Why did it take me ten years to watch this gem of a show from 1999? Freaks and Geeks is a show about misfits at a suburban Detroit high school circa 1980. It is the antithesis of shows like Dawson’s Creek or the more recent Gossip Girl (worlds inhabited by beautiful teens with abnormally self aware conversational skills). If for no other reason, children of the ’80s should watch the show to revel in all of that decade’s music, cars, clothing, even wallpaper (or wood paneling) – I know I had many moments of nostalgia. Thankfully, there are many other reasons to watch the show besides its spot-on ’80s setting and atmosphere. Read on for several more reasons to tune in.
- The Freaks
- Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel) – I was surprised and pleased when I discovered that Marshall from HIMYM was on this show. His character had arguably the most development of the trio of freak guys. Beneath his near-constant drug-induced stupor, and his dream of being a great drummer, he had a flair for the dramatic (see his song for Lindsay and his disco dancing) and uncertainty about the future, since his dad had basically ordered him to join the army. I didn’t really like where they left Nick – standing in a discotheque with a girlfriend he didn’t really like, while Lindsay walked out and moved on with her life. Nevertheless, he was a character I grew to love and root for.
- Daniel Desario (James Franco) – I was impressed with James Franco in this role. He’s had quite a successful career since playing Daniel, the cool, laid back leader of the freaks. His on-again, off-again relationship with Kim was entertaining, but we also saw some of the pressure he felt at home, and his fear that he would never be good at anything. I love how we last saw him – playing Dungeons and Dragons with the geeks, and discovering that this game was something that was fun that he was pretty good at – even if his character was a dwarf.
- Ken Miller (Seth Rogen) – Seth Rogen was little more than comic relief until late in the series, when his character developed an interest in a tuba player in the band. One of my favorite episodes is the one where she shares an important secret him, and although he struggles with processing it, he turns out to be cool with it. That episode also showed that Daniel, Nick, and Ken were loyal friends to each other. Loved it.
- Kim Kelly (Busy Phillips) – Other than central character Lindsay, Kim was one of the few girls on the show. She was probably the least developed character of the main cast – she was mostly stuck making annoyed faces and insulting people. That’s not to say she wasn’t entertaining. Kim Kelly was a perfect character for Busy Phillips to play, and I much prefer her here than in Dawson’s Creek.
- Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) – Oh, poor confused Lindsay. First she’s a Math-lete, then she’s dating Nick, then she’s a Math-lete again, for one second, then she’s hanging out with Dead Heads. Wait, I guess she was just acting like the majority of American teenagers, trying to find their place in the world. While I was disappointed with where the show took her character in the end (it left a lot of unresolved issues that we’ll never see), I suppose it’s more realistic than the alternative. (I won’t give specifics, so you can see for yourself.) Despite the realistic aspects to her character, I often found myself annoyed by her aimless wandering from group to group. She wasn’t one of my favorite characters. I guess she represented the uncomfortable world in between freaks and geeks.
- The Geeks
- Sam Weir (John Francis Daley) – John Francis Daley was the best thing about this show. He is adorable as awkward, geeky teen Sam Weir. Fans of Bones know him as psychologist Lance Sweets. He’s all grown up now, so it’s crazy that ten years ago he was just a sweet little 14 year old boy on Freaks and Geeks. While his friends Bill and Neal were sometimes unbearably dorky, Sam managed to be more charming with his adolescent confusion. For example, his crush on Cindy Sanders led to him getting all flustered around her, but when his dream of dating her actually came true, he realized they had nothing in common and was very bored and irritated with her. I liked most of his character’s developments, and the Cindy Sanders story was especially fun.
- Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) – Oh, sweet dorky Bill. As I mentioned earlier, I was sometimes irritated by how he left his mouth hanging open all the time, but he was a terrific source of entertainment for his friends and the television audience. He asked the tough questions, like when he couldn’t figure out what was so great about french kissing, and started coming up with horrific hypothetical scenarios about what could go wrong. His home life was a little sad (he spent his afternoons home alone and his evening watching Dallas), and the episode about his allergic reaction to peanuts was a downer, but usually Bill made me smile.
- Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine) – Neal represents the stereotypically irritating dorky guy who is a little too confident in his witty one-liners and ability to charm the ladies. Despite this, he was a good friend to Sam and Bill. The situation with his dad was sad, but it was nice to see Sam and Bill help out their friend as he worked through his feelings of anger and disappointment. And no doubt, if the show had told us where these guys ended up, Neal would be a highly successful businessman married to a beautiful woman.
- Millie Kentner (Sarah Hagan) – Millie was an odd character – so straight-laced, and representative of Lindsay’s pre-freak social scene. But beneath her awkward, serious exterior was a really sweet friend. It was horrible when Kim ran over her dog!
- The Grown-Ups
- Harold Weir (Joe Flaherty) – In the beginning, Lindsay and Sam’s father seemed like a stereotypical tv dad, muttering stories about “when I was your age” at the dinner table, but as the series progressed we saw another side behind his cranky exterior. Deep down, he cared deeply for his wife and kids, and was only trying to do what was best for them. One of my favorite moments from Mr. Weir was when he took Nick under his wing, when Nick’s own father wasn’t giving him any guidance or support.
- Jean Weir (Becky Ann Baker) – Lindsay and Sam’s stay-at-home mom was always full of smiles and encouraging words, but she was mostly clueless about what her kids were going through at school. She and Mr. Weir were hilarious when they had scenes together, especially in the episode where they rekindled the romance in their relationship (resulting in a very awkward situation for the kids when they got home from school…). I felt so bad for her when she would go out of her way to make a special meal, or to bake cookies for Halloween, and no one would appreciate her effort.
- Coach Ben Fredericks (Thomas F. Wilson) – Best known as Biff in Back to the Future, he was the rough around the edges, but generally well meaning P.E. coach. I loved how he sat Sam down for a heart to heart about real sex ed after Sam was freaked out by the porn that Daniel loaned him. And I also liked the episode where Coach Fredericks was dating Bill’s mom, and tried his hardest to find a point of connection with his potential step son. He was as surprised as anyone when that connection point turned out to be Dallas.
- Jeff Rosso (Dave Allen) – The school guidance counselor, this former hippie was full of sage advice and cool vibes, which always freaked out the freaks. I loved the episode where Lindsay and her friends went to great lengths to secure fake IDs to go see a hot new band, and when they succeeded, they were disappointed to discover that the lead singer was none other than their dorky guidance counselor (who proceeded to direct the bartender to serve his students soda instead of alcohol).
My Favorite Episodes
- Tricks and Treats – The main thing I remember about this episode was Bill dressing up as the Bionic Woman (so funny!) and Lindsay realizing what a jerk she was becoming when she egged her own brother during her friends’ Halloween joyride around town. It was also interesting to hear the characters talk about fears of tainted candy (the main reason that kids were throwing Mrs. Weir’s homemade cookies into her front yard). I always love Halloween episodes of tv shows, and this one didn’t disappoint. But the look on Sam’s face after Lindsay egged him was so sad! So was the look on her face…
- Tests and Breasts – This was the episode that found Sam, Neal, and Bill pondering the mysteries of sex, a topic of discussion brought up when they don’t understand a dirty joke, and when they start covering sex ed in P.E. Much awkwardness followed, including them watching the porn flick Daniel loaned them, and Coach Frederick’s honest Q&A with Sam.
- Carded and Discarded – The title of this episode refers mostly to Lindsay and her friends’ quest to get fake IDs, but I was more interested in the geeks’ sub plot of them befriending a pretty new girl at school. This story gave them a chance to point out the normally harsh realities of kids choosing a group and sticking to it once the dust of newness settles. But the time they spent with the new girl was fun, especially when she enthusiastically joined them in launching rockets.
