Friday, July 11, 2008

Freaked // Davis duos // Wain's world

My wonderful sister, Caroline--no, that's not her above!--and I have shared similar tastes in comedy for as long as I can remember. We used to sit and watch '80s classics such as Teen Wolf, Midnight Madness and Police Academies # 3 and 4 (the strongest installments, in my opinion, not to mention Bobcat Goldthwaite's shining-est hours, excepting the time he took a shower onstage at Comic Relief). But I was still a little intimidated when she recently mailed me the complete set of Freaks and Geeks on DVD. I get stressed out when someone lends me one CD to check out--how was I possibly going to find time for an entire TV series?

Well it's about two weeks later, and I've happily made the time. Laal and I were hooked on this from the first episode and we've been averaging about two a day since then. Last night marked the end, and it's very easy to see why there was a fan petition started to get this show back on the air when it was originally cancelled.

If you're not familiar with the show, it's an early production of Judd Apatow, now responsible for some aspect of seemingly every smart/dumb American comedy in theaters, including Knocked Up, Superbad and the like. (Can't wait for Pineapple Express!) The storyline is completely ungroundbreaking: nerds and misfits in a 1980s high school cope with maturity, drugs, sex, rock & roll, parents, teachers and all the other typical problems.

Now if you've seen Superbad or any of Apatow's other movies, you know that he has a penchant for injecting poignancy into his otherwise lowbrow material. Searching my brain for examples, I'm coming up w/ the end of Superbad, where the two male leads are sort of snuggling together in their sleeping bags. Knocked Up had a bunch of sweet stuff too, though it felt a little contrived to me.

But when this show gets poignant, it gets raw and exceedingly deep. And it rarely makes things easy on you. Oftentimes, you feel sorry for these kids, but sometimes in a way that makes you want to cringe rather than give them a reassuring hug. Nick Andopolis (played by Jason Segel of Sarah Marshall fame)--a pot-addled drummer with a military dad--is one of the most genuinely pathetic characters I've ever seen on a TV show. You feel awful for him, but you still don't blame the female lead, Lindsay Weir (the gorgeous and insanely talented Linda Cardellini), for keeping her distance.

The sheer wealth of brilliant characters on this show--in roles ranging from lead to supporting to bit--is astonishing. Dave "Gruber" Allen as the impossibly dorky ex-hippie guidance counselor; Thomas F. Wilson (Biff!) as the over-the-hill P.E. teacher; Martin Starr as the endearingly gangly and seemingly semi-autistic Bill Haverchuck; James Franco as the token James Dean type, Daniel Desario; Becky Ann Baker as Jean Weir, an unbelievably convincing suburban mom; Seth Rogen as the brusque wise-ass Ken Miller; and my favorite, Stephen Lea Sheppard (Dudley from Royal Tenenbaums!), as the gross-teenage-moustache-sporting Dungeon Master/romantic sage Harris Trinsky (pictured at the top of this post). I don't think I've ever felt such warmth toward a TV cast before. (Well, at least since the 90210 days.) Honestly, this show belongs right up there with the Wonder Years. It's likely even better b/c it's less gauzily nostalgic. It's funny as hell, but often extremely painful to watch. The problems raised in the show rarely receive what would qualify as a tidy resolution on any other show.

Predictably YouTube has a wealth of Freaks material. You could probably watch the whole damn series up there if you wanted to. But I thought I'd share two clips. The first is a rare encounter between Franco's insecure loner cool guy and Sheppard's completely unself-conscious loner nerd. This one really gives you a sense of the odd fleeting moments that make this show feel meatier and more special than so many other series:

The second is a wordless, yet absolutely heartbreaking/-warming portrait of teenage after-school oblivion, featuring the confluence of grilled cheese and Garry Shandling. Very occasionally the show's period details can feel labored but that's not at all the case in this clip of Martin Starr's Bill:

Anyway, I couldn't recommend this show more highly. You won't be able to stop watching and you'll be very sad when the show's over. Thanks to the cold threshold of puberty, Freaks and Geeks is gone for good. Thanks again, sis, for bringing this one into my life.


Since we're already on the YouTube tip, I thought I'd also throw you two duos featuring my favorite jazz bassist of all time, Richard Davis, whose work on Andrew Hill's Blue Note records from the '60s stands as some of the most bewitchingly weird and moving work ever done on the upright. Maybe it's due to his plain-sounding name, but he's still not as well known as folks like Ron Carter (wait, that theory is bunk because Carter also has a really plain-sounding name...). In any case, his staggering discography also includes brilliant playing with the likes of Booker Ervin (the monumental "Book" series), Eric Dolphy (that's him on Out to Lunch), Phil Woods (Musique du Bois, anyone?) and even Van Morrison (a little album called Astral Weeks, and one listen to the title track will demonstrate that it's WAY, WAY more than a sideman appearance). These two clips give you an idea of his range.

First we have a beautiful "Summertime" in duet w/ the mighty Elvin Jones--as featured on their Impulse LP, Heavy Sounds. (Check out the size of Elvin's mallets!)

And then a brief live clip of Davis with... the Boss, from March of this year! (Davis actually appeared on the original Born to Run LP.) I'm not really a Springsteen fan, but I can get into this smoky mood:


Lastly, via Joe (via Ellen), comes a hysterical episode of Wainy Days, featuring David Wain of Stella/State/Wet Hot fame. I am consistently inspired by this man's comedy, specifically his tendency to burrow ever further into new depths of heinously unfettered ANNOYINGNESS. Don't get me wrong, this is a compliment. His Woodstock riff --beginning at :48 and lasting for a full, excruciating twentysomething seconds--deserves to be considered alongside works like Orthrelm's OV as a crucial example of balls-out contemporary minimalism. I very much admire the way Wain and his Stella bros have only grown more extreme in their comedic aesthetics as their careers have worn on. They have absolutely no qualms about the fact that to many viewers, these skits are going to register as absolutely, screamingly maddening and they seem to be delighted to throw down that gauntlet every time out. Love it.

1 comment:

Alex said...

yep, Freaks & Geeks was pretty much the greatest.