Episode 4 Kim Kelly Is My Friend

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film, or in this case, TV. Each installment intends to examine movies and shows that involve significant musical subject content, distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene.

This is a special series devoted to the first and only season of Freaks and Geeks, one of my favorite TV shows for many reasons (outlined in more detail here), especially because it used music very well. For 18 weeks I will write about the music in each episode. I’m also going to share some stories about my high school experiences. For more detailed recaps, be sure to check out the ongoing write ups by Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club, or the 2007 posts by Alan Sepinwall.

This episode never aired during the original run of the show. NBC felt it was too dark, perhaps the first legitimate sign that Freaks and Geeks would not have a rosy future. They feared such an extended look at Kim Kelly and her volatile home life would alienate the audience. While I get where NBC was coming from, it is a tremendous showcase for understanding why a young girl is the way she is, important to a series concerned with showing how influential parents, upbringing, and environment are and how children grapple with them in the context of discovering their own identity. We see Kim has a rougher and less stable family life than Lindsay and it becomes clearer to us why her natural reaction to almost anything tends to be anger.

[Apologies for the quality of the clip, it was all I could find.] To this point in the series, "Kim Kelly Is My Friend," has the least prominent use of soundtrack music (though there is more scoring than there had been previously). But as is fitting for one focused on Kim, the times when musical cues are most evident have everything to do with her. Specifically, Van Halen songs play while she and Lindsay are in her beloved car, the one thing she feels is hers, which is why she gets so upset when her mother threatens to take it from her. The clip above starts with the big revelatory moment for Lindsay. She sees an utterly foreign mother-daughter interaction. They escape, Kim screams it out, and Lindsay is befuddled as to how to respond or process what just happened. Kim decides they will go find Daniel at the basketball court, and the music kicks in around 4:10 when she arrives to find an unexpected sight: Daniel flirting with Karen (played by Rashida Jones).

The song used is "Ice Cream Man," which Paul Feig reveals here was chosen to help make the scene feel funny and lift the mood of Kim's raging rampage. I probably don't need to go farther than that, but it does serve as a good representation of the way Kim views Daniel and men in general: that they are only interested in sex (fodder for a hilarious moment with Mr. Weir later). In the song, Diamond Dave is all about serving the women from his wide variety of flavors. Its light tone seems to encourage the implied sexual behavior, or at least ignores the consequences. In an incredible scene where Kim breaks down after the leaving the park, this mentality is revealed. If she gives even an inch, Daniel will give in to temptation of other girls. Combined with the fact that she has no supportive family or good role models for healthy relationships, it is a completely believable conviction. The statement offers a probing glimpse into Kim's true self.

Both here as well as in a prior scene where Kim first picks up Lindsay, another Van Halen song plays, "Jamie's Cryin'." This brings our total of songs from Van Halen to four, which have played in three of four episodes so far. It's the second time (and not last) we've heard multiple songs by one artist in an episode, and it's also the second time a song has been returned to and heard at a different point in its run after Cheap Trick's "Gonna Raise Hell" last episode. It's much subtler, but I think this one even more strongly characterizes Kim's operating principle. "Jamie's Cryin'" is all about a girl who likes a boy but isn't ready for a physical relationship on his terms and thus loses her chance. He never gives her attention again, hence the cryin'. The situation doesn't fit exactly, but the underlying sentiment of a young man's power over a girl, particularly when it comes to sex, and how susceptible girls are to pain after boys just have their way definitely does. The music is more of an enhancing detail after the primacy of the acting, writing, and directing, but it is very much line with everything those elements are doing to explore Kim Kelly. In some ways Kim has a very strong sense of self and a well-defined worldview. But we can see it comes from a limiting way of life imposed upon her, and that most of it is misinformed. She is incredibly susceptible to heartbreak like Jamie in the song, and in this light, Lindsay's friendship becomes all the more crucial. It's not unilateral, though. Because they have such different backgrounds, the girls stand to learn much from each other and potentially become better rounded people as a result.

The other musical uses and references in this episode:

-The main Geek storyline centers on Sam getting bullied by Karen. It raises a lot of self-esteem issues and culminates in him and Neal physically fighting over who is geekier. This development plays out over two scenes in the Weir house after school (intercut between Lindsay at Kim's). Though you can barely tell, the first scene features Steve Martin's "King Tut." He's an idol of Paul Feig and an obvious geek signifier, so I get why that would be on when Sam and Neal begin to argue in what is essentially the "You know how I know you're a geek?" scene of the Apatow canon. In the second, "Reminiscing" by Little River Band plays and the fight breaks out. I have absolutely no idea why it's on or what it could mean. It feels inappropriate to worry much about it.

-In the first scene at school, Nick is carrying around some drum sticks – which come in handy for eating donuts – and Karen wears a Journey t-shirt.

That's it. This one is a hard episode to tie any good stories to, at least anything as singular as the moments shown. I never had a physical fight with any friends. There were scattered moments of resentment or being a little cutting. Like Sam, these moods were often rooted in the confusion about why things seemed different between me and a given friend, when in my mind we should have been similar. I felt this most acutely when my friends started dating before I did, because most of us were already late bloomers. I don't think it ever jeopardized a friendship, as it was mostly internal. It was, however, a feeling that got me nowhere; it occluded the real issue, namely, a lot of the perceived slights came from being stuck in an overactive mind. I didn't realize what I thought about myself and what was evident to anyone else were not always the same.

As for anything like dinner at Kim Kelly's, I experienced nothing that extreme but here's something sort of similar. This isn't meant to be an indictment of this friend and his family, and I'm in no way saying he had a bad family life like Kim did (I doubt he did, but the truth is, I couldn't say for sure). Anyways, the friend and I got along well in school and I always thought he was a cool guy, but I hadn't spent any time with him outside of classes. Towards the end of senior year, I was over at his house on a regular basis to work on a project. I learned he pretty frequently smoked weed. It was a little Lindsay-like in that I was a bit out of my element but I wanted to not be bothered by something I wasn't used to.

One afternoon we were there hanging out, working. At a certain point, he took out a pipe and had a few hits. Minutes later, his mom came home and there wasn't even time for him to hide anything. I was terror-stricken, convinced of our impending doom and envisioning all the ways I would suffer for this indiscretion. I wasn't even smoking, but what would that matter with this veritable "smoking gun" of evidence? Turns out I was projecting my parents' reaction. In reality, his mom came in, noticed the pipe, and then instead of getting upset or angry, she simply said "Let me have a hit of that." I was completely flabbergasted and could barely stammer out my name when, after deep inhale, she finally noticed me. It was a first parent meeting experience unlike any other in my life.

Were there any Kim Kelly's in your life during high school? Or did you find yourself identifying more as a Kim? Any moments where you were exposed to something so different than your life for the first time? Any fights with good friends for stupid reasons?

Other installments in the series:

  1. The Pilot + Styx "Come Sail Away"
  2. Beers and Weirs + "Jesus Is Just Alright" as performed by Nick and Millie
  3. Tricks and Treats + Cheap Trick "Gonna Raise Hell"
  4. Kim Kelly Is My Friend
  5. Tests and Breasts + Love Unlimited Orchestra "Love's Theme"
  6. I'm With the Band + Cream and Rush

Listen to the songs in the show on this Spotify playlist: