Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks is a show from a decade ago that was liked by everyone who saw it. Unfortunately, the number of people who saw it was too small, and it was canceled after one season. It's still relatively well known today though, because it was produced by and starred several names that are still big today, most notably Judd Apatow and his favored actors Jason Segel, James Franco, and Seth Rogen. The trio form the "freaks", new friends of protagonist Lindsay Weir who prefer smoking pot and jamming in their garage band to focusing on school work. Lindsay's young brother Sam and his two friends played by Samm Levine and additional Apatow veteran Martin Starr are the geeks, who have less trouble with grades but have to worry about bullies and getting girls to notice them.

The cast is rounded out by Busy Philipps as Franco's girlfriend and the Weir siblings' parents, both of whom I don't recall seeing elsewhere but add a lot to the show, especially Joe Flaherty as the stern but lovable father, who might actually be my favorite character despite the good work by the more famous cast members. There's also a ton of easily recognizable actors in supporting and guest roles, such as David Krumholtz as Levine's older brother, Jason Schwartzman as a guy who can get fake IDs, Shia LaBeouf as the former school mascot, Joel from Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a guy who won't let disco go, and Biff from Back to the Future as a somewhat misguided but well-meaning gym teacher.

The show takes place in the early 80s, but it has a more timeless feel thanks to the nature of the storylines, which probably won't be going away for a while. Lindsay is tired of being an ace student and wants to have new experiences, frequently butting heads with her parents' wishes. And Sam and his friends try to deal with getting embarrassed in class and wondering if they'll ever find a way to get more friends, or at least stop getting picked on. I saw a lot of the show when it was on air, but I've been meaning to go back and watch the whole thing for a while. Once I did, it was like I had never stopped watching. Some of the moments they go for are a bit cheesy or forced, but for the most part it's one of the most realistic takes on the high school experience you'll ever see in the media, especially from the outcast's point of view. It struck a chord with me being pretty similar to the geeks especially, as they ask for video games for their birthdays and play Dungeons & Dragons instead of going to parties.

Sam and Lindsay get the most screen time, but pretty much every main character has a real chance to shine despite only 18 episodes being made, like Starr's mother dating a teacher and Levine discovering his father's secret in one of the greatest ever TV moments. Among the students, Franco and Segel give the best overall performances, and Segel's troubling emotional and domestic issues in particular are well handled. I don't know what the plan was if the show got a chance to really grow, but what there is here is just a unique experience, pretty much perfect for what it tries to be. I can't imagine many people not seeing at least one sympathetic character they can relate to. Seeing it get canceled was possibly my first experience with that kind of heartbreak, and watching it ten years later it still tugs on those strings.

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