[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: Steve Bannos | Director: Jake Kasdan | Aired: 07/08/2000]
As we come down the home stretch of this epic little series, I can’t help but marvel at how well the show’s last few episodes tie everything so nicely and neatly together. The writers did not know the series was ending when they wrapped up the season (although the lackluster ratings were probably a red flag), yet they still managed to put a neat little cherry on top of their delicious ice cream sundae.
“Smooching and Mooching” does not mark the end of the series, of course, but it’s the episode where the show’s momentum begins to climax. Character relationships reach crucial points, and many of the show’s overarching storylines are skillfully tied together. It’s the epitome of mixed emotions – I’m torn up that the show will soon be over, but at the same time glad that it’ll be ending on a high note.
But I’ll save most of my feelings on the show’s ending for my review of the epic (read: EPIC) “Discos and Dragons” [1×18]. For now, the spotlight is on “Smooching and Mooching”, a surprisingly heartfelt – and even more surprisingly simplistic – entry in the series.
I’ll begin, as is typical, with the freaks’ storyline. As can be told from the episode’s early scenes, this is the inevitable follow-up to “I’m with the Band” [1×06], a story about Nick, his drums, and the father who threatened to step between them. Mr. Andopolis’ disapproval of his son’s ambitions – not to mention all that noise he makes – finally leads him to sell Nick’s drums. Nick is understandably upset, even indignant. Even after the Dimension fiasco in “I’m with the Band” [1×06], he still believes he has a career in the music business.
But though it seems natural for us to dislike Nick’s father for his “disapproving parent” label, Mr. Andopolis does have a point. Nick is not a good drummer, and the hours he spends in his basement have taken a real toll on his schoolwork. Though his actions may be a little forceful, Mr. Andopolis genuinely has his son’s best interests in mind.
But Nick still feels that drumming is among his best interests. Feeling betrayed, he moves out of the house. In his attempts to find another place to stay, he eventually winds up at Lindsay’s doorstep.
Lindsay is at first hesitant about the idea of Nick staying at her house, and her discomfort only increases when her parents graciously invite him to sleep over. Though the romance between Nick and Lindsay ended a while back, she’s still nervous about his overbearing nature.
In one of this episode’s more interesting turns, very little is done with the Nick/Lindsay relationship during this episode. Instead, “Smooching and Mooching” focuses instead on Nick’s relationship with Lindsay’s parents. Nick’s exuberance is well-complemented by Harold’s domineering yet well-intentioned nature and Jean’s natural kindness, and the three form a very interesting – and humorous – bond.
The ball starts rolling when Harold finds Nick lying around the house, listening to Rush records instead of doing his homework. “This is my homework,” Nick insists. But Harold gives Nick some surprisingly good advice, noting that Nick, though he’s trying to prove himself as a drummer, isn’t even doing enough to work that angle. He needs more determination when it comes to drumming – and in turn, to his academics.
It’s a side of Harold that we’ve never seen before – yet it’s one that feels completely natural. He’s always trying to set Lindsay and Sam on the right paths, and if he’s ever failed at that, it’s because he’s come off as too over-the-top. But here, Harold connects with Nick because he offers him advice that Nick’s father didn’t. Whereas Mr. Andopolis brushed away Nick’s ambitions with a “give it up” attitude, Harold lends him encouragement with the words, “Push yourself.”
In addition to encouragement, Harold gives Nick inspiration in the form of one of his old drumming records. Before long, the two of them, along with Jean, are laughing and dancing to the music. Sam sums up the peculiar situation in his line to Lindsay: “I don’t think Nick’s in love with you. I think he’s in love with Mom and Dad.”
But though Nick may be enthralled by Lindsay’s parents, he still has some leftover affection for her. In a funny and funnily awkward midnight scene, he quietly thanks Lindsay from behind a closed door for the way her parents have been treating him – while wearing nothing but a pair of undershorts. The look on Lindsay’s face when she eventually comes out of her room and sees him is far too priceless to be considered inconsequential.
When Lindsay asks her father why he’s being so accommodating to Nick, we get another interesting glimpse into Harold’s character. “Nick’s father is a hard man,” he says. “My own father was the same way.” Keeping in mind Harold’s strained relationship with his own father, his behavior towards Sam and especially Lindsay feels a little more justified. Harold feels his father neglected him during his youth – ergo, Harold tries to keep an eye on his kids as often as possible.
