[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: J. Elvis Weinstein, Judd Apatow | Director: Jake Kasdan | Aired: 10/02/1999]
The “Pilot” [1×01] of Freaks and Geeks set the bar impressively high, introducing us to a group of young outcasts who each have their own clear and independent view on life. The episode which follows up on such a promising premiere has arguably an even more difficult task, as it must prove that the brilliant writing of the “Pilot” [1×01] was not a simple case of beginner’s luck. Thankfully, “Beers and Weirs” approaches this task with gusto, and delivers an episode which may not match the quality of the premiere, but manages to be a great episode in its own right.
The plot of “Beers and Weirs” is unremarkable in its description: Mom and Dad go out of town, the kids throw a party, and chaos ensues. It’s a fairly conventional idea, one that has been viewed before in many other adolescent shows. Though this episode adheres to the basic structure of this much-used concept, it overshadows the plot with some great character development that continues to push Freaks and Geeks above its peers.
As with the “Pilot” [1×01], the episode’s primary focus is Lindsay, even as several side characters begin to slowly move into the spotlight. Lindsay is beginning to feel more comfortable around the freaks she’s hanging out with, but she’s still not officially committed to their group.
One thing that makes “Beers and Weirs” so intriguing is the way it toys with Lindsay’s loyalties. She is at first repulsed by the idea of holding a kegger at her house while her parents are away, but spurred on by the freaks’ remarks – including a rather disdainful Kim – she quickly changes her mind. Later in the episode, Lindsay hesitates at the idea of Daniel bringing older guys to the kegger, but then agrees to it with a smile on her face. Later still, Nick gets Lindsay out of class through a fake “family emergency”, a method which initially shocks her, before she shrugs it off and joins him in buying the beer.
Lindsay still retains the good morals which defined her in her earlier days of academic excellence. Unfortunately, she now constantly ignores these morals simply in order to look “cool” in the eyes of the freaks. High schoolers often follow this line of thinking, hoping to gain a level of respect within their group. I can’t say I approve of Lindsay’s attitude, but I can certainly empathize with her decisions and attempts to appear relevant in her surroundings. Unfortunately, by simultaneously trying to fit in with the freaks and quietly retaining a moral position against their actions, Lindsay fails to succeed in either of these positions.
Her breakdown in the last act of the episode is the culmination of various factors, foremost of which is her lack of direction at this point in the series. The next two episodes will see her shed this indecisiveness and choose to throw her lot in with the freaks, but right now, poor Lindsay is at a crossroads, incapable of pleasing anyone.
Lindsay’s identity crisis is certainly her core issue at this juncture, but it’s by no means her only one. As we saw briefly in the “Pilot” [1×01], and see more clearly here, Lindsay is attracted to Daniel – it’s a safe bet that he’s the one who charmed her into joining the freaks. Also glimpsed in the “Pilot” [1×01] was Nick’s subtly apparent attraction to Lindsay. At this point, the show seems to be settling into a routine “love triangle” scenario, but Freaks and Geeks pulls the rug out from under that concept before the second episode is even over.
Lindsay wants to rebel, and Daniel Desario is the most rebellious young man she knows. Now that he and Kim have broken up, Lindsay sees her chance, and agrees to host the kegger. From her standpoint, it doesn’t seem too difficult to coax him into a romance. But Daniel isn’t interested in long-term relationships. His breakup with Kim is just the latest in a long line. Daniel and Kim don’t see much in each other outside of a physical relationship, and they’ve had many hateful arguments with each other before their teenage hormones pull them back together.
Lindsay and Daniel share an interesting moment in her hallway when he comes across an old picture of her and the Mathletes. Still trying to find her footing as one of the freaks, Lindsay tries to brush away this segment of her past. Daniel, though, is intrigued rather than indifferent. His comment – “I would love to win a blue ribbon” – pointedly suggests that although he dislikes studying and hard work, he admires the rewards they herald. This incentive may be what motivates him to hang out with the socially awkward but studious geeks in “Discos and Dragons” [1×18]. Alas, despite his admiration for Lindsay’s achievements, Daniel shows little interest in her as a romantic partner. And it’s a point further pressed in “Tests and Breasts” [1×05] – when he turns up the charm on her, it’s only for her mind.
Nick, meanwhile, enters the scenario from a completely different angle. He was captivated by Lindsay from their first meeting in the “Pilot” [1×01] (and he may have even been attracted to her before that). Lindsay, though, just sees Nick as a nice guy who happens to be friends with her high school crush. When Nick revealed his love of drumming to Lindsay in the “Pilot” [1×01], he did so to demonstrate how close he wanted the two of them to be, but only succeeded in getting himself further mired in the “friend zone”.
