A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Release: 1999 – 2000
Created By: Paul Feig
Produced By: Judd Apatow
Starring: Linda Cardelinni, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Seth Rogen
Running Time: 44 Minutes
There are plenty of examples that spring to mind when thinking about television criminality. Not so much television shows about law and order, but more the production-based decisions by certain people to travel down a particular narrative route, kill off a character, recast somebody or simply take a left turn out of nowhere.
For Paul Feig’s Freaks And Geeks, the crime committed is not of his own doing, nor the cast or anyone involved in the production as a matter of fact.
The true perpetrators are those who decided it should be cancelled after just one season. It’s not too late to find these people, whoever they are, put them on trial and throw the book at them!
Having just finished the series for the first time (please excuse the lateness), it can be stated with full confidence that this may very well be the definitive example of a coming of age series.
A quintessential, near-faultless and supremely organic blend of youthful angst, discovery and growth over the space of eighteen, forty-minute episodes, Freaks And Geeks doesn’t just live up to the immense and universal hype, it surpasses it in spades.
Produced over the turn of the century but set in the early 1980’s, Freaks And Geeks takes place at McKinley High School, a melting pot of whacky and contrasting stereotypes. Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) is an academic, pretty, polite and ordinary overachiever who remains humble and typically insecure as she tries to settle in with a new crowd.
After engaging with a group of pot-smoking burnouts including the likes of Daniel (James Franco), Ken (Seth Rogen) and Nick (Jason Segel), Lindsay finds herself succumbing to influences from all angles, leading her down a path of new and exciting experiences.
Not passively giving in to peer pressure altogether, Lindsay’s relationship with the group becomes a two way street, with her intellect and hardworking attitude influencing them in the process. From here, a strange but charming bond flourishes between them all.
Conversely, we have Lindsay’s younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) and his two friends Bill (Martin Starr) and Neal (Samm Levine) going through the motions of high school but from a younger and comparatively dorkier perspective.
Learning about the hierarchical structure of school life in terms of demographics, social groups and sexes, the trio often find themselves at the back end of a practical joke or something generally mean spirited all the same.
Uniting and enduring the hardships of geekism head on, the trio discover that it’s ultimately not all bad, and that being yourself is what will truly shine brightest at the end of the day.
Although the series is set in the 80’s, the messages it manages to establish within every episode are as timeless as the show itself. Effortlessly capturing organic youthful adolescence and naivety through both of the aforementioned camps, often drawing parallels between them as their stories are simultaneously explored, the craft of Freaks And Geeks results in a rollercoaster of emotions, energy and antics; a bit like high school itself – go figure!
As Lindsay is learning about becoming a woman and a responsible sister for Sam to look up to, she’s also sneaking out, experimenting with alcohol, cutting school and taking drugs, even when she doesn’t want to. Losing trust with her family and even risking friendships, the journey is not always happy and optimistic. Sam’s life fluctuates just as much as Lindsay’s as he learns about relationships, fitting in and how growing up too fast through a romanticised lens doesn’t always work out like you’d hope.
What is so clever about Freaks And Geeks is that the seemingly unrelated stories run alongside one another, only to establish a very similar thread and theme that is important to the particular characters. For example, in the episode “I’m With The Band”, the biggest obstacle for Sam to overcome is having a shower in gym class.
Although it seems trivial and minuscule in the grand scheme of things, what it ultimately represents to not only him as a character, but the current stage of his development is highly significant.
This draws parallels to Nick’s story as he auditions for a local rock band in that both are about taking major leaps in maturity that may seem daunting or exciting, only to emerge the other side perhaps not feeling rewarded or fulfilled – it’s all part of life, and that’s what Freaks And Geeks reminds us of time after time.
It’s only the coexistence of students that the show explores; relationships between parents, teachers and the students themselves provide some the series’ most heartfelt and genuine moments. Whilst some characters succeed and flirt with popularity, others plummet into torment and anxiety, seeking guidance and support from their elders and teachers alike.
Some of the academic characters are beautifully written, serving as an escape for the students but also a figure of authority, reinforcing that growing up is a journey of ups and downs, facing your troubles head on and enduring moments of misery and loss in order to mature and an individual.
One of the most remarkable qualities of the show is the incredibly prodigious cast it boasts. We must be thankful for Paul Fieg and Judd Apatow’s talent scouts, otherwise who knows where Franco, Rogen, Segel, Daley and Cardinelli would be if it weren’t for this series. Furthermore, many audiences were introduced to the likes of Jason Schwartzman, Ben Stiller, Busy Phillips, Ben Foster, David Krumholtz and many more familiar faces throughout the series.
The launching pad for countless careers, Freaks And Geeks will live on as one of the most significant series in television for a generation. Blending moments of gut-busting humour, painful awkwardness, heartbreak and even gripping fear, it simply has it all.
There’s a transportive quality that fully invests you in each of these characters, therefore allowing you to travel alongside them as they experience life’s various hurdles. For example, you freeze in fear when Lindsay is sprung doing something she shouldn’t be, or you anxiously sit there with your heart pounding as Sam plays his first game of spin the bottle. Such realistic and vivid moments like this are able to trigger memories of your own, adding to the enveloping experience of every episode.
With perfectly written characters from all walks of life and scenarios that feel like something straight out of a Richard Linklater picture, Freaks And Geeks, whilst set in a fictitious American high school in the early 80’s, manages to create a timelessness and infectious connectivity within almost every singles facet of its buildup.
It’s set in a world without iPhones, The Internet or Return Of The Jedi for that matter, however Freaks And Geeks captures something quintessential about coming of age.
It captures something naturalistic and reassuring about the process from various perspectives, which is both incredibly difficult, but vitally important for those experiencing it for themselves.
It would be recommendation to show Freaks And Geeks to your children, particularly if they’re of similar ages to the characters. It’s not just an entertaining ride, there’s a lot to learn from and relate to these people. There’s something for older audiences too as they would no doubt be able to relate to almost every member of the cast in some way or another.
After eighteen episodes, 800 minutes and a solid period of captivating viewing, Freaks And Geeks leaves you desperately clambering for more. It’s not difficult to see why it’s regarded as the definitive work of Feig (and Judd Apatow for that matter); they’ve achieved something few others have, which is an encapsulation of a particular era with timeless characters, themes and messages to match.
Although the time for more has tragically come and gone, at least Freaks And Geeks can be celebrated for what it was then, what it is today and what it will be in years to come.