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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.


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…