Freaks and Geeks Episode 17 ‘The Little Things’
Written by Jon Kasdan, Judd Apatow, and Mike White
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Aired 7/8/2000 on NBC
Although its clearly a truncated story line, the immediacy with which Sam and Cindy’s relationship falls apart in ‘The Little Things’ (which aired immediately after ‘Smooching and Mooching’ in the summer of 2000) actually enhances the impact it leaves on both its characters – and sets the table very nicely for ‘The Little Things’, an episode about facing rejection and making bold choices, even if they’re really just the most logical option available. It’s really the one hour we get to spend a lot of time with Ken (save for his subplot pursuing Amy in ‘The Garage Door’) – and its one of the best episodes of the series, navigating a difficult plot and nailing the landing in one of the show’s rare happy moments.
Let’s start with Sam and Cindy; now that they’re officially “dating”, Cindy’s cheerleader uniform-and-sparkles facade has worn off, and we get an insight into who she is – and why she suddenly became so interested in Sam. First off, she’s a Republican (“Todd was a Democrat… Democrats just want handouts”) she tells Sam, who really could give a shit less about politics because he’s a 14-year-old boy. Second, she rejects a family heirloom Sam wants to give her because it’s “ugly” – and later gets pissed when he covers up the disgusting hickey she leaves on his neck as a consolation for being a bitch through the whole date.
But worst of all? She hates The Jerk; after she asks Sam whether “popcorn would make this movie any funnier”, Sam’s face changes. All of a sudden, it becomes crystal clear: he has nothing in common with the hot cheerleader, every teenager’s worst nightmare (well, except for horny teenagers like Neal, who can’t comprehend that ‘hot girl’ doesn’t always equal ‘awesome girl’). What geek would break up with the hottest girl in school, if given the chance to date them – it lies in direct contradiction with every geek fantasy presented to us in popular culture for decades. Nerd wins out over the jock, they make out, roll credits – and like many other formulas pertaining to high school media, Freaks and Geeks actively rejects it, instead presenting us with what happens after those credits would roll.
Simply put, Cindy and Sam have nothing in common: and her interests in their relationship are clearly tied to making Todd jealous, something ‘The Little Things’ reinforces over and over with Cindy’s behavior. Even Todd notices it (“hey, I like Sam… what, do you want to see us fight?”), and although its too early on in the episode for Sam to catch in, it’s a big hint to the audience as well: Todd has his reasons for breaking up with Cindy, and not just because he’s the jerky jock stereotype we all expect him to be. Shit, he even says one of the geeks are cool, and seemingly rejects the idea of having to reinforce some silly ideal of teenage masculinity because there might be some under-the-shirt action on the line.
When it comes to Ken and Amy’s story line in this episode, Freaks and Geeks not only rejects the typical bullshit we’re sold with high school movies and television shows – but throws the entire blueprint out the window for a very risky story. After Amy reveals to Ken that she was born with both “a gun and a holster” (as Ken so eloquently puts it when telling Nick and Daniel later), Ken freaks out and becomes uncomfortable around her. It might not seem like an untouchable subject for shows now, but this is 2000, and Freaks and Geeks handles it with such carefree ease, it gives the storytelling a confidence that other episodes would bungle, turning it into a “very special episode” mess of cliches and stereotypical “rejections” of stereotypes.
I do think the episode leans a little too hard on Ken’s “am I gay” journey (him pulling out the issue of Playmate still makes me cringe a little), trying to balance out the heavy nature of Amy’s story with some lighter material. It works ok when Ken and Rosso are having their awkward conversation – but on the whole, it feels like a few scenes thrown on top to try and lighten the dramatic load of the scenes preceding it.
It comes to nice conclusion, however, with Sam’s complaints about his relationship pointing out the strengths in Ken and Amy’s, and their reconciliation clears the way for the last few minutes of the episode, which bring the episode’s C story front and center with Lindsay and Mr. Rosso’s responses to George Bush arriving at McKinley, and the frustrations associated with them. Rosso’s pissed because he has to give up his office and forfeit attending the assembly because he got his ass whooped protesting the war back in the day, and Lindsay’s pissed because her intelligent question was rejected by Bush’s people, replaced with some dumb fluff question about his favorite place to eat.
What I love is how different their responses are: Rosso passes his torch silently to Lindsay, encouraging her to throw a curveball at Bush and ask why he didn’t want to open a political discourse with the students. And Rosso finds a much more peaceful way to protest: he sits down with one of the Secret Service officers (played by Judd Apatow’s old boss, Ben Stiller) and convinces him to take a job compatibility test, leaving his job as a defender of the VP behind (all while raising the very interesting question of who in the world would try and kill the VP?).
Ultimately, Rosso and Lindsay’s “protests” tie back into everything that happens with Ken and Sam’s relationships in the episode: ‘The Little Things’ is really about the most important thing in life: staying true to yourself. If you’re not happy, change things: and if you are happy, don’t let small things that don’t really matter fuck it up for you. Do what you love, whether it’s being a counselor, a geek, a girl challenging the system, or a guy falling in love with a girl who plays tuba in the marching band: just be honest.
– grumblings of a new sports mega store have Harold worried; this would’ve been a great season two story line.
– Nick: “George Bush? The porn star?”
– Daniel: “How are we going to plan our coup?”
– in a deleted scene, it’s reinforced that Rosso is straight, and Mr. Kowchevski is in fact, gay.
– What had Sam and Cindy done before their movie date? “We went to the mall twice, we went to a football game once… and then we went to another mall.”
– all of a sudden, Rosso’s political rebellions are attracting Lindsay, a hilarious recurring gag through the episode.
– Sam tries his best to find an opening to give her a gift: “Speaking of handouts…”
– Cindy: “you’re supposed to be nice – that’s the only reason I was going out with you in the first place!”
– next week, our journey will come to an end with ‘Discos and Dragons’, a beautiful series finale.