Freaks and Geeks Episode 7 ‘Carded and Discarded’
Written by Judd Apatow & Paul Feig
Directed by Judd Apatow
Aired 1/10/2000 on NBC
Technically the tenth episode (in terms of production order) of Freaks and Geeks, there’s a noticeable dissonance in this episode’s tone when contrasted against the episodes surrounding it – things are markedly more optimistic in the first two thirds than in last week’s ‘I’m With the Band’ and next week’s ‘Girlfriends and Boyfriends’. But considering where it was placed (after a two-month hiatus at the end of 1999), ‘Carded and Discarded’ actually provides a nice light moment in between the dark stories bookending it.
‘Carded and Discarded’ – like many episodes of Freaks and Geeks – are about the idealistic minds of youth, and how that naivety leads to both moments of wonderment and disaster. This comes to a head memorably when the geeks meet Maureen, the new girl from Florida who represents every single one of their early adolescent dreams: she makes jokes about butts, she sits at their table at lunch – and most importantly, she talks to them, making jokes and laughing like they’re just regular kids.
From the moment she sits down at their table, we all know how it’s going to end: with Maureen leaving and becoming one of the cool kids. But while many Hollywood films and TV shows tease this idea (or indulge in it to very pointless ends… re: Mouth on One Tree Hill), Freaks and Geeks embraces it whole-heartedly: and although it’s a very fantastical, Billy Joel-laden series of dream-like sequences, the increasing desperation by Bill, Sam, and Neal to keep Maureen in their little clique underlies a lot of their scenes together. These kids (like us) know this isn’t going to last, even after they bring out the heavy artillery to save her (that is, they take her to the all you can eat buffet at the Iron Horse).
What really sells the story is how Feig and Apatow quietly tie the boy’s pursuit of friendship with Maureen with Nick’s often-creepy romantic pursuits of Lindsay. Having been a young male myself once, there’s a lot in ‘Carded and Discarded’ that speaks to the awkward teen in me, the kid who wanted to date all the pretty girls, and flailed at any small window of opportunity I saw, no matter how desperate and off-putting it might’ve actually been. Nick’s little comments and weird physical contact with Lindsay is so fucking spot-on from things I did and saw other guys do in school, it’s almost scary: the poor guy just wants to connect with another human being, and the blinders of young age are causing him to read their situation in the completely wrong light (as we see during their walk to the Rusty Nail: Nick says they have “an understanding”, while Lindsay all but runs away from Kim when she asks what is going on between them).
Maureen doesn’t quite have the same problem Lindsay does, but as we see from the boy’s perspective, they’ve all developed feelings for a girl that clearly didn’t intend to cause them. Being even younger than the freaks, the boys are still stuck in the mindset that having a friend that is a girl means she has a crush on them (all three think Maureen wants to date them, in fact), so they have a drawing to see who “gets her” – because of course, that’s the only logical resolution, since she wants all three of them. Like Nick, their hormones are throwing their perspectives out of whack, and it leads to them doing some desperate and uncomfortable things, like fooling Eli into bugging Vicky about Three’s Company to separate her and Maureen.
But in the end, reality always wins out on Freaks and Geeks, and the ever-present threat of Vicky and the cool kids turns out to be valid, even after their final attempt to win her heart forever. In the end, everybody wants to be a cool kid, and Neal, Sam, and Bill aren’t that. They’re forever in the “friend zone” (Nick is too, he just doesn’t know it quite yet), and they pass along a few final words of advice to her before she goes. She tries to ease their pain (“Guys, I’m not moving back to Florida!”) but they know the truth: even though she’s only a few tables away, she might as well have gone back to where she came from.
The rest of the episode is full of those little shots of reality, moments that remind characters that dreaming or pretending to do something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You can “guide” people as much as you want (Rosso with the freaks and Lindsay; the Weir parents trying to coax the kids into playing what sounds like a terrible card game), but they’re going to make their own decisions – and as teenagers, they are decisions they aren’t necessarily ready to accept the consequences for. Like the geeks, Harold and Jean thought their plan to have a family game night will work: except it doesn’t, and the kids go out on Friday night anyway – and by the same token, Rosso’s plan to talk sense into the kids goes absolutely nowhere, as they ignore him and get fake ID’s to go see the local sensation Feedback anyway.
In a perfect twist of irony (and moment of homage to the many creative people on the show who were in bands, including Dave Allen, Apatow, and Feig), Feedback’s lead singer turns out to be Mr. Rosso, and he openly ridicules them and reveals them to be high school students who “deserve only the finest pop.” Even though adults can be just as idealistic as children (Rosso trying to inspire the kids, the parents thinking their kids will remain kids forever), there’s a reason they often turn out right about things (frustrating teenagers to no end): they’ve been their already, and already know how you’re going to fuck up before you do it. In this episode, Rosso is us, the adult audience: we can already see where things are going to go wrong, but these characters don’t, and part of the fun (and horror) of Freaks and Geeks is reliving those moments, and being able to laugh at them instead of remembering them with regret.
– couple great cameos in this episode: an early post-Rushmore Jason Schwartzman, David Koechner, and Kevin Corrigan.
– Ken: “Everything fun in this world happens at bars.” Remember when you were 17 and you thought that?
– the disco clothing store owner mentions to Schwartzman’s character that there are some new Perisian night suits to unpack. I won’t ruin the surprise, but there will be a character wearing one of those suits in an upcoming episode.
– Harry tells Maureen there’s a new Beta machine in the A/V room, reminding us all of the great VHS vs. BetaMAX war of the early 1980s.
– Bill’s overcompensating rocket cracks me up every time.
– Howie tells the freaks jokingly that “Noone in Canada looks like you”, a wink to the many Canadian cast members.
– Millie wants to know why Lindsay is looking for her cousin Toby: “So you can go get loaded? I won’t be an accessory to this crime.”
– Toby calls Daniel ‘MacMurphy’.
– Daniel: “I’m not into astrology.”
– Jean: “the kids are gone… want to have a little sex?” Harold: “Sex? Weellll……………………………. ok.”
– after reading the special Maureen added to the dinner menu (Pan Fried Butt), Bill asks the question all 14 year old boys think at least once in their adolescent lives: “how are we not supposed to be in love with her?”