- Smooching and Mooching – This episode took a game of spin the bottle to new levels of hilarity, from Neal’s pre-party practice on his ventriloquist dummy, to Bill’s unexpected heart to heart talk and makeout session with a cheerleader.
- The Little Things – This is the episode that saw Sam’s crush on Cindy turn into the harsh reality of a relationship built on infatuation, with no common interests to hold it together. She was shocked that he didn’t want to hang out with all her friends, and he couldn’t believe she thought The Jerk was stupid! The more serious plot of this episode involved Ken’s girlfriend telling him her deepest, darkest secret. The way that Ken and she worked through it all was very realistic and well done, and gave me a greater appreciation for his character.
- Discos and Dragons – This episode actually worked really well as a series finale. My favorite aspect of it was how Daniel started hanging out with the geeks – and having just as much fun with them, if not more, as with his regular friends. He finally found something he was good at in Dungeons and Dragons, and his participation in the game made the other guys feel cooler. I wasn’t as thrilled with the direction the show took Lindsay’s character, which I mentioned earlier. Oh, well. Overall, it was a great episode.
- Sam streaking through the halls at school (Episode 6, “I’m with the Band”) – Sam lived out all of our worst nightmares of being naked at school! It was quite a memorable scene, with him running for cover, and not finding it anywhere.
- Lindsay’s parents read her diary (Episode 10, “The Diary”) – I loved Mr. and Mrs. Weir, and this scene found them torn between giving their daughter privacy vs. making sure she wasn’t getting involved in anything bad. What they read ended up changing how they treated her and each other, which was bittersweet to watch.
- Sam’s feathered hair and baby blue jumpsuit (Episode 11, “Looks and Books”) – Oh, my, this may have been the moment that made me laugh more than anything else on the series. He looked so ridiculous, but then most teenagers go to crazy lengths to achieve coolness, and we usually all fail miserably. He certainly did!
- Bill watching tv and eating an after school snack (various episodes) – Eating snacks and watching tv are part of most people’s childhood, and yet you don’t see it very often on a tv show. I appreciated this glimpse of Bill’s life. Living with a single, working mom, he came home to an empty house, and Garry Shandling kept him company.
- Coach Fredricks invades Bill’s happy home life (Episode 14, “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers”) – From Bill’s incredulous scowl, to the awkwardness of Coach Fredricks drinking out of a mug that had Bill’s name on it, this plot seemed very realistic.
- Daniel’s stint as a punk rocker (Episode 15, “Noshing and Moshing”) – It was so funny watching Daniel make himself into a punk rocker. He looked ridiculous (much like Sam in his jumpsuit), but at least he figured out pretty quickly that the look and lifestyle weren’t working for him.
- Future stars’ cameos – I couldn’t possibly list all the notable names here, but there were several cameos by actors who, at the time, weren’t household names, but who are now widely recognized. For example, any fan of The Office will get a kick out of seeing Rashida Jones (Jim’s ex, Karen) as a school bully who tormented Sam and his friends. Ben Stiller had a one episode stint as a secret service agent to Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was speaking at the high school. Lizzy Caplan (currently best known for her role as Amy in season one of True Blood) also showed up, as a love interest for Nick. Kevin Tighe, Locke’s con artist father on Lost, played Nick’s similarly heartless and cruel dad (he sold Nick’s drum set without asking – that’s almost as bad as stealing a kidney, right?) Aside from the core cast, who have almost all gone on to bigger and better things, the most notable familiar name is producer Judd Apatow. Before he was writing and producing movies like Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, he was making tv shows about awkward teenagers (he later worked on Undeclared, which is about college kids). It’s nice to know that even though Freaks and Geeks didn’t live to see another season, many people who were involved in the show were able to use it as a launching pad for their careers.
Did you ever watch this show? If so, what were your favorite things about it? If not, add it to your rental queue right now. You won’t regret it!