I am reading this book on scriptwriting, and it's talking about the importance of balancing the familiar and the unexpected. For example, lesser writing is easy because it falls into cliches that seem to happen automatically. But if you start with something clichéd, the trick is to take it in a completely new direction, and then suddenly instead of boring it is genius. Immediately, I thought of this episode.
It starts with what ought to be the dullest most predictable cliched situation of high school TV shows-- the parents leave town, the teen lets this slip to her friends, then in effort to look cool she is pressured into hosting a party while they're away, and yes, there will be alcohol, and yes, way more people than were originally invited will show up. In the hands of a lesser writer, the story should continue like this: the party is chaos, the parents come home early and/or the police are called, the teen gets in trouble and learns their lesson, the end. But not on Freaks and Geeks. Instead, you throw in the twist-- younger sibling sees trouble and takes action to avoid it, by replacing the keg with non-alcoholic beer. (And it's also a refreshing twist to throw a different character type into the story too-- usually in this cliche, you have The kids who do the Everybody Who's Anybody Drinks routine, the goody-goody, and the kid being peer pressured. But here we have the teen who honestly sees that there's genuine danger a-brewin' and doesn't want the party to happen out of their OWN intelligent decision on the matter, not just because They're Not Supposed To-- as someone who WAS that teen once, it's nice to be finally represented... and have teens treated as intelligent, decision-capable people!) Further twist it-- everyone gets drunk psychologically anyway! Further twist it-- the only person who gets physically drunk was one of those involved in the plot to STOP the party! Further twist it-- neither the parents NOR the cops show up-- though the latter cliche is incorporated by the characters into moving the plot along! And guess what-- the characters learn their lessons ANYWAY (without adult punishment or drunken death-and-dismemberment!), so it's all still safe for the impressionable kiddies!
The way it turns stereotypical high school television on its head is what made Freaks and Geeks so great. This episode shows you how that works.