Ahh, Halloween. An excuse to get free candy, raise hell, grab onto your lost youth, or, if it's your thing, cross-dress.
We'll start there, as "Tricks and Treats" features the funniest scene the show ever did: Bill, dressed as the Bionic Woman (old school version), standing in front of his mother's bedroom mirror and doing a little role-play. (Top lines include, "I'm sorry, Steve Austin. I can't marry you. I'm mad at you now." and Bill saying, indignantly, that his boobs "are not bionic. These are all me.") It's a bizarre sequence on so many levels, from the ugly beige pantsuit Bill chooses (I don't think either Lindsay Wagner or Bill's mom could pull that one off), to the Buffalo Bill in "Silence of the Lambs" quality to him getting dressed, to Martin Starr's typically odd line readings. (He had never seen an episode of "The Bionic Woman," but the lameness of the impression is what made it work.) Starr had some funny bits in the first couple of episodes, notably Bill getting blitzed in "Beers and Weirs," but this is the moment, I think, where Apatow and company realized they had a demented comic genius on their hands, and Bill solo scenes would become almost mandatory in later shows. (Of all the pleasures of rewatching the series, rediscovering the weird brilliance of Martin Starr may be my favorite; it's nice to see him in a small role in "Knocked Up," but I want Apatow to use him more down the road.)
The rest of "Tricks and Treats" is one of the sadder episodes, as Lindsay, Sam and mama Jean Weir all try and fail to fight off inevitable conclusions: that Lindsay's new friends can be dirtbags (and that she doesn't fit in with them at all), that Sam's childhood is essentially over (and that his sister is hanging out with dirtbags), and that Jean's kids are growing up too fast (and the world is getting angrier than she remembers).
Lindsay spends Halloween afternoon cruising around town in Daniel's borrowed Cadillac, annoying the hell out of the other freaks by constantly suggesting things they could do. Kim (in the last episode where she hates Lindsay unreservedly) tries to explain that riding around in the car is the point, but Lindsay doesn't get it. Eventually, she gets into the spirit of things, stomping a few pumpkins, smashing a mailbox, and even egging a kid -- only to be horrified when the kid turns out to be Sam. When she tries to apologize to him after, he tells her, "Nobody thinks you're cool, you know," and she replies, sadly, "Trust me, I know." She gave up her old friends and lifestyle to hang with the freaks, and now she doesn't belong in either world.
Sam's all set to blow off Halloween and spend the night seeing "The Nude Bomb," but when a cruel English teacher responds to the geeks' book report choices (including a "Star Wars" novelization for Sam, "Yes I Can" for Neal and "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" for Bill) by forcing them to read "Crime & Punishment," he decides he's not yet ready to put away childish things. He ropes Neal and Bill (and, eventually, Harris) into one last "night" of trick-or-treating, only to have the rest of the world -- including Harld Weir, most of the neighborhood kids and parents and the cute Hot Dog on a Stick girls -- make it clear that they're too old for this. Then he suffers back-to-back humiliations: Alan and his buddies beat them up and steal all their candy, and then Lindsay and Kim pelt him with eggs. By episode's end, he's holed up in his room, struggling to make heads or tails of Dostoevsky. (Where another show might have tried for a less bleak ending by having Sam discover that he loves Russian literature, this one just has him complaining about all the weird names.)
But really, this is a Jean Weir episode more than anyone else's. Her daughter blows her off, breaking a long tradition of handing out candy together. She gets chewed out by all the neighborhood moms for daring to hand out homemade cookies (1980 was near the dawn of the "apples with razorblades" panic) and later discovers that all the kids are just dumping the cookies on her lawn. Halloween used to be one of her favorite days of the year, but by the time she's forced to send Harold to the store to buy some generic candy (another blow against individuality, dammit!), she's on the verge of tears and muttering, "Stupid kids holiday." When Sam comes home covered in egg (but refusing to rat out his sister), Jean suggests that the world has gotten so much meaner. Lindsay points out that kids threw eggs back in the day, too, and Jean replies, "I guess so. I just know I never did." She's a fundamentally nice person -- which explains why Sam and Lindsay are such good kids, overall -- but that goodness makes it hard for her to comprehend the people who aren't so nice. It's why she's always encouraging the kids to do things with a high potential for humiliation, and why she's so hurt at the suggestion that she might be lacing her cookies with poison. She wants her kids to stay kids forever, and has trouble facing the fact that they're getting close to adulthood. At least her story ends on something of an up note, as Lindsay finally gets into costume (Linda Cardellini looking very goofy in a little prince outfit) so they can hand out candy together before the night ends. But those innocent mother-daughter moments are going to become fewer and farther between, and Jean doesn't want to admit that.
Some other thoughts on "Tricks and Treats":
- Harold dresses up as Count Dracula, in a not-too-subtle tribute to Count Floyd, one of Joe Flaherty's best characters from "SCTV." (And if you're not familiar with "SCTV," then, dammit, what are you sitting around reading this blog for? Get to know Count Floyd, Earl Camembert and company, ASAP!)
- When Lindsay makes one of her earliest activity suggestions, Daniel says they're just going to drive around and "See where the night takes us." Unfortunately, the entire episode seems to take place around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I haven't listened to the full commentary for this one, but as I recall, Feig once said they couldn't afford to do an extended night shoot.
- Love that, after Nick smashes Mr. Rosso's pumpkin, Rossso instantly pulls out a backup pumpkin.
- Another great Bill moment: the cold open, where he offers to eat anything for 10 bucks, and Sam and Neal blend up a cocktail containing cayenne pepper, mustard, pickle juice, salt, sardines, vinegar, soy sauce, chili, jelly, dairy creamer and after dinner mints. It was actually the second cold open shot (the original is a brief bit where Lindsay experiments with opening extra buttons on her shirt), as for once, an episode came in short.
- Later, Bill mentions his peanut allergy, which will become important in "Choking and Toking."
- Harris -- dressed as a guy with a knife through his head -- makes a fine first impression on the Weirs, telling Jean her cowgirl costume makes her look "like Richard Benjamin in 'Westworld,'" then asking if they have any fake blood to freshen his wound.
What did everybody else think?