Freaks and Geeks – The Best Show You Probably DIDN’T Watch (and neither did I), But We Should Have

Before Katherine Heigl got Knocked Up, before Jason Segel spent an entire Hawaiian vacation Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and before Steve Carell endured the ignominious label of The 40-Year Old Virgin, there was a funny New Yorker named Judd Apatow, and a little  television show called Freaks and Geeks.

Although the show aired roughly ten years ago, I didn’t come across it until fairly recently.  I was looking for a prospective candidate to fill my ever-dwindling Netflix queue, at the timeThe show was described as a “period piece” of sorts, in that it took place at a Michigan high school during the 1980-81 school year. 

Now, as you can probably tell from this blog, I LOVE my high school dramedys.  Plus, I have always been a bit obsessed with the ’80s as a decade, despite the fact that I was itty bitty during most of it.  (The Breakfast Club was the first R-rated film my mother let me watch on video.  It is still one of my favorite movies of all time.)  So, I figured this was right up my alley.

The Pilot episode opens with a clichéd jock and his clichéd cheerleader girlfriend engaging in a vapid discussion about the nature of their relationship, while cuddling on the bleachers at the high school football field.  Within moments, the camera pans beneath the bleachers to reveal the show’s real stars: a group of stoners smoking weed, and a trio of nerds discussing Star Wars.  I was instantly hooked.

The series follows the lives of Lindsay Weir (played by Linda Cardellini of ER), a shy overachieving mathlete who becomes disillusioned with her dull life and quickly falls in with a “bad crowd,” and her younger brother, Sam (John Francis Daley of Bones), a good humored and intelligent, but diminutive and undeveloped (his voice still hasn’t changed) high school freshman.  Lindsay hangs with the titular Freaks of the show, played by James Franco, Busy Phillips, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen (all of whom have gone on to become regular staples in Judd Apatow films).  Sam’s friends comprise the Geeks, who are played by Sam Levine and Martin Starr. 

Rather than creating a glossy and stylized version of high school, as most teen dramas tend to do, Freaks and Geeks portrayed a more realistic version of the teen years, one rife with awkwardness, discomfort, growth spurts and acne.  Unlike most teen shows airing during that time, the actors here actually looked like real teenagers (even Cardellini, despite the fact that she was already 25 when the show started taping).  They even talked like real teenagers — their speech rife with the trademark inarticulate umms and uhhs that characterize “teenspeak” (and, on occasion, my own “speak”).

Freaks and Geeks  stood out from other teen television shows, in that it was primarily NOT about romance.  The “couples” in the show weren’t portrayed as soul mates, star-crossed lovers, or adults trapped in young bodies.  Instead, the Weirs’ respective relationships much more closely resembled those of  my limited high school dating experience.  Namely, they were frightening and cringe-inducingly uncomfortable. 

I love, for example, how Lindsay’s “love interest,” Nick (Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother), is not smooth or cool at all.  In fact, he is kind of smothery and more than a tad creepy at times.  Lindsay generally sticks with him because he is part of her social circle, and because she wants to have a boyfriend.  Unforunately, I too have been there . . .

Freaks and Geeks also took risks with its storylines.  One episode dealt with a hermaphodite student in a way that was surprisingly tasteful and heartfelt.  In another episode, viewers spent a good deal of time watching the Geeks watch a pornographic film.

So, if your Netflix queue has been looking a bit anorexic lately, and you are in need of some quality programming, I highly recommend Freaks and Geeks.

Oh, and did I mention James Franco looks really hot in it?

8 Comments

Filed under Freaks and Geeks

8 responses to “Freaks and Geeks – The Best Show You Probably DIDN’T Watch (and neither did I), But We Should Have

  1. imaginarymen

    Hey I DID watch F&G!! Only one of my Favorite. Shows. Ever!!

    You hit the nail on the head why it was so good: the casting was phenomenal – obviously since nearly everyone on it has gone on to become a bigger star.

    Even the non-regulars casting was great. Everyone I knew who watched it recognized a character as looking *just* like someone they went to HS with!

    The writing was so good and painful and honest and realistic. They DID sound like teens and the way the adults tried to talk to the kids was pitch perfect (OMG frickin’ LOVE Mr. Rosso!!)

    So many storylines had those moments that could make you cry or cringe or laugh in recognition: the geeks making friends w/ the pretty new girl and watching her get swept away by the popular kids (she ended up being Vicki on VD!), when Neal discovers his cool dad is cheating on his mom, when Mrs. Weir accidently breaks up w/ Nick for Lindsay, Lindsay getting stoned and babysitting with Millie, Daniel getting into D&D with the Geeks, and Nick – ohhhhhhh Nick – his cringeworthy rendition of “Lady” in the basement!! For me that put Jason Segal on the map LONG before he bared on in FSM.

    It is one of the few shows that I can say was perfect in every way. This single season, and the first season of “Friday Night Lights” could easily stand as Perfection in my book.

