magic of DVD. Shows that you (and perhaps you alone) loved
never go away forever. If you wait long enough, there's bound
to be a collection of that one golden season, or quarter-season,
if you're a fan of The Tick. It's only a matter of
time before Me and The Chimp finds its way onto disk.
really, I come to praise DVD, not to bury it. That's because
one of my favorite shows gets its release, the dead-on,
absolutely great Freaks and Geeks.
by NBC scheduling, the show barely made waves in its debut,
but the network had enough faith to let them shoot almost
a full season, even though they didn't actually broadcast
it. Aside from launching the careers of Linda Cardellini and
James Franco, the show truly gets how horrible high school
years can be, without making it the stuff of high melodrama.
surface, it sounds pretty routine. Two siblings try to make
it through high school in 1980, both stuck in wildly different
peer groups. Except for the year, that's half a dozen shows
on the Disney Channel, none of which are remotely interesting.
But underneath the simple concept lies a complex look at high
school that allows for pain as much as humor without stooping
to the level of "a very special episode."
opens with a tracking shot that perfectly sets the tone. The
"Freaks" hang out under the bleachers on the football field,
mocking the people that fit in, making out, and generally
trying to be as dropped out as possible without making the
real commitment. Among them stands the still uncomfortable
Lindsey Weir, only recently joining them after turning her
back on her image as a brain. That tension between mathlete
and burn-out will dog her time and time again. The camera
wanders across the track to the three main geeks of the title,
loitering at a different fringe of the school.
them comparing Bill Murray impersonations from Caddyshack;
these aren't the geeks who grow up to run computer empires,
though they might be really into computer games. (And yes,
Intellivision does become a plot point in one episode.) More
likely they grow up to write internet columns, or television
shows idealizing their high school years. They're the ones
picked last in P.E., who communicate almost exclusively in
movie and TV references. There may be ways for them to fit
in better, but they don't care to find out. Hey, they're us.
bully Alan shows up, ready to beat the snot out of them for
no other reason than he can. (The conflict rears its head
again in later episodes, most notably involving a game of
dodge ball that rivals the one from South Park for
hilarious cruelty.) Lindsey scares Alan and his cronies off,
since, according to them, "…she might be high." Her younger
brother Sam resents her help. His friends take it more amiably;
gangly Bill knows they would have been creamed, and obnoxious
would-be comedian Neal has a hopeless crush on Lindsey. For
Neal, any attention from her is welcome. Lindsey, however,
would like no attention whatsoever.
really makes the show stand out is its refusal to sugar-coat
the characters. The writers recognize the truth about all
high-schoolers: they can be both angels and assholes, depending
on the moment. Though they have a strong friendship, the three
geeks easily turn on each other, and definitely consider other
geeks to be beneath them. While they may feel sympathy for
retarded student Eli, they won't hesitate to use him. And
though the freaks do cut class and smoke pot a lot (a lot),
even they get concerned when one of their own seems to be
addicted. Yet that doesn't stop them from smoking.
(Lindsey doesn't smoke, however; the episode when she does
finally get high deftly avoids After-School Special syndrome.)
The actors get to play with depth, not just go for a laugh
at every turn.
extends to even the minor roles. Alan admits that he likes
some of the same things the geeks do, but that doesn't stop
him from making their lives miserable when he can. Mr. Fredricks
the gym teacher (played by Back To The Future's Biff,
Tom Wilson, who repeated the Fredricks riff on Ed last
season) may really be a dumb jock, but he isn't beyond reason.
And former hippie Mr. Rosso, the school guidance counselor,
puts a nice spin on the stock character of the teacher trying
to be cool to the kids. Unlike similar characters in high
school sitcoms, Rosso does know where to draw the line, and
as the freaks grudgingly admit, he really can rock.
are moments throughout the show with a bit of wish fulfillment,
but reality always intrudes. In one episode a really hot new
girl hooks up with the geeks. All three realize that she is
too hot to like them for long, but they still all fight over
who gets to date her. Though she promises to stay their friend,
once she gets accepted into the main clique, she only makes
brief appearances in the show, and never talks to them again.
Lindsey's pseudo-boyfriend Nick struggles with his father's
vision of his future. Nick wants to be a drummer; Dad wants
him to join the army. The truth is that Nick is a lousy drummer
with no drive to get better; the other freaks know it, but
nobody will admit to him that his father is right.
set includes several episodes that NBC never aired, though
Fox Family (now ABC Family) eventually did. (Before ascending
to DVD, quality shows must spend a period in the purgatory
of basic cable.) Among the extras are extensive commentaries
from the cast, show creator Paul Feig and producer/writer
Judd Apatow, who went on to create the almost as good (and
even more short-lived) Undeclared for Fox.
without the extras, Freaks and Geeks would be worth
having. Pull out any episode and you'll see someone you know,
or something you did in high school. Cringe if you must, but
it's better if you laugh, and the show understands that, too.
and Geeks - The Complete Series
of this article originally appeared in my 8/28/2000 Television
City column for Daily Radar.