Two weeks ago, I read a tweet that made my nerdy heart skip a beat:
@JuddApatow hey, Freaks & Geeks reunion? In March a live reunion during Paley TV festival is coming together. Ten years.
Thanks to DVD boxset revival and of course, illegal downloads, the 2000 cult TV show Freaks and Geeks has clawed back from the NBC graveyard and in to the lives of the postgraduate generation. When creating the show, writer Paul Feig veered away from the regular high-school schtick that swarmed TV in the late 90s. He set Freaks and Geeks at a time he understood-out of the groundbreaking 70s and into a less liberating era of the 1980s. I didn’t realise this at the time as, being a freak myself in those days, my clothes were identical to the casts’.
The thing I loved about the show was that it was so innately normal. The cast acted like normal teenagers, rather than providing the impossible beauty and melodrama you saw on shows like The O.C.
They had greasy haired girls in baggy army jackets that men still spoke to. It was a revelation!
If you don’t remember the show, you’ll remember the cast. Despite its unsavoury cancellation after one season, many of the Freaks and Geeks crew went on to become some of the best known faces in Hollywood:
Character: Ken Miller
Also known as: Seth Rogen
Best moment: Dancing to disco to discover if he might be gay
Best line: “I always say girl plus car equals dead animal.”
Rogen’s character Ken had the best lines in the series with the slimmest dialogue. He was chunky, sulky and had a perm to rival Brian May. Even still, Ken made Freaks and Geeks. Watch Rogen’s audition tape and it’s easy to see why he is now one of the biggest names in comedy. With those deep set eyes and soft little smile, it was hard not to love him, and still is. He’s like a Jewish koala.
Rogen went on to star in Dawson’s Creek for one episode and then to greater heights, starring in KNOCKED UP, FUNNY PEOPLE and also established himself as a great comedy writer with SUPERBAD (a script he wrote with friend Evan Goldberg at just 15).
Character: Nick Andopoli
Also known as: Jason Segel
Best moment: Spontaneously singing “Jesus is just alright” with Millie.
Best line: “Wow, that dinner smells good. Let me guess… meat?
There isn’t anyone in the world who doesn’t know a Nick. He had a big gummy smile, lanky stature and endearing naivety. The kind of guy who could get hit by a car and then lye on the road laughing about it. He fell in love so easily. Two episodes in, he was crazy for the main character, Lindsay, creating one of the best on screen couples I have ever seen. Their relationship was scarily true to life, full of fear and bruised egos. Nothing scares a teenage girl more than, “I just want to hold you”. Sad as it is, when I was 14, all I could think was, screw Lindsay, I’ll hold you Nick!
This character has served Jason Segel well; he didn’t stray too far from this acting style in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. Though Freaks and Geeks had no naked weeping. Aside from starring in How I met your mother, Segel is writing the new MUPPETS movie with Nick Stoller. If the rock opera A taste for love was anything to go by, his creation is going to be amazing.
Character: Daniel Desario
Also known as: James Franco
Best Moment: When he plays Dungeons and Dragons with the geeks and demands that his dwarf should be called Carlos.
Best line: “That designated driver is hot. I’d like to get her drunk.”
Daniel didn’t have the best comedic value of the troop but with his gaunt, pretty face and crooked smile, it was inevitable he’d go on to star in feature films. Daniel was the supposed to be the real delinquent (cue battered leather jacket) but he always looked too sleepy to do any real damage. The best moments came from his tempestuous relationship with the permanently PMT Kim (Busy Philipps),
“Quit it (playing music) Kim, you’ll bow the speakers”-Daniel
“OK I won’t blow anything of yours from now on”. -Kim
James Franco is arguably the most successful of the freaks, taking a more serious slant on his acting. But between the pensive acting roles in SPIDERMAN and MILK, he still squeezes in the odd Funny or Die web-video and even reunited with Ken in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. A wonderful moment.
Character: Lindsay Weir
Also known as: Linda Cardellini
Best Moment: At the end of the shows first pilot, Lindsay asks Eli (a guy in the class with learning difficulties) to dance. Lindsay throws off her army jacket and they dance around like kids to Come Sail Away by Styxx. It’s so god damn beautiful I could cry (and do, every time I see it on Youtube, which, sadly, is a lot).
Best line: (To George Bush Snr) “Mr. Vice president, why did your staff reject my question, are you afraid of an open discourse with the students?”
Like most clever girls her age, Lindsay was a strange contradiction of ‘meek and unique’. It may sound ridiculous now, but at the time, Lindsay was a serious role model (please remember, it was a small pool-it was either her or Alicia Silverstone). In 2003 Linda Cardellini popped up on ER and I couldn’t help thinking “Lindsay, what are you doing? Get away from that IV!” She has kept a low profile since but expect to see her, minus the army jacket, in KILL THE IRISHMAN released 2011.
Character: Kim Kelly
Also known as: Busy Philipps
Best moment: When she sees Daniel flirting with her friend and drives her car at him like a maniac through the basketball court.
Best line: “You’re like my best friend Lindsay, and you’re a total looser!”
Ah Kim, the girl with the temper of a hung-over hippo. Busy Philipps played this part so well; her persona was all about the face- her mouth always open in disgust and her eyes narrowed in hatred. Girls like this at school were infinitely terrifying, normally because they were doing drugs, driving cars and having sex when you were still saving money to buy Smash Hits. I had a friend just like Kim at school, she dumped me for a better model when I wouldn’t sniff gas with her. Now she works at the petrol station. And the better model? You know what happened to her? SHE DIED!*
*this reference may be a little obscure if you haven’t seen every episode.
Busy can be seen in episodes of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICALS with a HUGE (real!) pregnant belly and continues to star alongside Monica in the series COUGAR TOWN.
And the rest…
Now of course there was more to this seminal show than 5 Freaks. There was one unfortunate trio who owned the series and it included Sam, Neal and Bill Haverchuck. A personal favourite was always Neal, that kid in class who always wore business shoes and used humour beyond his years. The best line in the series belongs to him,
“I’m Jewish. That’s no cakewalk either. Last year, I was elected school treasurer. I didn’t even run!”
I felt their pain of climbing the freehand rope, being picked last for every sport, realising all to late that you’re too old for trick or treating. It kills me that they’re all grown up now, I still wince every time I see Sam giving his psychological analogy on Bones. Did anyone else notice that Bill was the ‘shoebomber/muslim Cat Stevens’ from KNOCKED UP? Forget drinking or renting a flat-that was the moment I realised I had come of age. Watch the video below to see Sam, Neal and Bill together in their acting prime:
Along with the likes of Bach, Vermeer and eh, My So Called Life, Freaks and Geeks was never appreciated in its time. NBC quashed their teenaged dreams (for a minute) after just one series. What makes this even more poignant is that they always knew it was coming. Creators Judd Apatow and Paul Feig made the pilot to act as a self contained story in case it never got picked up. When they were in danger of being cancelled, they rushed to film a final episode to help offer closure to the series. Three episodes later, the show was axed.