SPOILER WARNING: I’m assuming in these reviews that readers have seen the show.
What makes Tricks And Treats such a great installment of Freaks And Geeks is not just the setting, which works because Halloween is such an iconic American holiday, the one day of the year when children not only have permission—nay, encouragement!—to assume a different identity, but actually get rewarded for doing so. (The only catch is that you have to work up the courage to introduce yourself to strangers.) If that had been the only reason that this episode succeeds, it would be enough. However, Tricks And Treats also introduces us to two characters who heretofore had been mostly enigmas: Jean and Harold Weir, aka The Parents. Parents in sitcoms centered around teens are usually drawn in the broadest strokes, if they’re shown at all, and it might have been understandable if the writers had chosen to keep them on the sidelines in favor of more teen time. This episode shows us a side of Jean that we’ve never suspected, however, and it raises the drama to a new level.
Jean turns out to be more of a Halloween lover than the kids are at this point in their lives, singing “Monster Mash” as she bakes homemade cookies and getting professional costumes to wear, including a cowgirl outfit for herself. Her enthusiasm, coupled with his dislike of a reading assignment, spurs Sam to convince the geeks to go out trick-or-treating one last time, even though they’re considered too old by themselves and the world. Lindsay, meanwhile, agrees to help her mom on Halloween night, not realizing that the freaks have their own celebration planned.
Bill Haverchuck once again has a Great Moment, when he is shown dressing up as Jaime Summers, aka The Bionic Woman. Part of what makes this scene great is that there’s not the least hint that he’s embarrassed, turned on, or exploring gender roles; he’s simply engrossed in developing the perfect costume, complete with a blond wig and makeup. That the Bionic Woman was basically a superhero makes his choice more understandable, but the hilarity from his monologue doesn’t arrive from his costume as much as his determination to be just right. Coupled with scenes of Neal perfecting his Groucho outfit and Sam constructing cardboard armor for his take on the robot Gort (from The Day The Earth Stood Still, a perfectly geeky costume choice), it looks as though they’re all going to have a good time.
This wouldn’t be Freaks And Geeks if everything went perfectly, though, and so we see the geeks (augmented with an impaled-head Harris) going door to door and being ridiculed by adults who think they’re too old for this nonsense. To top it off, Alan and his bully-buddies not only mock them, they beat them up and steal their candy. At that point, Sam and Neal begin fighting about the wisdom of having gone out in the first place, instead of going to a haunted house with the hot-dog-on-a-stick girls in attendance. And then….
…But first, a flash cut back to Lindsay, who has abandoned her disappointed mother for the chance to go out with the freaks. Her realization that all they plan to do is drive around and destroy things tempers her enthusiasm, however, despite Nick’s attempts to get the gang to go along with her suggestions. Lindsay’s desire to go along soon wins out over her better judgement, of course, and soon she’s smashing pumpkins and knocking mailboxes off their posts with a baseball bat. Then an egg carton makes its appearance, and she seizes the moment and flings a couple at some passing kids—
—and squarely hits her brother right in the face.
The result is exactly as awful as you could expect. Lindsay, in anguish, tries to apologize. Sam yells at her and runs home, and Lindsay gets the freaks to drive her back, terrified that he’ll tell her parents. She makes it in the door just seconds after Sam’s arrival, at the exact moment when their father is demanding to know who did this. “Some freak,” he says bitterly, glaring at his sister with fury and contempt. It’s a powerful scene, and the fact that Lindsay’s relief doesn’t temper her regret is even better.
Jean’s had a hard time, as well. Her daughter hasn’t joined in the fun with her, and the neighborhood kids and parents are spurning her cookies. Even her husband shows disdain for the Dracula cape she got for him. Finally, in despair, she sends him to the supermarket for wrapped candy, rejecting his suggestion that they take a “roll in the hay.” Her shock at seeing her son egged convinces her that Halloween isn’t what it was when she was young, despite Lindsay’s comment that kids threw eggs in the past, too.
Lindsay stops at Sam’s room and tries to apologize again, but he isn’t having it. “Nobody thinks you’re cool, you know,” he says. Her reply—“Trust me, I know”—is one of the most moving moments in the show. Chastened, she seeks comfort by dressing up in her mother’s rented prince outfit (“The store made a mistake,” her mom says, laughing) and helps hand out candy. For a few minutes, she’s the old Lindsay again. But given the title of the series, we know this won’t last.
Points of Interest
*The opening, with Bill drinking a mix of blended food to win $10 (“It has to be edible”), is gross and funny. You can tell that Sam and Neal are really having a lot of fun with their food choices. (In reality, it was some kind of milkshake mix with marshmellows at the bottom.) This was a time filler bit, but a great one.
*Millie has a couple of classic Millie-moments with her embrace of Lik-M-Aid (“It makes my spit taste like fruit juice”) and her secret Christian camp boyfriend, who thinks they’ll go to hell if they French kiss before they’ve dated six months.
*Speaking of classic moments, Mr. Russo’s line calling Lindsay “The Amelia Earhart of McKinley High” is a wonderful metaphor. Also his grumbling, “That is so uncool,” and getting out another carved pumpkin after the freaks smash his first one.
*I can’t say that I blame the English teacher for handing out Crime And Punishment after getting book reports on Al Jaffe’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, a Star Wars novelization, and Yes I Can by Sammy Davis Jr. (Neal’s choice, of course.)
*Daniel: “Santana’s the guitar player.” Nick: “Then how’d he get them to name the band after him?”
*“Looking for Groucho; only seeing Hitler.”
*“These are not bionic. These are all me.”
*”You look like Richard Benjamin in Westworld.”
*Daniel, to Kim: “Knock it off, you’re gonna blow the speakers.” Kim: “I’m sorry, Grandpa, I’ll try not to blow anything of yours from now on.”
*Ken gets two great moments: “You two are adorable,” to Nick and Lindsay, and the classic “I’m so happy I’m not at the Ted Nugent concert.”
*The geeks discussing their favorite candy, which is where we first discover Bill’s peanut allergy, a nice bit of foreshadowing. “I must admit, I’m a wax lips man, myself.”—another great line from Harris.
*Harold doesn’t get as much characterization as Jean, but his dialogue with Sam at the end of the evening shows that he really does care about his kids, despite all of his grumbling.
Next: Kim Kelly Is My Friend