Discos & Dragons: Friendship as Generosity
Simple acts of friendship can be incredibly generous
Freaks and Geeks originally aired in 1999, I discovered it between 2006-2008, and I just finished watching it last night. It’s a great show, chronicling the coming-of-age slog of Lindsay and Sam Weir through high school in the 80s, and I loved how it ended.
Do yourself a favour and go watch it on Netflix before it disappears on October 1st but also let me paint a picture for you. The main conflict in the show centres on straight-A student Lindsay’s teenage rebellion of befriending the ‘freaks’ and her brother Sam’s geeky struggles. The show bounces between being hilarious and touching and the finale in particular showed the kind of subtle heart that makes classics.
Freaks and Geeks shows how simple acts of friendship can be incredibly generous, and this generosity of heart is what defines friendship.
Daniel Desario (played by James Franco) doesn’t think he’ll amount to much. Over the series’ run he becomes increasingly frustrated with his lack of talent and his admittedly slim prospects weigh on him. No one expects much of him—not his mom, his teachers, or his friends. In ‘Discos & Dragons’, Daniel is caught trying to pull a fire alarm to get out of a test he’s sure to fail. Earlier in the episode he declares: “I can’t fail another test,” and he’s met with shrugs. Daniel has failed many test, that’s what he does.
As punishment, he’s sentenced to that den of geekery, the Audio-Visual Club. At the same time, Sam Weir is questioning his geek status and frustrated by the seeming incompatibility of romance and his geeky interests, having just broken up with his beautiful girlfriend (whom he found completely boring). To Sam, Daniel represents the ineffable confidence of cool kids. But Daniel’s brief stint in the A/V club is just a reminder that he can’t do anything right. Daniel arrives late to set up a project for movie day in a class and is humiliated when another student is asked to help Daniel, because he doesn’t know how to run the projector. It’s a bit hard to watch the generally easy-going Daniel seethe in anger and humiliation, but he’s scorned anyway and I’m sure I would’ve laughed if it had happened in my class.
Tired of feeling worthless, or perhaps refusing to be made a fool of again, Daniel spends time after school going over the instructions for the A/V projectors. The geeks on the team have largely avoided him, but Sam sees Daniel’s earnest, if desperate, effort. Daniel isn’t an unassailable vision of easy coolness; the freaks have their problems just like the geeks do. What if they need each other?
When the geeks are finalizing their Dungeons & Dragons plans Daniel is curious. They describe D&D night as an excuse to hang out, eat junk food, and pretend to be the heroes they clearly aren’t and ask if he’d like to join. It sounds pretty good to Daniel and he accepts—and Sam, who wasn’t sure D&D was something he wanted to keep doing, accepts as well. If there’s hope for one, maybe there’s hope for the other.
Around the table that weekend Daniel is offered the role of Dwarf. He takes some convincing, but soon he’s role-playing Carlos the dwarf and learning from kids who used to be terrified of him, and who intimidated him. It’s this spirit of generosity that squeezed my heart and wouldn’t let go during the episode and it’s even more beautiful for being mutual. Daniel doesn’t make the geeks invite him, and the geeks don’t lord their knowledge over him; everyone involved is pleasantly surprised to find that someone who seema nothing like them is an awful lot just like them.
High school is hard, it’s true. But the same generosity that can make friends out of freaks and geeks is the same generosity that can dispel the many forms of fear and despair that plague outcasts everywhere.