The whole nostalgia thing had been done before—Happy Days, The Wonder Years, That 70’s Show—but never quite like this. For all their coming-of-age intent, these shows all put a “now” spin on a “then” time—an idealized childhood we all wished we had. Set in 1980, the hour-long dramedy Freaks and Geeks remembered what adolescence was really like—a wonderful, terrifying, embarrassing and mind-numbing experience that could only be appreciated by living through it now and trying to make sense of it all later.
Skinny high school freshman Sam Weir was a geek. His best friends Neil Schweiber (a Steve Martin wannabe) and Bill Haverchuck (the übergeek) were also geeks. They loved all things Star Wars, Monty Python and sci-fi, and the opposite sex was pretty much a closed door to them. Life wasn’t always fair, but it was about as good as the geek world gets.
Sam’s older sister Lindsay was a freak. She didn’t start out that way—she used to be an honor student and a mathlete—but the death of her grandmother and the start of her senior year of high school caught Lindsay in the throes of the classic teen rebellion drama. She found new friends in burnout slickster Daniel Desario, dim-witted drummer Nick Andopolis, bad girl Kim Kelly and sarcastic Ken Miller, and immediately her life began to change. She was still smart as a whip, but she suddenly realized there might be more to life than good grades and getting into a top college.
Trying to sort out the various messes of their kids’ adolescence were parents Harold and Jean Weir, good-hearted sorts who just didn’t quite seem to understand (or, at least, they couldn’t understand why their kids didn’t think they understood). They weren’t perfect, but they weren’t caricatures either. In fact, no one in the Freaks and Geeks universe ever was. As Lindsay struggled with the taboo experiences of fake I.D.’s and smoking pot, her circle of friends offered a few surprises of their own: Nick passed up a chance to score with Lindsay because he respected her too much, Ken showed a soft spot for a school tuba player, and so on.
On the geek front, the boys learned that good times with pretty girls weren’t meant to last. That attractive new girl in school may have been a kindred spirit, but once the popular kids got their hooks in, you might as well say goodbye. Likewise, once Sam finally got cute cheerleader Cindy Sanders to look at him as more than a friend, he discovered that the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing gets old after a while.
By the end of the show, nobody was exactly what he seemed to be at the start, and nobody’s future was shaping up according to plans. It was a fascinating, bittersweet, nostalgic, and very funny journey, but not everyone was willing to come along for the ride. Critics praised the show, but after starting out in a Saturday night “death slot,” Freaks and Geeks was never able to build the large audience it needed to stay afloat. Fans lobbied for the show, but NBC cancelled it after its debut season.
Luckily, the creator Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow had planned for just such a possibility, and Freaks and Geeks brought things to a close (well, an open-ended close) with a surprising, but somehow fitting series finale. The characters all moved on to unknown futures, and Freaks and Geeks rambled on to syndication, taking its honest look at the awkwardness of adolescence to hopefully greener pastures.
Linda Cardellini as Lindsay Weir
John Francis Daley as Sam Weir
James Franco as Daniel Desario
Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber
Seth Rogen as Ken Miller
Jason Segel as Nick Andopolis
Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck
Becky Ann Baker as Jean Weir
Joe Flaherty as Harold Weir
Busy Philipps as Kim Kelly
Steve Bannos as Frank Kowchevski
Dave Allen as Jeff Rosso
Sarah Hagan as Millie Kentner
Jerry Messing as Gordon Crisp
Natasha Melnick as Cindy Sanders
Stephen Lea Sheppard as Harris Trinsky
Chauncey Leopardi as Alan White
Network: NBC – Apatow Productions – DreamWorks SKG
Duration: 45 minutes
Aired From: 25 September – 8 July 2000