Saturday, July 15, 2006

Freaks and Geeks: 'Smooching and Mooching' (1x16)

I've been watching Freaks and Geeks, through 'Smooching and Mooching' right now. I was one of the few viewers who actually watched it when it was on TV and I've always been a big fan of the series, however, when I first watched it, it was before I was a really big fan of serialized TV storytelling. After seeing many series, I've got a slightly different perspective on the series.

I don't think Freaks and Geeks is a perfect series, but like Cowboy Bebop and The Office, it's a show that accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. Part of this feeling is probably due to the fact that it has such a short run, it doesn't experience the growing pains that come from a major change to the series' premise, as in say Buffy or Gilmore Girls season four. If there was a third season, a bunch of the characters would be out of high school and I'd be very curious to know what the longterm plans for the show where. Buffy showed that if you have good characters, leaving a high school setting can actually help the show, because the problems become larger. That would force the freaks to really examine the direction of their life, it's not so fun misbehaving when you're out of school with no job and no long term plan.

Going ahead it would have been difficult to keep those characters together, Lindsay would pretty much have had to go to college, so even if you did keep the other freaks together, you'd have the serious issue of your main character being cut off from every other character.

Besides the obvious issues surrounding the freaks' graduation, I'm not so sure the geek plots would have worked moving ahead. In the DVD booklet, they talk about how once they knew the show was ending they decided to throw Sam a date with Cindy. So, if the show wasn't cancelled maybe that wouldn't have happened, but as it is, that's the major misstep of the series for me. Maybe it's just personal bias, but you very rarely see the 'male friend' move into the role of boyfriend, particularly when Sam is so socially inept around Cindy.

Most of the show takes place in such an oppressively real environment. The pleasure and pain of the series is the extreme awkwardness of the interactions between characters. We're allowed to see everyone at their worst and that makes the moments of happiness more satisfying. But, the end of 'Smooching and Mooching' is a case where the show goes off into fantasy and gives the viewer something that's enjoyable but rather unbelievable, notably the scene with Vicki and Bill. I think his speech where he asks her "What's it like being pretty" is fantastic, but the fact that she kisses him so enthusiastically rings false. I would have rather seen her just give him a small kiss, acknowledging his point, but not leaving reality.

However, in that same episode we get one of the best stories on the series, Nick's time with the Weirs. This story works well on so many levels because we're allowed to view things from Nick's perspective, Lindsay's perspective and Harold's perspective. It's a series of very small, believable events that build to illuminate a lot of character truths. Nick isn't used to an environment where people actually support him, Harold gives him encouragement while still being tough on him, something that his father wouldn't do. Lindsay's jealousy of her parents' affection for Nick is wonderfully done and also reinforces her difference from the freaks. She has so much ability, she needs to do more to succeed than they do. Her intelligence prevents her from fully joining their circle, and that's both a blessing and a curse for her. She has to be aware that they'll probably never leave town, but she will. And it's also extremely funny.

With only a couple of exceptions, the freaks' storylines are almost always superior to the geek storylines. That's because in most cases the geek ones are the comic relief, they go through some stuff, learn a lesson and move on. There's more ambiguity on the freak side. When the geeks do go for high drama, it's usually a reaction to something around them, like Neil's dad's affair or Bill's allergies, rather than coming out of their own lives and actions.

The show has a very de-dramatized 70s cinema style most of the time, but it does hew a bit too closely to the set up a problem, play out problem, find closure for problem structure of a lot of TV shows. There's continuing arcs, but each episode has a standalone story and that sometimes results in a feeling of artificiality to the closure that the characters find. Because there's a large cast we get a Sopranos season five style structure where one or two characters will have the spotlight for the week and play out all their issues. On The Sopranos this was used to give insight to the characters, but usually there wasn't any easy resolution. Some plots here work that way, others go for the easy solution to character problems.

But, that doesn't stop it from being a great show. This is a show that had its exact voice right from the beginning and never did a bad episode. There's some I like less than others, but there's always at least one good plot going on. The show's dual structure allows for an easier balance of comedy and drama than on almost any other show. You can have one character in a coma almost dying and another doing some broad marijuana humor and it works. And when the two universes collide, as in the great moment where Neil sees his brother kissing Lindsay, it provides for some of the best moments of the show, as we watch how actions have reprocussions across group lines.

Related Posts
Freaks and Geeks: 'Pilot' (1x01) (6/26/2006)
Freaks and Geeks: 'Discos and Dragons' (1x18) (7/18/2006)

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