Great TV Shows Taken Before Their Time: Freaks and Geeks

Before Judd Apatow headed a fail-proof film production company, he was best known as the executive producer of Freaks and Geeks. Perhaps the most ambitious television programs to transition into the 21st Century, Freaks and Geeks was a period piece that fully grasped the simpler times of the 1980’s era it was set in. Despite being a contemporary of Fox’s That 70’s ShowFreaks and Geeks, which aired on NBC during its reign of television supremecy, balanced its comedy and drama with nostalgia in a way that had not been realized since The Wonder Years.
The Complete Main Cast of Freaks and Geeks
The series starred future household names such as James Franco (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Seth Rogen (50/50), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), Busy Phillipps (Cougar Town), Martin Starr (Party Down), and John Francis Daly (Bones). Unsurprisingly, the show’s casting directors won the Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series Emmy Award.
James Franco, Busy Phillipps, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel
Freaks and Geeks was centered around Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam Weir (Daley), during their 1980-1981 school year at William McKinley High School. Lindsay is a high school senior who had been a star pupil with excellent grades and a stellar academic record, while Sam was just entering high school and trying to fit in. To impress Daniel Desario (Franco), Lindsay begins hanging out with his clique, Nick Andopolis (Segel), Ken Miller (Rogen), and Kim Kelly (Philipps), otherwise known at William McKinley as “freaks.” Sam and his friends, Bill Haverchuck (Starr) and Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine, Inglorious Bastards), are the “geeks” who are uncomfortably trying to adjust to their new school.
At its core, Freaks and Geeks was a window into the conundrum of high school social status and acceptance. On one side of it, the “freaks” were the group of slackers who have a certain reputation being rebellious, getting into trouble, and having fun all the while. In contrast, the “geeks” are the “losers” who play by the rules, get good grades, and have spotless records. Both groups, in a way, are made up of outcasts who stick together because they are all they have. While the freaks are out, celebrating their weekends on dates or at parties, the geeks are more often than not at home, watching a movie or playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons?
Like many of the unfortunately canceled programs featured in this blog series, Freaks and Geeks suffered from a poor scheduling. The dramedy premiered with an incredible pilot on Saturday, September 25th at 8pm, though it went on a month-long hiatus after its second episode for the MLB playoffs. Once the World Series was over, the show returned for three more weeks before NBC pulled it again from the air. As has become a familiar chorus with shows that have been prematurely canceled, Freaks and Geeks struggled to find its audience under such instability. Though it was seen as a positive sign for the series when the network moved it to Mondays at 8pm, the move coincided with ABC’s premiering an 8-week run of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in that very timeslot. Because Millionaire was that era’s American Idol, the freshman series lost any chance of being competitive and was cancelled after 12 episodes, though NBC went on to air three of the remaining six episodes that summer after one of the more inspired fan campaigns. The complete 18-episode series is available on DVD, and currently airs Fridays and Mondays at 11pm on IFC.

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