For most of us, secondary school was a drag. And somehow teen sitcoms trying to hone the material of terrible teenage years inevitably end up sappy, flat and boring. All in one. But Freaks and Geeks was different, Freaks and Geeks nailed it. From the super-hottie Daniel Desario, played by James Franco, to the awfully awkward Bill Haverchuck, played by Martin Starr, it was easy to understand them, feel their pain and laugh at their inside jokes.
It centres around the adventures in adolescence of freshman Sam Weir and his older sister, Lindsey, and their two circles of friends…the “Freaks” (Lindsey’s group featuring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segal and Busy Philipps) and the “Geeks” (featuring Sam played by John Francis Daly, Martin Starr and Sam Levine).
The “Freaks” are the folk normally seen smoking in the courtyard of the high school, rocking out to loud music, and generally disregarding the rules. In contrast, the “Geeks” are the peeps in the Dungeons & Dragons sessions, battling elves while getting stuffed in their lockers five hours later by the football players.
It’s the typical high school dynamic, albeit it set in suburban Michigan, circa 1980, displayed to an exorbitantly truthful extent in one of the most personal shows to ever grace TV. One perfect moment has to be in the Halloween episode when Lindsay (ER’s Linda Cardellini pre-ER) ditches her mom to egg houses with her new freak friends and ends up egging Sam, her brother, by accident, who only moments before was beaten up by the school bully. Quite simply, Freaks and Geeks is a high school show made for adults.
Unlike other “high school” shows in the past, Freaks and Geeks attempted to showcase the painful evolution that teens undergo in the often turbulent environment of secondary education. Story ideas were culled directly from the writing staff’s own experiences, whether it be wearing an outdated disco jumpsuit to school, or finding a garage door opener in your father’s car that didn’t belong to your house.
As poignant as it was funny, the show was neither truly a comedy nor a drama, but rested somewhere in between, mirroring real life to such an extent that it was truly indefinable as anything other than awesome television.
Freaks and Geeks co-creator Judd Apatow is no doubt the main contributor of the deadpan humour. One ofFreaks and Geeks‘ finest attributes is its refusal to resort to the easy laugh or the life shattering moment, which makes it different from the generic shows of late. At first, Freaks and Geeks seems to be uncommonly ordinary, entirely devoid of sarcastic zingers or deadpan jokes, but don’t stop watching. Repeated exposure to the show breeds a deep appreciation for its low-key charm and, I suspect, for all who survived school, a shudder of recognition when they see a bit of themselves reflected on screen.
So what killed the show? Lack of love. Like so many shows, Freaks and Geeks was mercilessly yanked from American TV after a mere 12 episodes in 1999. Needless to say, it has a huge cult following, and was one of the most purchased DVD’s of the noughties. Perhaps it’s for the best, after all, that Freaks & Geeks didn’t last; like John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison, Freaks and Geeks died young and never got a chance to overstay its welcome. RIP F+G.
“I had a friend in high school who smoked. You know where he is now? HE’S DEAD!” Mr Weir.
This article was originally published for the UCC College Express.