[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: J. Elvis Weinstein | Director: Jake Kasdan | Aired: 10/17/2000]
If Freaks and Geeks has a flaw, it’s with continuity. No, I don’t mean general story continuity – numerous times do the characters reference past situations and events. I’m talking about more subtle episode-to-episode connection. There’s enough cohesion between the episodes to ensure that they take place in a specific order, but rarely does the specific story melt into any others, which keeps the show’s drama at a consistently base level.
At first glance, the story of “The Garage Door” [1×12] didn’t seem to have much effect on the episodes following it. Neal didn’t express any anger or concern over the fact that his father was committing adultery – it even seemed like the writers were actually trying to ignore that story. But though nothing is stated on the surface, there’s something different about the Neal of “Chokin’ and Tokin'” [1×13] and “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” [1×14] than the one we’ve seen in earlier episodes. Can you see what it is? (I’ll pause for a moment while you go back and rewatch those episodes. Okay, time’s up.) In both of those episodes, Neal doesn’t do a single impression.
From the moment we’ve known him, Neal Shweiber has been a devoted impressionist. We’ve seen his William Shatner, his Rod Serling, and his Groucho Marx. It figures that a high school geek, who would have difficulty expressing himself on a personal level, would instead use the vocalization and cadence of the men he admires. And in “The Diary” [1×10], we discovered that Neal’s inspiration for these impressions was his dear old dad.
So it serves to figure that if Neal would discover something that would cause him to lose a great deal of respect for his father – like, say, a mysterious garage door opener – he would no longer feel comfortable following in his footsteps. But Neal loves his impersonations. They’ve gotten him through a rough time in high school, and he’s not willing to give them up. So after hemming and hawing about for a couple of episodes, he finally discovers an outlet for his budding talent in the form of Morty.
Morty, a grinning wooden dummy – sorry, figure – is nothing but an impersonation. His resemblance to Neal is more than passing, which works in the teen’s favor. With Morty on his arm, Neal can mock and jab and make as big a fool of himself as he wants, without feeling any self-pity or hatred. If anything, Morty only gives him an even greater excuse to cut loose, and he becomes more of a wise-aleck than ever. Soon, even without the puppet around, he develops an edge, snapping at his friends and even clowning around in class. By giving in to his humorous side, Neal shuts himself off from the trouble that’s nibbling at him.
It’s only when his older brother shows up that Neal decides to unburden his troubles. Barry Shweiber is a sharp and easygoing college kid who appears to be well-liked by pretty much everyone. However, he’s not too concerned over the idea of Dad cheating. He’s seen his father with another woman before, but decided to keep quiet about it. “You want them to get divorced?” the older Shweiber boy asks his brother when Neal expresses his desire to tell Mom. Barry enjoys his family life as it is, and doesn’t want anything to rupture their homestead (which, from what we’ve seen of the Shweiber household, is pretty docile). Besides, he was given a car just for keeping his mouth shut.
Neal first decides to follow his brother’s example, as Barry seems to be well off from his decision. But before long, Neal’s admiration of his brother takes a serious hit – in a way that can be traced back to Lindsay.
Lindsay’s perception of high school continues to decline in this episode. After attempting to intervene when the behemoth Seidelman gets overly rough with a girl, Lindsay is given detention for fighting. When she is told that she’s not allowed to do homework in detention, Lindsay protests the school’s method of operation – which gets her into more trouble. Her later statement to Kim shows just how much the pains and perils of high school are getting to her. “Botwinick’s an idiot. Seidelman’s an idiot. This school turns people into idiots. It’s this school. I hate this school.” Lindsay’s line of thinking will continue until it climaxes with her crucial decision at the end of “Discos and Dragons” [1×18].
But now, Lindsay sees a light at the end of her proverbial tunnel when Barry arrives. He’s broad, jovial, and quick-witted – and he’s moved on to college. Lindsay finds herself attracted to Barry, and his assessment of post-high school life only intrigues her even further. Barry tells Lindsay that college is a “do-over”, and that she’ll be able to forge a new identity for herself once she gets there, to be what she wants to be. Lindsay voices a question which cuts straight to the heart of her central issue: “What do I want to be?”
No answer is given at this point, but Lindsay does find a moment of assurance when she and Barry are soon romantically embracing – much to the horror of Neal, who happens to come across them mid-liplock.
The shock of seeing his brother making out with his high school crush sends Neal into an angry daze. He feels inferior to his brother, and feels that he himself is at fault for his botched chances with Lindsay. In “Beers and Weirs” [1×02], he received a kiss of gratitude on the cheek for helping Lindsay work through some personal issues. Now, his brother has received something even more than that, and Neal feels himself being shoved unceremoniously to the sidelines.
Hammering home Neal’s pain is the moment when his father goads him into putting a show on with Morty at the house gathering. What starts as an amusing and relatively harmless comedy routine quickly turns ugly, as Neal channels every bit of the anger he has toward his father through the wooden figure. When Dr. Shweiber tries taking Morty away from his flustered son, Neal snaps at him and runs off to his room.
A touching scene follows, as Neal’s mother enters his room to have a talk with him. His emotions finally reaching their limit, Neal’s anger turns to tears, and he lets out the secret he’s been suppressing the last few episodes: “Dad’s cheating on you.” There is no sappy music or overwrought acting – the scene delivers everything at face value, which gives the conversation Neal has with his mother a very real perspective.
Equally as real and touching is Mrs. Shweiber’s reaction. She knows of her husband’s illicit ways, and comforts her son with love and assurance. “[Your father] and I have the rest of our lives to work out our marriage,” she tells him, “but we’ve only got a couple more years with you here.”
