Freaks And Geeks: S01E04 “Kim Kelly Is My Friend”

SPOILER WARNING: I’m assuming in these reviews that readers have seen the show.

NBC initially refused to air this episode, saying it was too dark for the series. Watching it today, I completely understand this decision even if I don’t approve of it. Kim Kelly Is My Friend is short on laughs and long on intensity, containing moments of conflict that are genuinely disturbing. However, it’s one of the show’s greatest episodes, because it takes a character who had been a stereotype and turns her into a real, believable, human being, one whom you can care about and sympathize with. It’s also the first episode to concentrate on the freaks more than the geeks, which is a welcome change.

From the beginning, this story puts us on notice, showing Daniel stealing one of Millie’s donuts meant for her classmates (and Nick using his charm to beg for one). We’re introduced to Karen Scarfoli (Rashida Jones), a Mean Girl who makes her friend Kim look almost warm and cuddly. Sam has the misfortune to have a locker beside hers, and when he accidentally gets punched in the chest by a jock, he has the gall to pick the wrong door. She takes issue, towering over him with an ugly and terrifying sneer, and writes “Geek” in lipstick on his locker door, so he’ll know which one is his. All the while, Kim looks on with an evil grin.

Kim is sarcastic to Lindsay at lunch time, who’s intimidated enough to retreat to another table; but later she hears Kim on the phone arguing loudly with her mother, calling her a psychopath. Lindsay expresses her dislike to Daniel, who gives her an odd look and says, “She can be cool if you get to know her.” A dark, foreshadowing hint.

Meanwhile, Sam has been trying to scrub the lipstick from his locker, but Karen catches him and physically intimidates him, knowing that he won’t hit a girl. It’s a fact of puberty that women mature faster than men at that age, and Sam particularly is a late bloomer. She says next time she’ll mark the door with geek blood, prompting Bill to comment upon her retreat, “I hope she meant your geek blood.” Later, he finds she’s marked PYGMY GEEK in black marker on his door. He tries to scribble it out, prompting his math teacher, Mr. Kowchevski, to assign him a five hundred word essay on respecting property.

Sam’s motivated to get strong quickly. He raids the family fridge and eats potatoes and bananas to bulk up, prompting his mother to worry that he’s got worms. Lindsay, meanwhile, has been invited by Kim to have dinner at her house, an invitation she regards suspiciously at first but then decides to accept. Sam isn’t happy when he hears the news, disliking Kim as another bully.

It isn’t long after Kim picks Lindsay up before she realizes that Kim has a purpose beyond friendship for the invitation. Her mom wants to sell her Gremlin that her aunt gave to her, and Kim wants to impress her with Lindsay’s “good girl” image, embellished by stories Kim’s told about her wealth. “You’ve got a vacation house in Benton Harbor,” Kim tells her, and Lindsay goes along with it.

Kim had warned Lindsay that her parents were “seriously wacko”, which Lindsay and we take as teenage hyperbole. It isn’t long before we discover that Kim wasn’t exaggerating. Her mother cuts Kim down, pretending to be friendly while interrogating Lindsay about her vacation home. When she discovers their deception, she starts screaming at Kim, threatening to take the car. Kim, her mother and stepfather are all yelling and screaming, and Lindsay (and we) are terrified. Kim throws her the car keys, and she’s out the door, cowering in fear as Kim’s stepdad bangs on the hood. The entire scene is a shocking portrayal of an abusive environment, and makes us realize where Kim’s bullying behavior has its origins.

Kim speeds off, then stops the car and pounds on the wheel, shrieking, “It’s mine, it’s mine!!” She’s furious and upset, and Lindsay tries to calm her down but fails. Kim goes looking for Daniel, only to find him flirting with Karen. Infuriated, she threatens to run them down, driving off screaming and threatening vengeance. When they reach the Weirs’ house, she bursts into tears.

Lindsay, by now Kim’s ally, invites her in, interrupting the family dinner (where Sam is loading up on veal piccata). We expect that she’ll be rude, but she’s so upset that she timidly says that dinner smells good, and Lindsay’s mom invites her to join them. The resulting scene is both touching and funny, as Jean asks her daughter into the kitchen to find out what’s going on, and Harold asks Kim if he’s seen her before. “My family doesn’t shop at your store because it costs too much,” Kim tells him, and he replies with a curt, “You don’t say.”

Things get really wild once Daniel and Nick show up. Nick comes in first, trying to get Kim to come out and talk to Daniel, who wants to apologize. She refuses, saying “You can all just bite me!” and retreating to Sam’s room. He tells her to get out, but then finds out that she’s infuriated with Karen and has plans to get revenge. “Don’t worry about her, she’s dead meat,” she says, surprising and delighting him.

As Lindsay tries to defuse the situation, Nick is trying to give her a massage. Then Daniel barges in the kitchen door, frightening Jean and calling Harold “Pops”. He and Kim talk, and at first she’s hitting him, but he doesn’t hit back. He understands Kim’s rage and pain better than anyone, and knows how to defuse it. “It’s only you,” he says again and again, and finally they make up.

Sam brings his essay to school the next day, and Mr. Kowchevski is planning to paste it to his locker, “to benefit the other students”. That’s when he (and we) finds that Kim has spraypainted “SLUT” in big white letters on Karen’s locker. When Karen begins to threaten Sam, Kim steps up and tells her to lay off, that she’s going to beat her up after school. Thrilled, Sam thanks her, and Kim smiles back with a “No problem, geek.”

Baby steps.

It’s a groundbreaking episode, one of the best I’ve seen in any series, and remarkably realistic.

Points of Interest:

*Look for Gordon Crisp (Jerry Messing) at Lindsay’s lunch table. He’ll become a semi-regular later on.

*We’ve seen Mr. Kowchevski (Steve Bannos) before, but we get a bit more insight into his personality here. He, too, will take a larger role going forward.

*Karen calling Neal Bilbo Baggins is a marvelous cut.

*“I heard about what she [Kim] does in the yearbook darkroom. She does it. Fornicates it.” As Lindsay says, we can’t all be girl scouts, Millie.

*“Just because a girl speaks her mind doesn’t mean she’s a psycho.”

*“I got the worst cramps.” A remarkably frank statement about something not commonly addressed on network TV; probably another reason NBC was skittish.

*Kim’s late Aunt Kathy sounds like quite the party girl.

*Sam’s fight with Neal is a nice little tension-reliever, and the debate over chemistry sets versus Tonka trucks is a great philosophical question. It was unfair, however, to ask Bill to judge which of them was a bigger geek. (Personally, I would’ve chosen Neal.)

*Is it a law that every dysfunctional family eats take-out chicken for dinner? Just wondering.

*That’s episode writer Mike White playing Chip Kelly on the couch. You might have seen him as Jack Black’s teacher roommate in School of Rock, which he co-wrote.

*“Benton Harbor Street?!”

*Lindsay’s introduction of Nick to her parents: “It’s such a pleasure to meet you guys, finally. Lindsay turned out great. beat Do you guys mind if I have this Fruit Roll-Up?”

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