Friday, June 17, 2011

Freaks and Geeks

I still remember how ticked off I was twelve years ago when I read NBC was canceling my favorite television program, Freaks and Geeks.  This brilliant masterpiece was the brainchild of Paul Feig, who wanted to create a real television show about real people.  Oh, how he succeeded!  Scripts inspired by real life experiences translated beautifully; every episode dealt with issues and situations that just about everyone could relate to, in one way or another. 

Freaks and Geeks boasted one of the most talented young casts in the history of television.  All eight of the young stars have gone on to enjoy terrific, and busy, careers.  Several bona fide stars emerged after the premature cancellation of this treasure.  James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daly, Busy Phillips, Martin Starr, and Samm Levine have cashed a lot of paychecks between them.  And it wasn’t just these kids who made it big.  Guest stars such as Shia LaBeouf, Ben Foster, Joanna Garcia, Samaire Armstrong, Kayla Ewell, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Lizzy Caplan, & David Krumholtz all graced the screen in Freaks and Geeks all too brief 18-episode stint.  The adult actors who portrayed the parents and teachers held their own with charm and love.  The Weirs, played by Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker, were especially brilliant and funny.  Star movie maker Judd Apatow added his considerable talents by serving as executive producer.

The program was a nostalgic but realistic look into life in high school for the outsiders.  Day-to-day life of the science fiction nerds and the not-so-smart kids was explored in a way that was tender, but not sappy.  And it really hit a chord in me.  Set in 1980, John Francis Daly’s character, Sam Weir, was the exact age I was at that time.  I remember many of the tribulations Sam suffered through like dealing with girls, upperclassmen, bullies, and the general cruelties in the life of freshmen in high school.  Sam remains my favorite character.

Every episode is written with love and they never shied away from tough topics such as drug use, cheating, and tumultuous home lives.  Even when writing about some touchy subjects, the writers did not use sensationalism to get their point across.  Instead, they used honesty and poignancy.  And it all worked.  Every single episode.

I just watched the series, from start to finish, with my pre-teen son, on DVD.  We enjoyed every minute of it.  From the familiar storylines to the unbelievable performances, from the carefully crafted writing to the terrific original soundtrack, it was a nice experience to stroll down memory lane with my son.  When we were done, I again regretted there weren’t more episodes.  In typical fashion, with the general impatience of TV execs in general, and NBC’s usual clueless ness specifically, the show wasn’t given a chance to find its foothold.  Everyone I knew who watched it loved it.  There just weren’t enough of us I guess.  I think the show had a degree of controversy with some of its realism that may have scared the network away from giving it a far shake.  NBC actually cancelled it twice and never did air all eighteen episodes.  What a waste of greatness.

It just isn’t me who loves this show.  Both of the publications Time and Entertainment Weekly have lauded the show in “greatest” and “best of” lists.  The show takes place in 1980 but anyone between the ages of 40 and 50 will feel familiar with the setting.  Anyone though, from the age about 11 on up will recognize the joy and the angst of growing up.  These feelings are universal and can’t be credited to just one period of time.  Do yourself a favor and grab this true television classic and take a funny, poignant trip down memory lane.  You won’t regret it.

Look for updates on twitter - Joel Wagler@jawsrecliner

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