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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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