Freaks and Geeks Episode 13 ‘Chokin’ and Tokin”
Written by Judd Apatow
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Aired 3/20/2000 on NBC
The last episode to air before NBC canceled Freaks and Geeks, ‘Chokin’ and Tokin” displayed many of the things that made the show great: layered characters (both major and minor), a stark look at the transitions of life, and a show that challenges the foundations of faith. It may very well be the best episode of the show, despite the absence of Kim Kelly, and how isolated the various plots of the episode are – what it lacks in narrative cohesiveness, it makes up for in poignant character moments.
As most people do, I remember ‘Chokin’ and Tokin” as The One Where Lindsay Smokes Pot – but in reality, her story doesn’t get going until the second half. The first half takes a hard look at the “stoner life”, showing how dependent Nick’s become to pot over time. Lindsay doesn’t understand it at all, and though her judgments about his laziness and lack of ambition to do anything when he’s high is true, it takes a comment from Millie to put Nick’s drug use into context. Why does Nick look forward to the next bag of pot he can get his hands on? Because he already feels like a failure in life: whether it’s “I’m With the Band” or “Girlfriends and Boyfriends”, Nick’s been handed the short stick with just about everything he’s done, and the last few episodes have shown how he’s struggled to cope with it.
Not understanding the appeal (mostly because she thought she was high, and clearly wasn’t), she decides to give it a try and see what Nick got all excited about. Of course, it turns into a horror show – if there’s one thing that’s a little overt in this episode, it’s Lindsay’s bad experience smoking pot. It’s a realistic point, sure (smoking weed is certainly not a pleasant experience for everyone), but there are moments where the show goes heavy on the parody of Lindsay being high.
It’s forgivable, though, because it leads to one of my favorite scenes in the series, when Lindsay and Millie have an honest conversation about their withering friendship, catalyzed by events they had no control over. They didn’t grow apart because they hated each other: they grew apart because they changed, because Lindsay’s lost her faith in God after her grandmother died and couldn’t handle the constant spiel anymore. What I love is how the show doesn’t try to judge Millie for what she believes in: the fact that she’s happier than most people because she believes in God certainly concedes that there is some emotional comfort to be found in religion. It doesn’t back away from its point – that Lindsay doesn’t believe in God, and that it allows her to approach things from more open perspectives – but it smartly doesn’t try to go the easy route, openly criticizing Millie for what she believes in (when she awakes the dog and says “Believe, Lindsay!”, it’s as earnest as can be).
God plays an ancillary role in the episode’s other big plot, as well: where as Lindsay has a relatively harmless experience with a plant that grows from the earth, Bill almost dies from something else that comes from plants; peanuts. After Alan puts peanuts in Bill’s sandwiches to see if he really was allergic to them or not, Bill lands in critical condition at the hospital – happening right around the time Lindsay stops ‘judging’ Nick and tries pot herself, flipping the roles of one plot as serious and the other amusing halfway through.
It leads to some fantastic scenes; Neal and Sam using Bill’s unfortunate situation to get some love from the ladies (Maureen and Vicky stop by), Jean and Gloria talking about pre-natal care (adding another sad detail to Bill’s life story), and of course, Alan’s apology to Bill, which reveals a deeper character than anyone in the audience expected. Alan’s story about being rejected by Bill and the geeks is a bitter, bitter story, and reveals the true feelings that drive his bullying: insecurity and jealousy.
Is this a low-hanging fruit for Freaks and Geeks to grab? Kind of – having Alan be the ‘bully who secretly loves geekery, but can’t admit it’ is an easy subplot to write, almost a fantastical way to imagine your worst enemies in high school being redemptive characters in an alternate universe. But if ‘Chokin’ and Tokin” makes one point well, it’s that we all find ways to hide from the darkest feelings we have inside. Bill makes jokes about his health conditions, but it’s a defensive device to cover up his fear; Millie uses God to define her happiness; Nick smokes pot to try and forget his life. Everybody’s got something unhealthy they use as a coping mechanism; for Alan, it’s spite – and after so many years being the bully, Alan doesn’t even know how to be a friend anymore.
There are other little subplots scattered about ‘Chokin’ and Tokin” (Lindsay’s babysitting, Ken and Daniel getting busted by Rosso with a a bag of pot), but it always retains its focus on the things that can be both good and bad for us, in many stages of life. That is, except peanuts – for some, the things that may be great and loved by other people might kill them.
– Ronnie is played by Alexander Gould, who would show up on Showtime’s Weeds a few years later as the disturbed little Shane Botwin.
– while high, Nick makes sense of the lunch school pyramid: after serving salisbury steak, Nick posits that they use the same meat for the next week, reselling it to them in the form of hamburgers, meatball heroes – and finally, meatloaf.
– Maureen isn’t friends with the geeks anymore, but still takes the time to say hello. We’ll spend more time with bitchy Vicky soon.
– Sam’s favorite Charlie’s Angel is Bosley, reinforcing how innocent that kid still is.
– Daniel: “I don’t want to relate to anybody.”
– “You’re high!” Millie says to Lindsay; “You’re on the pot!!!”
– Leslie Mann (who is also Judd Apatow’s wife) appears as a teacher that Bill has a crush on, Ms. Foote, beginning the odd little habit of Apatow putting his wife on camera as the object of desire for others.