Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Who, "I'm One"

Check out the 1980 Empire Strikes Back glass. I love that example of Freaks and Geeks' attention to detail. I don't even give a shit about it being a possible anachronism error.
Song: "I'm One" by The Who (because today is 1/11/11)
Released: 1973
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in the 2000 Freaks and Geeks episode "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers."
Which moment in "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" does it appear?: The wordless sequence where latchkey kid Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) comes home from school looking rather miserable after a not-so-great day, makes himself a grilled cheese (with chocolate cake on the side), flips on Dinah Shore's talk show Dinah! and laughs his ass off to a set by Dinah's guest comic Garry Shandling.

During the outstanding two-part WTF episode where he interviewed Freaks and Geeks writer/producer Judd Apatow, host Marc Maron said the "I'm One" sequence was the Freaks and Geeks moment that resonated with him the most because it relates to how "comedy was really one of the few things that made [Apatow and I] happy, that made us feel good, that took away the pain, that gave us the sense that things were going to be okay."

Apatow, who co-wrote "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers," lifted the "I'm One" sequence from his own life as a child of divorced parents who found refuge in comedy and watched hours of stand-ups on talk shows after school. "I was at my fantasy world watching Michael Keaton do stand-up on The Mike Douglas Show, and I couldn't have been happier," Apatow told Maron. "I look back on it as a great time. I don't think, 'Oh, that was so sad. I was alone in my room.' I was like Bill, laughing my ass off, watching Jay Leno in 1979 on The Mike Douglas Show."

Bill reacts to seeing footage of John Boehner weeping again.
During the filming of the sequence, Apatow and "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" co-writer Bob Nickman got Starr to laugh so hard by telling him the dirtiest jokes off-camera. Both funny and poignant (it's Apatow's ultimate salute to his mentor and Larry Sanders Show boss Shandling, whom Apatow first met as a teen when he interviewed him for the high school radio show that Maron played excerpts from on WTF), the sequence is one of many reasons why viewers like myself love Freaks and Geeks, and it's enhanced by The Who's 1973 track from Quadrophenia.

Because the freaks half of the episode revolved around a Who concert, every existing song during "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" is a Who track, except for "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts (this was a few years before the CSI franchise introduced the band's songs to a new generation of viewers). No other track on the show perfectly encapsulates Bill, the geek who's most comfortable in his own skin and with his lot in life ("I'm a loser--no chance to win") and doesn't care what others think of him ("And I can see/That this is me"). His sense of humor helps take away the pain.


  1. Scenes like this are what makes Freaks & Geeks, over ten years after it aired and was cancelled, still resonate so strongly with new and old fans alike. These quiet moments are what make such an impact on viewers, even more so than the memorable dialogue or chucklefests of the physical/visual variety. And another not-so-secret ingredient to the show's success was indeed the music supervision. The all-Who "Dead Dogs & Gym Teachers" is one of my favorites (behind "Tests & Breasts" and "Discos & Dragons") because it's the perfect blend of everything that made F&G so good. Of course, there really wasn't a bad episode in the batch, but your analysis of the music mixing with the characterization is apt in showing just how much attention went into the making of this classic high school series. Gone but not forgotten...

  2. "another not-so-secret ingredient to the show's success was indeed the music supervision"

    I so appreciated how Paul Feig and Judd Apatow didn't allow the DVD release to come out until they cleared every existing song in the series, although there was one song they weren't able to clear.


    I forgot that the episode is all-Who except for "Summer Breeze" towards the end. I've corrected that in my post.

    There's one other thing I forgot to note in my post. The Freaks and Geeks "I'm One" sequence has an interesting music editing move (should I shorten the show's title to F&G or FAG?--I assume the resulting acronym was an in-joke for Feig because, as he once said, he was always called that in school, thanks to his last name--nah, I'll settle for Freaks). Most shows would have mixed in the sounds of the Shandling footage and Bill's laughter with "I'm One," but Freaks chose to omit those sounds and have the song dominate the audio. I assume they did that to emphasize how private a moment this is for Bill, who's never been shown to be this expressive in public (although I would have loved to have heard the Shandling jokes that made Bill laugh so violently). Freaks did the same thing with "Love's Theme" during the "Tests and Breasts" montage of Coach Fredricks in his office giving Sam graphic pointers about the ladies that aren't found in his teaching material. Using "Love's Theme" to cut us off from hearing whatever Coach was telling Sam made that sequence so much funnier.

    I know you want to focus on TV after the year 2000 on your blog, but Freaks actually debuted several months after The Sopranos did and continued airing first-run episodes in 2000, so bust out that overview of Freaks!