Normally a footnote, the oddity of this choice–and, let’s be honest, its relevance being tangential at best, as I’m soon to explain–means I should get that out of the way. It is, of course, one of the lines John (then Johnny) Mellencamp (then Cougar) uses to close the chorus of “I Need a Lover”, his first big single (if memory serves, bigger in the U.K.–oops, it was Australia, apparently–than his homelands here) from his early U.K. album, A Biography (released on the next year’s John Cougar in the U.S.). It appears here because it was the song covered for A.V. Undercover today, and that’s the really flimsy connection: the A.V. Club.¹
Anyway, current unemployment leads to strange ways to deal with free time, and the most common one (short of reading or organizing comic books, of course) is playing solitaire while watching things on Netflix. I’ve seen some great horror documentaries, and some interesting television serieses and what have you, but lately I ended up pursuing two of the anger-inducing-cancellations of past decades, these being the earlier works of Judd Apatow–Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.
I actually caught episodes of both shows when they were initially airing, but not much more. The former intrigued me,² the latter drew me in with previews and then couldn’t hold my interest.
Revisiting these shows, both held in very high esteem, has been an interesting process. Freaks and Geeks fascinated me with its actors and scripts that made it pretty easy to forget either of those things was involved. Most issues were treated pretty reasonably–the scattered chaos of reality, minimal preaching or firm decisions about moralities and the like. With one exception–“Choking and Toking”, which I felt stumbled (pretty hard) on both of its issues. The most persistent bullies acted in vengeance (the whole arc of this, in-episode, is just silly, down to its closing line which never should have been spoken aloud, but conveyed silently), and Pot Is Definitively Bad.
Not a pothead. Never was. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I ever would be. But the hammering away–in contrast to the way it’s dealt with otherwise–is weird and forced. Coincidences appear to serve the plot, or, more accurately (and damningly), the message. It’s certainly a more reasonable and balanced treatment than usual, but that’s really not saying very much, considering the normal levels of absurd hysteria associated.
But that was the only real major hindrance–Undeclared is a whole other set of something. Nine episodes in and it has been passable at best, but I’ve gone off searching on at least two episodes now thinking they must be regarded as the absolute dregs of the series, only to find they are just as warmly received. The characters are what seem to be most appealing to people, and that’s certainly in keeping with sitcom mentalities, but they’re poorly developed and most of them are not great. Somehow the womanizer comes off far better than our “I’m not going to be a nerd anymore!” protagonist, who’s really kind of a creep.
The “God Visits” episode was beyond ridiculous, with a single philosophy class spinning someone into devout existential nihilism (with an emphasis of the latter half) and someone else into Born-Again Christianity. Neither of which makes sense for the characters, and just serves as a really stupid gag to drive the plot (and some continued not-all-that-funny jokes).
Maybe it’s personal. One of the first things Steven does is wait until Lizzie’s away to answer her phone when her boyfriend Eric calls. We know Eric is an insanely controlling ass because we heard his part of their last conversation. Steven doesn’t. But he answers her phone and decides to undo their relationship of his own accord (Lizzie forgives this immediately, and even Steven decides by the next episode that breaking them up is wrong–none of which makes sense). While not being the demanding-of-phone-sex-now type of person ever, I’ve had done to we what was done by Steven. It’s not funny. It’s not a harmless joke, either. It’s creepy and disturbing and all kinds of wrong. I suppose not being on the other end of that kind of call doesn’t make that clear, though.
I’ll probably continue plowing through the series, but so far I’m pretty baffled as to what is theoretically so great about this one. It’s supposed to be the characters, but they’re incredibly inconsistent, so I don’t know how that can be.
Ah, well. So it goes.
¹Reality: the lyrics that title these are often pleasingly relevant (to me, at least) but that tends to be more coincidence than anything else. It’s largely whatever words are in my head at the time of writing. C’est la vie!
²Jeff playing “I’m Eighteen” is the reason it was one of the first songs I tried to learn on guitar. True story.