Television Review – Freaks and Geeks

Judd Apatow had been the show runner for a couple of television shows before Freaks and Geeks, but most that are familiar with his work will agree that this was his true masterpiece.  Set in Detroit in the 1980’s, the show follows Lindsay and Sam Weir as they attempt to survive the reality of high school.  What Freaks and Geeks offers that other teen shows like Dawson’s Creek don’t is a look at the other side of high school as the tag line says so eloquently, “What high school was like for the rest of us.”  You get to see high school from the side of the “Freaks” (a.k.a. the druggies and burnouts) and the “Geeks,” which as some of you may know, will give you a completely different look at high school.  As a side note, this show is basically the flagship for “Before They Were Famous.”  It is almost inconceivable to look at the actors (and even some of the guest actors, including Ben Foster and a very young Shia LaBeouf) starring in this show and see where they went after this.

Linda Cardellini plays Lindsay Weir, a former Geek who through the length of the show converts to a Freak.  Determined to be seen as cooler, Lindsay starts to change her style and hang out with the leader of the Freaks, Daniel Desario, played by the wonderful James Franco.  Lindsay progressively spends more time with Daniel and the other Freaks (played by Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Busy Phillips) more and more, transforming and finding herself in the process.  On the Geek end of the spectrum is Lindsay’s younger brother, Sam, played by John Carson Daly.  Sam is joined by his friends Bill, played by Martin Starr, and Neil, played by Samm Levine, as they make their best attempt to fit in at a high school where they clearly don’t belong.  In many episodes, the Geeks are tasked with outmaneuvering their arch nemesis, bully Allen (played by Chauncey Leopardi, immortalized as Squints in The Sandlot).

For anyone who was a Freak or a Geek in high school, the tone and situations within this show will really resonate with you.  It’s nice and very offbeat to see a show that doesn’t focus on the popular students, and in this case, it truly is a breath of fresh air.  Instead of watching students deal with their superficial problems and their perfect lives, you get a glimpse of some of the more broken and battered student homes.  Another great aspect of this show is the roles of Lindsay and Sam’s parents, played by Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker.  Watching Lindsay and Sam grow up and adjust to their lives in high school is complimented by their parents dealing with their children mature and come in to their own.  For those of us who aren’t parents, it adds a great deal to be able to watch the parents’ reactions to situations their children are put in.  

The best thing about this show for me is to see so much future fame in one place.  All of the actors in this show are top notch and they prove it here, even before they were famous.  The true highlight in terms of acting is James Franco as Daniel Desario.  He would reach such fame after this, playing bad boys and burnouts in the Spiderman trilogy, Pineapple Express, etc.  It is a real treat to watch him play a bad boy yet again so much earlier in his career.  As Daniel, Franco shows you a sad teen who feels the need to cover up his emotions with anger and drugs.  This show was also a huge jumping off point for Jason Segel and Seth Rogen, both of whom without Judd Apatow would certainly not have the careers that they do today.  Apatow would go on to direct the pair in Knocked Up as well as Rogen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Funny People.

This show is the ringleader for television programs that were cancelled far too early, a fact recognized by many too late.  It was placed at 25 on the list of TV Guide’s Top 25 Cult TV Shows, and Sam Weir earned a spot on VH1’s List of 100 Greatest Teen Stars.  I can promise you that you will enjoy this show.  If you have ever gone to high school, then you will appreciate all of the trials and tests these characters go through; and if you’ve enjoyed Judd Apatow’s films (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People), then you will certainly enjoy his more subtle humored, character driven high school show.

Final Grade: A