Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TV Tuesday: Freaks and Geeks

I was looking for a new show to watch on those rare occasions when I have some time to myself (very rare lately - both college sons have come home sick a lot!). I decided to finally try a 1999 show that I have heard rave reviews of from so many people: the one-season wonder Freaks and Geeks.

Why did I wait so long to watch this amazing show?? I absolutely love it!

Freaks and Geeks takes place in a Midwestern high school in 1980. It features loads of teen actors and actresses who went on to become big stars as adults. And it perfectly captures high school in 1980. I should know - I was there!

It's definitely an ensemble cast, but one of the main characters is Lindsay, played by Linda Cardellini (who was on ER, played Velma on the live-action Scooby Doo, and much more). Lindsay is really smart, but she's sick of being an outcast at school and definitely does not want to be a mathlete any more. She starts wearing her dad's old Army jacket every day and hanging out with a rougher crowd, known in her school as the freaks. Her new crowd includes cute guy Dan, played by a young James Franco, nice guy Nick, played by Jason Segel (of How I Met Your Mother fame & many movies), and tough girl Kim, played by Busy Philipps (another ER alum who also starred in Cougartown). Seth Rogan as Ken rounds out their group.

In the same school, Lindsay's little brother, Sam, played by John Francis Daley (as an adult, one of our favorites as Dr. Sweets on Bones), is a freshman and hangs out with his best friends, Neal, played by Samm Levine, and Bill, played by Martin Starr. Unfortunately, the three are referred to as geeks by their classmates. They get picked on a lot and strive to find a way to fit in (while also still loving the things that make them geeks). This was 1980 - long before being a geek was cool.

The action mostly takes place in and around school, with the two main groups at the center of things but with lots of supporting roles. Two of the very few adults in the show are Lindsay and Sam's parents, played perfectly by Becky Ann Baker and Joe Flaherty. The show deals with all of the typical high school issues among the main characters: bullying, crushes, trying to fit in, figuring out who you are, and peer pressure.

What's unique here is how well it's all done. As you can see from their later resumes, the actors and actresses, though only teens at the time in most cases, were first-rate. The writing is excellent, and the sets are absolutely perfect. You know how Glee was always over-the-top and kind of campy (among its charms, for sure)? Well, Freaks and Geeks is super-realistic. In fact, this was MY high school (and I was very much like Lindsay!). Seriously - they pegged it perfectly, every last detail. I hate when TV shows or movies set in the 80's feature crazy clothing styles - all the girls dressed like Madonna or everyone in neon. This show is exactly what it was really like in high school in the 80's. I keep seeing Lindsay or another character wearing clothes that I had, shirts that my classmates wore - they have recreated 1980.

They also perfectly recreated the atmosphere in school. There's the long-haired guidance counselor who wants to be "your friend" and thinks he is cool (and is anything but). The burly gym teacher enthusiastically announcing "a day off for something fun," and then starting a dodgeball game, with the smaller kids cowering against the wall while the tough guys belt them with red playground balls (yeah, I'm just 5'1" now - guess where I was in those terrifying dodgeball games?). The school dance in the gym with everyone looking awkward and nervous. No glamorous micro dresses and 5" heels back then!

So, what if you didn't go to school in the early 80's? You will still love this show. It's wonderfully executed, dealing with real topics but with a sense of humor (Judd Apatow was Executive Producer). My 22-year old son enjoys it. And it is so much fun to see these now-famous actors and actresses as unknown kids! In fact, it won an Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Comedy Series in 2000. You can see the long list of other awards and nominations it racked up in its single season.

I'm sure you can tell by my gushing descriptions that I am absolutely loving this show. I've only watched 4 episodes so far and am already dreading the end! Freaks and Geeks was famously cancelled after just one season, originally, just 10 episodes, but 18 had been made, and fans screamed loud and long to get the other 8 on air.

You can now watch all 18 episodes of Freaks and Geeks on Netflix. It is available through Amazon on DVD only.


Anonymous said...

A friend recommended this show to me years ago and I agree with the rave reviews. It is a great show. If you enjoyed Freaks and Geeks you may also enjoy "My So-Called Life", a 1994 show starring Claire Danes that alas also had a one season run of only 19 episodes. The show covers many of the same teenage issues as Freaks and Geeks in the same realistic, heartwarming and at times heart wrenching, style with some humor thrown in for good measure.

Sue Jackson said...

Thanks! I've heard lots of good things about My So-Called Life but have never tried it. Thanks for the recommendation!