My wife never had a prom. No dances of any kind, in point of fact. She grew up Seventh Day Adventist, and as near as I can figure, they frown on joy, and her religious high school (which I was fortunate enough to visit, and believe me way more on that later) held banquets in place of dances. I’m assuming this was because the school officials, much like the club owner in Walk Hard, were concerned about the logistics of dancing erotically. I guess they were blissfully ignorant about the sexual possibilities with food, having never seen 9 1/2 Weeks or lived with my freshman year roommate. I always felt a little bad for my wife. Not that I was really into dances or anything; I went to my prom and that was about it. But to not even have the option is kind of depressing.
Then again, maybe it would have saved some heartache. In high school, I learned how to conceal two things: crippling emotional pain and boners. Dances were concrete events that would tell me that I didn’t have a girlfriend. Not that I needed reminding, but it was always nice to hear. So while most dances were being held I stayed home and was generally bitter about the whole thing. It’s even more ridiculous once you realize that not only am I entirely incapable of dancing, I don’t like it, and hated the kind of music they played. Really, I was angry that I didn’t have a girlfriend, because no matter how shitty the music, no matter how arrhythmic the thrashing, there’s very little emotional turmoil that can’t be soothed with a little grinding.
In this week’s Very Special Blossom, “The Geek” (season 1, episode 8), I got to watch the whole situation from the other side. Until now, I was concerned with the boy’s view of dating, which is sort of like playing chess blindfolded while girls laugh and throw things at you. We have to suss out who might be interested, then swoop in without being total dorkwads about it, and get through an entire dance while hiding a priapism that’d put most fertility gods to shame. For girls, apparently, it’s about the agony of waiting to be picked. You have the alpha male douchebag of your dreams, but will he be the one to ask you? Or will you have to settle for a beta who actually knows your name?
The episode begins in Blossom’s school whose narrow hallways clearly mark it as a soundstage. She and Six are both panicked because neither one has a date. I actually understood the fear. This was back in the early ‘90s, which meant that a night at home was only as good as whatever the TV gods saw fit to put on. If you were lucky, you’d get a Police Squad! marathon. Unlucky? Nothing but that fucking Dudley Moore movie where his daughter dies of ice skating. Blossom and Six are horrified that they might be known as the “girls with the good personalities.” Good to know that euphemism has been a hacky joke for nigh on twenty years.
Salvation appears as a bolt from the blue in the form of Jordan Taylor. Confusingly, he’s played by Justin Whalin, who alert readers will remember as William Zimmerman from the very special pilot. Back then he was a mousy guy wrapped in an oversized Cosby sweater. Here he has hulked out with puberty, completing the most upsetting transformation since Anthony Michael Hall played the bully in Edward Scissorhands. The weird part is I’d swear Whalin is wearing Hall’s letterman’s jacket from that movie, despite no one actually wearing those after 1985. Whalin asks Blossom to the dance, but pulls a bait-and-switch with class nerd Fred Fogerty (played by Chris Demetral, probably most famous as the son on HBO’s Dream On). So now Blossom has a date to the dance, but it’s with someone her mentally-challenged brother describes as “the lovechild of Olive Oyl and Gilligan.”
At first, Blossom is prepared to grin and bear it. After all, this is a middle school dance, it’s not like she has to touch the guy’s dick or anything. (The show didn’t put it like that; I’m just saying.) This is until she talks to Joey, who convinces her that one date with “Pinhead Fred” will irrevocably destroy her social life. He counsels her that despite the fact that she’s in the honor society, plays the trumpet, and “has not been blessed by the hooter fairy yet,” she’s a borderline babe. I’m not here to quibble about Mayim Bialik’s attractiveness, but the honor society and trumpet things are points in her favor. Sure, the cello is hotter (all strings are), you can make do with a brass instrument. Plus, this was the early ‘90s. How many guys were just getting their ska bands off the ground? Do you have any idea how an all-female horn section would have played?
Other than the fashions, there is nowhere that Blossom shows its age more than in the surreal guest star-studded dream sequences. These are on the edge of the randomness and irony that next generation sitcoms like Scrubs or Malcolm in the Middle would mine, though lacking the madcap go-for-broke qualities these shows had. Plus, who they decide on as a big enough name to anchor the scene says it all. In “The Geek,” that guest star is Alf.
Yep, everyone’s favorite Melmacian shows up as St. Peter to kick Blossom out of heaven for dating Pinhead Fred Fogerty. You would think that a couple sympathy gropes would put her on the VIP list, but no. She forgot the 11th Commandment, which is apparently, “Thou Shalt Not Geek.” This would have meant something completely different as early as thirty years before the episode aired, but hey, if we didn’t misinterpret Bible verses based on modern social mores, we wouldn’t have the religious right.
In 1991, Alf had the status of the Oracle of Delphi, because the next day Blossom breaks her date with Fred. She doesn’t even take the time to come up with a story, instead sputtering out some preposterous nonsense about a weekend trip to Bulgaria for something called the International Trumpet Festival. Fred sees through it and is crushed. Although not as crushed as Johnny Galecki, who is conveniently ignored as a possible date, perhaps because of the embarrassment suffered only three episodes ago.
In what is already a series trope (based on my limited sample of roughly half the episodes aired), Blossom has a late-night soul-searching conversation with recovering alcoholic Anthony. The scene is notable for several reasons. One, I have no idea what the hell Anthony is supposed to be eating. It doesn’t even resemble food. Two, he refers to an ATM as an Automated Teller Machine, suggesting the initials weren’t in common enough parlance for the writers to be certain we knew what that was. And the last is Anthony’s theory about geekdom. He points out the same thing my mother used to tell me: geeks are late bloomers. (Incidentally, I’m still waiting to bloom, mom. Let me know when that’s supposed to happen.) The world is run by geeks, Anthony reasons, and it’s the early rejection that fuels them to greatness. And then he says something that history has rendered deeply ironic. About Blossom’s conundrum, he opines that, “Woody Allen’s date for the prom had the same problem.”
Blossom decides to do the right thing and goes back to Fred. He, however, decides to be awesome, calling her on the story and asking if she’s suffering a delusion that she’s super cool. He has become accustomed to rejection, but it hurts more coming from someone like her, who he used to have a high opinion of. Then he walks away. That kid has shit figured out. And when he’s a software billionaire by twenty-eight and plowing through Russian models, he can be the toast of the reunion. For now, Pinhead Fred waits and plots his vengeance.