Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Freaks And Geeks gave us the greatest Halloween TV episode of all time

“Tricks And Treats” has brilliant highs and crushing lows that, even 20-plus years after it first aired, still make us sob

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Freaks And Geeks episode 3: “Tricks And Treats” (pictured left to right): Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber, Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck, John Francis Daley as Sam Weir, and Stephen Lea Sheppard as Harris Trinsky (Photo: Chris Haston/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
Freaks And Geeks episode 3: “Tricks And Treats” (pictured left to right): Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber, Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck, John Francis Daley as Sam Weir, and Stephen Lea Sheppard as Harris Trinsky (Photo: Chris Haston/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
Graphic: Libby McGuire

In my little family, we love a good seasonal watch—but some we abandon. Just last year, I asked my kids as they opted to squirm and joke rather than pay attention to Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas, “Do we like this anymore?” And just like that, a seven-year tradition of ours ended. Pre-kids, I had my own seasonal watches and would proclaim widely, throughout spooky season, that “Tricks And Treats” from Freaks And Geeks was the uncontested greatest Halloween-themed episode of all time. This October, I watched it yet again to see how well my assertion has held. My findings? It’s still the best, and I appreciate it now more than ever.

It opens with Bill (Martin Starr), setting boundaries surrounding the combination of food (and it has to be food) that he’s willing to eat blended up for a $10 reward. He’s then blindfolded, with a beanie over his eyes and noise canceling headphones on his head as his buds Sam Weir (John Francis Daley) and Neal (Samm Levine) combine salt, sardines, after-dinner mints, etc. in a sweet/salty smoothie for him to drink. “It’s not bad” Bill declares, then glugs down more as his friends squeal in horror. It’s a familiar scene, if you’ve played truth or dare (or been a weird kid), but it’s also the perfect metaphor to set up the action in this episode, which occurs on a trick-treat spectrum. Blended together, the two can amount to a “not bad” Halloween experience. But it’s a veritable candy cauldron of brilliant highs and crushing lows that make this episode of television so magical.


We can think of tricks and treats as forces of destruction and creation, respectively. From “Devil Day” on October 30th to Halloween itself, we see the show’s characters entrench themselves in one of those camps. Predictably, the freaks dig destruction. Determined not to be seen as a boyfriend-less baby opposite her childhood pal Millie who now has a “secret love,” eldest Weir child Lindsay agrees to play along with her wild new friends as they whack mailboxes, bash jack-o-lanterns, and cause chaos. (The jack-o-lantern smashing gives us one of the best sight gags, when Mr. Rosso the guidance counselor gets his kicked in, groans, “Aw man. That is so uncool,” then busts out a backup, carved and all.) Alternatively, the geeks choose creation. Faced with a big boy English class assignment to read Crime And Punishment, they’re inspired to recapture some childlike whimsy by going trick-or-treating again, putting tons of effort into making their own fabulous costumes. Who hasn’t found themselves grappling with their place on the “I’m not a baby”/”I’m baby” binary, as Lindsay and Sam do? This episode nails it.

Freaks and Geeks - Tricks and Treats - Trick-or-Treating

And beyond that binary, it touches poignantly upon other rude awakenings that come with teen Halloween. Sam is bummed that he has hard homework now and that his friends don’t prove as keen to trick-or-treat as he is; Neal is uncomfortable with his drawn-on mustache and worried about how he’s perceived by the babes, who laugh when they see him out there with the kids. And Bill, previously impervious to the sway of rigid social constructs, grows self-conscious when his Jaime Sommers (The Bionic Woman) costume yields stares and rude comments as they go around town. He just wanted to dress like a character he likes! Meanwhile, Lindsay is having a full-on crisis of identity—morality versus nihilism, as Sam’s bummer of a teacher put it when assigning that Dostoevsky classic to the children—navigating whether she wants to be the kind of teen who eggs a trick-or-treater from a moving car (her brother, in a sad turn), or the kind who humbles herself to hand out candy in a prince costume alongside her mom. Or put another way, the kind of person who destroys a kid’s whole Halloween night (again, her own poor brother’s), or the kind who creates a fun experience for cute kids in costumes. (Ultimately, Lindsay is both.)


The clear captain of Team Creation in this episode is Mrs. Jean Weir. Just as she’s appreciating a nice, free pumpkin, she’s delivered a blow: Sam says he’s not going trick-or-treating this year. In response, she goes hard to make handing out candy with her oldest a special time. She decorates the whole house, well beyond the entryway, and bakes trays of pumpkin-shaped cookies. When Sam does decide to trick-or-treat, she’s elated; when Lindsay bails on her last minute, she’s hurt and desperately enlists her Halloween Scrooge husband to don a vampire costume and salvage the spooky fun. He even begrudgingly wears it to get candy when a neighbor coldly and uniformly rejects her home baked cookies due to panic over unwrapped goods. She has done the most, and so her disappointment is tragic. Even that momentary happiness she felt upon hearing Sam was going trick-or-treating was quashed when she saw the egg and devastated look on his face. The pain is too real.

In the end, it’s not the nostalgic bits (candy corn vs. wax lips, etc.) or even the feat of representing so many experiences of joy and heartbreak common to the season in 40-ish minutes of television that elevate this above all other Halloween-themed episodes: It’s that scene where Lindsay smiles, watching Jean light up at the sight of tiny trick-or-treaters when they first answer the door together, her good-hearted mom who has never once egged a kid. I see this and sob, not just as a parent with my own relationship to evolving traditions, but as a daughter, watching my mom suit up as Winnie the Pooh for the kindergartners she teaches or my dad carving pumpkins, adding wires for hair, even now that his own kids are grown. “Tricks And Treats” is a celebration of curating experiences, giving, and a rejection of destruction. That’s the magic here. And it’s why this episode will never lose its charm.