Freaks and Geeks “Beers and Weirs” [1999)

Sometimes finding a good movie is just too much damn work.

Yes, dear friends.

There are nights when I search in vain.

[not to be confused with “in vein”]

{nor with “in vane”}

While I have found some real gems on Netflix, sometimes it’s just a bust.

And sometimes you just feel tired.

Well…

Tonight I tried to bring you a film review.

Actually, last night I wanted to bring you one as well.

But after an early snooze yesterday evening, I was more resolute about bringing you a new update.

Honestly, I really don’t like tearing films apart.

If I don’t like it, I just stop watching it.

So that explains the inordinate amount of films I call “masterpieces”.

I only make it through a film if it’s really good.

To me.

But after a couple of failed attempts tonight, I have decided to return to a medium (television) about which I have mixed feelings.

Most specifically, I have come back to Freaks and Geeks.

And boy am I glad I did!

The pilot episode was ok.

It had promise.

But I was generally pessimistic regarding its potential to blossom into a truly special show.

Well, all those doubts have been cast aside with this the second episode.

Things coalesce here.

There’s not that “pilot” pressure at work.

The show has been picked up.

And the actors start to relax into their roles.

Really, it is a beautiful thing to see.

This episode is ostensibly set in early-October, 1980.

A week after John Bonham died.

And this is significant.

For the goofy character played by Jason Segel.

Yeah, it was the end of Led Zeppelin.

You can’t just get another drummer.

And so kudos to the writers of Freaks and Geeks for getting deep into geekdom themselves.

But the main theme of this episode is drinking.

At least, that’s the surface layer.

And it is a genius plan (blurted out by my favorite character Bill) which makes this episode tick.

Indeed, no character has quite the depth of Bill.

Martin Starr does a fantastic job of evoking the geek-of-geeks.

But this episode two also brings to the fore the hitherto unseen gifts of Samm Levine.

Levine really gets a chance to shine here.

And he doesn’t disappoint.

There are perhaps few times when “the Jewish experience” transcends its usual insular presentation in the entertainment industry.

And for my money, Samm Levine (and the writers providing his lines) do a better job at this than even the much-vaunted Seinfeld.

Linda Cardellini is great as usual.

In fact, this episode affords her the chance to show her range as a dramatic actress (and not just as a quirky comedienne).

John Francis Daley is once again excellent as the eggshell character Sam.

For me, he becomes less of just the cute kid here (and more of a well-rounded character…foibles and all).

But let’s say a word about James Franco.

This guy can really act.

Sure, he’s sort of a scumbag in this episode, but that seems to be one of his specialties.

I will, however, draw readers attention to the short cameo which Franco made in the documentary Marina Abramović:  The Artist is Present.

In what I only faintly noticed on first perception, Franco seems to say in that movie, “Lady…you’re so full of shit.”

WITHOUT SAYING A SINGLE WORD.

And so it is not an insult to history if we compare Mr. Franco to James Dean.

So very few punks and “bad guys” truly have the righteousness to call bullshit at the highest level.

But perhaps my perception of microexpressions deceives me…

One thing I know.

Franco was all-world in Spring Breakers.

And that talent is evident in Freaks and Geeks as well.

And what about Seth Rogen?

This guy generally annoys the fuck outta me.

But I gotta say:  he is really good in this episode.

Again, the characters start to come alive in this second episode.

In the pilot, they are almost cardboard cutouts.

Concepts.

Personas. [in the marketing sense]

But director Jake Kasdan takes his game up a level for this installment.

Another gem of a character is Millie (played with deft divination by Sarah Hagan).

Millie also gets more of an opportunity to shine here.

She’s so goody-two-shoes it’s painful, but God damn it I identify with her.

And that brings us to an interesting concept.

Films rarely focus on it as much as TV seems to do.

Peer pressure.

When you get to be my age, you start to really not give a fuck.

But at the high school level it is excruciatingly hard.

