, and when a teacher complains about Neal not doing a science report, Neal talks back and gets sent to the principal's office, and from there to Mr. Rosso. Jeff -- assuming it's one of your run-of-the-mill sex or drug-related high school problems that he has canned answers for -- presses Neal to come clean on what's bothering him. When Neal explains the situation (which isn't that unusual but is beyond the scope of a high school guidance counselor), Rosso is rendered speechless for maybe the only time in the series.

In the middle of all this, Lindsay's been stuck in one of the inner circles of high school hell, having gotten detention for trying to help some girl who was being harassed by Seidelman (the hefty bully played in a few other episodes by Ron Lester from "Popular" and "Varsity Blues"), then gotten that detention extended by insisting on doing homework instead of following the teacher's orders to stare off into space and "think about what you've done."

Both Neal and Lindsay's spirits are buoyed by the arrival of Neal's older brother Barry (David Krumholtz), home from his freshman year of college in Wisconsin. Barry, who was a geek like Neal in high school, has transformed himself into a far more charming, confident guy. He gets to live out every high school kid's fantasy when he tells bossy Kowchevski, "Hey, fat ass, why don't you shove it?," then boasts that Kowchevski has no power over him anymore. (Kowchevski, muttering to himself: "God, I hate it when they come back!")

At a Schweiber family dinner, Vic -- who, remember, was also a geek in high school and fell for Mrs. Schweiber early in college -- asks Barry about his love life and suggests he should play the field, since Schweiber men are irresisitible to the ladies. Neal's filled with rage, and when he and Barry get a minute alone, he tells Barry about the cheating. Barry, not surprisingly, already knew, having spotted Vic at the movies once with a redhead. (Neal got an Atari as his guilt offering; the older Barry got a car.) Neal wants to tell their mom, but Barry cautions him against it -- not to protect their mom's feelings, but because it could lead to a divorce, the selling of the family house, Neal only seeing Vic on weekends, etc. Neal's not happy with keeping silent, but he agrees for now.

The Schweiber party begins, and Harold and Jean (both dressed nicer than we've ever seen them) proceed to get royally hammered so they can tolerate all the dentist jokes. Lindsay, who hadn't planned on going at all until she witnessed Barry's studliness with Kowchevski, shows up in her prettiest party dress and hangs on Barry's every word as he explains how college gives you an opportunity to craft a new identity for yourself. He got beat up all the time in high school, but when he arrived at college, "I said, 'Look at me. I'm the handsome, dashing Jew.'" Lindsay happens to agree with this assessment, and Barry begins to kiss her...

... just as Neal, Lindsay-worshipping Neal, gets fed up with watching Vic act like the perfect husband and walks out of the house and right up to Barry and Lindsay standing by a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. (The writers really pile it onto their characters sometimes, don't they?) Neal, his entire family betraying him at once, moans "Oh, no" and runs back into the house. (We know Lindsay knows about the crush, and she seems suitably mortified, and judging by Barry's guilty reaction, I suspect big brother knew, too.)

Things go from bad to worse back inside, where Vic forces Neal to do his ventriliquist act for the crowd. Surrounded by all of his father's friends and patients, Neal really lashes out, using Morty to tell a series of increasingly vicious anti-Dentite jokes, starting with the difference between a dentist and a proctologist ("One's a doctor of the ass, and one's an ass who's a doctor!") and escalating into suggestions that Vic performs unnecessary surgery to make extra cash, and that he molests his patients when they're asleep from the gas. Vic physically tries to stop him, and Neal storms into his room for the kind of good, long cry that won't help much of anything.

His mom follows and wants to know what's wrong. Neal (and Samm Levine is killing me in this scene, as is Amy Aquino) doesn't want to ruin her life by telling her, but eventually gives in and says Vic's cheating on her. This is not news to Mrs. Schweiber (probably; more on that down below), and she explains, essentially, that they're sticking together for now for Neal's sake, and that they'll confront the adultery more directly after Neal's off to college. (This is not too different from what Barry wanted to happen, by the way.) As Neal sobs in her arms, she again proves herself to be a fantastic mom by telling him, "And you and Morty are very funny."

