Bring Joy to a Gen Xer with Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series
While I enjoy quality television, I'm not a huge TV addict. And it's rare indeed for me to watch a show twice. So why do I find myself smack in the middle of a third tear through "Freaks and Geeks," the seminal 1999 TV series that put Judd Apatow on the map and introduced the world to Seth Rogen, James Franco & Jason Segel?
Easy answer: my kids! Watching the show with them has been a fun, hilarious (and dare I say even a teeny-tiny bit "educational"?) way to introduce them to what it was like attending a Midwestern public high school back in the 1980s, when bullies ran amok (though, thankfully, without cyber capabilities); malls sold synthetic leisure suits to gullible young men; and "Come Sail Away" was the theme of pretty much every dance, including a memorable one that closes out one of these 18 precious episodes.
In my mind, this is some of the best-written material in TV history. If you're a 40something like me, you'll laugh, you'll cry as you follow protagonist Lindsay Weir through an identity crisis of sorts that pulls her from a straightlaced, straight-A, Mathletes existence to an alternate universe of smashing pumpkins, rocking to Rush, and getting called in regularly for corrective rap sessions with a well-meaning hippie guidance counselor. This crowd--the titular "Freaks," known in my Indiana school as the Burnouts--is juxtaposed beautifully with another set of misfits, the Geeks, starring Lindsay's adorably insecure younger brother Sam. Through the series we come to love the quirky but close Weir family, not least the dad, who is given many of the show's best one-liners. (My sons are still quoting him from the disastrous Halloween episode: "Last time I had this much fun, I was pinned down in a foxhole by the North Koreans.")
What's interesting is that the first time I saw Freaks and Geeks, not long after it aired, I related firmly with the teen characters, but now I identify both with them and their parents. Treading lightly, I've been able to talk a bit with my teens about topics like loyalty among friends, uncomfortable romantic entanglements, conscience, honesty, substance use, and a lot more--all triggered by really fun 45-minute bursts of entertainment.
For celeb spotters, this series is a virtual Who's Who. Besides the aforementioned Franco, Rogen & Segel, "Girls" fans will enjoy seeing Hannah's mom as Lindsay's mom; and Mad Men aficionados will relish Don Draper's sensitive 30s-ish mistress (the terrific Linda Cardellini) as an equally sensitive, and much more complex, teen. Other big names pop up in small parts both sympathetic (Shia LeBeouf) and antagonistic (Rashida Jones).
Maybe it's because I'm such a huge music fan, but many of my favorite Freaks and Geeks moments are musical. The guidance counselor belting out Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" in his office to kid listeners who are about 98% appalled, 2% admiring. Segel's hapless Nick pantomiming Styx's "Lady" to a creeped-out, somewhat "accidental" girlfriend (I'm no spoiler, so I won't say who). Rogen's sardonic Ken smashing Nick's guitar ("look, I'm Pete Townshend!") when he starts playing a bombastic original composition to try and win back this (now-ex) girlfriend. And a band audition that will sting the heart of anyone who's ever been rejected for anything--which is basically all of us.
Go ahead, find your own favorite moments. The possibilities are endless, with this incomparable series that almost makes me want to go back to high school, and the '80s. Almost.
(Rubix Cube background photo: Gracedustin via flickr cc)
It's tragic that only 18 episodes were shot -- but at least they're all available now for your binge-watching pleasure.
Hey Gen Xers!
Use "Freaks & Geeks" to introduce your teenage kids to 1980s style...
and much much more!
Apatow's follow-up- series casts Rogen in a big part and many others from the Freaks and Geeks cast in small roles -- but, to me, was nowhere near as great as F&G. Still worth checking out, especially if you enjoyed the Rogen-Jay Baruchel teamup in "This Is The End." They both feature prominently in this series.
~ poll! Which were you in high school? ~
Another of my favorite-ever coming-of-age series, with a starmaking role for Claire Danes.