Whereas most movies about high school are satirized, sexualized, sugared pink and varsity blue, Freaks and Geeks colors high school in the explicit shade I remember: gray, bleak and disenchanting aloft the warm glimmer of graduation.
The AV Club membership comes with a D&D package. Freaks and Geeks. Creative Commons.1
The shouldn't-have-been canceled show takes course in a Detroit suburb high school where biting reality censures individuality and ambition. Immediately I was struck by the mise-en-scene’s muted tonalities and subtle traces of Patti Smith and drug limbo, delicately asserting the show’s 1979-1981 premise. It’s tacit that the characters are preoccupied by sex and drugs but creator Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow don’t rely on easy devices, making this high school sitcom accessible, nuanced and mature, a coming-of-age that came to age. Freaks and Geeks's tribute to high school doesn’t parody the fourteen year-old id, but rather delegates our experiences through the namesake freak and geek, Lindsay and Sam Weir.
Weir'd out - siblings Lindsay and Sam (front). Freaks and Geeks. Creative Commons.2
Sam Weir (John Francis Daley) is afraid of sex and booze, preferring Stars Wars and Steve Martin on any given Friday. As a geek, he likes girls but can only talk to his mom and older sister, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), a sixteen year-old goody-goody cum grungy ex-mathlete. She is neither Mean nor Gossip, Interrupted nor Gilmore: normal, really, but mislabeled as freak instead of misunderstood, well-intentioned and just. Asking the retarded boy to Homecoming, helping potheads cheat math class, and defending mortified Sam from bullies: all for story development and simultaneously as the most plausible adaptation of my own four years.
"Don't mind us, just realistic..." Freaks and Geeks. Creative Commons.3
"How embarrassing, it's after Labor Day!" Gossip Girl. Creative Commons.4
The cast is the best I’ve seen but the surprise performance is Apatow’s. Actors have to adapt; producers aren’t expected to. Noticeably absent were his pedestrian pharma-phallocentric humor (“dope n’ dick jokes,” my cousin calls it) and predictably unpredictable narratives. Freaks and Geeks presents, but not boasts, thoughtful composition, livid undertones, motifs, sound manipulation, evocative camera movement and a complex female lead: all the highbrow aesthetics Apatow, a former USC student, is shy to show.
In fact, Apatow’s fingerprints emerge mainly from the casting: his frat-pack of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Martin Starr and Jason Siegel play major roles. Cronyism is overlooked, however: the characters stray far from typecast (Rogan plays sad and lovelorn; Franco, heterosexual) and acting styles are painstakingly individualized. With little doubt is Freaks and Geeks Apatow’s best defense to criticisms of monotony, testifying his craftsmanship beyond Pineapple Express-ionism.
But my point: there is no need to hyper-exaggerate the most gawkish interlude of our lives. Easily was I amused and nostalgic from watching Lindsay cram for Academic Decathlon and dancing to the Grateful Dead. It’s not hard to make high school entertaining but Hollywood rarely gets this right (Hollywood was probably home-schooled) and Apatow consistently does (Superbad is quintessentially his). But then again, maybe sex and drugs aren’t forefront in Freaks and Geeks since AIDS wasn’t invented yet and Nancy Reagan just started that redecorating project. For historical integrity, right, Judd?
1. "AV Club Geeks." Creative Commons. Allen Sepinwall. 26 Aug. 2007.
2. "Freaks and Geeks." Creative Commons. Signore Direttore. 7 Feb. 2009.
3. "Lindsay and Nick." Creative Commons. Allen Sepinwall. 14 July 2007.
4. "Gossip Girl Promo." Creative Commons. Fanpop. 2008.
5. "Goddess and Mortal." Creative Commons. Allen Sepinwall. 19 July 2007.