[Review by Jeremy Grayson]
[Writer: Judd Apatow, Paul Feig | Director: Judd Apatow | Aired: 01/10/2000]
You know what’s really great about Freaks and Geeks? “Carded and Discarded” is its weakest episode.
How is that great? Well, there’s something commendable about a series – short-lived though it may be – when its lowest point can be credibly described as “fairly decent”. And that’s just what “Carded and Discarded” is. While it’s not a great episode, it’s nowhere near terrible. Believe me when I say that the worst episode of Freaks and Geeks is still better than the best episodes of a whole lot of other shows.
Produced as a sort of “second pilot” to the series after NBC moved it to a different timeslot, the episode served to reintroduce the characters, storylines, and themes of the last six episodes, in an attempt to attract new viewers. As we now know, that attempt was unsuccessful, but I’m not sure how much this episode can be blamed. In any case, the episode in question does not so much give us new material as it does recap stuff we already know.
True to its objective, the episode opens with a scene restating the underlying theme of the series – the struggle of adolescence. The freaks sit in Mr. Rosso’s office as he attempts to relate to them, with the usual lack of success. The freaks still look at him as a joke, a refuge from the hippie culture of yesteryear. To the scene’s credit, it does offer a fresh spin on the subject by having Rosso use music as an attempted means of connection, strumming along to Alice Cooper’s “18”. It’s a fun little scene, particularly due to the freaks’ varied reactions to his guitar-playing. I admit to being especially being fond of the way Nick is sucked into the music, to the point that he begins another round of his signature “air-drumming”.
The episode which follows is similar to this scene in its structure – it doesn’t offer much of anything new to the series or the characters, but it’s entertaining just the same. The story chronicles the freaks as they attempt to obtain fake IDs in order to gain admittance to a nightclub. In past episodes, the freaks’ questionable activities have been used as background elements, but here, they’re made the central focus of the episode. The individual character work which has typified previous episodes is far less prominent in this one.
There are, however, some notably bright points in the episode. For example, the issue of how Lindsay’s life will turn out if she remains a freak is now directly addressed. Rosso reminds her that all her past grades could go to waste; if she doesn’t return to her studies, she might not get into a good college. Lindsay’s response – “Not everyone has to go to college” – emphasizes her willingness to break free of the standard mold.
Later, at home, Lindsay receives a gift from her aunt and uncle – three hundred dollars toward her college fund. Lindsay makes a choice of her own, deciding to spend the money on fake IDs. Here’s where the redundancies of the episode begin to kick in. While I think Lindsay’s actions are perfectly in character with what we’ve seen in previous episodes, they just aren’t very insightful. We already know that Lindsay is being pulled toward the “dark side”, and the fact that her motives in this episode don’t extend far beyond the reasoning that she wants to be liked by the other freaks makes it seem a bit superfluous.
Also a bit redundant is the way this episode portrays Lindsay and Nick’s relationship; it tells us nothing that we don’t already know from “I’m with the Band” [1×06]. Nick loves Lindsay and thinks she loves him back; Lindsay likes Nick as a friend, but is uneasy about his feelings toward her. Neither party makes a major move to express their feelings toward each other in this episode, although there’s a nice moment where Millie’s cousin begins hitting on Lindsay, only for Nick to intervene and state that she’s his girlfriend. Lindsay willingly plays along, if only to get the creep off her back, but Nick’s smiling expression seems to confirm that he thinks he and Lindsay are now truly a “couple”.
Apart from that, the story contains no major moments worth mentioning. The “fake IDs” plotline offers some entertainment, but contains no real profundity. The punch line – after all of Lindsay’s effort, she manages to get into the nightclub without even being carded – is good for a brief chuckle, but is ultimately meaningless. I do, however, appreciate the way that Rosso ends up getting the last laugh on the freaks, turning his seemingly outdated groove into a pretty cool stage performance and supplying them with the club’s “finest pop”. Heh.
There’s not much else to say about the freaks’ storyline. Then again, there’s not a whole lot to say about the geeks’ storyline, either. That story revolves around Sam, Neal, and Bill as they all fall head over heels for the same girl – a pretty transfer student named Maureen. And… that’s pretty much it. The episode doesn’t so much highlight the geeks’ individual characteristic traits so much as show their collective fawning and fighting over who gets to “have” Maureen.
