By Julie Hammerle and Emma Fraser
Freaks and Geeks
Season 1, Episode 9: “We’ve Got Spirit”
Original airdate: Jan. 24, 2000
Julie: This week’s Freaks and Geeks episode was all about SPORTS! Basketball, in particular. I’m a big basketball fan (and a fan of Seth Rogen’s Ken), so this show was right up my alley. (Though we could’ve done with even more Ken. Never enough Ken.)
In this episode, the freaks became sudden McKinley High basketball boosters after a bunch of jerks from rival school, Lincoln, egg Daniel’s car. Sam decides to try out to be the McKinley High mascot (a terrifying, big-headed Norseman) in order to impress Cindy after the original mascot (a pre-pubescent Shia LaBeouf!) ends up on the injured reserves list. Oh, and Lindsay tries to figure out how she can break up with Nick without hurting him (or herself).
I want to talk first about the freaks and their newfound school spirit. At the beginning of the episode, Daniel makes a snide comment about all of the hype surrounding the McKinley/Lincoln game. He claims that the jocks think they own the place, and you get the sense that his disgust is more about feeling left out than not appreciating the sport.
The completely resonated with me. I’m a sports fan, but I didn’t hang out with the sports people in high school. I never went to the games at my school, because I didn’t want the athletes or the “real” friends of the athletes to see me there and wonder who the hell I thought I was going to the game (ah, the narcissism of youth). This insecurity even extended to college where I attended NOT ONE basketball game the entire time I was living mere blocks from Indianapolis’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. (Since graduating, I’ve become a huge fan of the Butler Bulldogs basketball team, and even traveled down to Indy to watch them play in the NCAA championship game against the stupid Duke Blue Devils. This is all probably due in part to the fact that I no longer have to worry about the power forward in my speech class wondering why I feel so compelled to watch him play basketball all the time.)
This is still more about me, but kind of TV related: Instead of going to watch our own high school’s boys play basketball, my friends and I used to go to the all boys’ school a few miles away to watch my cousin’s team play. (See, it was legitimate that I was there because my cousin was on the team. Obviously, I was there to watch him and not the other guys. At least that’s how I could write it off in my head.) The reason this is TV related is because Danny Pudi was a classmate of my cousin’s and I think he may even have been the mascot at the time (probably funnier than Neal). At the very least he was at a lot of the games, which I would’ve appreciated more at the time if I had been able to see into the future.
Anyway, the way all of this relates back to Freaks and Geeks is that when Ken, Daniel, and Kim finally went to the game, and when their more mainstream classmates saw the freaks showing their true school spirit, they were accepted into the group. For the 48 minutes of game time, at least, everyone in the school had something in common. Sports. The great equalizer.
I know you’re not a basketball fan, but what did you think of the freaks’ storyline?
Emma: So the whole high school team spirit thing is an alien concept in my experience at school (and I’m guessing most people who went to school in the UK would agree with me). Yeah we played sports but I don’t remember there being a lot of big games with other local schools and we definitely didn’t have cheerleaders or mascots. I think this might be why I find US set high school movies and shows to be so fascinating as there are so many different rituals (even though the fundamentals are the same in many ways).So sadly I can’t relate to your experience with not going to games, though I’m sure there were other things that I didn’t feel like I could go to as I wasn’t part of the right social group (I can’t think of any good examples right now). I definitely can’t top your excellent Danny Pudi connection.I guess the only equivalent I can think of and it’s pretty tenuous is when there were German exchange students visiting (in Year 9 which is age 13-14, not sure of the equivalent grade) and there was a HUGE soccer game between England and Germany as it was the semi final of the European Championship. England lost on penalties (which is pretty much standard) and it was devastating and super awkward with a group of people that we barely knew who were on the opposite side. I’m pretty sure it ruined any friendships that might have happened.
I’d say almost all my big shared sporting moments have been soccer related (also it pains me to be calling it soccer, it’s the American English word that feels the most wrong to me) with the time I watched England vs Portugal also in the European Championship at Glastonbury festival in 2004 with 80,000 other people. England lost on penalties again (there’s definitely a pattern) but because we were at Glastonbury no one really cared that much. For that 120 minutes (there was extra time) it was like the whole place was united, even those who don’t normally like soccer.
This was a really long way for me to say that I really liked the freaks storyline and how they became fans of their school basketball team (also the main Lincoln student who confronts them is Matt Czuchry from The Good Wife, this was unexpected and awesome). I also liked the dynamic between Kim, Daniel and Ken (yay Ken) and I would love to spend more time with these characters hanging out and hearing Daniel’s dating pearls of wisdom. It was a relief that they didn’t go hard on Lindsay for wanting to break things off with Nick and shows that Lindsay is their friend and not just a random hanger on.
