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 time. The 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?