When Mr. Andopolis arrives to bring his own son back home, Harold tries to talk a little of what he believes to be sense into him, saying that teenagers deserve a little slack. Or teenage boys, anyway. When it comes to Sam, Harold makes no bones about “testing the waters”, but Lindsay will have to wait until she gets married. (A point he made clear in “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” [1×14].) It’s only natural for a father to be overprotective of his daughter, so this aspect of Harold’s character gives him a very human perspective.
And this perspective is used for great emotional value in the story’s closing scene, where Harold offers an apology to Lindsay for his sometimes over-the-top nature. It’s a beautiful moment for both characters, with Harold coming to terms with his fatherly weaknesses and Lindsay loving him all the more for having them.
Nick, for his part, is willing to reconcile with his father as well – the fact that his dad came looking for him is clear proof that he was concerned. Nick’s relationship with Lindsay remains on a pretty even keel in this episode, and – aside from the aforementioned shock- and grin-inducing underwear scene, nothing much happens to disrupt it. It’s a good sign that the rough patch between the two of them has by now almost fully healed.
But while the romantic aspects of the freaky portion of this episode are underplayed, the geeky part puts romance at its front and center. It sets up a climactic moment in Sam’s character arc, and pulls it off with great success.
The story kicks off with Cindy revealing to Sam that she and Todd have broken up. (The episode gets a sly callback in here, when Cindy echoes Sam’s words to her from “We’ve Got Spirit” [1×09] – specifically, that Todd’s a jerk, and that the jocks are only after one thing.) It’s a dream come true for him, if only he thought he still had any chance with her.
But astonishingly enough, Cindy now apparently discovers that she has feelings for Sam. She consults Bill on the matter, showing us that, for all the natural popularity that comes with being a cheerleader, Cindy is in fact a somewhat shy and nervous girl. As opposed to earlier episodes, when she could converse easily with her good friend and confidante, Cindy now doesn’t know how to properly talk to her new high school crush.
Now, the first time I saw this episode, I was a little miffed by this revelation. Cindy’s crush on Sam felt like it had come out of nowhere – didn’t she once call him as a sister or something? Now, though, having seen this episode and its follow-up numerous times, I’ve gained a clearer picture of what really went on here.
“I never date nice guys,” Cindy tells Bill. “I should try it. I think I deserve to.” Take a moment to appreciate the subtle genius of that line, which, on first viewing, sounds perfectly in tune with Cindy’s uncertainty in regards to dating, but gains a whole new dimension after watching the quick deterioration of Sam and Cindy’s relationship in “The Little Things” [1×17]. Cindy, despite her claims here, is not in love with Sam. She’s in love with the guy Sam represents, and the guy she wants Sam to be. She wants Sam’s “nice-guy” persona to cast her in a whole new, interesting light in her friends’ eyes. Naturally, I’ll go a lot more into how her feelings affect both of them in my review of “The Little Things” [1×17].
For now, let’s shift the focus onto Sam. Faced with the idea that the girl of his dreams shares his affection, Sam is nervous and unsure how to respond. (His first reaction is in fact to dismiss Bill’s news as a practical joke, before his fellow geeks convince him otherwise.) Sam has worked so hard in the past to get Cindy to like him that he actually balks when the idea is offered up to him on a plate. But finally, he summons up his courage, and decides to walk over to her. And kudos to Jake Kasdan’s direction, because the hallway at McKinley High has never seemed so long.
Sam, rather hesitantly, asks Cindy to a party, and she responds with a nod – and a kiss. I’m not too thrilled about that moment, since it kind of undercuts Sam’s nervousness about kissing her that persists through the rest of the episode. Still, I can buy that Cindy would be impetuous enough to want to get their relationship off to a quick and physical start.
In any case, Sam’s concern over the kissing is intensified by the fact that the party he’s meeting her at is – ulp – a make-out party. Neal and Bill, whom Sam invites as a means of showing that, despite his status promotion, is still willing to hang out with them, have their own amusing reactions. Neal dials up his suaveness and practices spinning a bottle in preparation for a romantic night ahead, while Bill worries about whether the girls will like him and if he’ll choke on someone’s tongue. Knowing how adept this show is at subverting expectations, the outcome of this story isn’t too surprising, but it’s fun to watch it play out.
