I care about your weight. Do you understand?
It’s been well over a year since I talked about an episode of Strangers With Candy. Ain’t that a bitch?
From time to time I stop and wonder how often Stephen Colbert goes to bed worrying about when it’ll be time for his clock to get punched for Strangers With Candy. I don’t say this from the perspective of someone who wants people to hurt his career, or as an advocate of cancel culture. I’m just curious. As he lays his head down on the pillow and Amy Sedaris says “let’s go to Tweetzie Railroad and throw rocks at the Indian.” Yea it aired over 20 years ago, but if we’ve learned anything it’s that cancel-happy folks have no statute of limitations.
Episode seven of season one is called Feather in the Storm. Up until now the show has tackled topics such as alcoholism, teenage parenthood, popularity, racism, and snitching on the retarded, Feather in the Storm is about eating disorders and craving attention. We kick off by showing both Jerri and Principal Blackman indulging themselves in some gluttony, particularly a pot of fondue filled with caramel covered potatoes. I’m told this is something people actually eat and not just a joke for the show as I assumed as a ten year old watching this in 1999.
As we’ve established over the last six episodes in this discussion series, Strangers With Candy is a show that doesn’t take place in a normal world. Given that the episode is about eating disorders, we join the Blank family where everyone is dieting. Allegedly. Everyone except Jerri of course. Derrick is gloating about how if he loses a bit more weight he can wrestle fifth graders, and everyone’s plate is adorned with cuts of fruit despite the massive plate of pancakes in the center. The meat man Stew (yes that’s how they spell it) played by David Pasquesi is introduced as a new recurring character. Being toasty, he asks Sara Blank for a glass of water, to which he is given Jerri’s waffles. Jerri announces that she’s going to school early to try out for the debate club and nobody cares.
I love this transition because it’s another example of Strangers With Candy being on the nose yet hilarious in its parody of afterschool dramas. In a normal show this is where the music comes on oddly fitting the protagonist’s mood. For Jerri the song is literally about her; referencing Stew eating her waffles, her chicken, and that she’s leaving for school. This song will appear several more times narrating the moment. We cut forward to Chuck Noblet who is of course indulging his gluttony by frying big piles of food at his desk. A lot of the food looks burned. Now also the head of the debate club, Noblet explains to Jerri that she’s welcome to try out but her weight may be a complicating factor. Why? Because it’s funny having Jerri be turned down for debate club because she’s too fat.
For the sake of this episode, everyone at Flatpoint High not only has some sort of eating disorder but the show portrays it as a positive thing. Two girls who clearly just finished throwing up talk about how they’re not going to eat that day, and then bully Jerri about her actually eating before leaving. Just in case you’re feeling sympathy, she waxes poetic about how “people can be so cruel” before immediately turning and bullying her friend Toby. While being naturally large, Toby is made even more cartoonish by walking around the school hallway with a napkin tucked into his shirt like a bib and being really really enthusiastic about lunch. Jerri remarks to his offer of empanadas, “I’ve always been a sucker for the spic food.” Like I said, I wonder how often Colbert worries about this show catching up to him. Jerri challenges Toby to a race and loses, having to admit that she’s a big fat slob.
Fade to black.
The dinner scene between Stew and Jerri is one of my favorite in the series, culminating in Stew giving the show’s signature “god damnit!” scream before sending Jerri to bed. The next day Jerri is confronted by Jellineck who suspects she may be bulimic. Being a moron, Jellineck portrays bulimia as an almost magical concept that allows one to eat anything they want and never gain any weight or face consequences, accidentally outing himself and Noblet as purgers, before saying Jerri shouldn’t do it. Jerri of course only hears that she can eat anything she wants and lose weight, and goes right to it.
Reinforcing the horrible lessons this show gives, Jerri comes out of the bathroom immediately looking visibly slimmer and starts to receive compliments from her classmates. As the show would have it, Jerri’s newfound weight loss may have actually made her better at debating. Incidentally Jellineck appears to be the only one legitimately concerned by Jerri’s eating disorder and shows up at her house to discuss it with her family, who don’t care. Jellineck warns that eating disorders are very contagious and often spread through third world countries stricken by drought. Jerri is punished for her eating disorder by being sent to bed with no dinner.
If you tuned into this show thinking it was a serious afterschool program, you’re probably either really confused or offended by now.
Jerri’s emaciation leads to her collapsing during debate tryouts while trying to defend incest (which shouldn’t be a problem given she was trying to justify having sex with her own son two episodes ago), and she wakes up to her family and teachers present. Stew is there too. Jerri admits that she only wanted to join the debate club because she wanted attention, but comes to learn that she has their attention right now. All she had to do was starve herself to the brink of death in order to get it. We learn that Jerri’s chicken Suki allowed herself to be baked so that Jerri could eat her and recover.
Feather in the Storm is the first and last episode to include Devin Palmer as Toby, who wouldn’t appear in anything else until 2020 with the film Equal Standard. It’s also the last time we see Ellen Pompeo as Lizzie Abrams. Pompeo would go on to play Dr. Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy. Like every other topic in this show, the elements of this episode will never be referenced again for the rest of the broadcast, both in context and in how the characters act.
I love this show. Episode 8 is about child prodigies and adults living through the young. Like Jerri’s acting episode but Stephen Colbert cries more.
- Jerri: “I don’t have a problem with my weight.”
Noblet: “No Jerri, I have a problem with your weight. Understand?”
- Jerri: “I’ll skip lunch after lunch.”
- Radio: “Even though she’s so very hungry she eats just like a bird. By a bird I mean one of the small ones, not like a pelican who eats a lot.”
- Stew: “So I was working at the butcher shop the other day and this guy comes in and I say ‘hey, are you thinking about buying some steaks?’ and he says ‘no, I’m gonna buy some steaks. I’m thinking about poontang.'”
- Lizzie: “Jerri it’s almost feeding time, shouldn’t you be stampeding toward the feeding trough?”
Jerri: “Tell you what, Lezzie, when the lunch bell rings you can eat me.”
- Jellineck: “Let him talk!”
Stew: “Him who?”
Jellineck: “Him me.”