Freaks and Geeks is Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s seminal coming of age comedy classic set in an American high school in 1980. It follows the everyday lives of two groups of social outcasts: the Freaks and the Geeks. Recently, I’ve been trying to make time to watch an episode of it each night. I’d heard so many good things about it that I felt I was doing myself a disservice by not watching it. The entire first and sadly, only season of the show has been sitting on my hard-drive for months now. Not more than a month ago, I bought a brand new laptop computer and decided that a great way of christening it would be to watch some quality television shows on it’s sleek 15″ screen. I carted all the precious stuff from my previous troublesome notebook over to the new machine and hey, presto! I was all set. Naturally, I could withstand the allure of F&G no longer and so my love affair with the show began. Here’s the show’s magnificent opening titles.
Pilot episodes can sometimes be a drag and not entirely indicative of what the show’s writers have planned for the series. Freaks and Geeks however, pretty much had me hooked from the get-go. The show opens with a jock and cheerleader couple having an apparently meaningful conversation on the bleachers (or as us Aussies like to unimaginatively call them: stands) of a school football field. They discuss the troubles that the future of their relationship faces and their exchange ends with a heart-warming (or alternatively bile-inducing) declaration of love from the guy. Just when I was beginning to think, ‘Hang on a second. This isn’t right. I don’t want any of this Dawson’s Creek shit,’ the camera moves down through the bleachers as Van Halen’s ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ kicks in. We are introduced to the always awesome James Franco as bad-boy Daniel Desario, Seth Rogen (yes, frickin’ Seth Rogen) as Ken Miller and Jason Segel (Marshall from How I Met Your Mother) as Nick Andopolis, all hangin’ where they can’t be seen. These guys are the ones that make up the majority of the eponymous Freaks, a clique of grey-matter deprived stoners. The opening dialogue between them is beautiful as it dangles each of their primary personality traits like carrots in front of the viewer, never giving you enough to write them off as stereo-types (which for the most part, they aren’t).
Then comes the Geeks. Three freshman year kids that stick together like glue: Sam Weir (John Francis Daley), Neil Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr). We see them getting picked on and threatened by a group of douche-bags only to be saved by Sam’s sister, Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), the main character of the show. I have developed an embarassingly school-girl like crush on Lindsay as I’ve progressed through the series, like many others I’m sure. She is always sandwiched between both the Freaks and Geeks but what the show is really all about is her trying to break free from stigmatisation.
After the pilot episode, I was in love, plain and simple. I feel like I have a personal connection with the show but I’m almost certain that this was the exact intention of the creators/writers. It is meant to resonate with almost all teenagers and anyone who has ever been a teenager. Here are five reasons why Freaks and Geeks is so damn great:
1. IT’S REAL
Freaks and Geeks doesn’t sugar-coat things. It tackles problems that almost all teenagers have/will face at one time or another, whether it be sexuality, drugs or clashes with authority. We don’t see everything of course as the show wasn’t designed to confront but to instead present these situations in a believable and often fun fashion. Just because it’s fun, however, it doesn’t mean some of the issues that the characters have to deal with won’t stick with you.
2. IT’S DIDACTIC BUT NOT PREACHY
This is almost an extension of number one. Freaks and Geeks is fantastic to just sit down and lose yourself in without having to think too much. In this way, it’s almost like one of those shows you’d come home to watch when you were a kid, exhausted after school. Like some of that after school programming, there’s a lot to be learnt from F&G (if you’re starting to get turned off, please bear with me). I’m not talking about spelling or arithmetic but real life lessons. I get the feeling that if I’d have watched this show when I was fifteen, life may have been a bit different for me today. Most of these lessons are of the ‘what not to do’ variety but they are nevertheless relevant. The best thing about the show’s educational quality is that it never seems like preaching. You’ll learn but you won’t even know it.
3. INTEGRITY, AHOY!
The cancellation that Freaks and Geeks suffered at the turn of the 21st century still smarts for many fans. I believe one of the many causes for this was the integrity of the show’s producers/writers. They never stooped so low as to include pointless gross-out humour or total eye-candy cast members to attract a wider teenage audience (ironically, this is probably the most mature work Judd Apatow has put his name to). This was a story about growing up in the real world. It’s funny, smart and touching. No wonder it was cancelled.
4. BREEDING GROUND FOR THE STARS OF TODAY
Judd Apatow has become a comedic force of nature in the film industry over the past ten years. His directing credits include The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and his producing credits have now reached a ridiculous number which includes Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers. Judd Apatow is no longer just a prominent name; Judd Apatow is a brand. It could be argued that Freaks and Geeks essentially created and defined the comedy climate of the ’00s.
The cast of Freaks and Geeks have mostly gone onto very successful careers. A couple of them have even defined the past decade like Apatow. James Franco is a big Hollywood name now. This is pretty amazing when you consider his humble beginnings as the slacker-stoner, Daniel Desario. Seth Rogen is the biggest name in comedy this side of Will Ferrell nowadays and his role as Ken in F&G is just about the smallest of the main cast members. Then wehave Jason Segel who is just establishing himself in Hollywood now, having starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You Man, and of course in TV’s How I Met Your Mother. Sadly, Linda Cardellini who plays Lindsay never really rose to stardom, mostly having small parts in films and some regular stints on other shows such as E.R. This is disappointing as she’s arguably the most talented actor of the whole bunch.
On a fairly irrelevant note: Shia LaBeouf even pops up in an episode!
5. MOTHERFLIPPIN’ CULTURAL FLASHBACKS
Freaks and Geeks is set in 1980. The Freaks listen to Van Halen and Rush while the Geeks make constant reference to sci-fi films such as The Empire Strikes Back. Nick (Jason Segel) is constantly grieving over the recent death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, Sam’s (John Francis Daley) bedroom door is plastered with a huge poster of Steve Martin when he was cool and Bill (Martin Starr) often struggles to hide his love for the trashy show Dallas. The school’s gym teacher is even played by Thomas F. Wilson! As in Biff from the Back to the Future films.
I’m still only halfway through the series but I’m taking it nice and slow, watching one episode each night as if I’m savouring a fine glass of vintage wine. If you haven’t seen Freaks and Geeks yet, I urge you to go and do so. You won’t regret it and you might even learn a thing or two (I’ll shut up now)!