“The Best of Times” (1981) with Crispin Glover and Nicolas Coppola (Cage)

“The Best of Times” is a truly awful television pilot from 1981 that only aired once (to the best of my knowledge) and never continued past its first episode.  Co-produced by “Laugh-In”‘s George Schlatter, “Times” (I imagine) was supposed to be a lighthearted, albeit sensitive look at the struggles of being a teenager, though it’s executed in the most ass-backwards, tasteless early 1980s corporate TV manner.  It’s a truly weird WTF hybrid of lowest common denominator sitcom humor, occasional drama, and … yes … musical numbers.  Imagine “Freaks & Geeks” had it been produced by Sid & Marty Krofft and you’ll get the picture.

So why am I even talking about this?  Yes this is partly due to “Times” being truly one of those god-awful train wrecks that’s worth watching for its sheer cluelessness.  But mainly  because the stars are Crispin Glover and Nicolas Cage … sorry Coppola … before they became famous.  And they’re playing characters called Crispin and Nicholas, respectively.

I don’t feel too bad ripping on this because I’m sure Glover and Cage would gleefully agree this is not their finest hour.  But what makes this particularly an odd watch is seeing a 17-year old Glover struggling to play a “normal” early 1980s-era sitcom teenager.   It’s simultaneously painful and fascinating to watch and arguably stranger than Glover’s legendary appearances in “River’s Edge” and “Wild at Heart.”

Now here’s the really weird part … I totally remember watching this when I was 11 years old.  While my tastes back then were not as evolved as they are now, I remember being totally baffled by “Times” … and not in a good way.  This was so memorably bizarre that I actually thought about the show the other day, but not remembering the title or who was in it.  Thanks to Glover’s appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast today, I looked the show up on YouTube and much to my shock, I realized “So, THIS was that odd and terrible show I remember seeing when I was 11!”

If you have a strong stomach, are a fan of really bad TV pilots, or want to see what certain stars did before they became famous, “Times” is a must-watch.

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“I’m One” – The Who from “Quadrophenia” as seen in “Freaks and Geeks”

Ever since I introduced the late 1990s TV show “Freaks & Geeks” to my son a few weeks ago, he has binge-watched the entire one-season show (18 hours) at least 5-6 times on Netflix.  It’s been nice reconnecting with the best show ever to be broadcast on TV about teenagers, if not one of the best series in TV history.

This particular scene is one of my favorites.  It’s one where the geekiest of the geeks, latchkey child Bill Haverchuck, comes home after school to watch TV by himself.  He catches an early TV appearance by comedian Garry Shandling and experiences a moment of unbridled joy laughing at Shandling and just hanging by himself.  I know that many people paint the life of a latchkey kid as unbearably tragic.  But speaking as a latchkey kid myself, sorry Dr. Laura, I had a f–king blast! And no, it’s not because I used the alone time to drink alcohol, do drugs, use my bedroom as a f–kpad, or look at porn.  I realize this is anathema to common ideas of parenting these days, but sometimes kids just need one-two hours a day to do absolutely nothing but veg.  Yes, socializing, exercising, doing school activities, etc. are important, but vegging is seriously underrated and kids these days don’t do enough of it. 

Anyway, I love the way that The Who’s “I’m One” … one of the best, but least-heralded tracks from their great album “Quadrophenia” is used in this scene.  One of the best uses of popular music for dramatic purposes ever.

“Come Sail Away” – Styx from “Freaks and Geeks” (1999)

First of all, you need to understand how much I loathe “Come Sail Away” by Styx.  If it were a federal hate crime to discriminate against a song, I’d be doing hard time in federal prison for committing crimes against this one.

But … this song works soooooo damn well in this wonderful scene from the first episode of “Freaks and Geeks,” the greatest show in television history about teenagers … and if truth be told … kicks the a– of any of the “best” feature films ever made about teenagers.

This is a scene from the Homecoming dance, where freshman Sam Weir shows up at the dance because his crush, cheerleader Cindy Sanders, promised him a dance.  She fulfills her promise and the dance between these two always lifts my mood.  Some moments are so incredibly sweet that if you dislike them, there is something seriously wrong with you.   As awkward as Sam is here, he has bigger balls than I did at the age of 14.

Jason Segal as Nick Andopolis from “Freaks and Geeks” (1999-2000)

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Of all the characters that I most painfully identified with on the genius short-lived TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” it was Jason Segal’s Nick Andopolis character. Well-meaning, but WAAAAAY too f–king sensitive and intense for the room, the writers/producers absolutely nailed a very certain personality type that’s difficult to articulate or depict.

I love the facial expressions of Linda Cardellini’s Lindsay character as she’s trying to take Nick’s display of “love” in. I also like the way Nick tries to process the news that Lindsay needs a break in a way where he’s using every ounce of his being to try and keep it “cool.” That’s very, very good acting on Segal’s part.

For the record, age and maturity have helped me develop a very good bulls–t detector for myself over the years. My gratitude to everyone who knew me back in the day and still finds me friend-worthy these days. I fully understand it wasn’t easy.

The Oral History of Freaks and Geeks, Vanity Fair, January 2013

www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/01/freaks-and-geeks-oral-history?mbid=social_mobile_email

The best TV show about teenagers of all time (and arguably one of the best TV shows about any subject, ever), “Freaks and Geeks” is one of those shows that continues to amaze, even after it was yanked after one season in 2000. If you’ve never seen it, the entire series is available on Netflix Instant and is a must-see. It’s one of the truest and painfully funny things you’ll ever watch. At the link above is a terrific and lengthy oral history of the show from the January 2013 issue of “Vanity Fair.” If you’re a fan of the show, or are fascinated by the severe ups and downs of the creative process in the entertainment industry, check it out.