Trying to be cool.

Decisions.

Few kids have the adult perspicacity of Neal.

Yes, Samm Levine’s character gets elected treasurer at school.

AND HE DIDN’T EVEN RUN!

A great, great Jewish joke!!

But Neal is the only one with the 100-year plan.

Yeah…blow off high school and you don’t get into a good college.

True.

And you might just end up in jail or dead before your time.

That is well fucking true.

But it’s not a popular sentiment.

And the guidance counselor with the male pattern mullet is in no position to hip this message to an assembly full of incredulous know-it-alls.

But back to Millie.

She is the most uncool girl imaginable.

And I love her character for that!

Just like I love the character of Bill!

Millie has her sweater.

[what we would today call an “ugly” sweater]

{but Freaks and Geeks was ahead of its time in this bit of cultural observation}

And her crucifix necklace, maybe.

And her straight-and-narrow hair parted down the middle.

And maybe some braces.

But damn it, Millie has conviction.

And when she starts singing The Doobie Brothers at an empty piano, it is the perfect marriage of misinterpretation and…misinterpretation.

Joined in a duet by gangly Nick (as he continues to mourn the loss of his hero John Bonham).

It is just really a rich situation!

And, of course, there’s Natasha Melnick who plays Cindy.

The redhead beacon of perfection.

Every pert smile a dagger in the hearts of lowly geeks.

But geeks dream.

And so do freaks.

And I’m not even sure which one I am anymore.

Certainly a nerd.

But Nerds and Turds just doesn’t have the necessary ring to have passed the NBC taste testers.

And so we have -eaks…and -eeks.

Who each attempt to eke out a niche.

It may be the placebo effect.

And God bless Neal for even knowing that term at age 17.

Though he is meant to look younger.

And it was in his script.

Presumably.

Yes.

Freaks and Geeks is a very smart show.

And it is worth sticking with.

At least through episode two.

I hope such genius continues!

One final word…

Creator Paul Feig and writers J. Elvis Weinstein & Judd Apatow deserve immense credit for the material which makes this episode tick.

Really phenomenal!

-PD

Freaks and Geeks “Pilot” September 25, [1999)

Did Serge Daney give us the permission to write about television?

In some ways he did.

But I have long since broached the topic.

Long since tried to get inside TV.

Most successful from my perspective was Twin Peaks.

A minor success (from my position) was the first season of Saturday Night Live.

And so as we trim and pare, we try a new venture.

Freaks and Geeks.

I had always been curious about this show.

Linda Cardellini is pretty darn awesome.

I couldn’t stomach rewatching those Scooby Doo movies again at age 40, but she’s great in those.  Sadly, the films have become unwatchable for me.

But Cardellini is the bright spot in those films.

And she’s a great presence in this pilot episode.

John Francis Daley is such a cute kid here.

It’s almost impossible to keep from smiling every time I see him.

All 103 pounds of him 🙂

James Franco looks really young here.

He proved his acting worth to me in Harmony Korine’s masterpiece Spring Breakers.

But so far he’s a mouth-breathing replica of the Fonz.

Samm Levine has some real acting talent (albeit consisting strictly of insular sci-fi impersonations).  I’ve yet to warm up to the character, but I can see the talent underneath.

Seth Rogen is pretty bonehead throughout this episode.

I suppose that’s the persona they’re going with for him.

He’s ok.  No big star.  No eye-popping skills.  We shall see…

But Martin Starr is the real winner so far.

His look is immaculate.

Great acting!

Also essential is Ben Foster as Eli.

This element is priceless.

But the real surprise performance (though it’s very brief) is by Sarah Hagen as Millie Kentner.

So I’m looking forward to more of Cardellini, Starr, and even Daley.

It’s a great crew.

The writing is decent.

Jake Kasdan’s directing is passable.

I hope it improves.

The concept is excellent.

Can Freaks and Geeks really pull off something special?

-PD