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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer DVD Club: 'Freaks and Geeks'

I'm very aware that I may well be the last person on Earth -- or at least in this office -- who has never seen an episode of "Freaks and Geeks."

After admitting this fact and being pestered on a daily basis for months by one Thomas Rozwadowski ("Did you watch yet? Didya? Huh? Huh? Didya?") I finally decided to give in and find out what the hub-bub is with this show.

It had been months of torment, having to hear fellow Channel Surfers Adam, Malavika and Thomas talk about memories from classic "F&G" episodes and how each could relate to a freak and/or geek. And finally, it's my turn to chime in.

The background: "Freaks and Geeks" aired nearly a decade ago from brilliant creator Paul Feig and hilarious producer Judd Apatow. The story takes place in the early 1980s, mostly through the halls of McKinley High School. It's more or less the story for the rest of us. Those that weren't super popular, had bad acne, or perhaps were a part of the too-cool-for-school burnout crowd. The show centers on the Weir siblings (often referred to as "weird") and their respective places as a "freak" and a "geek."

Characters: Lindsey Weir (Linda Cardellini) is the former mathlete turned wannabe stoner. She's your typical identity crisis high schooler -- the kind who has a turning point and no longer wants to be known as a goody two shoes smart girl who's friends with the high school counselor, but would rather sit under the bleachers with the burnouts. Burnouts including pre-Jew fro Seth Rogen, still super hot James Franco, baby teeth Jason Segel and Busy Philipps (who totally sucks at first, but you grow to love her. ... Or at least sympathize with her.)

Meanwhile, her brother Sam Weir is the exact opposite. Sam's the kid that the burnouts pick on. He's about 4'11" and I'd guess around 90 pounds. (Sidenote: I've been told he's exactly what Mr. Rozwadowski was like in high school ... nerd alert!) Sam, along with his trusty sidekicks Bill (Martin Starr) and Neil (Samm Levine), are truly quintessential nerd bombers. Upon my first viewing, I knew Bill would be one of my favorite characters. With glasses truly thicker than the bottoms of coke bottles, Bill is so geeky, you can't help but love him. It's like how troll dolls became lovable after they reach the pinnacle of ugliness.

Then, of course, there's the Weir parents. Lovable mom, Jean Weir, (Becky Ann Baker) and stern and sometimes clueless dad, Harold Weir (Joe Flaherty, also known as the jack--- guy from "Happy Gilmore.") Jean is your typical mom -- has dinner on the table every night, makes sure her kids participate in "family time" and is torn between holding on to her little children and letting them grow as young adults. Harold tries to play the role of the strict, "not under my roof" type of father but typically fails because of a total lack of awareness. Other notable characters include Millie Kentner, Lindsey's old mathlete friend and resident "Jesus is my Homeboy" aficionado, hippie turned guidance counselor Mr. Rosso and popular cheerleader Cindy Sanders. Keep an eye out for pre-stardom guest appearances from Rashida Jones, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Schwartzman and Leslie Mann.

First impressions: At first glance, "Freaks and Geeks" seems to be another typical show about high schoolers and their high school antics. But as you get deeper into the show, you quickly realize, this show is anything but typical. Unlike my other fav high school dramas and sitcoms "Fresh Prince," "Saved by the Bell," "My So-Called Life," etc., this show brilliantly mixes that adolescent need-to-fit-in attitude with self-discovery and blends it all together nicely through bitter sarcasm.

Sure, you've still got your high school staples -- Sam's in love with the out-of-his-league cheerleader, Neil and Bill cower before the high school jocks and Lindsey will do just about anything to fit into her new burnout group. But among the popularity quests, there's beautiful moments where these kids realize maybe they're OK just the way they are. Like when Lindsey dances with the special kid Eli when everyone thinks he couldn't be weirder or when Sam finally gets the girl and then realizes, looks aren't everything. Aww, warm fuzzies.

What I like: The easy answer here is everything. The writing is sharp but realistic -- it's witty and entertaining, yet relatable. The scenarios are classic and clearly, pave the way for many high school sitcoms in the years to come. But the biggest draw for me is that this show has a heart and it uses it wisely. It gives you the humor and the teenage angst that's real and entertaining all together but then pulls you back in and gives you that warm feeling inside without being cheesy or starting up the "Full House" sensitive moment music. For example, when Lindsey goes out with her new stoner friends for one of the first times, it just so happens to be Halloween. And for burnouts, that means egging high school freshman who are dorky enough to still dress up and trick-or-treat. Cue Lindsey's brother Sam and his uber dorky friends. When it comes to Lindsey's turn to nail some freshman sunnyside up, wouldn't you know it's her brother and his friends -- dressed in full costumes -- that become the victims. When Lindsey realizes her mistake, there's a moment where you see her become "human" again -- not caring what that will do to her status or how cool she'll look, but just genuinely concerned with the fact she just egged her own brother.

The show's brilliance, I think, comes from moments like this. When you get to know these characters as they actually are -- not how they hope people see them or how they want to be someday -- but the kind of person they cannot hide. It truly amazes me that shows like this die after one glorious season, yet "Big Brother" will make its triumphant return on Thursday for its 11th season. Ugh.

Here's a classic "Freaks and Geeks" moment, where Sam and his friends discuss the purpose of French kissing.

-- Sara Boyd,

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YAY! You are finally one of US! (Kidding). I'm really happy that you got to watch this show from the beginning with fresh eyes. (This is one case when your first time really is the best).

I think you hit the nail on the head with all your observations about what makes this show so good. It's hard to pinpoint just one thing, but I've always liked that all the characters are just so... normal. Sometimes weird. Sometimes boring. Sometimes funny. It's just, as you said, genuine.


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At July 8, 2009 at 8:53 AM  

You recognized Shia LaBeouf! I've always loved that Coach Fredericks, the gym teacher, was Biff from "Back to the Future." Ashwaubenon's own Joel Hodgson (of "MST3K" fame) was also awesome as the disco-obsessed store clerk.

Stud or superstud?

I'm curious, Boyd. Did you find the season to be rushed? Having done some extensive work researching the show, the writers admitted they just began stuffing plotlines in because they knew the axe was about to drop. Having watched the series probably 20 times, I definitely favor the earlier episodes more, though the "Discos and Dragons" finale might be the best overall episode ("We've Got Spirit" is my all-time favorite, however.)

Also, Lady L ... how unbelievable funny was that moment?

I could go on and on and on and on ...

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At July 8, 2009 at 11:17 AM  

I haven't really read anything about this show -- other than searching for the correct spelling of "Weir" but I can honestly say that yes, I did feel like they were packing it in towards the end of the show. The beginning of the series has a nice, slow pace to it where they afford the time for random hallway conversations and loitering. Then near the end of the season, it's packed with events and notable plot development.

For example -- because I'm oh-so-smart, I accidentally requested the seasons in the reverse order on Netflix halfway through my viewing. Still, jumping ahead only two episodes, I felt as though I had missed full years in the "F&G" timeline. Compare the relationship development between Nick and Lindsey and then check out how speedy Ken and his tuba-playing hermaphrodite hook up and you'll see what I mean.

-- Sara

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At July 8, 2009 at 12:29 PM  

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