SPOILER WARNING: I’m assuming in these reviews that readers have seen the show.
If the pilot of Freaks And Geeks introduced us to a cast of characters who were realistic and ripe for potentially funny and dramatic situations, Beers And Weirs delivers on its promise in spades. This episode is packed with quotable gags and rich detailing of the cast, defining their personalities even further. This is the first show with the people I came to know and love.
In lesser hands, the plot of Beers And Weirs would be fodder for a generic teen comedy: kids on their own when their parents go away for the weekend throw a drinking party, and forced hilarity ensues. The comedy in this episode is genuinely funny, though, and arises out of the characters and their response to the situation. Sam is upset at his sister’s decision to go behind their parents’ backs, and jumps on Bill’s proposed solution that they swap the beer keg with nonalcoholic beer. This one decision–to go ahead with the party, but with no alcohol–is an inspired change on the usual plot.
Of all the characters, Bill Haverchuck [Martin Starr] comes off as the funniest, and the most fully realized, particularly in comparison with the pilot. His insistence that he get credit for the geeks’ plan, his determination to get home in time for his favorite show (“You suck. Dallas rules.”), and his completely naturalistic rendition of a drunk Bill Haverchuck steals the show. Bill became my favorite character with this episode.
Not that the others don’t get their moments. Neal’s attempts to distract Lindsay while Sam and Bill are switching the kegs, and his later clumsy efforts at comforting her, establish that he’s infatuated. (“Because you have your book in front of your pants,” Bill informs him when they’re debating the issue.) In the end, however, he’s the only one able to take control of the situation and act to end it with a phone call to the cops. Neal can be smug and arrogant, but he also has genuine empathy for people.
Nick also gets rounded out further; we learn that he’s emotionally devastated because of John Bonham’s death (who wouldn’t be?), which leads him to make a clumsy pass at Lindsay. The fact that they’re both drunk on imaginary alcoholic beer, as is everyone else at the party, only makes this more poignant and funny. Lindsay is teetering on hysteria not just from her worry at the party out of bounds and Nick’s pass, but at her discovery that Daniel, whom she had been trying to impress with her willingness to do something that he wanted, has reunited with Kim. Kim’s triumphant exit with him from the party (“You were a wonderful hostess, Linds”), cements her as an aggressive Mean Girl.
My favorite side character in this episode is Millie. We find out that she’s a member of the Sober Students Improv Players (whose performance about the importance of enjoying life without drugs and alcohol is one of the show’s highlights), and that she’s deeply religious, but is also a loyal friend to Lindsay. Despite her shock and anger at the idea of a beer party, she stays to be with her friend. (“I’m gonna have more fun than any of you. Sober.”) Her piano showcase singing “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me” is an awkward and funny triumph, not allowed to become painful merely because she’s oblivious to everyone’s gaping. The fact that Nick enthusiastically joins in, forgetting the lyrics but so clearly loving the music rather than making fun of Millie, is the icing on the cake.
The thread of the true danger of getting drunk or high is an undercurrent through the episode; John Bonham’s death of an alcohol overdose, the students in the school presentation who have died in car crashes, the older man who crashes the party who almost gets in a fight with Ken. These flashes cut through the comedy and make for a more effective argument against drug abuse than a more straightforward treatment would. In the end, no serious damage is done, and the parental Weirs don’t find out. This time.
Points of Interest
*Sam points out that Elvis died on the toilet after his father grumbles that he never spat on his audience, unlike the Sex Pistols.
*Even by 1981 standards, Lindsay and Sam are way too old for a babysitter.
*”I thought I might see The Wall straight once.”
*”Maybe if you don’t drink, you WILL be cool.” Ah, Mr. Rosso, you’re magnificent.
*”Does anyone here have any cocaine?” (Harris delivers this with such assurance that it becomes a hilarious non sequitur.)
*Wacky Packs!! I must have owned a few dozen in grade school.
*”Do you think they sell YooHoo here? I’m kind of thirsty.”
*The fact that the liquor store clerk is won over by the simple truth is perfect.
*Lindsay’s posters are so evocative of that era, and define her exquisitely.
*”You should play Chicago, they’ve got a really hot horn section.”
*A rare dramatic moment for Daniel, when he’s admiring Lindsay’s awards. James Franco plays this beautifully, capturing his envy and longing.
*Neal’s moment with the black kid discussing race relations is painful.
*Sam’s desperate attempts to keep vases and keepsakes from being destroyed.
*”Are you drunk?”–“I think so, yes, I am.”
*”Don’t worry, we threw your teddy bears on the floor.” Cold.
*Nick: “If you see your sister, could you tell her I’m really, really sorry?” Sam: “Did you break something?”
*Ken being satisfied at winning $87 in quarters by taking advantage of people soused on nonalcoholic beer is so very Ken.
Next: Tricks And Treats