Every week, it seems like most of the really good stuff I watch/hear/read doesn’t fit into the section, because I’m usually off seeing License To Wed professionally while seeking some sort of salvation through films, TV shows, records, and books that will keep my soul from rotting. So as a tribute to “All Positive Friday,” the weekly dose of positivity from the generally more skeptical Reeler blog, here are some miscellaneous great things that have crossed my path this week:
1. Nick plays Styx for Lindsay, Freaks And Geeks, “Boyfriends And Girlfriends.” On his blog What’s Alan Watching?, our favorite TV critic Alan Sepinwall has been beating back these dreary summer months of reruns and reality shows (no offense, Noel, I watch 'em, too) by going through the glorious Freaks And Geeks box episode-by-episode, and inviting readers to play along. (He’s currently on “I’m With The Band,” the sixth episode, so it won’t be that hard to catch up.) Every episode has been an absolute pleasure to revisit; I think it’s one of the best television shows ever and perhaps the very best at melding comedy and drama without the tone going haywire. I'm about halfway through the season now, but there’s a scene in the eighth episode that epitomizes the show’s virtues for me and I’ve watched it over and over again, despite the awful consequence of having a really bad Styx song stuck in my head for several days now.
A couple of episodes earlier, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), a straight-A student who’s been hanging with the go-nowhere “freak” crowd, had encouraged the Nick (Jason Segel), the sweetest and most pitiable of the bunch, to keep pounding away at his 29-piece drum kit and live out his dreams of becoming the next John Bonham. He’s thrilled that she believes in him when no one else does, particularly his father, who wants him to join the military if he can’t keep a “C+” average. The trouble is, Nick's dreams are genuinely delusional; he’s a stoner and not terribly motivated, and any form of encouragement on her part—like, say, getting him an audition with a professional outfit called Dimension—is really setting him up for the fall. In a moment of weakness, brought on by Nick’s irresistible hangdog nature, Lindsay kisses him and thus gets herself into a relationship she doesn’t want—and with a guy that doesn’t know how to ease into such a thing.
The flipside of Nick’s open-heartedness is his habit of creepily obsessing over his girlfriends, and scaring them off, which then catapults him into full-on stalker mode. (Segal’s talent for playing this type led him to be cast in a similar scene-stealing role in Undeclared, which was created by Freaks co-showrunner Judd Apatow.) Lindsay gets a bracing reminder of this when Nick invites her over to his house when his parents are out of town. After greeting her at the door (to the Moody Blues’ tone-setting “Knights In White Satin”), Nick leads Lindsay down to the candle-lit basement, where she can only assume he’ll try to have sex with her. What happens turns out to be far more awkward than a botched pass: Nick pops in an eight-track tape cued to Styx’s “Lady,” tells her it says everything about he feels about her, and then proceeds to speak-sing the lyrics. The thing that makes this scene so resonant is that Segel’s routine is alternately creepy and disarming: He really does feel this way about Lindsay (the way he closes his eyes and sings to the heavens during the chorus is blissfully ecstatic), but his intensity does him no favors. Segel is wonderful in the scene, but it’s Cardellini’s reaction shots that tell the real story; she’s swept up by the sweetness of it and horrified, too, though his request to “just hold [her]” rather than make out afterwards tips her ambivalence in the latter direction.
2. Chuck Klosterman, “Southern-Fried Sex Kitten,” from Chuck Klosterman IV. In a Slate piece a few weeks ago, Ron Rosenbaum raised some eyebrows by doing a piece on the Angelina Jolie cover story in Esquire called “The Worst Celebrity Profile Ever Written?” But here’s the thing: Esquire cover stories, usually built around some hot pictorial of a semi-nude celebrity, have long been the least interesting content in the magazine. (Besides the whole pictorial part, of course.) I usually just skip past the cover and skip straight to the columns by my friend Mike D’Angelo and the always-provocative Chuck Klosterman.
And yet all Esquire profiles don’t have to be awful. For evidence of that, I turned to the very first essay in Chuck Klosterman IV, which I’m just now reading in its paperback edition. Klosterman’s profile on Britney Spears—as unsubstantial a person as Jolie is rich in contradiction—may be the best celebrity profile ever written, or at least the best that I’ve encountered. Knowing perhaps that Spears’ own half-nude photo session will be what sells the magazine anyway, Klosterman proceeds to pick apart the bizarre disconnect between the carefully crafted sex-kitten persona that Spears, Inc. puts out there and the fell-off-a-turnip-truck naiveté that the woman herself has about said persona. Here’s one of many choice passages:
“Interviewing Britney Spears is like conducting a deposition hearing with Bill Clinton: regardless of the evidence, she does not waiver. ‘Why do you dress so provocatively?” I ask. She says she doesn’t dress provocatively. ‘But look what you’re wearing right now,’ I say, and I have a point, because I ask this while looking at three inches of her inner thigh, her entire abdomen, and enough cleavage to choke a musk ox… When I ask her to theorize about why American men are so fascinated with the concept of a wet-hot virgin, she legitimately acts as if it is the first time anyone has ever brought that query to her attention.”
And so it goes. Rather than print her obfuscations, Klosterman takes a scalpel to them and comes up with a brilliant deconstruction of Spears, celebrity, and profiles like the one he’s been assigned to write. Pretty sweet.
3. An Unreasonable Man. Nathan Rabin reviewed this Ralph Nader documentary for us earlier in the year, but I just caught up with it on DVD and strongly recommend it. This isn’t one of those “documentaries” like the ones made around Noam Chomsky that just allow a liberal ideologue to blow the minds of the converted for two hours. Though certainly partisan to a degree—one of the co-directors worked on Nader’s staff in the ‘70s—it’s a clear-eyed look at one of the more staunchly principled men in American politics. For those like myself who really could (in retrospect, obviously, but even back in 2000) discern a major difference between a Gore presidency and a Bush presidency, Nader remains a thorny figure, arguably the man who nudged Florida in the wrong direction. (Though there’s a lot of room for debate on that front.) It’s not worth getting into the catastrophic result of that, but this documentary made me feel more sympathetic toward Nader and more ashamed of the compromises made by the Democratic Party in general. Through a scrupulous look at the whole of Nader’s career—including his famed (and winning) battle against the automotive industry on safety issues, his establishment of many fine consumer advocacy groups, and his two campaigns for President as head of the Green Party—the film reveals that Nader has really been the same man all these years; it’s just that the party that was supposed to represent progressive values has abandoned them completely. Seeing what Nader has accomplished on behalf of his fellow citizens and consumers makes for an illuminating civics lesson, as well as a dispiriting look at how much the Left (and the poor, disparaged Nader) has lost.