Upon arrival at the party, Sam is greeted by Cindy, who doesn’t say or do much, but clearly wants him to lead her on. It’s interesting to watch this silent dictation, which makes Sam look like the romantic one of the pair, when in fact it is Cindy who is controlling their relationship – tying back in with the idea that she is trying to glorify her image.
It’s important to note this little puppet-and-strings routine, which keeps the typically formulaic “guy and girl go someplace private and make out” scenario from feeling typically formulaic. Also important to note is how the curtain closes on the story – while we’re left to wonder just how far the two of them went that night, the fact that Cindy is shown turning off the lights is a sign of how quickly she wants the manufactured relationship to get underway.
While Sam and Cindy find their own private room, Neal and Bill head to the basement, where all the popular kids are clustered. You can feel their trepidation as they survey the room, about to set foot in the Holiest of Holy Places. What follows this is one of the episode’s more noteworthy scenes, which centers around a Spin the Bottle game.
Think of what the game implies: The popular kids have been portrayed as cool and carefree when viewed from an outside perspective, but an inside look reveals some information about them that veers sharply from this stereotype. The game is structured around the players kissing each other – an inviting set-up for any teen – but it’s burdened with rules that take a real toll on the fun factor. What if the bottle doesn’t land on the girl you want to kiss? What if it doesn’t land on a girl at all? What if you get forced into the closet with someone you can’t stand for “Seven Minutes in Heaven”? It’s one of the greatest dividing lines between the popular and unpopular kids – the jocks and cheerleaders attach all sorts of preliminaries to their lives, effectively to make themselves look “cool”, while the geeks are more carefree in their environment, and when they stick to their own lifestyles, they generally wind up happier.
The crucial “popular meets unpopular” moment in the episode occurs when, due to one of the aforementioned dictations of the game, Bill and Vicky are sent to spend seven minutes together in a closet. What begins as a prison sentence for the two of them turns into one of the most surprising character interactions in the series.
Vicky, as we’ve seen in earlier episodes, is bossy, vain, and shallow – a harsh version of Cindy, in many ways. But now stuck with Bill in a place neither of them wants to be, she reveals a depth beneath her superficial exterior. In repeatedly telling Bill to keep away from her, Vicky only shows how far she has been wedged in her position as a popular girl – she takes every opportunity to cement her position. But when Bill angrily points this out to her, she apologizes, and they begin to converse in a more personal manner.
“What’s it like being pretty?” Bill asks her, trying to explore life from the opposite side of the spectrum. But Vicky has no answer. She doesn’t give much thought to her natural appearance – it’s how she’s always looked. This touches upon the statement of how outward appearances are merely superficial. Bill lends weight to this concept when he says that “I think people treat you nicer when you’re pretty.”
Bill may not be “pretty” but Vicky sees an indelible charm in him the more the two of them talk. And finally Vicky briefly sheds her superficial exterior starts making out with him – ironically fulfilling the “Seven Minutes in Heaven” criteria. Ha!
“Smooching and Mooching” is a surprisingly fun episode that provides some fresh and unexpected turns all around. It serves as both a reminder to why these characters are so lovable, and how well the show can play around with its conventions without feeling forced or manipulative. Most importantly, it’s got Nick wearing nothing but a pair of colorful briefs. I don’t know why I just typed that.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Harold explaining why a woman can’t be President.
+ Daniel teasing Nick to give Lindsay a foot rub, while Kim telling Lindsay to run if he tries to do just that.
+ Sam’s Parisian nightsuit and Morty appearing during the geeks’ dress-up montage.
+ Neal kissing Morty is very funny for every wrong reason I can think of.
+ Neal’s bottle always landing on Bill.
+ Neal being the only geek who doesn’t wind up smooching anyone by the episode’s end. “This party sucks.”
* Lindsay encourages Sam over his relationship with Cindy, telling him that “she’s the lucky one”. These words will prove almost prophetic in “The Little Things” [1×17], after Sam breaks up with Cindy.
* Sam discusses and laughs about “The Jerk” with his fellow geeks. He will take Cindy to see the movie in “The Little Things” [1×17], though she will find it far less hilarious than he does.
* One of the Grateful Dead groupies makes a brief appearance in this episode. The fans of that band will go on to play a much bigger role in “Discos and Dragons” [1×18].