Summer DVD Club: '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, firstname.lastname@example.org