I might have run out of steam on the Freaks and Geeks kick I went on a few months ago. There’s a lot I never got to; I especially wanted to write about dancing and the Grateful Dead in the last episode, but the show is now sufficiently far from my short term memory to mean I should probably hold off. Maybe I’ll dip into it again in a few years (I can almost feel another The Wire viewing peeking its head above the horizon). Anyway, here’s a fragment I put together and never posted when I was in full steam.
I thought it was a little odd that Bill is so obsessed with scatology in “The Garage Door,” but I think I know why now. It first comes up when Neil asks if the gang can guess what he found on the edge of his bed when he woke up. Bill response — “A turd?” — is such a bizarre non sequitor that it has to come from somewhere, I think, especially because it’s so firmly fixed in his mind that when Neil sarcastically answers yes, Bill takes it as a straight answer and is grossed out. There’s more: a moment after referring to kicking Neil’s butt at Asteroids, he suggests that eating Ben Franklin beans will make Neil fart. And finally, when the three discuss their deal never to keep any secrets from each other, he reminds them of the time he tried to sneak out a fart and it came out a poop.
The secret in question (which happens to comes out when Sam is in the bathroom) is the fact that Neil’s father is cheating on Neil’s mother. But in the same episode, we have a reconciliation between Daniel and Kim, which produces this bit of dialog:
“You’re so full of crap, Daniel!”
“What if I’m not?”
“I don’t think so.”
Maybe a stretch, but the fight they are having at that particular moment is, in a sense, a continuation of the fight they already had in an earlier episode, when Kim saw Daniel suck on Karen Scarfolli’s fingers at the playground. But after being caught in this infidelity, Daniel manages to get Kim back by sort of creepily overpowering her with a lie, simply saying over and over again that he didn’t do anything, until she accepts it. It’s sort of awful, watching him push her back with the force of his gaze until she finally gives in, very honest in a way that’s sort of terrifying. That’s what we do in those situations sometimes: we eat shit rather than deal with the consequences of calling it shit.
In “The Garage Door,” Neil’s father’s infidelity is the same kind of truth which goes unspoken by common consent: everyone but Neil knows, it turns out, but says nothing, and they urge him to do the same. Thus, the excretory obsession: just as he is determined to open up the garage door and expose his father’s “car” docked in a place it should not be, this imperative to expose hidden corruption finds its symbolic referent in scatological humor. And Bill’s scatological obsession is right for him: he’s the one for whom secrets make no sense, for whom a turd is a thing to be grossed out by, but also spoken.