Episode 7 Carded and Discarded


It’s been awhile since we’ve had an installment of my series on the music of Freaks and Geeks, but I’m bringing it back today – and will hopefully continue writing it with some regularity. We resume with Episode 7, “Carded and Discarded.”

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film, or in this case, TV. Each installment intends to examine movies and shows that involve significant musical subject content, distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene.

This is a special series devoted to the first and only season of Freaks and Geeks, one of my favorite TV shows for many reasons (outlined in more detail here), especially because it used music very well. For 18 weeks I will write about the music in each episode. I’m also going to share some stories about my high school experiences. For more detailed recaps, be sure to check out the ongoing write ups by Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club, or the 2007 posts by Alan Sepinwall.

The use of music here reminds of Episode 4 “Kim Kelly is My Friend.” In that episode, Lindsay’s storyline, which involved her visiting Kim’s house and then hosting a Kim-Daniel break-up-and-make-up at her own, had music all by one artist: Van Halen. Sam’s storyline, meanwhile, used several artists as he tried to overcome his insecurity about getting bullied by Karen. Both approaches reflected either the freak or geek life pretty well. In this episode it switches. Sam and the geeks get one artist, Lindsay and the freaks have a few. Still, though, the music always seems appropriate to the respective groups.

There is one interesting contrast at work in this episode. While music figures prominently into both storylines, how it manifests in each differs. For the geeks, the music is strictly soundtrack and never heard in the world of the show. For the freaks, it’s all diegetic. Their quest for fake IDs is motivated by the desire to see local band Feedback at a bar, an emphasis on music of which they are aware. Plus, this plot is bookended by live performances by guidance counselor Mr. Rosso.

Let’s start with Mr. Rosso. I don’t think I’ve said much about him thus far, so it’s a good time to remark that he’s a great character. I love how he hits that sweet spot of having just enough awareness of adolescence to consider himself “the cool teacher,” but not enough to see channeling that is practically as misguided as the strict disciplinary tactics of Mr. Fredricks or the alternating anger and apathy of Mr. Kowchevski. Rosso rings true because growing up everyone encounters an adult that thinks they are hip but who often comes across as anything but. He surpasses caricature, though, because he is very sincere and does have some sense of what’s really happening to these kids.

The opening scene, which is the first part of the above video, is Mr. Rosso in a nutshell. He has the freaks assembled and he’s dispensing his advice. At the root of it all, he can recognize that it’s a tough time for all of them and that, indeed, hormones contribute to the confusion. But he goes too far into what is clearly uncomfortable territory (You’re in the shower and you go “What are these? What’s that?”). So by the time he reaches for the guitar – his cool gesture – he’s mostly lost the kids. The scene captures him well because you can sense how impressed he is with himself by name-checking Alice Cooper (Bet you don’t think he’s a square, do you?) and referencing the guys’ love of rock music, yet also sense how he can never be truly cool when he makes sure to change the lyrics of the song to make it gender neutral. While Nick enjoys the performance and even Daniel sings along, he hasn’t gotten through to the freaks in the way he hoped. “I’ve never hated Alice Cooper as much as I do right now,” remarks Ken afterwards.

Rosso’s fatal flaw is that he can start from a perspective of treating young adults truly as young adults and having some respect for that means, but his need to guide reveals his assumption that they know nothing, which prevents his advice from landing. He always overplays his hand, rendering whatever seed of truth he may have grasped lost behind a shroud of discomfort and mockery. Or more simply, he’ll always be the authority figure, which can never be cool. In the last scene of the episode for the freaks, the second half of the video, they manage to sneak into the bar, only to discover that Mr. Rosso is the lead singer of Feedback. He makes a point of identifying them and ensuring the beer they ordered gets changed for pop before they can partake.

On to the geeks. For a second straight episode, and fourth time overall, multiple songs from a single artist get used in an episode’s soundtrack. In the spotlight this time is Billy Joel, with three tracks used (plus one gets repeated, which is the fourth time in the series this has happened so far if you count Creation playing “Sunshine of Your Love” more than once. If you do, then the fifth time is “I’m Eighteen” by Mr. Rosso with and without Feedback). Each provides a wistful, romantic, and yes, dorky, tinge to the story of the geeks and new girl Maureen, and each is especially prominent considering the scenes are almost all wordless.

