By Julie Hammerle and Emma Fraser
Freaks and Geeks
Season 1, Episode 6: “I’m With the Band”
Original airdate: Nov. 13, 1999
Both of these story lines hit pretty close to home for me, but especially Nick’s. He’s in a bit of a do-or-die moment with his life. He has to keep up a C-average in school, or his father will force him to join the Army (How can someone force an 18-year-old to join the Army? Couldn’t he just move out?). But Nick doesn’t care about school, and he doesn’t care about the Army. He doesn’t want to work; he just wants to bang on his drums all day. He feels like if he doesn’t make it now as a drummer, he’ll never make it. He believes that his life is over at 18.
There’s so much importance put on the end of high school and turning 18, like if you don’t have it all figured out by then, you’re screwed. There’s so much emphasis on youth in our culture. You see these high school basketball players jumping up to the pros, people barely in their ’20s winning Oscars, and, yeah, it’s easy to feel washed up by 19.
Back in high school, I was a singer (still am, I suppose). I loved singing, and, like Nick, I did most of my singing in the basement — to my Indigo Girls and Tori Amos CDs. When I was in the basement, I was the star. I used the TV remote as my microphone. I had the full support of Ani DiFranco’s band behind me. I was legend.
But then I had to start putting myself out there, auditioning for choirs and musicals and, eventually, colleges. And I started racking up rejections, and I didn’t like those. And I started to back away from the singing, because I felt I wasn’t good enough, even though, in reality, I just hadn’t paid my dues. I expected to walk into the room and everyone evaluating me would be like, “Thank goodness you’re here. You are what we’ve been waiting for.”
Now, as a writer and a more mature (read: old) person, I’ve learned to accept rejection as part of the process. It’s never fun, but I don’t take it as a personal assault on my talent or on me as a person.
Anyway, enough about me. Who was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Nick. He puts himself out there by auditioning for the best band in Detroit, and though he doesn’t totally suck, he’s just not good enough to play for them. He’s young. He needs seasoning, but Nick takes the rejection to mean that he’s chasing a dream that will never happen. He decides to give up, and Lindsay decides to kiss him to make him feel better.
Did you give up on any dreams after facing some wretched high school rejection?
Emma: I’ve never been particularly brave when it comes to performing live, I’m terrible at singing and I loved drama but I was always happier being part of the chorus with a maximum of 3 lines. Subject-wise at school, I exceeded at writing about plays, art, and music but I never put myself out there performance-wise. The Nick rejection (and you’re own experience) is not something I went through because I never had the confidence to do so (this sounds really depressing now that I’ve typed it out but I was more than happy being the friend doing the cheering or offering a hug afterwards — no kissing from me).
Once again Lindsay tries to do what she thinks is the best and sadly it doesn’t quite work out the way she plans. Instead she gets called “Yoko” and breaks the band up (temporarily). Lindsay’s attempts at cheering Nick up by kissing him looks like it might have backfired as he’s now really into her, and at this point it looks like she doesn’t feel the same way. It’s spontaneous and sweet when she does it but it’s hard to read if she’s interested in Nick in this way or if she’s just doing it to make him see beyond the rejection.
Confidence is the focal point of both the main stories and we get to learn more about one of the Freaks. First we had a Kim episode, then Daniel one and now Nick; all of these stories have shown how Lindsay is navigating these new friendships and all have highlighted how different she is to them. Lindsay has tried to find solutions to their problems; Kim’s family/love life, Daniels studies and Nick’s grand dream and she’s fallen short on all occasions. Even if she hasn’t found a miracle cure for her friends issues it has allowed us to find out more about the Freaks and show that Lindsay doesn’t have to be perfect for this group to like her, it’s probably better if she shows some flaws in fact. I can’t remember what episode we’re due next but hopefully it will involve Ken (and it was wonderful to have him get some screen time being the disgruntled lead singer).
Daniel is a pure cynic (as are the other Freaks) whereas Lindsay is wide eyed and optimistic, I think that the Freaks can learn that you can achieve things if you want them. Lindsay’s point of view is naive but she does have moments like her hysterical laughing where she realizes that things don’t always go the perfect way. It’s part of growing up as you said to learn to accept rejection and Lindsay is learning this through her new friends. It’s not just about rejection but also having fun with your friends and that’s the point for this band for Daniel and Ken, they just want to screw around pretending to be rock stars and I think there’s nothing wrong with this. You mention that it’s easy to feel washed up by 19 and it really is and so it should be about having fun because this is the perfect age to do that (as long as you stop playing by 5).
Three quick observations with this story: 1) the use of Rush made me think of Jason Segel’s I Love You, Man; 2) Nick’s dad is played by the same actor as John Locke’s conman dad from Lost so I instantly hate him; 3) Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig plays the Dimension guitarist in Nick’s audition.
Do you think Lindsay regrets kissing Nick?
Confidence or a lack thereof is something that can have an impact at any age and I think this episode handles both the examples of a lack of confidence in a superb manner. I have many thoughts on the Geeks storyline but I’ll save that for the next part of the discussion.
