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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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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.