Can I just gush for a minute about how much I love Freaks and Geeks? Okay, thanks.
This past weekend, I visited my homie Mark in Bellingham and we were talking about our favorite television series of all time. He mentioned Freaks and Geeks, which I had never seen before, and before I knew it we had watched all 18 episodes of the single-season series in less than 72 hours. Yeesh.
Nutshell synopsis of the show: Set in Michigan in 1980. Lindsey (Linda Cardellini) is trying to break free from her good-girl mathlete image and starts hanging out with the freaks of the school (the word “freak” in the context of the show essentially constitutes anyone who listens to Led Zeppelin, occasionally smokes weed, and engages in questionably hoodrat activities), whereas her nerdy younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) and his two besties try their darnedest to avoid being pelted with dodgeballs in gym, pushed into lockers by bullies and being generally thought of as geeks, often to no avail.
There are so many things I love about this show. For one, it’s hilarious. It also stars James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, from back when they were basically no-names, so it’s fascinating and kind of precious to see them so young and unknown and then think about what giant celebrities they are now. The show also has perhaps the best opening credits sequence of all time.
I think the thing I like the most about the show, though, is how astutely it captures the awkwardness of being in high school and trying to navigate your identity and define yourself. A lot of shows about high schoolers implement the standard archetypes of cheerleader and bad boy and nerd, and I guess Freaks and Geeks does that as well but the characters have so much depth and dimension that they seem less like stereotypes and more like real people, with all of their flaws and idiosyncracies.
I think about my own high school experience and how I didn’t really fit into any one group: I was smart and got good grades, but I was also kind of an outcast, but I was also an athlete. And that’s where I think Freaks and Geeks is brilliant: the characters have social labels, but none of them are forced into reductive impermeable boxes and there is always the possibility of social mobility. For example, Daniel, the coolest of the freaks, ends up playing Dungeons & Dragons with the geeks and really liking it, and Bill, who is perhaps the geekiest geek, ends up making out with the head cheerleader at a party, and not because she pities him either. The show exposes how arbitrary high school labels are, how no one person can be boiled down to simply “freak” or “geek” because there’s more to a person than that.
If you haven’t seen this show, I recommend you watch it immediately! Or as soon as you’re able, I guess. You won’t regret it, I promise.