Five Reasons to watch Freaks and Geeks

September 7, 2010 Adam Thomas

alt

I recently bought the Freaks and Geeks DVD set and felt
obligated to let everyone know about the awesomeness of the show. If you haven’t
seen it, check it out. Is it time to give 5 reasons why?  It’s time to give 5 reasons why.
(I know I did “Ten Reasons to Watch Mad Men” but I thought most of those reasons were single characters, so I just cut it down to five for this article and included the characters as one category on their own.)

Also, be warned, as there are mild spoilers ahead.

1.) It’s the most honest show about high school you’ll ever
see. Look, I love Friday Night Lights, but some of their sub-plots are
ridiculous (Landry piping some dude in the skull). Freaks and Geeks doesn’t go this
sort of route.  Their characters
dream big and have ideas that are grandiose in theory but end up being
regular in reality.

Take, for instance, when Kim Kelly and Lindsay Weir go
hitchhiking to open up an episode. 
Lindsay is all excited, hoping that they’ll pick up an artist or an
ex-convict, someone interesting who knows more about the world than they do and
can tell them about it, someone like Dean Moriarty from “On the Road,” which
they are reading in class.

What happens? 
They get picked up by a regular suburbanite who shops at Lindsay’s dad’s
sporting goods store and feels “obliged to tell him what you’re up to.” That’s
high school in a nutshell.  You
come up with extravagant plans, awesome ideas, only to be left with ordinary
results. In high school, Jack Kerouac doesn’t wheel you around town, you get a
ride from your neighbor.

alt2.) Martin Starr kills it as Bill (pictured to the right).  What a performance. He goes from hilarious episodes like
“The Diary” to painful episodes like “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” without
missing a beat and without the audience ever doubting that Bill Haverchuck is
in fact a real person and not just a character on TV. One of the greatest
under-seen and under-appreciated performances of all time.

3.) The cast.  I
know I singled out Martin Starr above, but everyone on the show is
fantastic.  I mean, a cast that
includes James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segal reads like an A-list comedy
movie these days, and to get them all on one show is like having Lebron, D-Wade
and Bosh on one team. 

James Franco is iconic as Daniel Desario, so iconic that I spent
some time and cash in high school on flannel shirts, boots and black knit hats (see below) trying to emulate my original man crush.

Busy Philips is great as Kim Kelly and Linda Cardellini is
perfect, and perfectly gorgeous, as main character Lindsay Weir. The geeks are
also all perfectly cast as are the parents and Mr. Rosso, the hippie guidance counselor.

4.) I touched on honesty already, but the episode “Beers and
Weirs,”
where the geeks swap out a keg of real beer for a keg of fake beer at
the freaks planned party, is a stroke of genius.  Why?  Cause the
geeks assume the freaks will know it’s fake beer and the party will end, but
what ends up happening, and what definitely WOULD happen at a high school
party, is everyone pretends that they’re getting wasted and everyone acts like
their drunk (except for Rogen’s character, Ken).

altSee, what the geeks don’t know is that the freaks aren’t as
worldly and knowledgeable as they would like you to believe.  They may have experience with drinking,
but they are still teenagers and don’t know as much as they think they do.  Also, mega bonus points for the scene when
geeky Bill gets loaded by himself in Sam’s room by drinking the real keg and
puts the little plastic baseball batter’s helmet on his head, holy shit is that hilarious.

5.) Round characters. 
In writing, there are round characters, ones who have depth and many
dimensions to their personality, and there are flat characters, characters that
are one dimensional and boring. An example of a flat character is someone like
Vincent Chase, an example of a round characters is pretty much everyone on
Freaks and Geeks.

Take the bully, Alan, for example. He is arguably the
flattest character on the show, but even he has a back-story and character arc
that is interesting.

At the shows start, he is just an asshole who is mean to the
geeks, but by the end of the series, we see that his anger is grounded in a
longing to be accepted by the geeks and while he may want to be friends with
them and like the stuff that they like (which he does in secret anyway), he is
still too self conscious to allow himself to be seen with the geeks at a comic
convention. Subtlety tragic, perfectly believable, and, unfortunately for many
of us in high school who spent too much time caring what other people thought,
completely true.

Another example is the freaks in the episode “We’ve Got
Spirit.”  At episode’s beginning,
the freaks are making fun of everyone getting so pumped up for the big
basketball game with rival high school Lincoln. Then some Lincoln kids throw
liquid at them, which Ken hopes is just water but suspects is something worse, they
retaliate by spray-painting the Lincoln kids’ car and end up brawling with
them. By the time the big game rolls around, Kim, Daniel and Ken are not only
going to the game, but are cheering on McKinley High basketball louder than
everyone else.  It’s funny, heart
warming, completely unexpected and believable, one of my favorite of the freaks’ subplots.

It’s character arc at its best.

(Side Note: I
know I pick on Entourage a lot, but that’s only because I liked it for a time
in college and I really want all the time I spent with the show back. It
deserves to be critiqued cause it is poorly written and lazy and the fact that
shows like Entourage and The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men get to
continue—and continue with good ratings–while Freaks and Geeks gets canceled
after one season really shakes my faith in humanity. Especially after hearing that plans for Season two included awesome things like Kim Kelly joining the drama club and Bill joining the basketball team.)

I’ve always said LOST and The Wire and Mad Men are my
favorite shows ever.  But after
getting re-acquainted with Freaks and Geeks, I may have to amend that.  LOST can plod at times, The Wire is
depressing as all get out and makes you wary of man’s ability to live with one
another, and Mad Men can sometimes be very obtuse and abstract, a little too
proud of its own intellect.

I’m not saying Freaks and Geeks is not without flaws (I’m
looking at you, Cindy Sanders), but when I watch it, I tend to wonder if
television can get any better than what I’m watching. You catch me at the right
time, say at the end of series finale “Disco’s and Dragons” and I’d be inclined
to say that no, it can’t get any better than this.

alt

This post was written by Adam Thomas

1 Comment

  • Cameryn says:

    After failing to book Jimmy Fallon on the podcast, Connor instead talks to his good friend, comedian Alex Song-Xia, whose brief time as a writer on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon ended before her contract was up.  Also, Rolling Stone’s chief TV critic and Band of Brothers aficionado Alan Sepinwall weighs in on the character Lieutenant George Rice, played by Fallon in the epic mini-series. His new podcast Too Long; Didn’t Watch is now available Episode Transcript — Follow the show @deadeyespodcast Advertise on Dead Eyes via Gumball.fm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *