Almost every gay(ish) woman has a Kim Kelly in her past. You met in adolescence; probably in middle or high school, possibly in college but certainly no later. Your lives were deeply and intimately intertwined — although you may or may not have had an overtly romantic relationship, everyone who knew the two of you knew that for good or for ill that you were one another’s top priorities. Your Kim almost certainly smoked cigarettes and you almost certainly did not. You knew everything about her and you hated her boyfriend and you arranged your class schedules together and you drew on one another’s wrists in ballpoint pen and sometimes you couldn’t stand the sight of her. Your Kim was mouthy and wore dirty jackets and you were the only person she’d be gentle for.
My Kim Kelly was named Shannon. She had long dirty blonde hair that she slicked back into a ponytail and wore the exact same outfit every day (men’s cargo pants, a white V-neck T-shirt, and one of those little metal ball choker necklaces that I don’t know what they’re called). She moved to town in eighth grade from Las Vegas. At the end of the year she moved right back. I still have a note from her explaining that I am her “second best friend after Alice,” a distinction I treasured at the time (I never thought to compete with Alice; Alice wore her hair in dreadlocks and played the guitar; I had only recently quit the school band and wore long-sleeved sweaters from the Limited Too), and listing all of her favorite Eminem songs. She was my sun and stars.
I have attempted many times to categorize the ineffable gay appeal of Busy Phillips — particularly Busy Phillips as Kim Kelly on the short-lived Freaks and Geeks — and the closest thing I have been able to come up with is this: “Lesbian jawline.” Exhibit A:
I honestly don’t know what else to say about it. It isn’t that she has a masculine jaw, exactly; there’s just something about it that makes lesbians and bisexuals sit up a little straighter and take notice. Not all lesbians have lesbian jawline, but every woman with lesbian jawline is guaranteed a small but vocal and loyal group of lesbian fans for the rest of her life (see: Cobie Smulders, Kristen Stewart, Katee Sackoff). What I’m trying to say, I think, is that both Lindsay and Kim ping, and ping hard. It’s not just the army jackets and the slouching and the sulking and the bold eyebrows (although those help); their lesbian swagger is more than the sum of their gay-seeming parts. I just want to live in a world where Judd Apatow directed a short-lived teen drama with two long-haired, broad-shouldered girls wearing giant army jackets and little to no makeup and sneakers made out in each other’s bedrooms, is what I’m saying. Just one episode where Lindsey bites Kim’s puka-shell necklace off.
Everything about the development of their relationship fits seamlessly into a Lesbian Aesthetic, too: their first encounters are explosive and riddled with deliciously hurt feelings. Kim is a bitch to everyone around her in a way that speaks to me deeply. She’s the kind of asshole whose horrible words make you want to be around her more, not less; I wish to master this kind of witchcraft, as I have very little hope of ever becoming genuinely kind in this lifetime. There’s an entire episode dedicated to their developing relationship — “Kim Kelly Is My Friend” — that twists up my lungs every time I watch it.
Lindsay goes to Kim’s house for the first time, under the pretext that they might as well try to be friends if they’re going to be in the same group. You’ve almost certainly had this experience, if you were a particular type of Midwestern teenager from a relatively happy, stable home, when you realize that someone who goes to school with you every day lives a life so completely unlike your own that they might as well live on the moon. Kim’s house is missing a few walls. Her brother is erratic and exhausted; her parents yell at each other in front of her. She has a car, and she has Daniel; those are the only things that are hers and hers only, and she’s more than happy to run people over (sometimes literally) to keep them that way.
How many times have you seen a teenage girl who’s poor and angry and loud and confrontational and vulnerable and lovable on TV? Yeah, me too. That’s why I love Kim Kelly. And I love Kim Kelly with Lindsay. When she’s with Daniel she’s angry and wild and sometimes hot for him, but that’s about it; he never brings out the best in her. There are moments with Lindsay when Kim takes on a touch of wry courtesy, when she is almost a gentleman. That’s Kim at her best. And Lindsay’s face opens up when she’s with Kim. (Kim would never pull half the shit Nick tries to pull with Lindsay. Go ahead and try to imagine her smothering Lindsay with affection. Lindsay would learn to value a punch on the arm and the occasional head nod the way miners value diamonds.)
Even the series finale seems as tailor-made for Femslash Friday as a non-Xena series finale can get. Both Lindsay and Kim have left their respective boyfriends (I feel a little guilty; this is the second entry where we’ve taken a woman [“taken a woman”] away from Jason Segel. Sorry, Jason Segel) and take off on a road trip together to follow the Grateful Dead on tour. They run into each other’s arms (the good stuff starts at around 2:30). It’s as close to Thelma & Louise as a series ending ever got.
There is a certain way in which a certain type of young woman can lean against a car or a wall that is transcendently hot. I cannot explain it. Very few women can achieve it without appearing deeply mannered. Busy Phillips pulls it off here. Watching her face light up in a genuine smile when she sees Lindsay get off the bus — watching Kim take off her “school” coat and back into that stupid beautiful damn green army jacket — watching them walk towards each other, Kim’s mouth twisted dryly, Lindsay breathing a bit more quickly than usual and trying to manage her smile — seeing them crawl into the back of a van together and take off for concerts unknown — that’s an ending I can get behind.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.