I have wanted to write about this show since I began the Marathon to Start feature, but became even more inclined to do so when it recently became part of Netflix Instant streaming. I also recently watched the Halloween episode again, while preparing for my Best of Halloween TV episodes feature and was reminded how much I love the show, Freaks and Geeks. It is a quick marathon, because very sadly, it was cancelled before the first season ended. NBC aired twelve episodes of the show, and did not finish airing the 18 that were produced. The lost episodes eventually aired on Fox Family Channel while in syndication and are included on the DVDs and now in the streaming queue. It's a shame that the show did not succeed because I believe it is one of the best shows about high school to have ever aired. I'm not sure that there was or has since been a show that so completely and realistically captures adolescent life.
Freaks and Geeks follows the lives of the students at McKinley High School, who are well, either freaks…or geeks. It was created by Paul Feig and executive produced by Judd Apatow, who are now some of the biggest names in comedy. The show is centered on Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) and the experiences they have with their family, friends and at school while trying to fit in. Lindsay begins to have many social struggles when she rebels against her current friends and status of being known as the "smart girl" after she goes through a traumatizing event. She quits the mathletes and has to deal with pressure from her parents, teachers and best friend Millie who don't like the change they see in Lindsay when she begins hanging out with the McKinley High School "freaks". The freaks are a group of friends who smoke pot, drive around making trouble and are just generally considered to be weird slackers. Sam, on the other hand has to deal with a different set of problems, as he and his friends are some of the biggest "geeks" of the school. They must try battle the bullies who consistently beat them up while figuring out how get a date with the girl they love.
The show has a large ensemble cast with every imaginable archetype represented; no matter who you were in high school, there is most likely at least one character that you will relate to. In addition the characters are very realistic and the show is cast so perfectly- all of the actors fit their different types exactly. For instance, once you glance at Martin Starr's character Bill, there is no question he would be the most awkward boy in school. I completely believe that the character of Daniel, a burn out on the verge of dropping out at every moment, is one of the best roles James Franco has ever played.
It is not just the characters that make the show great, but also the writing and they way in which they portray real life situations so believably. All of the kids have some sort of struggle they are trying to get through, but they are not conveyed in an over-exaggerated manner. There are no rape, murder or extraordinary events that would make you roll your eyes and say, "that would never happen". In fact, it does a great job of capturing storylines that might seem extreme, but are very realistic and true. Some examples are when Kim attaches herself to Lindsay's family because she doesn't want to confront her abusive mother and when Daniel cheats and struggles with school mostly because he has a learning disability. However, while this sounds like this would make for a very depressing show, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is charming and hysterical all while being dark and realistic. Even one of those is difficult for a series to pull of successfully, so the fact that this show is able to incorporate all of them is a testament to its brilliance.
Even though the show didn't even last one full season, it was incredibly influential when looking at how many huge careers it helped launch. On the acting side, it was one of the first major impressive roles for James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen. Now, they are some of the biggest actors and comedians working in film (and television in Segal's case) at the moment. However, it is not only them, but also almost every person in the cast has been and is still a current working actor. John Francis Daley is a series regular on Bones, Martin Starr is a staple of Apatow's films, and while Linda Cardellini's last regular stint was on ER for three years, she consistently shows up in movies and TV all the time. While the show did have a huge viewership, when it was over casting directors and producers throughout the entertainment industry had seen the show and recognized the talent of the majority of the cast and clamored to put them in their projects. It was a television series dream cast, and the fact that it didn't last longer is only comforted by the fact that it was able to influence pop culture in such a profound way.
Additionally, while both were consistently working in television at the time, Freaks and Geeks certainly helped display the creative prowess of Paul Feig as a creator, writer, director and Judd Apatow as a Producer, Writer and Director and also solidified their demand in the industry. It was several years after the show and with The 40 Year Old Virgin that Apatow began to be recognized as a comedy god, and Freaks and Geeks was the show that really started to get him noticed. The same goes for Paul Feig who began directing episodes of television series such as Arrested Development, The Office and 30 Rock after the series ended, and recently became even more well-known after directing the blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids.
While the show was never recognized with awards as whole, Freaks and Geeks did receive three Emmy nominations and had one win. Paul Feig was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episodes "Pilot" and "Discos and Dragons". He did not win, but casting directors Allison Jones, Coreen Mayrs and Jill Greenberg won for Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. As I mentioned above, it is easy to see why.
When looking at the television landscape and how hard it is to create a fantastic comedy series, it is always difficult to see one of the greats cancelled too soon. I also fear that because there was not a lot of awareness about its existence, it is a series that still lies very under the radar and has not been watched by as many people as should. I hope that if you are one of the people who has not yet watched, that you will take 18 hours out of your regular TV watching and do so. I don't think you will be sorry; if nothing else you will get an incredible look into the early work of some of the most influential comedic geniuses working today.
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