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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 3, “Tricks and Treats”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 3, “Tricks and Treats” (photo)

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“Freaks and Geeks” is now airing on IFC, and we thought we’d take this opportunity to revisit the show that launched a thousand bromance movies. Every week, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore will be offering their thoughts on that night’s episode.

Episode 3: Tricks and Treats
Directed by Bryan Gordon
Written by Paul Feig
Originally aired October 25, 1999

“Last time I had this much fun, I was pinned down in a foxhole by the North Koreans.” –Harold Weir

Alison: We haven’t gotten around to discussing Lindsay and Sam’s parents before, though they’re as regular a feature in the show as either of the Weir siblings’ friends. They really come to the forefront in this Halloween-set episode, which is all about figuring out what it means to act your age.

Seeing the Weirs at home goes a long way toward explaining why Lindsay and Sam are at heart such nice kids. Jean (Becky Ann Baker) and Harold (the amusing irascible Joe Flaherty) are loving, supportive and endearingly clueless about the inner lives of their mercurial offspring.

Harold’s parenting primarily takes the form of a seemingly inexhaustible arsenal of anecdotes about the dire fates of misbehaving kids he knew growing up. In the pilot episode, these warning tales all seem to end in an untimely demise, but in “Tricks and Treats,” his example is Scott Byron, who “kept on trick or treating well into he was well into his 20s,” setting him on the path toward something apparently worse than death — he’s single, a laughingstock and still living at home with his mother.

Harold’s bothered by Lindsay’s recent attempts at acting out, but he’s more concerned here with his son’s arrested development — and in this case, he’s right. Sam and the other geeks are too old for trick or treating, a fact they’re forced to come to terms with over a painful evening spent trooping around the neighborhood in costume. Sneered at by a chain-smoking harridan, mocked by the Hot Dog on a Stick girls and candy-mugged by Alan and his fellow bullies, their Halloween ends with the ultimate indignity, as Sam gets egged by what turns out to be his own sister.

Meanwhile, Jean’s delightfully dorky giddiness over the holiday — I love the expression on Flaherty’s face, full fork hanging in the air, as he watches her sing “Monster Mash” over dinner — is crushed by her daughter’s ditching her at the last minute to hang with the freaks, leaving her alone to face the hoards of trick or treaters who dump her homemade cookies in the lawn, having been trained not to accept anything that doesn’t come safely pre-packaged.

Though Lindsay’s return at the end — a prince riding to the rescue — provides some measure of comfort, Jean nevertheless has to accept that her children aren’t really children anymore, and that she can’t expect to be able to keep them as close.

07152010fandg3_6.jpgMatt: Mrs. Weir — sorry, I refuse to call her Jean, she just feels too much like one of my high school friends’ moms to treat her so informally — is definitely struggling with the fact that her kids are growing up. But back in the pilot, she practically demanded Sam and Lindsay to go to the homecoming dance. That seems like a slight contradiction: do you want them to go to dances and be high schoolers or do you want them trick or treating and acting like little kids? Alison, maybe you can explain how those two seemingly opposing positions work together.

The key line of “Tricks and Treats” is spoken by the geeks’ matronly English teacher Mrs. Whitman (Hariet S. Miller) as she denigrates her students’ book report choices (great character-defining detail in those books, by the way: Bill picks “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions by Mad cartoonist Al Jaffee, Sam chooses the novelization of “Star Wars” and Neal goes for “Yes I Can” by Sammy Davis Jr.) “It’s time to grow up, people,” she scolds.

And while there will be plenty of juvenilia throughout the remaining episodes, it does feel like the characters have taken some reluctant steps toward adulthood by the end of this week’s 44 minutes. Just compare their activities in the cold open — Bill bets ten bucks he can eat anything Sam and Neal can blend into a smoothie — and the episode’s final scene, where Sam stays up late after his disastrous Halloween to read Mrs. Whitman’s assigned reading material: Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

And while “Tricks and Treats” isn’t exactly a Russian novel, it is awfully bleak. All the characters have to make these major choices about how to behave. Without exception, every single decision has disastrous consequences. Sam’s got to decide whether or not to go trick or treating; he does, and gets egged. Lindsay has to decide between handing out candy with her mom like she’d promised or hanging out with her friends; she picks the latter and learns a bitter lesson about the consequences of “innocent” pranks.

07152010_fandg3_5.jpgMrs. Weir loves handing out cookies to the neighborhood kids and carries on even after Lindsay ditches her; she’s rewarded by a parade of scolding parents. There’s a small amount of optimism and sweetness in that finale that you mentioned between Lindsay and Mrs. Weir, but that’s immediately tempered by the scene that I mentioned where Sam reads (but doesn’t understand) “Crime and Punishment.”

That scene is another of those “only-on-‘Freaks and Geeks'” moments. Instead of concluding an episode full of emotional drama with some sort of cathartic blow-up or a plot-centric resolution, writer Paul Feig ends things with an understated and narratively inconsequential exchange between father and son. There are no jokes, no crazy lectures from Mr. Weir about his friends who didn’t heed his advice and wound up dead, no snarky comments from Sam about his dad’s square taste. Just a quiet, bittersweet moment where a teenager begins to accept the reality that he’s getting too old for some of the things he loves to do. Sadly, it’s time to grow up.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.