Julie: I love how Lindsay comes across as this smart, savvy girl, but she’s always messing up socially. She has no idea how to fit in with the Freaks, and she doesn’t quite grasp their complete lack of ambition. When she sees that Nick actually has some, she wants to help him cultivate it, but his friends are completely unsupportive. They, like girls, just want to have fun. This also hit home with me because I was the serious one who wanted to sing and actually perform the plays I wrote, and none of my friends were into it.
I agree that there’s nothing wrong with the Freaks just fooling around and playing in a band. They’re kids. It’s what they’re supposed to do. Of course, there’s more pressure in this situation for Nick. He’s about to be forced into the Army (again, how?). His life is about to get really, really real, and he’s going to have to do some growing up, whether he wants to or not. It’s all still just fun and games for Daniel, Kim, and Ken. We’ll see if any of them wind up having the same sort of come-to-Jesus moment that Nick experiences in this episode.
Poor John Locke’s dad. Does he ever get to play a likable guy? It’s kind of like the actor who played JJ in Big Love, Zeljko Ivanek. You will always play the creep, sir, just deal with it.
I definitely think Lindsay regrets kissing Nick. She didn’t think about it before she did it, and now she’s dealing with the consequences of him liking her more than she likes him. That’s a tough place to be. That’s where friendships go to die.
I know you have a lot to say about the Geeks and gym class, so I’ll let you kick that off. What hit so close to home for you?
Emma: Now to my gym tales of horror and it’s not really one specific incident rather than the fear that gym and the changing room instilled in me, and why Sam’s story really resonated with me. I’m not really a sporty person (I have the worst coordination) and so gym was pretty much my least favorite lesson (except summer sports like tennis and rounders, they were fine). Navigating the changing rooms was a pretty daunting task as like any teenager I had body confidence issues and thanks to this I was pretty great at getting changed without showing any flesh. The really horrifying prospect was the communal showers which our gym teacher — like Biff — insisted we have. Like Sam, I was a fan of the wetting your hair method and that generally worked. It’s funny how a TV show can evoke a feeling that you thought was long forgotten but this episode did just that. Although our gym teacher did poke a girl in my class and referred to her “puppy fat” (I know) so it’s not surprising that there was so much fear in this room.
What I really enjoyed (through my own painful recollections) about this aspect of “I’m with the Band” is that this confidence issue isn’t out of the blue for Sam and it’s something they’ve been building on; from the incident in “Kim Kelly is My Friend” that prompted Sam’s desire to bulk up to his fears about his body and sex. Sam is aware that he is small for his age and that’s the thing about gym class as it’s the one lesson at school where your body type is on show, both in the changing room and participating in whatever sport is being performed (and really what is the point of rope climbing? I remember someone got a really bad rope burn from sliding down it and it wasn’t pretty).
This is a generalization, but teen shows tend to deal with body issues with the female characters and so it’s good to see Freaks and Geeks doing what it does best and subverting the norms. Basically, both guys and girls have it terrible during teen years when it comes to how fast/slow they develop, and we’re always going to compare ourselves to everyone around us. But really making teens shower together is a terrible idea (just look at the movie Carrie for further evidence).
Sam’s story moves in the opposite way to his Lindsay’s; she sets out trying to do something good but messes up, Sam thinks that he’s going to be a laughing stock at school after his streaking (brave gets used a lot for actors who go nude but this really was a brave performance from John Francis Daly and the blue dot to cover up his modest – though I’m guessing he was partially covered, but still). Instead Sam is hailed a hero for this, much to Alan’s disgust.
One other favorite moment was when Lindsay is forced to tell her brother what a beautiful body he has, as if it wasn’t mortifying enough. Lindsay takes it a step further by jokingly referring to Sam’s body as a “slab of beef” and remarking “if I wasn’t your sister.” This is pretty funny and despite their mother’s best efforts Lindsay isn’t the one who Sam wants to hear these things from.
It appears as if I’ve written a mini essay, I really do have a lot of thoughts on this. Do you have any painful gym memories? Also did you have the bleep/beep test at school as part of gym class?
Julie: Your gym class dramas sound typically awful. I don’t know anyone who looks back on high school gym class fondly. That teacher poking a kid and saying “puppy fat,” is just plain mean. What kind of educator does that?
Now, don’t get jealous or anything, but I completely escaped the horrors of high school gym class. I went to private school, so we weren’t beholden to the state standards the same way a public school was. My music classes counted as P.E. classes, which is ridiculous, but I wasn’t about to complain.
I actually did have to take gym freshman year, but I went to an all-girls’ school and no one bothered to shower because no one cared how you smelled and no one bothered to shave their legs all winter long anyway. It was a weird time. I remember gym class being fun when it was all girls. We did archery and roller skating and square danced with each other. Not exactly the traumatic experience Sam had.
Like you said before, I love how this show highlights the insecurities of both genders. Sam is insecure about his body. Lindsay is insecure about fitting in with her friends. Everyone has something to feel bad about, except, apparently, Neal, who’s proud of his body and its burgeoning hair follicles, and Bill, who just doesn’t seem to realize that he has anything to feel insecure about.
Also, yes. What is the point of rope climbing? I am in my early-to-mid thirties and I have never once found myself in an emergency situation where climbing a rope would’ve saved my life or the life of a loved one.