Friday, June 22, 2007

Freaks and Geeks Rewind: Beers and Weirs

Spoilers for "Beers and Weirs," the only "Freaks and Geeks" episode I helped write (but not really) coming up just as soon as I do some anti-drunk driving improv...

Having done such a brilliant job of establishing their huge cast of characters and the different worlds they inhabit in the pilot episode, Team Freaks and Geeks (this time with Judd Apatow and J. Elvis Weinstein on writing duties and Jake Kasdan again behind the camera) spends episode two making those worlds collide early and often.

Using one of the oldest cliches of movies and TV shows about teenagers -- while mom and dad are out of town, a party rages out of control -- Apatow and Weinstein, who came up with the brilliant idea of having the geeks replace the beer keg with a non-alcoholic keg, put nearly all of the high school characters inside the Weir house to bounce off each other in unexpected, often hilarious combinations.

Millie (out to prove she can have more fun sober than anyone else can drunk) and Nick perform an impromptu, half-sincere, half-ironic, all-loud duet of "Jesus Is Just Alright" on the Weir family piano. Harris awkwardly tries to dance with Lindsay in the hallway. Sam and Ken have two different conversations (which may be the only time the two speak to each other in the entire series), as Ken takes advantage of Sam's near beer stunt to win a lot of money at Quarters from kids who think they're drunk. Neal confesses his crush on Lindsay, first to Bill, then to Lindsay herself. Daniel makes lewd comments about what he'd like to do with (or to) Cindy Sanders. There's just one scene after another of characters interacting with people you never expected them to ever meet, and nearly all of it is hysterical.

(The funniest part of the episode, though, is done completely solo, with Bill getting drunk on the keg of actual beer while "guarding" it in Sam's bedroom. As the series would go along, Martin Starr being strange on his own became money in the bank, comedically.)

While the geeks don't get shafted on screen time, this is very much Lindsay's episode, as she deals with the consequences of her troublemaking new friends while dealing with advances from nearly every guy at the party. In addition to Neal and Harris, Daniel gets flirty with her -- though his attentions aren't unwelcome -- and when Lindsay runs crying to Nick for some solace after catching Daniel and Kim making out in her bed, Nick considers it an invitation to go to second base.

Though I always identified more with the geeks, that scene -- both the look of dawning horror on Lindsay's face and Nick's lame twin defense of "I'm really wasted!" and "John Bonham died!" -- may have been the one that really made me fall in love with the show. It's such a mortifying moment, and it's shocking because Nick has been set up over these first two episodes as the nice guy alternative to Daniel's charming con man, yet Nick's action and Lindsay's reaction ring truer than any moment that had happened on the show to date. I'd never been in that exact situation before, yet as soon as it happened, I nodded my head and thought, "Yup, that's exactly how that would have gone."

And that scene in turn leads to Neal's spectacular failure at winning Lindsay's heart. Not that he ever had a prayer of getting her to go out with him (he's her little brother's weird little friend, after all), but that moment is exactly the wrong time to confess his love -- and yet I can completely understand the thought process that would make Neal think it was exactly the right time. ("All these other jerks have been treating her badly, and I'll show her how awesome a nice guy can be!") After inspiring Lindsay to burst into sobs with his declaration of love, I like that Neal's allowed to win back some of his dignity by the end of the scene, as he saves the day by calling the cops to shut down the party (using a semi-convincing old man voice), leading Lindsay to give him a hug and a platonic peck on the cheek in thanks and admiration. (Neal, of course, doesn't view it as platonic at all, but that's a matter for later episodes involving the awesomeness that is Krumholtz.)

Another lovely moment: Daniel admires the trophy collection in Lindsay's bedroom, and when Lindsay tries to play it off as some stupid stuff she doesn't care about anymore, he asks, "Why's it so stupid? You look pretty happy there. If I ever won a blue ribbon, I'd be so pumped." In the pilot and the early parts of this episode, we're led to believe that Daniel welcomed Lindsay into his group because he was hot for her and considered her a good Plan B for the next time he and Kim broke up. This scene is the first sign that he sees something more in her than a hot piece of ass. Daniel's often self-centered and will cause Lindsay and his friends no end of grief, but he definitely envies the successful, happy, "normal" existence that Lindsay ran from when she became a freak; having a girl so obviously smart hanging around makes him feel better about himself.

Plot-wise, "Beers and Weirs" is a simpler episode than the pilot, with every scene being about either party set-up or the party itself. But in terms of execution, it was a clear sign that Apatow, Kasdan, Paul Feig and company hadn't produced a brilliant pilot that couldn't be equaled week to week.

