A Fan(Girl)’s Notes: FREAKS AND GEEKS and My 5 Favorite Episodes

Freaks and Geeks DVD cover via http://www.covershut.com/covers/Freaks-And-Geeks-Complete-Series-Front-Cover-12859.jpg
While TV critics hailed Freaks and Geeks when it premiered in 1999, and kept praising it until the bitter end, the show’s ratings started out bad and got worse. Only a very tiny audience actually managed to find it, thanks to a network that jerked it around the schedule, pre-empted it frequently, and cancelled it unceremoniously without even airing all of the episodes. It’s even more apparent in hindsight that NBC didn’t know what it had in this show, or what to with it, which makes it a fine example of the “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” Principle.

Syndication, DVD, and streaming have given this very nice thing back to us, and since I was not part of that original tiny viewing audience, I am appreciative and grateful. It is truly difficult to choose five favorite episodes of a show that only produced 18 of them, and none that were genuine clunkers. I’ll attempt it anyway, but without ranking in order of preference.

Synopses and commentary about these episodes are quoted from The AV Club TV Club Freaks and Geeks Rewatch and The AV Club Freaks and Geeks Walkthrough (parts 1-5).

Episode 4, “Kim Kelly Is My Friend”

There are three things this show does very well that are depicted beautifully here. The first is the shifting allegiances of being an adolescent, the way that trying on those new guises means not just that you might end up hanging out with a different clique but that you might end up hanging out with new people within that clique. The second is the ever-growing sense that Lindsay, much as she likes hanging out with the Freaks, doesn’t quite understand what she’s gotten herself into…she carries many, many assumptions about the way life is from how she’s been raised, and hanging out with the Freaks quickly disabuses her of those notions. Finally, ‘Kim Kelly Is My Friend’ vividly depicts the way that going over to a friend’s house as a kid is sometimes a one-way ticket to realizing just how great a gulf exists between you and that person.”

Episode 8, “Girlfriends and Boyfriends”

“‘Girlfriends And Boyfriends’  may have become likely the most famous episode of the show for one simple reason: Everybody has liked someone who doesn’t like them back. Everybody has been liked by someone and been unable to return the favor. And sooner or later, all that unchecked emotion spills over the edge, and everybody gets uncomfortable. Sooner or later, we’ll all be Nick Andopolis, howling out our love. But sooner or later, we’ll all be Lindsay Weir as well, unable to deal with whatever it is that’s going on in front of us, just wishing it would stop already.”

Episode 11, “Looks and Books”

“If Freaks And Geeks is about trying on personas, then it also needs to be about how trying on all of those personas can eventually lead to a truer self. The central tension of the series is between mathlete Lindsay and Freak Lindsay, and…Freaks And Geeks holds that tension in its head nicely. Lindsay probably stands a better chance of getting into MIT if she’s first block on the Mathletes, but she’s also not direly hurting herself by hanging out with the Freaks. Indeed, they, in many ways, give her the confidence to be more truly herself. There doesn’t have to be a line between the Lindsay who dresses conservatively and in pink and the Lindsay who sneaks out of a sleepover to go to a midnight movie. They can be two parts of the same complicated person.”

Episode 14, “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers”

Despite there being two names of cliques in the title, the characters are basically good-hearted and nice to each other across clique lines. Even jocks like Todd are nice to geeks like Sam when they need be, and no line is so impermeable that it can’t be crossed once or twice…World-building and character development take time, and they require a generosity of spirit that isn’t always easy to conjure up….At times, it seems like Freaks And Geeks has nothing but generosity toward its characters. Consider, for instance, that the major storylines in this episode revolve around the pairings of Coach Fredericks (named ‘Ben,’ as it turns out) and Bill, and Kim and Millie.”

Episode 18, “Discos and Dragons”

(T)his was always Lindsay’s story. It was the story of a girl who found the answers she’d built her life around previously wanting and then listened to a different side of her personality for a while. And when even that didn’t work, when she was still the smartest kid in school, even without seeming to try, she went out of her way to blow her life up even more. If this show were from Harold and Jean’s point-of-view, or even Mr. Rosso’s, we might say she was acting out. But because this show is about Lindsay, it never feels that way. She knows the gravity of what she’s doing, but she needs to follow that muse to the ends of the Earth, even if that means her parents may never trust her again.”

I’m dying to talk about this show with you if you’re a fellow Freaks and Geeks fan! What are your favorite episodes? Who are your favorite characters? And were you more of a Freak or a Geek in high school?

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  1. I just can’t believe how many familiar faces are there. Younger, but there. I’ve been watching old episodes of NCIS and Criminal Minds and it has been very interesting seeing who guest starred on those shows back in the beginning. I do remember this show, but did not watch it at the time or I don’t remember it if I did. Will put it on my Netflix list to watch at some point. Kind of reminds me of the Claire Danes show that I am totally blanking on the name. My daughter loved that at the time. Think she was in middle school.

    1. I think that’s MY SO-CALLED LIFE, which is another one-season wonder…and I’ve never watched that one. I’m not sure it’s streaming anywhere at this time–but FREAKS AND GEEKS is, so definitely add it to your queue!

  2. There are a few moments that stick out for me in the show as being really beautiful. One of them, of course, is in the pilot when Lindsey dances at the end and for a few moments, drops everything she is trying to be and embraces both kindness and a complete lack of self consciousness. The other is when Mr. Fredericks answers Sam’s questions, in a conversation we see but do not hear, in a way that brings humor and relief to a kid who had a big chunk of his innocence stolen all at once. The other part that always gets me is when Sam breaks down over his parents buying him an Atari, and we know it is about so much more than that. Being confronted with your friends’ life situations and realizing how good you have it is a startling thing. My dad was/is much more of a Mr. Weir than a Mr. Andropolis.

    1. My parents were very much Mr. and Mrs. Weir, and I actually appreciated that at the time (and still do).

      One of the behind-the-scenes pieces I linked to talked about that scene between Mr. Fredricks and Sam; since they weren’t recording sound anyway, Tom Wilson (Fredricks–or as I still call him via Back to the Future, “Biff”) just told John Francis Daley dirty jokes the whole time, and that definitely got great reactions out of Sam.

      And one of my favorite moments is Daniel playing Dungeons and Dragons with the geeks. Long live Carlos the Dwarf!