So while we’re on the subject of Lindsay, what did you think of her break up with Nick and how she went about it?
Julie: Yeah, but you guys got to wear cool scarves and ride around on broomsticks before entering the Tri-Wizard Tournament, right? (This is what movies have taught me about English schools.)
You go ahead and call it football. This is a safe space.
Also, you probably should write a YA romance novel about a British girl falling for a German foreign exchange student while their teams are embroiled in a bitter football rivalry. It could be a West Side Story retelling. Maybe West END Story? The book writes writes itself.
I wish it didn’t, but so much of American culture revolves around sports. I grew up an artsy, uncoordinated child in an athletic family. Despite having zero athletic ability and even less enthusiasm for running, I was pushed into playing sports (mostly basketball, softball, and soccer, though I was on the golf team in high school — don’t ask). In my grade school, there was sort of this separation between the kids who played sports and those who didn’t, now that I think about it. I don’t want to say that the kids who didn’t play sports would’ve been shoved into the “Freak” or “Geek” groups, but, yeah, I think they would’ve been.
Moving from sports to LOVE, I really enjoyed how obviously the freaks want Lindsay to stay in their group. Daniel was terrified that her breaking up with Nick would lead to her breaking up with them (or Nick going crazy and forcing Lindsay to want nothing to do with them ever again). And while Ken couldn’t care less what Lindsay was doing, Kim was definitely excited that Lindsay trusted her enough to ask advice. I loved how proud Kim was that Lindsay wanted to talk to HER, not Daniel or Ken. Just Kim. Kim and Lindsay forever.
And that breakup sure was painful. I think we’ve all been there, wanting to break up with somebody but not wanting to be the bad guy. I usually ended up being the bad guy, because I’d just resort to no longer taking calls or talking to said person at school. It was a very mature way of handling things. At the rate Lindsay was going with Nick, I think it was a blessing that her mom spilled the beans to Nick about how Lindsay wanted to dump him. She probably would’ve ended up marrying the guy, or at least going to prom with him.
Have you ever had your mom break up with somebody for you?
Emma: See maybe if there were scarves involved then school sports might take off over here.
And I’m all over that YA idea, everyone loves the 1990s at the moment so it’s perfect!
Events like Battle of the Bands had inter school mingling and there wasn’t that much rivalry there either. Or maybe there was but it went on backstage (though I doubt it).
I also have a similar confession when it comes to breaking up with someone and I too did the ignoring thing. The guy I was dating was in the year above so it wasn’t that difficult a task but I still felt awful. He probably won’t be reading but if you are here is a 15 years late apology. Lindsay’s hesitation felt so familiar but luckily my mum never broke up with a boy for me. Like Lindsay I was pretty guarded with talking to my parents about boys, I wasn’t really a sharer with my parents and it confused me when friends of mine said they told their parents everything.
Lindsay’s mom Jean is so excited that Lindsay has confided in her and it’s funny that her mom is so happy even though it’s not something good for Lindsay. As she tells Harold it makes her feel like a mother and she gets to do this again later as Lindsay cries on her shoulder at the game. It’s so awkward when Jean talks to Nick and it the look on Nick’s face when it dawns on him that Lindsay wants to break up with him is heartbreaking.
It’s always been clear that Nick is way more into Lindsay and it’s something we have discussed in the past. it’s much better that they break up now before Nick really falls head over heels. Nick has been this intense in the past and Lindsay’s failure to break up with Nick throughout the episode is influenced by stories of his previous break up. Nick makes it sound less stalker-y than Heidi suggests and I think the real version falls somewhere in the middle. Nick probably was too intense, especially if poems were involved (I got a poem once and while it was sweet it also felt overwhelming) but it was also maybe unfair of Heidi to show those poems to everyone. Nick also turned up at Lindsay’s in the middle of the night because he wanted to see her face and his friends are also aware that he might flip out if Lindsay breaks up with him. Nick doesn’t flip out, instead he takes the lead and breaks up with her citing his friends and his drums as the reason, but he’s clearly cut up about this. I went out with a guy when I was 17 who was a lot like Nick; he played the drums and was a pothead and the opening scene rang true. Hmm this episode is bringing out all my teenage dating confessions.
Moving on to the geeks and Sam’s continued misguided quest for Cindy as she continues to be the worst. What did you think of this mascot storyline (other than how terrifying that head is)?
