Freaks and Geeks
In honor of Freaks and Geeks’ long-awaited return to streaming on Hulu, Vulture is revisiting every episode, one at a time, to see what made this one-of-a-kind high-school series tick. Check back for new episodic reviews every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evening.
Dreams often don’t come true, and you can’t always get what you want. Those are realities that Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) has not been conditioned to believe. She’s smart, she’s good at school, she works hard, she follows the rules. Within the narrow confines set out for her, she’s flourished. The result is twofold: On the one hand, Lindsay assumes that, because she did it, anyone could follow her same path. On the other hand, if anyone doesn’t make it, it’s because they didn’t want it as much. They didn’t practice hard enough, weren’t committed enough, didn’t care enough. There’s a reductive quality to this kind of reasoning, but it’s defined Lindsay’s worldview for a long time — and coupled with her lingering frustration toward James Franco’s Daniel after the events of “Tests and Breasts,” it only drives her further away from the freaks.
Well … most of the freaks. Daniel, certainly, and Busy Philipps’s Kim Kelly, and Seth Rogen’s Ken (who returns after being absent in “Tests and Breasts”), and Shaun Weiss’s Sean, who gets honorary freak status this week for being a member of the band that may or may not be named Creation. But Jason Segel’s Nick Andopolis? Nick has nursed a crush on Lindsay for a long time (making room for her at the lunch table or the smoking patio, telling Kim to leave Lindsay alone, trying to give her an anxiety-lessening back rub in her own home while Daniel and Kim fought there) and he finally makes headway in “I’m with the Band.” Does Lindsay kiss Nick because she actually has feelings for him, or because she — as she so often does — throws herself into helping someone feel better, and prioritizes their well-being over her own? It’s a little more of one than the other.
“I’m With the Band” follows in the footsteps of “Kim Kelly Is My Friend” by introducing us to the home life of another freak, and aesthetically, Nick’s life isn’t very different from Lindsay’s. He also lives in a fairly large, uniformly wood-paneled home. His mother takes pride in domestic labor, with a basement full of jars of pickled produce. But unlike the Weirs, who haven’t indulged Lindsay on anything like this, Nick has a gigantic 29-piece drum set, a stage decorated in flashing lights and strobes, and a surround-sound audio system. In a very telling moment, the episode’s opening scene jumps back and forth between how Nick views himself as he rocks out to Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio” in his basement and how his father, Kevin Tighe’s Mr. Andopolis, sees the reality of his son. The camera revolves around the increasingly sweaty Nick as he gets more and more passionately into his drumming, as he keeps time with Rush’s Geddy, Alex, and Neil, and then we cut to Mr. Andopolis’s perspective — and it’s not good. Nick is passionate, but he’s also goofy and undisciplined. He’s excitable, but he’s not particularly talented. He’s a high-school kid with a hobby, and for most parents, that would be perfectly fine. But Mr. Andopolis creeping back up the stairs instead of saying anything to his son is the harbinger of disappointments that await.
And when Lindsay enters the mix, Nick’s feelings for her, her frustration with Daniel, and her earnest, misguided belief that anyone can do anything they want — shaped both by her own academic excellence, and by the low-key rebellion she’s feeling toward her parents — form a bond between them. Note that Lindsay doesn’t actually compliment the band’s performance of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” (“That was really wild” isn’t the same as “That was really good”), but that her follow-up commentary isn’t, “At least my friends are having fun.” And also note that when Lindsay learns Nick’s father plans to send him to the military after graduation to force him to shape up, she doesn’t offer comfort he can really use — like, say, the respite of playing music with your best friends for a little while. Instead, Lindsay’s overly exuberant praise of Nick, and her “You can do whatever you want if you believe in yourself” advice, almost reads like Lindsay thinking she’s a truer friend to Nick than the rest of the freaks, and like her advice is somehow better because of her GPA. Maybe it’s the Andopolises’ middle-class comforts, so similar to the Weirs’, that make Lindsay feel accepted enough to tell Nick, “We’re not so different.” But her statement is laced with self-importance, too, which quickly dissipates once Lindsay realizes the Pollyanna quality of her advice.
Ken correcting Lindsay with Rogen’s very derisive delivery of “the name of the song is ‘Baba O’Riley’” is embarrassing, but it’s kid stuff compared to the Dimensions audition Lindsay books for Nick. This scene — in which show creator Paul Feig plays one of the Dimensions members — is acutely agonizing: Nick’s realization that he’s out of his league; Lindsay’s awareness that she’s put Nick in this situation; the eye rolls and condescension from everyone in Dimensions, plus their sound guy and their groupie. Segel’s defeated delivery of “No, I’m not” after Lindsay says he’ll be better than them one day is a rare moment of vulnerability from Nick, and maybe it’s that openness — and Lindsay’s guilt — that inspires her to kiss him.
Lindsay’s regret comes on swift. When Nick and Daniel easily make up, making clear that Nick values his friendship with Daniel above all else. When Kim tells her, “You’re such a slut,” assuming immediately that Lindsay and Nick are now dating. And when Lindsay, sitting in Nick’s basement as he plays drums with just as much zaniness — and lack of finesse — as earlier in the episode, is roped into dry-ice duty. Does she stay in this relationship because it further cements her inclusion into the freak group? Probably. But opportunism, unknowing as it may be, doesn’t look good on Lindsay, and you see it all on her face in the episode’s final moments.
While Lindsay feels pushed into a romantic entanglement for which she might not be ready, Sam (John Francis Daley) is pushed — literally — into the hallway by bully Alan White (Chauncey Leopardi), who terrorizes the geeks anew this week. The school-district mandate that everyone shower after gym class pits Sam and Mr. Fredricks (Tom Wilson), and then Sam and Alan, against each other, but the real issue here is Sam’s fear of showing everyone his body. In “Kim Kelly Is My Friend,” Rashida Jones’s Karen Scarfolli had mocked his lack of body hair; in “Tests and Breasts,” the porn Sam, Neal (Samm Levine), and Bill (Martin Starr) watched furthered Sam’s anxiety over his physical development. But when Sam’s accidental nudity at school — amusingly depicted here with a bright blue blob over his body as he runs through the halls, desperate to find a way back to the locker room — makes him a kind of folk hero, he finally benefits from one of the pratfalls constantly ailing him. He wasn’t bullied; he was streaking. He isn’t bothered by Alan’s “You guys are losers, and always will be”; he’s boosted by the attention of Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick), and the praise from her fellow cheerleaders. Are people really going to “worship” him, as an awed Bill says? Probably not. But in that moment, Sam’s shame about his “beautiful body” fell away, and he stood proud in who he is. How long until Lindsay does the same?
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