As I mentioned above in the Daniel section, the episode closes with that Dean Martin montage: Lindsay and Barry say their farewells; Harold and Jean, very drunk and even happier, stagger to the car leaning against their kids (Lindsay's driving; this isn't "Mad Men") and Lindsay beams at the thought of Barry (or, at least, the future he represents); Mrs. Schweiber straightens up the party mess, studies Vic and considers the true nature of her marriage; and Neal puts Morty in a corner of his room and lets out an enormous burst of laughter.

Poor Neal. Like all the non-Weir kids, he has a sub-optimal home life, but he's the only one to realize it this late in the game. I'm still ambivalent, though, on the choice of having him laugh like that in the final scene. This is a horrible night for him all around -- even his mom's compassion has to be tempered by the realization that he's the main reason she's letting herself be humiliated by Vic -- and not in the "Tragedy plus time equals comedy" way of, say, Kim and Lindsay's scramble for the Gremlin in "Kim Kelly Is My Friend" or Daniel getting his nose mutilated here. I don't want to call it a false note, because people respond to awful circumstances in thousands of ways, but it's the only real eyebrow-raising moment in what's otherwise one of the series' most perfect episodes.

Some other thoughts on "Noshing and Moshing":
  • When I declared that Bill's Bionic Woman drag moment in front of his mom's mirror back in "Tricks and Treats" to be the single funniest scene in the show's history, a commenter argued for this episode's opening scene, in which Bill performs The Rerun Dance for the very unimpressed Sam and Neal. I still stand by my original declaration, but it's closer than I would have thought. Go watch it on YouTube right now. It will massively brighten up your day. (For comparison purposes, you can see the actual Rerun Dance here. Fred Berry, RIP.)
  • In the liquor store scene where we meet Jenna Zank, Ken makes the series' first (and, I think, only) reference to the name of the town where they all live: Chippewa, which Google Maps puts at 2 and a half hours outside of Detroit.
  • Like Barry, David Krumholtz spent his wonder years as a geek -- at least on screen -- but this role marked a turning point of sorts in his career as he shifted into adulthood. He still played dweebs some of the time ("Undeclared," "Harold & Kumar"), but he began branching out into parts where he could be crazy (he killed Kellie Marti on "ER") or charming (he was one of the few watchable things about "The Lyon's Den"), and now as the "sexy math genius" on "Numbers," he's living up to Roger Ebert's old theory that a nerd will be a nerd forever, but a geek is often someone who just has to wait a few years until the world catches up with them.
  • Also, obviously, the idea of a high school geek trying to become cool in college was the main theme of Apatow's "Undeclared," and Barry mentions quite often that he hasn't picked a major yet.
  • I open it to you: Did Barry know about Neal's crush on Lindsay? Did Mrs. Schweiber really know Vic was cheating? I feel confident that the answer to both is yes, but had a debate about the latter with my wife, and we decided in the end that, at the very least, Neal was confirming Mrs. Schweiber's suspicions. (No way was this news completely out of the blue.)
Up next: Sigh... we're up to the final disc of the set (unless you're one of the lucky SOB's with the yearbook edition). Only three episodes to go in this summer experiment, starting with "Smooching and Mooching," in which the writers can recognize cancellation approaching and decide to give Sam (and Bill) some sugar while they still can. Oh, and Jason Segel in bikini briefs. Good times...

What did everybody else think?


Abbie said...

I love David Krumholtz.

I agree, they both already knew. I don't think she was actually just getting confirmation; I'm sure she already had it.

David J. Loehr said...

This is the only other Rerun dance moment that comes close. Scrubs and dance, once again.

And off on a tangent, searching for that clip, I found the great BellBivDevoe moment in German. There's something so right about the Janitor being the Hausmeister in Germany...

Anonymous said...

Paul Feig went to Chippewa Valley HS in Clinton Township, Michigan. That's suburban detroit (maybe about 30 minutes from the city center). Chippewa, Michigan is rural michigan, or at least it would have been back then. I think the show's setting is a fictionalized version of clinton township or similar outer-ring suburbs.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff as usual, but as a fairly recent college student I have to disagree with one small point. Sorority girls don't write their phone numbers on forearms, they don't write the number down at all. You just input the number into your cell phone. Did people used to just carry pens to the bars all the time? Weird.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that Mrs. Schweiber was on to her husband, mostly because of the way Amy Aquino plays the scene. When Neal tells her what's bothering him, her face falls a bit, but she looks more resigned than anything else -- disappointed that Vic let his affairs affect his relationship with Neal but definitely not surprised.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sorority girls don't write their phone numbers on forearms, they don't write the number down at all. You just input the number into your cell phone.