Now, I’ve got a lot of respect for this show and for the subtle nuances it unearths in its characters. It takes a keen, identifying mind to find in a geek a naïve altruist (“Beers and Weirs” [1×02]), a nervous pubescent (“Tests and Breasts” [1×05]), a shameful prankster (“The Diary” [1×10]), an oblivious dresser (“Looks and Books” [1×11]), and even a scorned child who takes out his anger with ventriloquism (“Noshing and Moshing” [1×15]). It does not, however, take much skill to deduce the fact that teenage boys are attracted to teenage girls. And “Carded and Discarded” doesn’t do much beyond the statement that fact.
Any exceptions to that claim? Well, Maureen relates to the geeks in a smooth and believable way. Personality-wise, she’s sadly lacking, but the writers give her a sense of humor with just enough quirkiness to make her feel like one of the group, while still keeping her at enough of a distance to keep any of the geeks from jump-starting a more meaningful relationship with her. In addition, the episode provides an interesting commentary on the contrast between Maureen and Cindy Sanders – Maureen relates to the geeks better, which keeps Sam from getting tongue-tied around her. This little bit of info helps keep Sam in character while still messing around with his series-long crush on Cindy.
But apart from that, there’s none of the substance in this story that rewards other Freaks and Geeks episodes with the praise they so richly deserve. That’s not to say the story isn’t entertaining, mind you. I get a definite kick out of watching the geeks as they attempt to devise plans to keep Maureen away from the popular kids, the most amusing of which involves Eli’s defense of Three’s Company. The episode also has fun setting Maureen’s timely appearances to Billy Joel music, most notably in the wonderful scene where the she and the geeks test out model rockets. The scene is sweet without being overbearingly so, displaying the brighter side of being geeky. The episode’s final scene is also quite charming, as Sam and his friends watch longingly as Maureen departs, only to then turn their attention to the smiling Eli. Conversation continues. High school life goes on. Simple messages all, but they’re presented amiably, without being cheesy.
Apart from the two core storylines, we get a semi-decent reintroduction to Harold and Jean. Their story is even simpler than the others’ – Harold wants the kids to start socializing with them more often, until Jean convinces him to let them be more independent. I can’t help but feel that Jean seems a bit too willing to let Lindsay spend more time on her own, especially after the way we’ve seen her growing more suspicious over her daughter’s actions in “Kim Kelly Is My Friend” [1×04] and”Tests and Breasts” [1×05]. I also don’t find very much about the game of “Pit” to be at all funny or relevant, apart from Harold’s faux-excitement over playing it.
“Carded and Discarded” is not a great episode. Furthermore, it slows down the momentum that’s been building up from the previous episodes, since it’s little more than a “recap” episode. Nick and Lindsay’s relationship, for example, would have been more effectively handled if the events from “I’m with the Band” [1×06] were more promptly addressed.
But at the same time, the episode is not a total loss. Though it lacks the dramatic depth of the other 17 episodes, “Carded and Discarded” is still readily entertaining and contains some pretty good comedic moments. While it could easily be classified as a “filler” episode, it shows just how well the writers and actors can excel in the field of pure enjoyment. Both the “fake IDs” and the Maureen storylines contain lots of little comedic gems, and are never really boring. They just don’t have enough depth or substance to completely justify their place in the series. Those looking for a fun romp focused on the lighter side of high school will definitely have a good time. The rest of us, however, will simply applaud politely and move on to “Girlfriends and Boyfriends” [1×08].
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Daniel’s constant struggles with astrology.
+ Howie’s facial descriptions of all the freaks: “Brown eyes, brown hair.”
+ Bill’s rocket collapsing and burning up instead of taking off.
+ The freaks’ initial fake ID cards.
+ The rooster. Seriously, what is up with that rooster?
+ The waiter (played by the hilarious David Koechner) at the all-you-can-eat bar telling the geeks to leave a “classy” tip.
+ The bouncer quoting Diff’rent Strokes. I love how even the most minor characters get their own little moments.
– “Pan Fried Butt”? Was that really the cleverest “pun” the writers could come up with?
* Rosso tells Lindsay that Frank, the guy who pumps his gas, never went to college. This bears some similarity to the speech that Mr. Fleck gives the geeks in “Discos and Dragons” [1×18], when he vocalizes the downward spiral the jocks will go through later in life.
* Neal hints that his father is unhappy with his marriage. This point will be exploited upon in “The Garage Door” [1×12].
* The salesman (Joel Hodgson) makes a quick reference to “Parisian nightsuits”. “Looks and Books” [1×11], anyone?