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Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 18, “Discos and Dragons”

Revived and Derived: “Freaks and Geeks” Ep. 18, “Discos and Dragons” (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 18
Discos and Dragons
Written by Paul Feig
Directed by Paul Feig

“Hey, I agree with you, man. That place sucks! And you’re right — they’re closing the disco next week and bringing in foxy boxing. You should come back and check it out. Rock and roll!” — Bouncer

Alison: And so, friends, we come to the end — the end of disco, the end of the McKinley High school year, and the end, regretfully, of “Freaks and Geeks.” One of the very few benefits of early cancellation is that everyone knew that that end was coming, and “Discos and Dragons,” the series finale, manages to provide a little closure, or at least forward movement, for all of our much-loved characters. Sam, Neal and Bill, along with Harris and Gordon, get consolation with regard to their dire geekiness when Daniel joins them for a Dungeons & Dragons session at which the freak prince, to everyone’s surprise (most of all his own), has a great time. Nick finally, reluctantly, moves on from Lindsay, stops smoking pot and settles in with the Hustle and with Sarah (Lizzy Caplan), who seems his perfect match when it comes to throwing oneself alarmingly into a relationship. Ken is affirmed in his faith in the power of rock, Mr. Rosso in the healing power of the Grateful Dead. Kim gets to leave town, at least for the summer, and Lindsay picks a road trip with the Deadheads over the academic summit, well aware that there will be heavy consequences for her actions but not weighed down by regret.

Lindsay starts the show hoping for a boyfriend in Daniel, but she ends it in the company of Kim, the freak who was most hostile to her joining their group and who has become, unpredictably, a good friend. It fits in with the theme of this episode as one of characters ending up in places and with people they’d never have expected — Nick on the dance floor, Lindsay on that VW bus, Daniel at the D&D evening. Most of these storylines start off with characters revisiting familiar complaints. The geeks still don’t understand why they get picked on and bullied, Nick may or may not be engaged in his most elaborate attempt yet to win Lindsay’s affections, and Lindsay is once again embarrassed by and uncomfortable with her own advantages. But this time these plots seem to actually hold the promise of significant change.

10292010_fandg18_2.jpgLindsay’s conversation with Mr. Rosso about the summit sums up the amusing awkwardness of her situation and her unwanted prize: “How can I be in the top one percent? I don’t study that much! Are the kids in Michigan schools that stupid?” “No, you’re just that smart!” No matter how much Lindsay tries to escape her Mathlete past, her smarts shine out from under that army jacket — she can’t seem to break free from her bright future. And the academic summit, with its prestige, its competition, its workload — it’s everything old Lindsay would have fit right in with, and everything new Lindsay wants to avoid at all costs. She understands attending would be good for her, and that it’s an offer most people would be happy to get, and Kim, already weary from listening to Daniel’s woes, calls Lindsay out on her self pity, noting “you get to leave. I don’t.”

It’s really Kim’s observation of how unlikely it is that she’ll ever get out of town that prompts Lindsay’s decision — the tension running through her friendship with the freaks as, over episodes, it’s grown into something genuine has always been due to the awareness that she’s going to end up leaving them behind, heading to a college and opportunities they don’t have open to them. Lindsay makes a choice that’s not just about her wanting to become someone else, it’s about helping a friend, and also simply relishing in the bright, irresponsible joy of youth, of friends, of dancing to music you love and having a good time. That goodbye to her family, and poor smitten Neal, is so intensely bittersweet because, well, it’s never that easy. She’s about to betray her parents’ trust and hurt them like she’s never before. But for the moment it’s summer, the road and Jerry Garcia await, and you never expected things to end entirely happy in this show, did you?

Matt, I’m sure you’re dying to discuss the magical disco stylings of Eugene, but before that I have a broader question for you. “Freaks and Geeks” is, as the title promises, the story of two outcast social groups by way of the two Weir siblings. While I imagine the creators’ backgrounds fell more in line with those of the geeks (and feel free to correct me there), it seems to me the series skews more in favor of the freaks and Lindsay in terms of prominence, possibly because Lindsay’s arc has proven more complicated. Do you agree?

Matt: I don’t know, I think “Freaks and Geeks” has done a pretty good job of balancing its two halves. “Discos and Dragons” has two extremely poignant freak storylines — Lindsay leaves home for the summer, Nick resigns himself to an unhappy life without her — but some of the saddest moments of the episode belong to our resident nerds, who are warned by their A/V teacher than they should not expect their revenge for a long time to come. “I’m sick of being called a geek!” moans a frustrated Sam after a bunch of jocks knock all his books out of his hands. That would be a depressing line in any episode but it’s a double bummer in a series finale. You won’t be called a geek for long, Sam. Your show’s getting canceled.

Before it says goodbye, “Freaks and Geeks” reminds us what it was here to do. Notice how much of “Discos and Dragons” is about how art can provide a means of escape from our terrible lives. Sam’s stuck being a geek for at least a few more years, but he can comfort himself with a 16mm print of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Lindsay might not know what she should do over the summer, but listening to the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty” makes her smile. That’s what great art like “Monty Python” or “American Beauty” or “Freaks and Geeks” does: takes us away from our troubles and reminds us we’re not alone.

So much of “Discos and Dragons” is about that idea of escape: as Lindsay contemplates a summer away from home, Kim reminds her that some of her friends will be Norsemen for life, and the geeks find a way out of their troubles playing Dungeons & Dragons. Many of the best “Freaks and Geeks” storylines were about characters in search of their identity, and here’s another one: as Daniel, forced to become a member of the McKinley A/V squad, joins the geeks for a game of D&D where he invents a new persona: Carlos the Dwarf.

10292010_fandg18_6.jpgSince we never got to see another episode, we’ll never know if it sticks. But it shouldn’t be too surprising that Daniel takes to D&D, and not just because dungeon master Harris predicted he’d like the game when the two had a heart to heart back in “Looks and Books.” For all of Daniel’s good looks and dirtbag swagger, he’s just as powerless as the geeks; they can’t stop their bullies, he can’t pass a math test. After one frustration after another — he can’t even thread a projector properly — no wonder its exciting to save a princess. As Gordon puts it, in a line that’s actually a lot darker than it first appears, the best part of D&D is “you get to pretend to be someone you can’t be in real life.”

This is our last chance to talk about “Freaks and Geeks,” so it feels like we should be tying a bow around the series. Alison, my gut tells me I need to ask you what your favorite episode or character was, or what you think you’ll remember most about this series in 25 years. But “Discos & Dragons” such a rich episode that we’ve got so much more to talk about, particularly Nick’s uber-depressing storyline about catching some “Saturday Night Fever.” So, for your last trip to McKinley, I’m letting you decide. What do you want to talk about?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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