Stephen King once said that he didn’t trust anyone who enjoyed high school, and I have to agree. I mean, obviously, there are certain things you might enjoy. Maybe you had a favorite teacher, or an awesome class where you were lucky enough to learn something that’s actually stuck with you. Maybe you found true love during high school, or struck up a friendship with someone who still has your back to this day. Overall, though, what is there really to like? Freaks and Geeks covers everything you’ve tried hard to forget: being picked on in the locker room, awkward first relationships, even more awkward first break-ups, your parents giving you a hard time by ruining your good times – but watching it is way better (and way funnier) than re-living it.
I never watched Freaks and Geeks while it was on the air. Critically acclaimed, yet plagued with low ratings, this intelligent, witty show didn’t even make it through its first season on NBC. It’s set in the early 80s and focuses on the Weir family (and more specifically on the Weir children). Lindsay, a 16-year-old straight-A mathlete, begins to hang out with a different crowd. Smokers, drinkers, class-cutters – your standard bad bananas. On the other hand, Sam, who is just a couple of years younger than Lindsay, is a freshman in the same high school. He and his best friends like to quote Star Wars and The Jerk. They enjoy sci-fi conventions, complete with costumes and makeup. Their closest interaction with the opposite sex is when a girl accidentally bumps into them in the hallway. They are your standard nerds.
Judd Apatow spearheaded the show, writing and directing many of the episodes, but the cast he acquired would make any casting director weep with jealousy. Well, not back then, obviously, because nobody knew who James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel were in 1999. Apatow even got Jason Schwartzman, Shia LaBeouf and Ben Stiller to guest star in various episodes. None of this was enough to save the show from cancellation. Thankfully, you can watch all 13 episodes of the series on DVD and relive, and cringe, at some of the episodes that might hit close to home for you. Here are my top three episodes:
“Tricks and Treats”
Sam and his friends decide to go trick-or-treating one last time as young adulthood stares them straight in the eye and says, “Aren’t you guys a little old for this?” Meanwhile, Lindsay goes out with her friends to raise hell on Halloween, even though she promised her mother that she would help hand out cookies to the trick-or-treaters. The two Weir children’s nights smash into each other (in a way, literally) and both are left with a bad taste in their mouths (not because of those gross candy peanuts, either). The standout scene in this episode is the montage of Sam, Bill and Neal (the original geek squad) putting their costumes on. Bill dressed up as the Bionic Woman talking to himself in the mirror is both hilarious and somewhat sad at the same time. Make sure to check out the special features on the DVD for an extended take of that scene.
Mr. Weir: Sam, what are you doing? You’re too old to go out trick or treating.
Mrs. Weir: Oh, Harold. Stop.
Mr. Weir: Well, it’s true. There was this kid in my neighborhood growing up. Scott Byron. He kept on trick or treating until he was well into his 20s. You know where he’s living now? At home! With his 90-year-old mother. He’s the laughingstock of the community. Never took a wife, either.
One of the storylines in this episode deals with the geeks playing baseball in gym. Bill believes that he could be a good player, but because of his nerdy, lanky physique his skills are consistently overlooked. Bill takes revenge on his gym teacher by doing the adult thing to do: Bill prank calls him. The other storyline has Lindsay’s parents reading her diary and they learn exactly what Lindsay thinks about them. A warning to parents who are thinking about reading their kid’s diary: be prepared to be insulted. A warning to kids who have a diary: hide it better.
Sam: Think we can be arrested for making prank calls?
Neal: Yeah, and then we’ll get sent to telephone prison.
“Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers”
The same gym teacher that Bill prank calls begins dating his mom. Ouch. And ewww. The gym teacher (played by Tom Wilson who is best known as Biff in the Back to the Future movies) tries hard to buddy up with Bill, but it’s of little use. There are two scenes in this episode that I particularly like. The first is a very simple scene in which Bill comes home from school to an empty apartment. He makes himself a toasted cheese sandwich, cuts himself a huge piece of chocolate cake, and pours himself a tall, cold glass of milk. He flips on the tube and watches a stand-up routine by Garry Shandling, all the while The Who’s “I’m One” plays in the background. Don’t ask me why I like that scene so much because I wouldn’t be able to give you a good enough answer. Maybe because sometimes it’s the little things in life (a slice of cake, a well-told joke, etc.) that can really make someone happy, even if it’s for the briefest of moments. The second scene is when Nick (Jason Segel) performs a song he’s written about Lindsay to Ken (Seth Rogen). “Lady L” perfectly captures teen love and loss mixed with a huge dose of mediocrity.
Nick: (just got done playing “Lady L” for Ken) What’d you think?
Ken: You know, I thought I’d hate it, but I kind of liked it.
Ken: No, man. That was terrible. “Lady L”?
Ken: You shouldn’t use your real name, writing that stuff.
Nick: Well, I think that as long as I’m using real emotions that… that’s all that matters.
Ken: Lots of wackos use their real emotions.
Go to your local Slackers and pick up this show. If you watch all the Freaks and Geeks episodes and can’t identify with any of the characters, then you’re a liar and I’m going to challenge you to a fight. I’ll be out by the smoking patio after third period. Be there.