Freaks and Geeks Episode 14 ‘Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers’
Written by Judd Apatow & Bob Nickman
Directed by Judd Apatow
Aired 10/10/2000 on FOX Family
When I think of the long-term potential missed out on Freaks and Geeks, episodes like ‘Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers’ come to the forefront of my memory. It’s an episode about two non-main characters (Bill and Millie) giving unexpected depth to their characters, family situations, and teenage lives. They come in very different forms – one from the death of a family member, and the other from a family gaining one – but they tie back to this similar idea of teenage rebellion, of how forcing ourselves to not deal with something emotional only makes things worse in the long run.
‘Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers’ is almost a what-if proposition; what if Millie were to play the role of Lindsay on the show? Being a much more stringent believer of faith, a tragic death doesn’t quite shake Millie’s faith as it did Lindsay’s; but she goes through the exact same process that Lindsay does in the pilot, rebelling against her parents and even becoming friends with Kim (who is just doing it because she feels super guilty for killing her dog, of course). The parallels are drawn between the two all throughout: Millie changes her clothing like Lindsay did, she starts pulling away from parents like Lindsay -and at the end, is ready to pop a beer on her way to a The Who concert (“since Goliath died… my parents are letting me get away with anything!” she notes nonchalantly at one point).
But there’s a difference between Lindsay and Millie’s reactions to death: Lindsay can only see the cruelty of nature and what higher powers might exist by watching her grandmother die afraid. Not having that same experience, Millie’s reaction to Goliath’s death is a lot less harsh, but takes on a similar path. As much as she’s grown apart from Lindsay, part of Millie still dreams of being asked to be in first chair on the mathlete team like Lindsay does; there’s numerous suggestions throughout this season that suggest Millie not only was once Lindsay’s friend, but revered her in a way. But she’ll never become her; she really, really, really believes in God, even after finding out that Lindsay was there when Goliath died. Where death changed Lindsay’s beliefs, death only seems to reinforce Millie’s, especially after she talks a short walk on the wild side that Lindsay’s trying to experience.
The other half of the episode brings back the one-sided feud between Bill and Coach Fredricks that’s popped up across numerous episodes, reaching its deepest and rawest point here. Now that Coach is a part of his everyday life (he’s dating and sleeping with his mother), Bill finally has someone to project all his anger on that he’s bottled in since his father left him (in ‘Chokin”, he is excited to hear that his father called to check in, a sign that there’s some serious emotional scars Bill’s holding onto), made ten times easier because its someone that he absolutely despises, the epitome of all the dumb jockery that haunts him in the hallways every day.
One of the show’s most underrated moments comes after the geeks go with Coach to the local go kart track; when Coach spins Bill off the road to ensure that he wins, Bill storms off to the car and cries alone in the backseat. This isn’t the father he asked for – it’s not the life he asked for, living with a mother who he knows has had to strip to keep him fed and clothed before. Underneath it all, he feels guilty: guilty for his father leaving, guilty for his mother’s shitty life, and guilty that he can’t even let her be happy with the one person she cares about.
This becomes clear when Fredricks points out to Bill that while he may just be a dumb jock who loves sports and knows nothing, he loves his mother, telling Bill that she deserves to be happy after all that he’s been through. And like any teenager, Bill fights to accept it – Martin Starr is just fantastic in this scene, really displaying how confusing it is to feel the conflicted feelings of compassion and selfish teenage angst – but eventually, warms to the idea of having anyone to talk to Dallas about during the week, even if its the dumb gym teacher.
The lightheartedness found in Millie’s personality and Bill’s behavior in ‘Dead Dogs’ saves the episode from being as openly depressing as ‘Kim Kelly Is My Friend’ or ‘I’m with the Band’. The aforementioned episodes don’t have the optimism that ‘Dead Dogs’ does at the end, an interesting juxtaposition of how the family lives of characters can define them in their own personal struggles and tragedies. Without a strong mother, Bill wouldn’t be as confident in who he is, or be able to love her enough to see her date a dumbass that makes her happy; and by the same token, a weak family could easily turn Millie in Kim Kelly Jr. It’s one of many interesting little things to dissect about ‘Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers’, an episode that unfortunately, nobody ever really got to see live (unless you happened to catch it on FOX Family the one time it aired, seven months after the show was canceled).
– Neal to Bill: “He ate your mom’s pot roast?” Such a great, completely innocently-delivered euphemism.
– Harold and Jean have a disagreement over what the word “squeezebox” means in the context of a Who song. Later, Harold tells Lindsay to “keep those boys away from your accordian!”
– love the young Garry Shandling clips from The Dinah Shore Show, as well as Bill’s hysterical reaction (which sets the table for his other hysterical, much less pleasant to watch reaction later).
– Nick: stop writing songs for girls. Just stop, man. “Ladyladyladyladyladylady Eh-heh-heh-LLLLLL.”
– Sam would love Rich Little.