Strangers With Candy: “The Trip Back”
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Strangers With Candy: “The Trip Back”

If you’re reading this, I probably don’t need to tell you that “The Trip Back” takes its name from the 1970 anti-drug film featuring the inimitable Florrie Fisher, the reformed yet totally unhinged addict-turned-motivational speaker who inspired Jerri Blank. We’ve seen her influence throughout the first season of Strangers With Candy, in places like Jerri’s severe, skunk-striped bob and garish makeup and her lectures warning the students of Flatpoint about the dangers of taking “just one snort of tick.” And now, as the first season draws to a close, we have what may be the most fitting Florrie Fisher homage of all: an episode in which Jerri backslides into addiction, only to almost decapitate her best friend. It’s a story so hyperbolic and ludicrous, even Fisher couldn’t have dreamed it up.

The end of freshman year is in sight and things are looking up for Jerri: She’s getting straight “D”s in Noblet’s class and, if she’s able to stay on the straight and narrow and maintain her just-barely-adequate performance, she’ll be a high school sophomore by the time she turns 47.  But, to quote a guy who, like Jerri Blank, knew a thing or two about the hooch, there are no second acts in American lives.

Until now, Jerri’s kept her appetite for drugs and drink in check, but the one impulse she hasn’t kept under control is her raging, omnivorous libido, and in “The Trip Back” it proves to be her undoing. Within seconds of her conversation with Noblet, Jerri is being lured into a bathroom stall by Trish, a sexy blonde pothead. She pulls a joint and lighter out of her underwear, prompting what’s one of Jerri’s wittiest lines ever: “That’s quite a humidor you got there.” Not all that surprisingly, Jerri isn’t able to resist Trish’s “skunk weed.” The first hit doesn’t have a huge effect, at least not for Jerri, who closes her eyes and sees a maniacally laughing skull consumed by flames—“nothing unusual” for her. But by the second toke, the pot kicks in and Jerri has officially fallen off the wagon.

So rapid is her descent that by the time Derrick gets home from school, Jerri and Trish are spread out on the living room floor, fingers coated in Dorito residue, giggling hysterically over an operation on television. (“I’ve seen this one before. They untie her tubes,” says Jerri.) In a physical manifestation of Jerri’s descent back into drug addiction, her hair is suddenly a stringy, unkempt, and inexplicably long mess. She’s so far gone, she even mistakes Derrick’s basketball for a turkey and puts it in the oven—which is, of course, a sly twist on the dubious cautionary tale about the suburban mother who accidentally cooked her child during an acid flashback.  

Jerri’s transformation does not go unnoticed. Orlando spies Jerri stumbling around the playground with Trish and shares his concerns with Principal Blackman, who in turn asks Officer Savillion—whom you might remember from “Old Habits, New Beginnings”—to go undercover at Flatpoint. His complete failure to blend in at school provides a very funny running gag throughout the episode: He asks one student where he can buy some “big, fat doobies” and later introduces himself to Noblet as the new student in school, even though it’s the last day of the year. Meanwhile, after Jerri fashions a bong out of clay in art class, Jellineck decides to take a break from art and talk to his students about the terrible effects of smoking “mari-hoo-wanna.” He confesses that a few years ago, he turned to pot during difficult times. “My plugs weren’t taking, my parents were brutally murdered, and I was fat,” Jellineck says.” “But you know something? The only thing it fixed was… my life.” He ends with possibly the least dire—and one of the most honest—anti-drug warnings you’ll ever hear:

“I know we’ve all read the scientific studies that say it’s not addictive and there are no side effects. But scientists don’t smoke pot, we do, and that’s the difference. Look, all I’m saying is if you still want to smoke pot, then be prepared to spend a lot of time laughing with your friends. Think about it.”

Terrifying, isn’t it? What? No? One of the things I’ve wondered throughout this season is whether Strangers With Candy ever really has a broader social or political point. I tend to think not; most of the time the show is, if anything, making fun of the idea of teaching lessons through television. But, arguably, this is one moment where it seems like maybe, just maybe, the show might actually be trying to say something. It’s also an instance that feels particularly Stephen Colbertian, even if Paul Dinello is delivering the line. Jellineck’s admonishment against smoking pot—that it will lead to having fun with friends—operates by the kind of logic Colbert uses on his show: Illustrate the flaws of a position by pretending to support it.

But hey, maybe not, because Jerri’s relapse does have some pretty disastrous results. First, she fails her history final in spectacular fashion, tracing the outline of her hand in response to the question “What was the capitol of France during the Nazi occupation?” Ever-loyal Orlando helps Jerri cram for the make-up exam Noblet has allowed her to take, but Jerri ditches the cram session to go on a legendary bender. What follows is, in my estimation, maybe the greatest comedic drug-’n’-drinks montage of all time (tied with the “trip to town” sequence from Wet Hot American Summer), with Jerri doing progressively crazier things and eventually becoming a human joint.

The next morning, stumbling down the street in a drug-induced daze, she runs into Orlando. Amy Sedaris’ performance as Jerri Blank is so outrageous, it’s easy to overlook the quieter moments, but do yourself a favor and rewatch the second or two where hungover Jerri is silently walking down the street. Sedaris does “strung-out” better than any serious dramatic actor I can think of. She’s also pretty damn good at “high person pretending she’s not”: When Orlando tells her it’s noon and she’s missed the exam by five hours, she points her thumb at the sky like she’s double-checking him, then concedes his point. “Oh, no, right…” in a perfect stoner whine. Still, she won’t admit she did drugs. To prove her point, she does what any of us would do in the same situation: She takes Orlando’s sword and swings it around wildly. Naturally, because she is stoned, Jerri swings the weapon wildly and inadvertently slices her friend’s neck open.

Orlando barely survives. The good news for Jerri is he doesn’t remember the attack that landed him in the hospital; the bad news is she failed freshman year, has to start all over again in the fall, and spend her summer vacation in the slammer on drug charges. In any other universe, this would qualify as a disappointment, but on Strangers With Candy it’s anything but.

Stray observations:

  • Jerri after her second hit: “I see a carnival of colors. I see grays and browns and grays.”
  • Derrick’s latest excuse for not following through with threats against Jerri: “You are so lucky I’m a coward.”
  • Sara: “You can’t help an addict until they reach rock bottom. Sometimes it’s important to help the process along.”
  • Jerri: “I got on Indian underwear. It’s creeping up the trail.”
  • “Let’s just say it’s a bong.”
  • Trish, at the gym water fountain: “I’m a little dry.” Jerri: “I’m plenty wet.”
  • Was that Officer Savillion giving Noblet a sponge bath in the hospital?
  • Jerri to Orlando: “You were jumped by sexy, muscular black guys.”
  • Jerri’s final line: “My asshole’s hungry, baby.”

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