Freaks and Geeks is one of those strange shows that, many years later, seem like magic preserved in celluloid. What makes it so special? Is it the now famous cast – Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen – but blessed with a particularly compelling naivety? Is it the warmth and humour of creator and director Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow, now two of the biggest film-makers in Hollywood? Is it the optimistic nostalgia of its setting, the 1980s as imagined in the last moments of the 1990s? The chemistry of that writers’ room? Or the serendipitous collision of all the above?
A single series that first aired in 1999-2000, now available on All 4, Freaks and Geeks is unlike many high school TV offerings, which are merely an excuse to cram as many hot young actors together as possible and throw Young Person Problems at them until drama ensues. This isn’t a show about those scary creatures, teenagers; it’s a show about maturing people stuck in high school.
Following Lindsay (Cardellini) as she makes friends with the “burnouts” (the freaks) and her younger brother Sam and his Dungeons and Dragons-playing best friends (the geeks), it explores the usual parental clashes, clique conflicts, crushes and insecurities of school life, without rehashing the same old script. Instead, characters try things out (bands, hobbies, parties, relationships) to see how they feel, and plots seem to develop naturally – complete but never too neatly resolved. The trite moralising of so many teen dramas (Be yourself!) is refreshingly absent, too. In its place is the understanding that school is a time of confusion and change – and, maybe, once you stop and look back, some fleeting moments of magic, too.
This article appears in the 27 Nov 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The English Question