Nick fails to make much of a connection with Lindsay in the early scenes of this episode, as he spends much of this episode in a daze over the death of his idol, John Bonham. He even shuns her when she innocently asks why Led Zeppelin can’t find a new drummer. “I’m with the Band” [1×06] does a more thorough job of highlighting Nick’s admiration of Lindsay and his passion for drumming, but already these two loves of his are shown to be contrasting and conflicting with each other.
Yet another guy currently taking part in Lindsay’s life is Neal. Try as he may to deny it, Neal is in love with Lindsay. The difference between Nick and Neal lies in their motivations. Whereas Nick is largely trying to hook up with Lindsay for physical pleasure, Neal is attracted to her out of respect for her morals and intelligence. When he discovers her hanging out with the freaks, Neal finds himself concerned over the sudden change in direction Lindsay is now taking her life in. Neal reaches out to her with honesty – “I like talking to you,” he tells her – in the attempt of luring her back to the path which he believes to be righteous.
Unfortunately, Neal just comes off as an awkward kid around Lindsay, as his chivalry and humor make little to no impression on her. Lindsay simply sees him as a friend of her brother’s – his chance of succeeding with her is even less than Nick’s. To his credit, though, Neal comes off as a pretty nice guy around Lindsay, a welcome contrast to the often grumpy demeanor he displays while around Sam and Bill. Like Sam around Cindy, Neal is just beginning to discover his hormones, but he’s able to mask his nervousness more efficiently.
Keeping all this in mind, just watch how spectacularly the climax of “Beers and Weirs” plays out: Lindsay walks into her room to find a reunited Daniel and Kim making out on her bed. She leaves hurriedly, in a daze, and heads outdoors. There, she tries to confide in Nick, but he takes the opportunity to make an unwelcome pass at her. Shocked and horrified, she runs back inside, heads into her parents’ room, and flops down on the bed, where she begins to cry, before Neal enters and sits down beside her.
This scene that Lindsay shares with Neal fits perfectly in tune with the series – it’s sweet, funny, and heartbreaking. Neal initially tries to comfort her with some of his honestly delivered words of wisdom (“You’re a beautiful young girl. The world is your oyster”), but his comments come off as confusing, and do nothing to ease her depression. But he manages to reach her when he tells her that the reason he wants to reach her is that she’s Sam’s sister. Personally, I take this as a commentary on the fact that high school boys are likely develop crushes on their best friend’s older sister. Thus, Neal is now indirectly telling Lindsay that he is in love with her. (The “directly” comes in another few moments.)
So Lindsay voices her troubles, stating how she is torn between two lives, with no idea if she can commit fully to either of them. It’s a testament to Linda Cardellini’s astonishing acting ability that she is able to wring so much emotion out of that brief monologue. Lindsay pours out her heart in this scene, as Neal takes in all her pain. He then relates a sad story from his own life about a party of his which no one but Bill and Sam came to. An intriguing contrast is made here, as Lindsay is depressed over a party of hers where everybody showed up. Then, upon seeing that she needs further prompting, Neal directly admits that he is in love with her. Sadly – yet humorously – this revelation only confuses her even more.
When Neal takes direct action, placing a – once again, rather humorous – call to the police, Lindsay finally begins to brighten up. The kiss on the cheek she gives Neal in exchange for his help perfectly encapsulates her feeling that a painful burden has been lifted from her shoulders. Moreover, the kiss gives Neal a greater understanding of Lindsay’s predicament, and demonstrates to him that he has done something to help her with it. So it’s Neal, in the end, who manages to achieve the greatest connection with Lindsay. Sadly, it’s not as romantic a connection as he envisions it, which makes Lindsay’s romantic interest in Barry in “Noshing and Moshing” [1×15] all the more painful for Neal. But for the moment, it’s nice to see young Neal achieve something that the older, more experienced Daniel and Nick could not.
With only two episodes, it’s astonishing that any show would be able to pull off a scene this layered and powerful. Yet Freaks and Geeks pulls it off, due to an admirably subtle and carefully laid setup.
While Lindsay gets the primary development of the episode, and the three aforementioned young men are also nicely highlighted, other characters have their noteworthy moments, too. Sam goes to great lengths to secure a keg of non-alcoholic beer in order to prevent anyone at Lindsay’s party from getting genuinely drunk. He does this not only out of concern for the partygoers’ welfare, but out of fear. Sam is still just a kid, and he’s understandably affected by the pictures of teenagers killed through alcohol that are displayed in assembly.
Sam is also concerned about Lindsay, and to his credit, he attempts to confront her over the kegger rather than get his parents to do it. Mr. Kowchevski’s cutting remark in the “Pilot” [1×01] – “Be a man” – clearly had an effect on him, and he is determined to take matters into his own hands. This theme extends to his romantic issues as well. Later on in this episode, a light-headed Bill gives Sam some advice over how to impress Cindy – “Be dominant.” Sam then tries maintaining a conversation with Cindy in order to make an impression on her, rather than vice versa. He manages a friendly laugh out of her, but little else. Sam doesn’t know it at this point, but his attempts at impressing Cindy are actually turning him into less of a romantic object and more of a platonic friend and confidante. Unrequited love permeates this episode (and the series) at many points.
