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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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