Freaks and Geeks Episode 16 ‘Smooching and Mooching’
Written by Steve Barros
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Aired 7/8/2000 on NBC
By the time the script for ‘Smooching and Mooching’ was broken in the writer’s room, the writing was on the wall for Freaks and Geeks. Knowing they only had three episodes left to work with, they attempted to cram as much into those episodes as possible – especially ‘Smooching and Mooching’, an episode that pales in comparison to its counterparts, mostly because there’s just too much going on for it all to be effective. It’s a melange of great scenes and performances, no doubt (headlined by Jason Segel and John Francis Daley), but it’s clear that the script tries to pull in one too many directions to really be effective.
The bit that really doesn’t work for me is Bill’s diatribe against Vicki during their ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’, which inexplicably leads to him making out with the head cheerleader for a lengthy amount of time. On some level, it’s hard to critique this – who doesn’t like to see the geek get a little action for once? At the same time, however, Bill and Neal’s presence as Sam tries to court Cindy feels tacked-on, a season two plot line that would’ve had a lot more time to fester given some space. At the heart of it, Sam’s joy is leading to sadness for Bill and Neal: they’re going to be left behind, realizing as much when they think about the people Cindy hangs out with, and how those people generally treat types like Bill and Neal. From the second they walk into Mona’s party, they know they don’t belong: but without Sam really caring (or him struggling with his own assimilation into the “cool group”), it never really finds any emotional impact with the characters. Instead, it’s “hey, Bill and Sam get buns!” and then it’s onto the next scene.
Rushing Sam and Cindy’s relationship and condensing it into two episodes is a bit of a disappointment as well: she’s trying to date Sam seconds after breaking up with Todd, with no sign that she’s had some personal revelation or change of heart (even in the slightest) since she started dating the school stud – and although their (spoiler) breakup in the next episode is just as rushed, it feels a lot more organic that Cindy coming out of nowhere and trying to make out with Sam in this episode (at least next week, it plays into the idea of teenage infatuation – here, it’s just Cindy’s make out slut). On every level, the Sam/Cindy dynamic (and how other characters react to it) suffers because of how little time we actually get to spend with them or the people of McKinley reacting to it.
What does work really well in ‘Smooching and Mooching’ is the mooching: Nick showing up uninvited (in fact, Lindsay tried to keep him away) to stay at the Weirs after his father throws his drums out, leads to one of the most unexpected cathartic moments of the whole series. Even though Nick’s clearly becoming a burnout, Harold’s not furious with him: in fact, he treats Nick the opposite of Lindsay, letting Nick slack off in ways Lindsay never could. But when it’s revealed that Harold had a “hard” father like Nick did, Lindsay finally understands why he’s been so friendly to her – a childhood like Nick’s can really suck, and Harold just wants to let the kid breathe before he returns to the hells of home life (another great scene is when he tries to explain to Nick’s father that “boys are boys” and Nick’s father tells him to call back when Sam turns 16).
When ‘Smooching and Mooching’ slows down enough to tell the story of Nick and Harold, it delivers the normal introspective emotional punch we expect from Freaks and Geeks – unfortunately, the plot machinations around it are more of a focus in the episode’s second half, and drag it down, not having the same pathos or subtlety (or even logic) that the other plots have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad episode (there isn’t a ‘bad’ episode of F&G, in this critic’s humble opinion), but it’s definitely one that’s less effective than the others, because the writers wanted so bad to tell the Sam/Cindy story in any way they could (and honestly, I’d rather have the events of this episode and ‘The Little Things’ than nothing at all).
– this episode was written by Steve Barros, who also played Mr. Kowchevski.
– Samaire Armstrong makes a quick appearance as a Deadhead (her second to this point, I believe); she’ll have an important role to play in the finale.
– watching the geeks get ready for any social activity makes for some of the show’s best comedic material. Here it’s Bill brushing his teeth and Neal making out with his doll Morty.
– notice how Cindy demands that Sam ask her out through other people? It’s the first of her unattractive qualities: we’ll get another 14,000 in next week’s episode.
– Anyone surprised Nick’s never thought of taking a drum lesson? Didn’t think so.
– “They have bongos!”
– I love the juxtaposed Nick/Daniel and Kim/Lindsay conversations: after Daniel notes to Nick what Barney would call “The Evening Massage”, Kim warns Lindsay: “If he starts rubbing your feet, watch out.”
– As a teenager, I definitely felt the fear Sam had asking a hot girl out for the first time (and unlike Sam, I was rejected). I also grew up with the “hard father”, though thankfully mine didn’t demand I join the military the day I got out of high school.