    Anytime I see a movie with a Freak or a Geek I get all self righteous and say to people “yeah, you could have seen him/her for FREE if you’d just watched F&G!!”

    Thanks for posting this. It got me to dig out my super duper deluxe DVD set so I can revist McKinley High.

    Also – one of my fave TV exchanges ever:

    Bill, Dallas sucks
    Dallas doesn’t suck! YOU suck!

    (Bill, played by Martin Starr – is also an Apatow movie regular. He was in Superbad and 40YO Virgin)

    P.S. If you liked this – get “Undeclared” his next brilliant show about college. Had a little slow start but once it got going – it got cancelled. Also brilliant.

    P.P.S. I’ll stop now. ;-p

  2. It’s funny that you mentioned Undeclared, because that series got plopped into my Netflix queue the same day that I finished watching Freaks and Geeks. (Those not-so-subliminal messages Apatow inserted into his F&G DVD commentary seemed to work wonders on me :)).

    Another well-written, but under-appreciated, show from the Apatow gang, Undeclared was probably the only college-based television series out there that even remotely resembled the real university experience. Nothing else has come close before or since, as far as I’m concerned.

    The Undeclared gang reminded me so much of my college friends, that it was downright eerie. They wore sweatpants! They gained the freshman 15! They tried to dye their hair themselves with disastrous results! They even went to Costco!

    I loved how Jason Segal got to play the creepy boyfriend here for the second time in a row . . . Eric and his buddies from The Copy Shop made Nick from Freaks and Geeks look positively debonair by comparison.

    I’d like to think that both Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared were simply shows produced before their time. If they were remade now, they’d probably both be instant hits (although I doubt the producers would be able to duplicate the stellar casting efforts of the originals).

  3. Pingback: Whatever Happened to TV Theme Songs? (THE SEQUEL) « TV Recappers Anonymous

  4. thatguy

    I just started watching “F and G” when they aired them on IFC, and now I’m totally hooked. I actually graduated high school in 1980, and I can vouch for so many things in the show (music, clothes, love/hate disco, etc.). Even though I lived in suburban city in Texas, not Michigan, I’ve found numerous scenes that could’ve have been filmed documentary style from my own experience, for instance, bashing mailboxes from a car window on Halloween night…it happened pretty much that way. And I really identify with Lindsay, even though I’m a guy. I was in all the upper-level math and science classes, even though I was a jock as well. But my senior year I migrated toward smoking weed with the freaks under the bleachers.

    Anyway, I love this show, and while I wish it hadn’t been cancelled, there’s something pure about the 18-hour telling of a single school year.

    • Hey there, thatguy! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I’m so glad you had the opportunity to discover Freaks and Geeks on IFC this year. (I discovered the show through Netflix last year. But I am kind of wishing I had the IFC channel, so that I could enjoy the series for a second time.)

      I love your positive outlook on the premature cancellation of what very well might have been one of the smartest, most (initially) underappreciated shows on television. “A single school year, in a single season” — I like it! Thinking of Freaks and Geeks as a completed miniseries — as opposed to an incomplete television series — definitely dilutes some of my residual anger at the network for not giving this show a chance. (Then again, I didn’t watch the show when it originally aired, so who am I to judge! ;))

      Plus, no second season for a show, means no chance at a “Sophomore Slump.” And there’s definitely something to be said for that.

      I also liked reading your take on the accuracy of the show’s portrayal of what it was like to be in high school during the early 80’s. So often, “period pieces” tend to miss the mark in that regard. It’s nice to see that this show got it right . . .

  5. kristina

    I was just flipping through your old recaps of season one of TVD, when i saw this blog. I loved freaks and geeks! My dad made me watch it because i happened to mention James Franco and he recognize the name. Although I have yet to finish the series because I’m trying to keep with reruns, TeenNick is bringing it back so i can finish it then! 🙂 I personally thought that Daniel and Lindsay were going to end up together. That’s all for now…. I’m gonna go watch TVD 🙂 Bye

    • Hey kristina!

      This WAS a great show, wasn’t it? I feel like there are so many of us out there, who discovered it AFTER the fact and enjoyed it, that the reason it didn’t do better in the ratings, was that it came out about decade too early. Like you, I thought, Lindsay and Daniel had AWESOME chemistry. And I definitely agree with you that, had the show lasted another season, those two would have absolutely hooked up. 😉

  6. Tommy

    I watched F&G when it originally aired, and it quickly became one of my all time favs, for many of the reasons that you mention in your review. I recently began watching on Netflix and it drew me in all over again. In fact, it has gotten better over time.

    I was a HS freshman in 1980, and so many of the characters and scenes in F&G struck a direct chord with me. Even the theme song (Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”) was spot on

    Interestingly enough, my freshman year I was very much like Sam, and by the time I graduated I was more like Daniel.

    It would have been fun to see where they would have taken the second season, with presumably part of the cast “graduating”

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