Freaks and Geeks Season 1, Episode 12 ‘The Garage Door’
Written by Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah & Patty Lin
Directed by Bryan Gordon
Aired 3/13/2000 on NBC
Until ‘The Garage Door’, Neal and Ken are far and away the least-developed characters on the show. Ken disappears for episodes at a time, we’ve never seen the inside of Neal’s house – and both are people who use jokes to cover up their own feelings and insecurities. Both of them have to come face to face with something they’re dreading to realize in ‘The Garage Door’; but while Ken’s has a happy ending, Neal’s almost certainly will not, the latest of Freaks and Geeks‘ tragic, relatable teenage anecdotes.
What makes ‘The Garage Door’ work so well is the symbiotic relationship between Ken and Neal’s plots: the first scene is as good as it gets for Neal, his friends jealous of a father who lets them stay up all night to watch Saturday Night Live, telling jokes and sharing ice cream with them. By comparison, our first sight of Ken is at a low point: he’s sitting on the bleachers, heckling the marching band and generally being a dick, obviously in a bad mood over his boring existence.
Slowly, these two plots start coming together, framed by the things Neal and Ken desire: an Atari 2600 and “Tuba Girl”, and by the end of the episode, Ken’s on top of cloud nine and Neal is angry and depressed, driving around a neighborhood looking for the garage door that the strange operator found in his father’s car works with. They’re paralleled beautifully: only moments after Ken stops staring at Amy and finally kisses her, Neal is standing in front of an open garage, looking at a Corvette with the telling license plate ‘I FLOSSEM’ written on it.
It’s an interesting construction for the episode: it hinges on two characters otherwise unconnected to the audience, more of a space for simple sarcasm than character development. But the show finds a lot of interesting ways to develop the premises, changing the perspective of interactions we see every week, and even isolating these characters for the first time ever in their own brief scenes.
For both of them, the conclusion of the episode comes with Neal and Ken receiving that which they desired: Neal’s father buys him an Atari to try and cover up his lie, and Lindsay convinces Amy to go with her, Ken and the gang to Laser Floyd (something nobody but Nick seems excited for). Do either of them deserve it? ‘The Garage Door’ doesn’t explicitly suggest anything, but the hints are in the script: Neal gets what he wanted for ignoring the truth he didn’t want to face, and therefore can’t enjoy it all, distracted by the suspicions whirling around his father. On the flip side, Ken does embrace the truth (his feelings for a band ‘geek’), and gets to reap the benefits of his reward (a nice little Floyd laser session).
Beyond Neal and Ken, ‘The Garage Door’ stops to check in on the various relationship dramas with the freaks – an odd narrative companion to the isolated stories of Neal and Ken, but it’s not terribly noticeable. Daniel’s “tortoise and the hare” theory with Kim is a nice, light bit to go with the darker stuff happening with Neal, but the lingering Lindsay/Nick material drags down the freak scenes a little bit. The writing with Nick in these episodes is pretty one-noted (up until the final Laser Floyd scene, I suppose) which makes a lot of their material repetitive: Nick says something passive-aggressive, Lindsay smiles it off, Nick tries to smile it off, rinse and repeat. It’s not the world’s worst story line (in fact, it lingering for numerous episodes is a touch I quite enjoy), but its clear the writers were struggling to find things to explore in that post-breakup world, and thankfully start moving to close it off at the episode’s close.
If ‘The Garage Door’ was just an episode about Ken, it would easily be the worst of the series. The Neal material may be a shade predictable (anybody who is that cool in the opening scene is screaming to be disassembled as the episode continues), but it gives the episode an important emotional foundation that Ken’s story line could never have. What Neal deals with is something that’s hit American suburbia like a ton of bricks in the past thirty years – and no matter how many different stories like it we’ve heard, there’s something especially heartbreaking watching Neal drive up and down the dark streets alone, desperately searching for the answer he knows he doesn’t want.
– Harold warns Sam that the welfare line is full of video gamers – or at the very least, that it will be one day.
– Lindsay shoves three meatballs in her mouth at once to excuse herself from the table, a bit I will always laugh at.
– Kim whines about going to Laserdome because Daniel fooled around with some girl there once. Blah, blah, blah.
– how do Amy and Lindsay know each other? Their conversation after band practice reveals that Millie is a common friend. #mythology
– Bill hasn’t talked to his dad in three months – a sad, sad bit of story that will come into light a bit later this season.