“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 2: Beers and Weirs
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by J. Elvis Weinstein & Judd Apatow
Originally aired October 2, 1999
“I prefer to get high on life.” –Millie
Matt: Geeks love to world-build. They love stories with complicated mythologies and intricate continuity like Tolkien novels or X-Men comics. And they — oh fine, we — treasure that stuff because those are the kinds of narratives that reward the sort of intelligence and advanced reading skills that help make a geek a geek. “Beers and Weirs,” the second episode of “Freaks and Geeks,” is the one where we begin to see that this isn’t just a show about geeks, it’s a show by geeks as well.
Seconds into this second episode, the continuity begins to pile up. In the very first scene of the pilot, big drum kit aficionado Nick (Jason Segel) declares his belief in a divine power: that of John Bonham, the drummer of hard rock gods Led Zeppelin. But that pilot is set in the fall of 1980; John Bonham died on September 25, 1980. So what happens as Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) walks into school as “Beers and Weirs” begins? She bumps into Nick, stumbling, forlorn. “What’s the matter?” she asks. “John Bonham died.” he replies. Then she asks the really bad question: “Why don’t [Led Zeppelin] just get a new drummer?” At this, Nick just stares.
Now, you certainly don’t need to have seen the pilot to understand this scene. Taken on entirely on its own it still works as an effective exchange between the two characters, establishing the friendship between the Lindsay and Nick, her concern for him and his passion for something she doesn’t understand.
But if you’ve seen the pilot, you know how important Bonham (not to mention extravagant drumming in general) is to Nick. Plus, if you’re a real hardcore Led Zeppelin fan like Nick, you know that Bonham died in September of 1980, and you knew while you were watching the pilot what that bomb was going to do when it exploded in Nick’s face and you were just waiting for it to happen. And all of that makes the payoff here even sweeter.
Careful observers of these first two “Freaks and Geeks” episodes will also notice a few minor characters from the pilot reappearing here. Sean (Shaun Weiss), the heavyset kid who sparked the argument between Eli and Lindsay, and Mark (Mark Allan Staubach), the freak with Sideshow Bob hair who was seen under the bleachers with Daniel, Nick, and Ken, and avoiding Sam during the dodgeball game, both appear in the kegger thrown by Lindsay while her parents are out of town enjoying a Paul Anka concert.
“Beers and Weirs” also introduces us to Stroker (Shawn Soong) a often seen but rarely heard background character with a distinctive brown mane, after Daniel invites him to the Weirs’ party.
These details are make for continuity geek fun. But they also speak to “Freaks and Geeks” creator Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow’s commitment to verisimilitude and their attention to detail. We all had those people in high school we didn’t really know but we saw in the same hallway every day between classes, or the guy a friend used to be on a softball team with. Everyone has them; for “Freaks and Geeks,” those people are Sean and Mark. They’re important because when you’re building a world, it has to be complete.
Alison: One more thing about that Nick/Lindsay exchange — it’s the first in a row of social missteps and misreadings Lindsay makes in this episode as she struggles to absorb freakdom like it’s a foreign language. Not only does she seriously underestimate Bonham’s importance to Nick, she then tells a story about her dad catching a shoplifter when it’s the shoplifter her audience is more likely to identify with.
She also takes at (frightened) face value the “family emergency” excuse Nick uses to get her out of class (and speaking of continuity, that’s Lizzy Caplan as Sara, the girl who delivered the message, who’ll play a larger role later in the series). She painstakingly party-readies her house with trays of snacks and black light posters when everyone’s just looking for a parent-free place to get wasted. And worst of all, she fails to understand that her crush Daniel’s (James Franco) break-up with Kim (Busy Philipps) isn’t actually a break-up, just the latest chapter in the pair’s own pint-sized Sid and Nancy saga.
While this episode marks Lindsay’s low point, it gives the geeks a chance to shine as they attempt, several times, to come to the rescue, and find out, after they swap out the keg with one filled with near-beer, that people don’t actually need alcohol to act like drunken idiots. Sam (John Francis Daley) and Neal’s (Samm Levine) wanderings through the party offer some nice moments of social worlds colliding, with Sam shooing Nick off the coffee table and hiding the house’s more fragile valuables away and Neal insisting the beer tastes funny because it’s imported and giving an offhand punch to the stomach of Daniel’s cousin Jimmy, who’s trying to show off the strength of his abs.