I'm an old suburban dad. Forgive me being behind the times.

Anonymous said...

On the era-appropriateness of Neal's dummy, don't forget Magic, one of those cultural touchstones that's usually overlooked when the era is recreated but whose classic trailer was as universal a reference as CHiPs or Pet Rocks. I can't recall for sure, but don't Sam and Bill mention the movie when Neal starts taking Morty to school?

Daniel's punk phase was a terrific move on the show's part--you were right in the earlier discussion, it fits right in with his constantly emphasized yearning to change, and explains why his later bonding with the Geeks doesn't come from left field. Though I find it a bit pat that it's played as so wrapped up in his attraction for a girl. Yeah, it fits Daniel's look-for-the-easy-out style, but I thought his abandonment of the culture was a bit abrupt. Nice that however blase his demeanor Ken manages to enjoy himself pretty much anywhere beer is available.

Have to agree that Rerun Dance is slightly funnier than Bionic Woman Dressup.

And I agree that the closing scenes are perfectly scored, but wasn't this one of the instances where the original musical cue had to be scrapped due to rights? I didn't catch the episode till it came on DVD (watched the series on NBC but not ABC Family), but I believe the commentary mentions having to replace a Neil Young song originally used.

Unknown said...

I know there was a lot to get to in this episode, but I'm surprised there was no mention of the drunken Weirs. I love how much Flaherty loves Neil's act; and Becky Ann Baker trying to find the car key to give to Lindsay, then giving up and handing her the whole ring never fails to crack me up. Three recaps in five days. You're spoiling us.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I can't recall for sure, but don't Sam and Bill mention [Magic] when Neal starts taking Morty to school?

Yup. That's why Bill's scared of it.

I know there was a lot to get to in this episode, but I'm surprised there was no mention of the drunken Weirs.

Hey, I included the picture. But, yeah, I intended to write something. It was just getting really long, even by F&G Rewind standards.

Then again, I imagine my finale recap is going to take me, like, three weeks to finish.

rhamilton said...

I think the whole "Neal, you've got to get over to their house more often" - "Believe me, I'm trying" dialogue revealed that Neal's thing for Lindsay was open knowledge between the two brothers. Barry comes across very well in this episode, but it always seemed to me that he had at least a little Vic in him.

Anonymous said...

Brian is absolutely correct on the location. Clinton Township is a much more reasonable place for a family whose dad operates a sporting goods store on 16 Mile Road (not Metro Parkway, not Big Beaver, not Quarton, just 16 Mile Rd). Definitely Macomb County.

bad dad

Alan Sepinwall said...

Thanks for all the geography updates, guys. The two and a half-hour drive thing didn't seem right to me.

AC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AC said...

Oh, "N & M": one of my top 3 favorite episodes. It was this episode that got my mother hooked on the show, and turned it into something that we enjoyed together--I showed her Neal's Senor Wences imitation, and she wanted to see more.

The whole sequence with Barry's entrance is just fantastic, and makes me squee a little every time I watch it. Other notes: I thought Krumholtz and Cardellini had some nice chemistry, I learned the word "farkakte" (or however it's spelled), and Lindsay got to see that there is hope after high school.

Originally, the ending montage was supposed to be scored to Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," but I prefer Dean Martin, especially because it's such an ironic song to hear over nearly everyone's depressing moments.

For the record, I definitely think Mrs. Schweiber knew that Vic was cheating on her, but I never thought about Barry being aware of Neal's crush on Lindsay.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for awhile during the time I was away from Jersey at school and I love the F&G recaps. Noshing and Moshing is probably my favorite episode of the series.

I think that Neal's mom had to know, as it had been going on for years, and not that discreetly.

pandy said...

My interpretation of Why Neal Laughed: I think Neal was just relieved to have the burden of his father's cheating off his shoulders - which is something that he had previously believed was his secret alone. He had obviously wanted to tell someone about it (acting out, Rosso, his brother, etc.) and he's laughing from relief now that the burden is finally lifted.

