Freaks and Geeks introduced the world to some of the most popular names in film and television such as Paul Feig, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, and Linda Cardellini. The show followed a bunch of teenagers in the 1980s who could be deemed misfits to ordinary students. Freaks and Geeks was quickly canceled in the first season as it was a very low-rated show on NBC; however, it lives on as a classic gem that managed to be nominated for several Primetime Emmys: Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. The short-lived series managed to win the latter. It’s been well over 20 years since the pilot of Freaks and Geeks, does the first episode hold up to the modern times of today’s culture?
Here are my biggest criticism of Freaks and Geeks, James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel don’t necessarily look like high school teenagers. Granted, it wasn’t such a big distraction that it took away from my enjoyment of the pilot, but it was definitely a noticeable thing. Otherwise, Freaks and Geeks is arguably one of the more realistic depictions of high school life that’s ever-graced television. None of the characters feel unnatural or forced, and surprisingly, there isn’t someone dealing with teenage angst. In some ways, Freaks and Geeks is a tamer version of Degrassi. It isn’t as insane as that popular teenage soap opera, but there are moments that strongly resonate with a good portion of the demographic that it’s targeting. Given the fact that this is based on the experiences of the writers themselves (though Paul Feig wrote the pilot episode), it’s no surprise that everything feels authentic. Linda Cardellini’s Lindsay Weir was a great choice to mostly focus the pilot on. She has a sympathetic backstory that helps you understand the pain that she’s dealing with, but her character comes across as likable. Lindsay isn’t trying to not be like most girls, there’s just a natural swagger about her that makes her come across as human and not Hollywood’s stereotypical version of what these types of girls are. Her even trying to help Eli didn’t come across as phony as the progression of that arc was pretty grounded and human. She knows why these bullies make fun of this kid, but she makes a blunder of calling out his mental illness without truly understanding his mindset. It’s that human flaw that gets the better of us, and the writers did a wonderful job of incorporating that into the pilot.
However, it’s not just Lindsay that shines here, but the core cast mostly, though on the nerd side mainly. It’s not hard to feel compassion for Neal, Sam, or Bill as they just trying to survive everyday school. Like Cardellini, they’re also a likeable bunch and the first episode of building up the bully (Alan White) before their revenge was an effective storyline. However, the show doesn’t just rely on these tropes to tap into the viewers core, they actually take the time to invest audiences into the characters of the series. That’s why we’re happy when Sam gets his first dance. Or Bill and Neal stand up for themselves against Alan. However, the short end of the stick is that we don’t get much on the side of Daniel, Nick, and Ken. They’re fine as characters, and the budding romance between Nick and Sam is wisely taking its time, but by the time the end credits roll then the geeks are the ones that make the impact on the pilot. This isn’t to say that this is a bad thing. The pilot needs a clear focus and trying to balance the lives of every one of the core cast members would simply be too much for a one-hour pilot. Daniel, Nick, and Ken do enough to let audiences know that they play an important part of the series, yet never felt outplace with the world that’s being portrayed in Freaks and Geeks. Well, other than the fact that they seemed older than the typical high school student. Nonetheless, it was a good idea to first build-up Lindsey before she officially joined the geeks. It gives a more complex layer surrounding more characters and there’s a greater play here with the dynamic of the cast. It’s just a shame that won’t be explored to the depths that the show should’ve gone.
There’s no telling whether the show would’ve been a success had it released in today’s landscape, but Freaks and Geeks feels timeless thanks to its approach to its subject matter.
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