Another character who gets some interesting moments in this episode is Ken. Though sadly underused throughout the series, Ken receives a few scenes in this episode that do a good job of rounding out his character. When he first arrives at Lindsay’s house, Ken makes an instant beeline for the keg. I don’t take this to mean that Ken is by nature an alcoholic. Rather, it displays the fact that he enjoys seclusion. Ken is not interested in socializing or admiring the household framework – he has a much more direct approach to his nature. This is a good explanation as to why he usually offers little in the way of conversation outside of snarky comments. He takes a jab at anything which he deems too complex. To Ken, life is centered on simplicity – it’s based around the little things (wink, wink).
Yet there is a complexity to Ken that he manages to hide beneath his sarcastic exterior. After brushing elbows with an older partygoer, the gray-haired man takes Ken on. “You wanna go?” he challenges. “I always wanna go, old man,” Ken replies, preparing for a brawl. It’s interesting that Ken, such a normally secluded character, comes out of his shell at this minor incitation. I’m reminded of his lashing out at Daniel when the latter makes an unintentional but offensive comment about Amy in “The Little Things” [1×17]. Ken’s quiet, simplistic exterior masks a fiercer attitude that’s always waiting for a little spark to set it aflame. He basks in his outsider life, yet will not stand for something which harshly intrudes upon it.
Although the character development is naturally the most interesting part of the show, I can’t give a thorough analysis of this episode without focusing on the thing which ties the story together: beer. Teen dramas have often displayed the consequences of drinking, with alcoholic characters getting into destructive fistfights or car accidents (or in one particularly notable case, turning into cavemen). “Beers and Weirs” shows the destructive effects that too much drinking can cause, while at the same time satirizing that very message. An early scene features a small group of Sober Students improvising their way through an onstage scene in the auditorium. The play they put on is awkwardly hilarious (“You did a really nice job of decorating here. Do you know if anyone here has any cocaine?”), and more ingeniously, it’s a sly parody of the many after-school specials which treat the subject of alcohol with complete seriousness.
Freaks and Geeks, thankfully, is not a completely serious show, so we can take its message a bit more casually. But always a series to avert expectations, it throws us another curveball during Lindsay’s party. Unbeknownst to the partygoers, the beer they are downing is harmlessly non-alcoholic. But ethanol or no, the teens are all soon pretty light-headed. This says more about the drinkers than it does about the drink – the high schoolers simply enjoy going nuts, and beer is just the excuse they use to do so. It’s also easier to enjoy the teens’ antics once you realize that they’re not genuinely tipsy. Drunkenness on television is often played for comedy, but I find it difficult to laugh at people drowning their sorrows in alcohol. So it’s refreshing that this episode uses beer not only as a comedic tool, but as a commentary on the adolescent psyche, slyly stating that you don’t need to drink to be “drunk”.
As entertaining as the scenes with the faux-drunk teenagers are, they do unfortunately slow the pace of the show down a bit. The scenes are fairly simplistic, as opposed to the character-driven drama which fuels the rest of the episode. For this reason alone, I can’t bring myself to regard this episode as highly as the “Pilot” [1×01].
But despite that flaw, “Beers and Weirs” does a commendable job of moving the show forward, emphasizing the greatness of the show’s characters and developing them smoothly and efficiently. Only two episodes in, and Freaks and Geeks has already pulled itself way ahead of the pack.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The opening scene. Harold continues to be an uncomfortably overbearing father, while Lindsay and Sam do their best not to laugh.
+ Neal’s reluctance to pay for the beer with his bar mitzvah money, until Bill persuades him: “For Lindsay.”
+ Bill wondering what Neal and Lindsay’s kids would look like.
+ Millie persistently stating that she’s having more fun than anyone else at the kegger, even though she’s completely sober.
+ Millie’s piano duet with Nick.
+ Bill being the only one at the party to get genuinely drunk.
+ The slo-mo close-up of Lindsay as she leaves the house in a daze. The camerawork perfectly captures her facial expressions of shock, depression, hurt, and confusion.
+ The partygoers finding the fifty dollars that Harold left for Lindsay and Sam.
+ Neal’s “disgruntled old neighbor” phone call. Even funnier in that I think Neal may actually talk and act like that when he grows older.
* When Lindsay describes her previous lifestyle to Daniel, she mentions how “geeky” she was back then. This points to her lack of respect not only to her former life, but to Sam’s current one. She will struggle to build a greater bond with Sam in the later episodes of the series.
* Nick compliments Sarah on her necklace. This is the first hint at his attraction to her, which will build to a relationship in “Discos and Dragons” [1×18].