Julie: We should pick a week a week and dedicate our post to apologizing to all the people we hurt in high school. And then we can air our own grievances the following week. It will be like Festivus without the feats of strength (I’d totally lose at feats of strength).
I was definitely a sharer with my mom. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for her, I didn’t have much to share. Now that I’m the mother of a daughter, I really do hope she’ll give me the goods, at least so I can write all about it in an authentic YA novel. It’s scary not knowing what’s going on in your kids’ heads, and I can see why Mrs. Weir was so excited when Linsday (sullen, independent Lindsay) finally opened up to her. It’s nice to be needed and trusted.
But Mrs. Weir never should’ve said anything to Nick. That was too much. Be friendly, keep it casual, but don’t talk about the relationship. I’m sure Jean Weir will have it all figured out by the time Sam gets a girlfriend. That’s one of the benefits to being the younger sibling — the parents made all the mistakes with the first one.
As soon as Nick said the word “poems,” I knew Heidi was telling the truth (at least somewhat). Poems are bad. Anything written is bad. I say this from experience. Horrible, embarrassing experience that still gives me the shakes fifteen years later. I think we’ve all been on either side of this coin. We’ve all been the one who liked someone a lot more than they liked us, and vice versa. We’ve all been rejected or have had to do the rejecting. And that’s a lot to handle when you’re just a teenage kid, whose day-to-day goal is generally not to make waves.
So, Sam. First of all, I’m proud of Sam. Even though he joins most of the things he joins because of Cindy, at least he’s putting himself out there. And hopefully one day, at yearbook or whatever, he’ll meet a girl much more worthy of his affections than stupid Cindy.
Anyway, the saga of Sam starts with Shia LaBeouf getting a concussion and the cheerleaders (head cheerleader being a young, blond Joanna Garcia) needing to find a replacement mascot. Sam tries out because of Cindy, and he’s gets the job (even though Neal wants it SO BAD). Sam does a fine job, but instead of compelling Cindy to fall in love with him, he has to run around in a horrible viking head and listen while Cindy confesses her love for Todd, the star basketball player.
I thought the best part of this storyline was Sam finally telling Cindy that she’s stupid for liking Todd. He barely looks at her and it’s just so “obvious,” as Sam puts it. I really thought Cindy would wise up and realize that Todd is stupid, but then she was kissing him by the end of the episode. And I know this won’t end well for Cindy, which doesn’t give me as much glee as I suppose it should. (I’ll stand by the sisterhood over lame jock boys any day.)
What did you think of Sam the mascot?
Emma: One final thing on the Lindsay story is how her dad reacted to Lindsay’s friends saying hi when he was trying to impress his own friends. It turns out that parents can get embarrassed too.
Now to Sam as the mascot and this story perfectly showed what it is like when you like someone, think that they might like you too and then get your heart stomped all over because they like the more popular (because that’s just what happens, especially at high school). While I’m glad that Sam told Cindy that she was dumb for liking Todd, it’s coming from a place of resentment and jealousy and he doesn’t tell her why he reacted this way. Instead he blames it on nerves and I still think Cindy is completely oblivious to how Sam is feeling, no matter how many subliminal messages Bill thinks Cindy is sending Sam’s way.
The scene between Todd and Sam after Todd throws up due to nerves is a nice touch as it shows Sam that jocks aren’t the cocky, confident figures that they appear to be. It’s a look behind the curtain and while Sam doesn’t get the girl he can at least be reassured that the popular kids have moments of fear and doubt.
The Neal/Sam costume switch worked nicely, though I found Neal to be a little irritating with his obsession for the mascot to be funny. This might have been intentional as Neal did a mostly terrible job as the mascot, staying on the court when he shouldn’t, pulling on bra straps during the pyramid and causing it to collapse. Both Bill and baby Shia seemed to enjoy the show. Mrs Weir wasn’t so happy when Vicki hit who she thought was Sam (and I spent the whole episode wondering where I knew her from, it turns out from everything but the blonde hair threw me) and I’m glad Neal got a little pounded on by the cheerleaders at the end. The running gag about Shia falling asleep was good, particularly with the last shot of him asleep.
I also liked how Sam got Neal to give up his one day dream of being the mascot by invoking Star Wars and “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi you’re my only hope.” This definitely feels like the kind of thing that would work. Bill continues to be so wonderfully weird with his advice and quips particularly when he tells Neal that he can’t be seen with him because his ideas aren’t funny.
I’m also pretty sure I’m going to have Norseman related nightmares, the grin on that mascot head is terrifying.