Some other thoughts on "Beers and Weirs":
  • I never got my "Scheisse" moment on "The Shield," but dammit I made a contribution (however small) to this episode. I spent most of NBC's summer '99 press tour party clinging to Feig and Apatow, and at one point I complained, "The pilot takes place at Homecoming of 1980, which would be sometime in October or November, but John Bonham died at the end of September that year, so why is Nick talking about Bonham like he's still alive?" Feig got this "One of us!" grin on his face, while Apatow looked annoyed at not having caught this in the pilot stage. Then Judd said, "You know, that would make a funny bit in episode two or three. We'll have Nick wandering around depressed because John Bonham just died." (Feig then rationalized that Bonham wasn't dead in the pilot because McKinley High was so lame that it had to have its Homecoming game near the start of the school year.)
  • "Freaks and Geeks" came on the air during one of those seasons where the broadcast networks were taking a lot of crap for having too many all-white casts. When a critic complained about this during this show's press tour session, Paul Feig defended it by saying that he had a master plan to do a storyline based on the very real, very ugly racial integration of his high school around this period. Cut to episode two, and suddenly McKinley High has a single black student, who gets into an argument with Neal over whose people have been opressed more. When I asked Feig about it months later, he shook his head and sighed that NBC scotched his plan and insisted he add a black character, even a background character, post-haste.
  • Busy Philipps gets her first "Also starring" credit in this one. Apatow says in one of the commentaries that they legally weren't allowed to film her for the opening title yearbook sequence because she wasn't under contract as a regular at the time -- but, oddly, there are commercial bumpers featuring evidence of other non-regular characters (like Harris) who got the yearbook treatment.
  • Sometimes, deleted scenes are useful for what gets omitted. In a cut scene from the pilot, Mr. Kowchevsky teaches chemistry, but here he's established as a math teacher, which makes him handy for various Mathlete storylines.
  • I love the little details, like the way that Mille, during the brilliantly awful anti-drunk driving assembly, insists on freezing in very hard-to-maintain positions (say, standing on one foot) at the end of each improv. She's a true artist, that girl.
  • We get our first real glimpse of Lizzy Caplan as Sara, who helps Nick rescue Lindsay from Kowchevsky's class, and will be important down the road. I have to say that I prefer Caplan's Kate Jackson wannabe look here to the heroin chic thing she was working on "The Class."
  • The teaser, with Papa Weir complaining about punk rock, is one of my favorite Weir family arguments because both kids get in good digs at the old man: Lindsay points out that every generation is afraid of the music listened to by the generation that follows them, and when Harold retorts that Elvis never spat on his fans, Sam notes, "Yeah, but he died on the toilet."

Back early next week (maybe even over the weekend, depending on how things go) with the Halloween episode, "Tricks and Treats."


Matter-Eater Lad said...

The absolute funniest bit in this episode is when a drunk Bill, watching Dallas, says something like, "Be careful JR -- it's a trap!" She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have been saying that to each other at completely random moments for seven or eight years now...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bill drunk is just a tour de force by Martin Starr. (The DVDs have a few more drunk scenes, including a hilarious bit where he takes a phone call from Mrs. Weir and tells her how much he loves Sam.)

Though Starr's gotten the least post-show work out of any F&G alum, my favorite part of revisiting the show has been watching him work. He's just so funny, in very unexpected ways. I hope Apatow finds more ways to use him in the future. (He's credited as "Dude #5" in "Superbad," which doesn't sound promising.)

Danny said...

While Drunk Bill is hilarious, my favorite Martin Starr moment comes in the next episode where he's getting dressed for Halloween in front of a mirror.

Greg said...

Sam and Ken do talk again in "The Little Things." They have a nice commiseration about girlfriends.

Alan Sepinwall said...

While Drunk Bill is hilarious, my favorite Martin Starr moment comes in the next episode where he's getting dressed for Halloween in front of a mirror.

Then you'll be very pleased with the picture I've chosen for that review.

Sam and Ken do talk again in "The Little Things." They have a nice commiseration about girlfriends.

Good to know. I'll look forward to it. Some details of this show I remember intimately, and some of it I'm rediscovering as I watch each episode.

Anonymous said...

"Beers and Weirs" is my favorite episode of the entire series. I absolutely adore it and I'm TOTALLY having a F&G marathon this weekend.