Neal, as I’ve said, is quite well-serviced in this episode. Unfortunately, that’s more than can be said about his brother. Barry Shweiber plays a role in two character arcs in this episode, and in both of them, he works quite effectively. Less effective, however, is his usage in the episode at large. As the writers try to paint him as a laid-back, perfectly likable college man – the better to emphasize his effect on both Lindsay’s and Neal’s lives – Barry ends up a little paper-thin – at times, even irritatingly so.
To emphasize this point, compare Barry to Todd Schellinger. Todd is portrayed over the course of the series as a larger-than-life figure – someone to give Sam a genuine run for his money in his quest to link up with Cindy Sanders. There are times, though, as in “We’ve Got Spirit” [1×09], where we see that Todd isn’t really a godlike superhunk – Sam just perceives him as one. This little deviation from the usual cliché helps Todd mesh more easily into the context of the series, even if he himself receives little depth. But there is no subverted outside perspective when it comes to Barry. He’s in this episode to be admired, and there’s hardly any indication if his character is as perfect as he seems, or if, deep down, he’s just an ordinary schmoe. And with no legs of his own to stand on, Barry ends up falling a little flat.
But as I said, Barry’s function in this episode is mainly to develop its central characters. Or two out of the three, anyway. In addition to Neal and Lindsay, “Noshing and Moshing” features a nice character highlight for Daniel, in a story that provides an interesting and amusing counterpoint to “Tests and Breasts” [1×05].
As I mentioned in my review of that episode, Daniel is a skilled and prolific liar. There, he amusingly spun an entire web of lies in order to avoid getting in trouble for cheating on a test. The dedication he showed to his façades, coupled with the hilarity of it all, helped hide the fact that “Tests and Breasts” [1×05] didn’t give him a whole lot of genuine development.
“Noshing and Moshing”, however, utilizes Daniel’s penchant for lying in order to deepen his character. Following his latest breakup with Kim (during which she tells him to “enjoy spending the rest of [his] life alone”), Daniel decides to pursue a relationship with punk girl Jenna Zank. And in order to impress a punker, he reasons, you have to be a punker.
Daniel has shown signs of rebelliousness throughout the series, but his technique has generally been to avoid the trappings of society rather than make a statement against them. As we can see in this episode, he has a few family problems, which may curb his interest in pursuing a truly radical lifestyle. But Jenna has piqued his interest, and, always up for a challenge, he begins to train himself in the fine arts of the punk. This is particularly notable in a scene when he sits on his bedroom floor and listens with devoted concentration to Black Flag’s “Rise Above”.
Daniel still isn’t very well-versed in Jenna’s culture (he fails to realize that punkers don’t refer to themselves as “punkers”), but she does find him cute, and invites him to a low-grade lounge called, of all things, “The Armpit”. Daniel dresses himself up for the occasion, turning from suave, rugged freak into wild, crazy-haired punk (with a brief detour toward Fonzie along the way).
Daniel, with Nick and Ken in tow, arrive at the lounge and are greeted by a very rambunctious group. Daniel tries to blend in with the crowd – “This is the real me,” he tells Jenna – but after being knocked down by a moshing crowd, it becomes clear that he’s bit off more than he can chew.
Needing a break from all the outside craziness, Daniel ducks into a restroom, where he turns defensive on a guy who seems to be implying that he’s a “poser”. It’s here that Daniel’s mask begins to crack, and he realizes that his penchant for deceit may have its limits.
Verging on desperation, Daniel decides to drop by a piercing station in order to truly pass himself off as a rockin’ rebel. Unfortunately, he catches sight of Jenna lipping it with another guy just as he’s about to be pierced, and the results are not pretty. This little incident seals the deal, proving to Daniel that he’s not cut out to be a punker. Daniel is usually quite good at fooling others, but in this episode, he only winds up fooling himself.
The episode’s final scene is structured montage-style, to Dean Martin’s “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You”. It’s an odd choice for a soundtrack which typically populates itself with the likes of Cream and Van Halen, and its slow pop lyrics seem best suited to a less edgy and more polished period story – perhaps a lovelorn episode of Mad Men.
Nevertheless, the song does not distract from the closure it provides to the episode. Lindsay feels that she’s found love in her life (though it’s only temporary, as Barry will soon be heading back to Wisconsin); Mrs. Shweiber goes about her chores, concerned over the state of her own romantic life; Daniel and Kim reconcile in a more tender fashion than we’ve seen from them in previous episodes. The lack of dialogue intensifies their emotions, and provides a nice bookmark for the standpoints the characters are currently at.
The most peculiar of these final scenes features Neal, who, following all the lousiness he’s experienced that evening, simply sits in his room, stares at the still-grinning Morty, and starts to laugh. Neal has spent much of this episode – and, by a greater extent, much of the series – attempting to pass himself off as an adult. But his mother’s words have had an effect on him, and, literally faced with a goofy and somewhat juvenile puppet, he finds a brief moment to indulge in his more childish side. It’s a nice touch for a character who has little patience for childhood games but is still genuinely surprised to discover he has chest hair.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Bill performing The Rerun Dance.
+ Morty sitting at the Shweiber dinner table, and Neal’s parents’ reactions.
+ Lindsay and Barry discussing the Reagan shooting. Once again, it’s the little things that make the 1980s setting as real as it seems.
+ The hair. (You know what I’m talking about.)
+ Ken moshing it up at the lounge.
+ Harold laughing throughout Neal and Morty’s entire act.
* Barry mentions that he’s considering not declaring a major. While not a series foreshadowing, this prophetically points to Judd Apatow’s later series, Undeclared (on which both David Krumholtz and Samm Levine would guest star).