Binge Watchin' TV Review: Freaks & Geeks
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: Freaks & Geeks
Number of Seasons: 1
Where to watch: Netflix, DVD (buy here), Amazon Prime, iTunes
What’s the show about? : Teenagers Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) try to navigate life as a high schooler circa 1981 with the support of their friends – the titular “Freaks” (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Busy Philipps) and “geeks” (Samm Levine, Martin Starr).
Why should I watch?: If Freaks & Geeks had come along ten years later it would have been one of the biggest shows on TV. It likely would have found a home on either a cable network like AMC or on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon where it would have run for years and years. Sadly, back in 1999 internet streaming was confined to poor quality movie trailers (in antiquated “Real Video”) and Remember WENN was probably the closest thing AMC had to original programming (only HBO was really on a roll at this time, with The Sopranos and Oz). Thus, Freaks & Geeks, the brainchild of Judd Apatow – then a TV producer coming off a run on The Larry Sanders Show – and Paul Feig went to ABC and only managed to eke out eighteen episodes before getting cancelled (only fifteen actually aired).
It didn’t hurt that around the time the show finally hit DVD, Judd Apatow was on a huge roll with movies like THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, and stars James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel were just starting to break out. By the time it hit Netflix a few years later, the cult exploded and now it’s universally acclaimed as one of the greatest shows in television history – status I won’t argue with.
In a way the short-run was a good thing as it really made people zero-in on all the subtleties of the individual episodes, with none feeling disposable. In that way, it feels more like an eighteen-hour movie than a show. Like the similarly beloved and cancelled My So-Called Life, it’s an uncommonly sensitive portrayal of teenaged life, with one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled. While everyone will be able to find the character that fits into their childhood “type” each of them is three-dimentional. Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) is the main character, being a good girl who tries to go bad only to discover the “bad” kids (the freaks) really aren’t bad at all. James Franco plays their brooding James Dean-like leader, who it turns out is really a kindhearted guy struggling with a turbulent homelife and an undiagnosed learning disability. Stoner Nick (Jason Segel) winds up being an early semi-love interest for Lindsay, while the tough Ken (Seth Rogen) winds up being uncommonly open-minded for the time, with one of his best plotlines involving his love for a girl who turns out to be have been born intersex (to this day something that’s rarely depicted). The tough Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps) winds up being the most interesting of them all. On the surface she’s a tough, Joan Jett/Patti Smith loving rebel, but she’s actually warm-hearted and sensitive, with one of the best episodes devoted to her guilt over accidentally running over school outcast Millie’s (Sarah Hagan) beloved dog.
The “geeks” are just as layered, with Lindsay’s brother Sam (John Francis Daley) seeming like a surrogate for Paul Feig-himself (which is very apparent if you read his memoir – ‘Superstud’). Sam tries desperately to become cool, even dating cheerleader Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick) who he memorably dumps after she tells him she doesn’t find THE JERK funny. His buddies, Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr) have issues of their own, with Neal covering up his fractured home life with humor and Bill suffering at the hands of bullies and his own lack of self-esteem. Basically, no one here is a joke, with even minor characters getting their moment in the sun. While pretty much all of the stars have gone on to big things, tons of other Hollywood notables got their start here, with Shia LaBeouf, Rashida Jones, Ben Foster, and Lizzy Caplan all playing recurring characters.
Best Season: Given the fact that it only ran for one perfect season, this category is doesn’t really apply. Instead, let me pick my favorite episode, "Beers and Weirs". In this episode, good girl Lindsay is convinced to throw a party at her house when her parents (the great Joe Flaherty & Becky Ann Baker) leave town for the weekend. Worried about the damage that might be done, Sam, Neal and Bill switch the beer keg for non-alcoholic beer, only to discover that people “thinking” they’re drunk is just as bad as the real thing.
Final Thoughts: In this golden age of TV, which is seeing shows as varied as The X-Files, Coach and Full House coming up with new seasons, Freaks & Geeks seems like the ideal show to resurrect, although the big paychecks all the stars would likely earn nowadays may make that unfeasible. Oh well, at least we still have eighteen perfect episodes to watch over and over.