One week a month, Watch This offers television recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of The A.V. Club’s Comics Week, television episodes about our favorite origin stories.
Greek, “Freshman Daze” (season one, episode 15; originally aired 04/21/08)
For a show all about fraternity and sorority life (and, of course, partying) on ABC Family, Greek shouldn’t have been half as good as it was. In fact, it probably shouldn’t have been good at all. But with its relatable characters (a huge surprise given the show’s focus), witty dialogue, and keen attention to pop-culture detail, Greek found itself surviving and succeeding as the now “defunct” network’s (having transformed into Freeform in January of 2016) best show and the last of its kind. It was a John Hughes movie in 21st-century television form.
While giving the show an audience proxy in fish-out-of-water fraternity pledge Rusty Cartwright (Jacob Zachar), the series realized early on that its driving storytelling forces came in the form of Rusty’s upperclassman sister Casey (Spencer Grammer) and her relationships. This led to the show’s origin story in the second half of the first season, “Freshman Daze.”
“Freshman Daze” took the main love triangle of the series—Casey, party animal Cappie (Scott Michael Foster), and poor little rich boy Evan Chambers (Jake McDorman)—and placed it within the context of a broken trio of best friendship. Centering around the newly reinstated “All Greek Ball” (complete with testicle jokes) in the present, the flashbacks showed how Casey, Cappie, and Evan went from calling themselves “the three musketeers” to barely tolerating each other’s mutual existences at the beginning of the series. Like any decent flashback episode, “Freshman Daze” was filled with in-jokes and references for those viewers who had kept up with series for its then-brief existence. Why was Beaver called Beaver? Was did the nickname “Bing” make Evan so upset? How could Casey choose Evan over Cappie? Why was everyone surprised Casey had a sibling? The episode answered every possible question related to the series at the time.
But the biggest revelations within the episode came in the form of how the show’s “villains” were made. Evan’s silver spoon behavior in the present was presented as much more tragic in hindsight, with all of his efforts to escape his family name proving even futile among the supposedly accepting, laid-back Kappa Tau fraternity. The episode even reframed the supposed “big bad” of the entire series, Frannie (Tiffany DuPont), through a different lens for her own redemption as a Zeta Beta Zeta sister. In fact, the supposedly righteous character in this situation (Cappie) ended up looking the worst through the flashbacks, though the present day scenes made up for it with his own eventual growth as a person.
In true Greek fashion though, it wasn’t all serious backstory. Through all of the melodrama through blue-tinted flashbacks, the show was still able to poke fun at itself with an inconsequential—yet still over-the-top—flashback from Rusty’s Christian roommate Dale (Clark Duke) and his own particular friendship-ending situation.
Ultimately, “Freshman Daze” worked as an origin story for the same reason Greek worked as a college story: It was an honest interpretation about how life and people and relationships can change after high school, and how a refusal to change can be the biggest stumbling block there is. The flashback wigs and goatees were just a bonus.