Edward Copeland said...

There really wasn't a "bad" episode of the entire series, but I still hold this one nearest to my heart. There are so many things to love about it, I'd just repeat everything said by everyone else, but one other favorite moment: The scene where the geeks try to get the convenience store guy to sell them the keg of nonalcoholic beer.

Ty Keenan said...

"Nice unicorn."

"Then I am in the corner."

"That was very dominant."

I don't know if this is my favorite episode, but it's probably the funniest. Although Bill's funniest moment will always be pretending to talk on the phone as the Bionic Woman.

Anonymous said...

"You suck. Dallas rules!"

"And I'm going to have more fun than everybody. Sober."

"Get up, Bill. That's how the drummer from Led Zeppelin died."

I also think Lizzy Caplan's appearance here is more indication than Nick was destined for disco.

And then there's Daniel kissing Lindsay on the head, a few moments after she kisses Neal on the cheek. Insult to injury. At the same time, I like how the trophy scene cuts against the ending, making Daniel seem somewhat sympathetic and Lindsay possibly overeager. Looking back, I'm really surprised just how sad Daniel was as a character. Except for "Tests and Breasts" (a big exception, I'll admit), most of the truly funny stuff on the freak side went to Nick, Ken, and to some extent Kim.


Anonymous said...

This episode is darn near perfect -- brilliant character development and hysterically funny. It's scary how much the show reminds me of my own high school experience, even though I attended high school fifteen years later than these characters. In a way, the choice to make "Freeks and Geeks" a "period" show keeps it from ever being dated.

Anonymous said...

Early shout-out to the awesomeness of the impending Krumholtz episode!

I always like the part where Cindy shows up at the party with her cousin, and Sam makes that lame remark about the hot guy bus not having shown up yet.

And the scene with the Geeks transporting the keg via wagon is just so sweet.

Anonymous said...

Harris awkwardly tries to dance with Lindsay in the hallway.

He doesn't try to dance with her. They just have that "trying to get by each other in a hallway" thing, where both you and the other person keep moving in the same direction several times until finally the synchronization is broken and you can get past. At that point Harris says, "Thanks for the dance"--hilarious.

Marty said...

This may be one of the few instances in a high school show/movie where the preparation for the keg party gets almost as much screentime as the party itself. And those prep scenes are a great opportunity for us to see how drastic Lindsay's role playing really is. She alternates between excitement about the party and doubts about whether or not she should betray her parents' trust like that. And I love her growing annoyance with Sam as he tries to distract her while Bill and Neal switch the kegs. It's a perfect reminder that, for Lindsay, this party isn't just about having a good time - it's also about proving her worth to The Freaks. So there's a lot of personal dignity at stake, in addition to simple teenage experimentation/curiosity.

I also like how realistically the party itself is played - it's not unrealistically wild (unlike in many other high school shows/movies) or unrealistically tame. It's pretty much what you'd expect to see if you went to a real teen party. Most of the kids are clearly being "exposed" to alcohol for the first time, and thus, don't yet know how to behave while they're under the influence - they act stereotypically drunk even though they're perfectly sober. And, unlike on shows like Saved By The Bell, it's not some kind of dire consequence like a DUI that ends the party. It's Lindsay's own guilt over the way she betrayed her parents' trust by throwing it.

Lastly, the scene with Daniel looking through her Mathlete trophies is a pretty good indication of how poorly she fits in with the Freaks - if she were a true "freak," she wouldn't be trying so hard to distance herself from her Mathlete past (actually, she probably would've never been a Mathlete to begin with, but that's beside the point). Yet, she thinks that to fit in with them, she has to fit into their completely stereotypical mold peg-for-peg. Kind of like Sara's failed attempt at fitting in with them in Discos And Dragons (you know, the scene where she deliberately blows off finals).

Marty said...

Is it just me, or are there a couple slight continuity errors in this episode?

1. Cindy says she drove her cousin to Lindsay's party. But she's only a high school freshman. Wasn't the legal driving age 16 in 1980?

2. During that same scene, she refers to Neal by his proper name. Didn't she mistakingly call him "Nate" in Girlfriends And Boyfriends?

nath said...

Just re-watched this episode and realized what a nice button the end sequences puts on everything. The episode starts with the Geeks being freaked out about the party because of the alcohol awareness assembly, and it ends with Lindsay telling Bill to get off the floor so he doesn't choke on his own vomit, which I thought was a nice parallel as the sort of thing you hear about in those assemblies (having attended a number in college).