Of course that doesn't mean that the the problem magically disappears. But with kids, a parent's assurance that things will be okay is sometimes all they need to pick themselves up - and Neal is young enough to want to just leave it all up to his mommy. And I've got to say that the acting in that scene was terrific, and Neal's mother was wonderful. She really is a great mom.

Anonymous said...

AFAIK, the eggs only make your hair stiff enough to make spikes & such.

And real punks don't mosh--they slam. Moshing is for metalheads :-D

Anonymous said...

You mention you are on the last disc, but refer to the Yearbook editon as having more...I don't have that one...what is the difference between that and the full series discs?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The yearbook edition has two additional discs packed with more special features. I'm not entirely sure what all it includes, as I think finding out would make me even more annoyed that I don't own it.

The worst part: the friend of mine who does own the thing has only ever seen, like, five or six episodes of the series. He just loves getting extra-special editions of things on DVD.

Anonymous said...

Alan -

Thanks for the play by play buddy! It's awesome.

I gave you a shout out today.

Keep up the great work!


Anonymous said...

Best moment in the episode: the look on Busy Phillips' face when she sees Daniel at the door. A fleeting moment of amusement at his appearance that turns instantly to empathy with his pain. A beautiful performance. The scene really sheds light on the depth of Kim and Daniel's relationship. It's not just about sex, fighting and fun. They do understand each other, and, at least for now, need each other.

Anonymous said...

i think it was in this episode that I spotted a Tunnelvision poster on Neil's bedroom wall. nice shout out to an obscure, but not entirely age-appropriate for the geeks, sketch comedy movie from the 70's. although I was their same age, and I went to see it at the local theater too.

Anonymous said...

I think Daniel's hair was white because he'd mixed glue with the egg... or did I completely make that up?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these, Alan... as I catch up with the series, it's nice to have episodes' lives extended into the next day.

On the Neal laughing at the dummy bit... didn't bother me. Seems Apatow and Feig are making some statements over the last two episodes (the brilliant Bill-Shandling scene) locating the roots of comedy in adolescent angst, in the tension between the real world kids' developing consciousnesses are crashing them up against and the fantasy lands where they play. This, for me, gets at the core of Apatow's brilliance... I don't know of anyone who's shown the utility of comedy in deep-feeling, soulful, and painful introspection quite like this. He takes comedy, which 99% of the time is used to cover up or redirect vulnerability, and turns it inside out.

Anonymous said...

I am going to have to vote for the gym teacher having the boys read the transcript of the prank call as the funniest scene from the show.

Raz said...

OK, I'm over two years late in posting this, and it may well be the geekiest thing I have ever written on the internet, BUT...

Re: the fact that the final sequence was supposed to be backed by "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." I literally jumped out of my seat when I read that, because it seemed so absolutely perfect. So I actually replayed the final sequence, muted, with OLCBYH playing in the background and, well, damn. It's a real shame they weren't able to keep it, because the scenes have so much more emotional resonance this way. Instead of seeming sort of ironic and bitter, there's real heartache and heft. They also clearly sequenced the scenes to fit with the song: the chorus repeats at the scene where Neal's mom is looking at her husband and then at the moment where Kim pulls Daniel in for a hug. It's just so damn perfect.

Once again, with feeling: stupid NBC/Universal.

Marty said...

One very subtle part of this episode that I personally dig is the way Gary openly admits that he's not interested in joining a fraternity. A lot of college movies (particularly comedies) and shows make it seem like every college kid's dream is to be in a fraternity. Even though, statistically, only about eight or nine percent of college students ever join one (and the ones who do soon realize there's more to being in a fraternity/sorority than just nightly keg parties and rival frat house TP'ing). It's good to see F&G sidestepping that stereotype, among the many others it sidesteps.

Rizzo said...

Once again, with feeling: stupid NBC/Universal. Actually it wasn't NBC (although I can understand the sentiment). Paul Feig said more recently on 2012 lookback at the series (Google it) that it was a Neil Young/record company decision, they initially gave permission then changed their minds at the last minute. The substitution works brilliantly IMO.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite episode of all. Of the entire season, this one hits home with me and really brings me back high school when the college guys would be back "home" for Winter Break and guiltily ogle the 14 year-old girls who hadn't yet figured out they were beautiful. Samm Levine hits it out of the park and the entire Schwiebber family were cast with brilliant actors that I've enjoyed in so many roles.