Monday, July 2, 2012

TV Quote of the Day (‘Freaks and Geeks,’ on Teenage Guys’ Ideal Woman)

Bill Haverchuck (played by Martin Starr): "She's the kind of woman you could cut the cheese in front of."

Sam Weir (played by John Francis Daley) (laughing): "Oh yeah, Bill; that's what love is all about."

Bill: "It is. I mean, you couldn't be in love with someone if you couldn't. Think about it."

Neal Schweiber (played by Samm Levine): "That is true. You have to sleep with your wife every night of your life. If you couldn't blast one in bed, you'd get physically ill."—“Carded and Discarded,” Episode 7 of Freaks and Geeks, air date January 10, 2000, written by Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, directed by Judd Apatow

Yes, I know I did a prior “TV Quote of the Day” taken from Freaks and Geeks. I don’t care. The 1999-2000 NBC comedy-drama deserves extensive citing—and extensive watching and re-watching.

Like I’ll Fly Away and Gary David Goldberg’s affectionate 1950s memory comedy, Brooklyn Bridge, Freaks and Geeks is one of those shows that never achieved the high Nielsen ratings that their quality merited. If there’s one consolation of today’s media environment, it’s that we now have DVDs to bring to the attention of so many of us what we missed the first time around.

I can’t think of a better comedy about high school as seen through the eyes of the tortured teens that experience it. TV blogger Alan Sepinwall ("What's Alan Watching?) summed up the show’s enduring appeal succinctly in a post on its pilot, observing that the series “was always more than a collection of humiliations, prog rock tributes and dodgeballs to the groin. It was, at heart, a show about identity, how the hellfire of high school forges one for everybody, and how hard some people try to craft a new one for themselves.”

(By the way, I rank the pilot among the best of any series I’ve ever seen, right up two written or co-written by James L. Brooks: Room 222 and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.)

For the most part, the series treats its characters with sensitivity. But these are the teenage years, remember, and sometimes the accent is, if not toward the gross or offensive, at least toward the cringe-worthy. And when it comes to the cringe-worthy, it comes as no surprise that the dramedy’s guiding lights were executive producer Judd Apatow (later the producer of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Bridesmaids) and series creator Paul Feig (later, a director-executive producer of The Office and Nurse Jackie).

Does the above exchange possess the elegance of Restoration comedy, George Bernard Shaw, or even your average Frasier episode? Hardly. But it does speak to two themes that, I think, are hardwired into the psyche of American teenage guys: bodily functions and sexual intimacy.

In the case of bodily functions: the interest in that starts awfully young (I don’t think anything makes boys laugh harder than fart jokes except for the actual farts themselves), and it’s a live question whether it even leaves us in adulthood (one of Ben Franklin’s aphorisms from Poor Richard’s Almanack that I’ll bet you never read about in grade school: “Fart proudly”).

As for intimacy: the closest analogue to Freaks and Geeks is Barry Levinson’s 1982 film Diner, another great script that veers into the goofy psyche of the young male, where intimacy is uncharted, frankly terrifying, territory.

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