First is “C’etait Toi (You Were The One)” when Maureen arrives in science class. Instantly the geeks are smitten. They become friends with her after she sits at their lunch table and she really takes to them, even joining them after school to play with rockets, which marks the second Billy Joel scene. It’s largely silent but for “Rosalinda’s Eyes.” When they make their last play to keep her friendship by taking her out to all-you-can-eat ribs, “Don’t Ask Me Why” is on. All three instances showcase how much the geeks enjoy being with Maureen. She’s the center of their attention, and they react positively to her presence. The camera work becomes more dynamic in the latter two scenes, with slow motion for the rockets and continuous circling during the meals. Unfortunately, Maureen joins Vicki in the end, and the geeks know it’ll never be the same. “Rosalinda’s Eyes” plays again at this moment. You can see most of these occurrences in the clip below.

It’s a strong story, because I get why the geeks would be taken with Maureen – she’s very cute and doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with them, plus has a good sense of humor (pan fried butt), and I also get how they would instantly overreact to that to the point of deciding which one of them gets to have her as their girlfriend, without any need to consult her (Bill wins in a rigged selection process). Yet I can’t help feeling the fingerprints of Paul, Judd and the staff a little too heavily in how self-aware the guys are that it won’t last. It’s not unfounded that the geeks would suspect Vicki could easily take their place as Maureen’s lunch buddies, but to go from unbridled optimism to the bittersweet last words rings a little false. And to me, the music enables this perspective. Actually, it may be the reason why I feel this way. It’s just too nostalgic, too much of a “those were the days” signifier for these freshman to really have, and it’s so prominent I feel like you can’t help thinking about this contrast. Still a good plot overall, but maybe more clear-eyed and adult than is earned at this point.

I covered most of the music here, but Brothers Johnson “Stomp” does play when Lindsay and the freak guys go to the disco clothing store to see Howie about procuring some fake IDs. This store and the disco shadings will come to the fore in a few episodes down the line. Also, the other song Feedback plays is “We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad.

The alluring new girl trope is not something I encountered much in my real life high school days. Although, in 11th grade we had a new girl who was billed as “evil incarnate” by one of my best friends. He knew her growing up; their fathers had a very antagonistic relationship. She became known as the Ice Queen during our discussions. Though we didn’t talk about her much, she developed an infamous reputation in my mind based on this perspective. I’d see her around here and there but had no classes with her or anything else where I’d have a chance to get to know her. Except lunch, that is. Junior year I was in a senior math class during 3rd period, which was when we’d have lunch. There was only one junior class in that lunch, a Spanish class, and I sat with some of my friends who had it. A few months in as the first term was ending, they had a final and their lunch got moved for the day. I arrived to my usual lunch table to find it completely empty. Empty but for the Ice Queen, who was in a predominantly senior class as well.

So it was just the two of us in an otherwise empty set of tables. I was intimidated to even be around her – this was the Ice Queen after all! I figured I would eat in silence and hope for 30 minutes of indifference rather than wrath. But to my surprise, we started talking. It was not a mind-blowing conversation by any means and no lasting friendship developed, but we got along surprisingly well. My friend was shocked and flabbergasted when he learned of this. He couldn’t believe we had stuff in common. It turns out we had pretty similar personalities:  analytical and not very emotionally forthcoming. That’s typical for a guy, but for a girl who was part of the popular group, it was something that many didn’t quite get. I suspect because I wasn’t trying to hit on her and because I was much more laid back than many of the wacky guys who were at lunch table and respected aloofness, I was a breath of fresh air. Or at least tolerable.

Whatever the case, we would have the occasional lunch together whenever the Spanish class had a test the rest of the year. It was a small lesson that not everyone is as they seem, always a good reminder in high school when so much interaction is based on surface. Anyways, did you have any teachers that tried too hard to be cool? Ever get a fake ID? Any stories with new kids, especially with them leaving your group for a more popular one?

Other installments in the series:

  1. The Pilot + Styx “Come Sail Away”
  2. Beers and Weirs + “Jesus Is Just Alright” as performed by Nick and Millie
  3. Tricks and Treats + Cheap Trick “Gonna Raise Hell”
  4. Kim Kelly Is My Friend + Van Halen “Ice Cream Man”
  5. Tests and Breasts + Love Unlimited Orchestra “Love’s Theme”
  6. I’m With the Band + Cream and Rush
  7. Carded and Discarded

Listen to the songs in the show on this Spotify playlist:



Steve (@SteveWhoDigs) digs music with strong imagery and emotional resonance and musicians that bring passion to everything they do. He likes to write about music that speaks to him in some way, to explore music’s connections with other creative arts and with place, and to interview artists about their awesome projects. He’s currently based in Brooklyn.

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