Freaks and Geeks Ep 1.03 ‘Tricks and Treats’ sees the Weir family fighting maturity

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Freaks and Geeks Episode 3 ‘Tricks and Treats’
Directed by Bryan Gordon
Written by Paul Feig
Aired 10/30/1999 on NBC

 

It always amazes me how Freaks and Geeks started a series with such strong episodes, only to be ignored by the public and dismissed by NBC. ‘Tricks and Treats’ is a thoroughly impressive hour of television, weaving all these different ideas of maturity and acceptance into the always-ripe-for-comedy holiday story, laying out what’s great and terrible about them when you’re either a child, adult – or like the people at McKinley High, stuck in the awkward place between the two.

For all intents and purposes, Jean Weir is the focus of ‘Tricks and Treats’, detailing both the emotional journey of a parent, and as a good-natured mother living in the early 1980s. Jean’s one of those mothers (like my own was) who gets excited about the prospect of an upcoming holiday, decorating the hell out of everything and insisting on semi-humiliating activities for the family to share, like talking Lindsay into handing out Halloween cookies with her during the holiday and suggesting Sam goes out trick or treating one more time. It’s really a veiled attempt to turn back the clock, to the time when Sam and Lindsay were just her innocent little children.

Expectedly, the both of them are trying to reject these ideas and embrace a more mature approach to Halloween – which consists of going to the movies or terrorizing the neighborhood, highlighting the irony behind the two Weir children rejecting the childish notions of the holiday. But they aren’t as ready to accept maturity as they (and 99.9% of all teenagers think): as soon as they’re faced with the prospect of something adult, they run in the other direction. The minute Sam’s English teacher places Crime & Punishment on his desk, he’s running back towards the comfortable notion of dressing up and walking around the neighborhood with his friends (which they all agree to, after reminding Neal that his Bar Mitzvah did not really make him a man outside his temple, one of many stabs at organized religion in the episode).

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Lindsay wants to hang out with her new friends, desperate to lose the feeling she’s floundering socially. The popular girls give her a condescending look as they walk past her in the hallway, Mr. Rosso is embarrassing her with his familiarity (“C’mon Lindsay… don’t make me out to be the man!” he tells her), and Millie doesn’t even tell her she has a boyfriend now (a ‘secret love’ she met at church camp, who put down a No Frenching rule until they hit the six-month mark). Even her new friends aren’t really accepting her: Ken is still being a dick to her (and everyone), and Kim is still jaded to the idea of “the Brain” joining their group, being such a drag and all.

Like her mother, Lindsay finds herself treading water between the place she wants to be, and what she’s living in the moment, holding onto their own idealistic notions about themselves and their realities. Jean just wants things to be the way they were; she talks later in the episode about how people are meaner than she remembers them, everyone rejecting her homemade cookies thanks to the fear that engulfed suburban America in the 1980s and 1990s, where everyone was checking their kid’s candy for poison, razor blades, and/or chocolate-dipped poo.

For Lindsay, it’s this notion that she’ll automatically be accepted by her new friends – and coming to terms with their reputation being a little closer to the truth than she was willing to accept. Nobody understands why Lindsay wants to hang out with the freaks, although Nick’s growing (and increasingly obvious) crush on Lindsay certainly gives her reason to put up with Kim’s shit and everyone else’s ridicule. She’s searching for an identity, and thinks she can completely fit in with their group, the ultimate social chameleon.

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Like everyone’s plans for Halloween, Lindsay’s backfires; she’s constantly trying to get the group to go somewhere and do something, not realizing the whole point of it was to drive around and vandalize the town, an activity Daniel says the’yre “supposed to do”, because they’re freaks and it’s Halloween. So they smash some pumpkins and destroy some mailboxes – and Lindsay gets into it, finally getting to share a friendly moment when they decide to egg a group of younger kids standing around on the sidewalk.

That group of kids turns out to be Sam, Neal, Harry, and Bill, arguing after the bullies came along to extract revenge for the events of the pilot. It’s a wake-up call to both characters: Sam’s too old to be walking around in a costume nobody understands (how many times does he tell someone it’s Gort), participating in a childish activity basically to avoid homework; and Lindsay might want to hang out with the freaks, but it doesn’t mean she really is one.

After their incident, the episode cuts back to a dejected Jean, who is just sitting on the couch alone, too disappointed to even raise off the couch to answer the door for another set of children and a paranoid parent. It makes a beautiful parallel to her children: the whole Weir family is trying to fight off the natural change that comes with growing up and getting older. Jean wants her kids to be kids again – and for a brief moment, they do too – but they do so separately, to diminishing returns. The Halloween doesn’t become enjoyable for anyone until they’re back in the house, spending the holiday together as a family – well, except for Sam, who doesn’t know if he even likes reading his ‘adult’ book: “everyone’s name is really weird and long” he tells Harold (who himself, was dressed up as Count Floyd, one of Joe Flaherty’s many roles on the cult classic SCTV series).

Many holiday episodes on other shows would get caught up in the sentimentality of the moments at the end of the episode – but Freaks and Geeks was far more concerned with the uncomfortable moments that precede it, those embarrassing experiences between child and adulthood that we all try to push out of our minds as we mature. But for such a sad episode, it manages to naturally conjure up a happy ending that not only feels satisfying narratively, but thematically as well. Lindsay and her mother give out some Halloween treats together, and Sam retires to his room to try and read something other than the novelization of Star Wars. It ends quietly, in Sam’s room as he reads, a very low-key ending to an otherwise heady episode of teenage (and middle-age) angst, framing it wonderfully in the most emotionally heightened times of the year: the holidays.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– the cold open was written much later, after a different sequence with Lindsay was scrapped. It’s still a hilarious little scene, but it feels completely unconnected to the rest of the episode, which is uncommon for Freaks and Geeks.

– Millie’s eating Fun Dip at the bus stop, and Daniel sticks his finger in for a taste: “Thanks for the candy, skinny.”

– I laugh so hard every time I see the wide shot of Mr. Rosso picking up his broken pumpkin and replacing it with a new one. “That is so uncool.”

– Bill mentions his allergies, which are a major component of episode 13, ‘Chokin’ and Tokin”.

– Jean: “Who did this to you?” Same: “just some freaks.” Jean: “Circus freaks did this to you?”

– the touch of Lindsay dressing up as a prince (instead of a princess) at the end is a great little joke.

– Bill as the Bionic Woman may be the single funniest gag in Freaks and Geeks‘s short lifetime.

– notice how everyone “swears to God” to Sam that Lindsay’s telling the truth? The original script had Sam responding “You don’t even believe in God!”, calling back to their conversation at the end of the pilot.

– Harry likes wax lips, making him the only person on the planet to do so.

– “unwrapped food stuffs” is such a hilarious, sanitary term for “cookies”.

– Neal, working on his mustache in the mirror: “Looking for Chaplin, only seeing Hitler.”

– Daniel mentions their band should be called DeSario. He won’t have that attitude for very long.

 

— Randy

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