From episode to episode of Strangers With Candy, Jerri Blank’s hopes and dreams tend to shift rather dramatically. When last we saw her, our heroine was an anorexic aspiring debate team member; before that, she was a delinquent who painted racial epithets on the wall at school; and now, in “To Be Young, Gifted, And Blank,” Jerri discovers she’s a violin prodigy. Even for a pseudo-adolescent, that's a whole lot of different phases in a short amount of time. Yet despite her constantly changing life ambitions and acute vulnerability to peer pressure, Jerri somehow remains the same undisciplined, hedonistic weirdo she’s always been. And that, my friends, is one of the minor miracles of Strangers With Candy.
Jerri discovers her musical gift entirely by accident. After getting kicked out of the school orchestra by Jellineck, Jerri wanders around the empty practice room fiddling with various instruments. She’s terrible at all of them—that is until she picks up the violin (a.k.a. “the stringy paddle”) and effortlessly starts playing a passage from Peter And The Wolf. Noblet is instantly struck by her virtuosic talent, and decides that Jerri will be his ticket to fame and fortune—or, at the very least, a victory at the Tri-County Music Championship. “Take care of those hands, Jerri. They’re my future,” he warns. For Noblet, the violin is imbued with a Rosebud-esque symbolic meaning tied to a childhood trauma. In flashback, we see the young Charles goaded by his mother (played by Stephen Colbert’s real-life wife, Evelyn McGee) into playing the instrument, a memory which causes the present-day Noblet to break down into hysterical tears. Clearly, he’s got some unresolved issues when it comes to the ol’ stringy paddle.
Jerri’s newly discovered talent ought to come as a wonderful surprise, especially for someone previously distinguished only by a grotesque overbite and a demonstrable fondness for Mexican donkeys, but instead it’s problematic on three different levels. First, Jerri’s violin conjures painful memories for her father, Guy, who hasn’t played the violin since Jerri ran away from home 32 years ago. When he hears that his wayward daughter is in fact a violin prodigy, he locks himself in the bathroom. Not surprisingly, Sara isn’t exactly supportive of Jerri, either. She asks her stepdaughter to do chores like brushing the teeth of Scabby, the family cat, which inevitably leaves her precious hands a bloodied mess.
Worried that Jerri’s home life may distract from her training, Noblet forces his star pupil to move in with him. Although he lives just across the street—a fact that’s revealed as Noblet pulls out of the Blanks’ driveway directly into his own—Jerri yearns to be back with her family and especially with her peers. While her friends are out throwing cinderblocks off the overpass and wantonly destroying Jellineck’s car, she’s stuck inside practicing scales under the watchful eye of the tyrannical Noblet. What’s the point of having exceptional talent if you can’t cause a little mayhem every now and then?
The move also jeopardizes the “oddly close relationship” between Noblet and Jellineck, as the secret lovers engage in a kind of custody battle over the 46-year-old child prodigy. Jellineck fancies himself the true artiste in the relationship, and therefore thinks he should be the one nurturing Jerri’s talent—never mind the fact that he kicked her out of orchestra. “Your little history fingers must be all gooey from sticking them in my musical pie,” he complains in the most innuendo-laden way imaginable. Noblet, on the other hand, sees Jerri as the only way to vanquish all those troubling childhood memories, and he’s not going to let her out of his clutches any time soon.
The situation comes to a head on New Year’s Eve. At this point, Jerri’s been living with Noblet for months—in a montage, we see them celebrating a lonely series of holidays together—and her patience is wearing thin. “You only get one chance at childhood and I don’t want to miss out on it a second time,” Jerri insists, but Noblet isn’t sympathetic. “Believe me, Jerri, if I could hack off your arms and attach them to my torso I would,” he replies, sounding like the villain from a torture-horror franchise. When Jellineck—decked out in a sumptuous fur coat and jaunty paper hat—arrives at the door, the months of tension ignite in an epic lovers’ quarrel. Vases are broken, Christmas trees are smashed, and, most devastating of all, Jellineck reveals Noblet’s secret shame: The reason he doesn’t play the violin is because he doesn’t know how.
In the midst of the ruckus, Jerri scurries away and the next morning at the Tri-County Music Championship, it looks like Flatpoint’s star performer has flown the coop, but Jerri shows up at the last minute. In one of her trademark third-act speeches, Jerri shares with the audience her most recent life lesson: Music tears people apart. Just then, as if to prove his daughter wrong, Guy picks up his violin and plays the first few notes of “Dueling Banjos.” She quickly joins in, as does Noblet. Maybe music isn’t so evil after all.
- Jerri’s full name is “Geraldine Antonia Blank.”
- Jellineck tells Jerri she should hit the timpani “like you’re striking a lover’s rump.”
- Things Jerri puts in her suitcase: a sombrero, a pillow, and some condoms.
- Jerri's latest doomed exotic pet is a woodpecker named Gregory who's last seen “taking a nap” in Noblet's glove compartment.