Freaks and Geeks Has Just Turned Twenty—Here’s Why it’s Irreplaceable

September 25th marked the 20th anniversary of the release of the pilot episode of Freaks and Geeks. The show depicts the lives of two entirely unique high school cliques: one quintessentially nerdy and boyish group of childhood friends (the “Geeks”) and another rough-around-the-edges, ditchers of class known as the “Freaks”. While the show only ran for one season, its impact on modern television cannot be overemphasized. 

Freaks and Geeks was one of the first shows that I ever had a true emotional connection to. While watching it in ninth grade, I was struggling to understand what my role would be in high school. The show taught me more about what it means to be a teenager than I think any other source could have at the time. For its anniversary, I thought it might be fitting to give it just a fraction of the credit that it’s due. Here are five reasons why this show is irreplaceable:

 

1. Its cast 

Arguably, the show has one of the best television casts of all time. Produced by Judd Apatow, in one of his career-favorite projects, the show kick-started the careers of some of the most prominent comedic actors in Hollywood. Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps, and Jason Segal all starred on the show. I mean, let’s be real. You’re never going to see a cast like that again. Two words: TV gold. 

Since Freaks and Geeks aired, Apatow has directed The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, and Anchorman, among other comedy classics. Cardellini has been featured on Mad Men and even appeared in the Scooby-Doo movie. Rogen starred in Apatow’s Superbad and Knocked-Up; Franco appeared alongside Rogen in The Interview and acted in Spiderman. Philipps acted in White Chicks and has since hosted her own show, Busy Tonight, while Segal starred in the long-running TV sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, as well as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

2. Its intentions

The show, from everything I’ve gathered, wasn’t created to make money or attract big stars (although, based on my first point, that sure was a result). Paul Feig and Judd Apatow simply wanted to make a show that made teenagers everywhere go, “Yup, I’ve been there”. I think a lot of the innocence and understatedness of the show stems from those intentions. 

 

3. Its understanding of teenage potential

Every teenager, or adult who must begrudgingly admit they, too, were a teenager once, can probably relate to the next statement: no one knows what the f*ck they’re doing in high school. Freaks and Geeks gets that. In fact, it embraces that. Cardellini’s character, Lindsay Weir, grapples over her identity, constantly choosing between embracing her talent for math or ditching class to hang out with the so-called “Freaks”. Nick Andopolis, played by Segal, struggles over whether to go to college or pursue his true passion of drumming. The give-and-take displayed by the show’s characters in studying versus following their impulses captures being a teenager to a tee. Every character on the show, in one way or another, portrays the conflict between living up to their potential and having fun. This conflict is so apparent in real life and so well executed by the show.

4. Its care taken toward stereotypes

With a show’s name being Freaks and Geeks, any first-time viewer would probably expect just a tad bit of stereotyping in the show. For self-identifying freaks or geeks, or anyone in between, this may seem like either a problem or a call to action. The truth is that Feig and Apatow’s stereotypes were created to be broken. Sam Weir, a self-proclaimed geek, ends up landing a popular cheerleader—then dumping her. “Freak” Ken Miller comes to terms with his sexuality over the course of several episodes while dating an intersex student named Amy. Fellow-"Freak" Kim Kelly (try saying that five times fast!) faces a tumultuous and abusive relationship with her parents. The show’s main characters twist and turn under the guise of either “freak” or “geek,” spinning the show’s very premise on its head.

5. Its ability to tell the truth

Honestly, one of the most prevailing reasons why I fell in love with the show is simple: it says it how it is. The show is filled with friendship, tears, crushed dreams, heartbreak, on-and-off relationships, drinking and drugs, sex, laughter, more drugs (the “Freaks” really like weed, what can I say), and plenty of hormones. Yeah, those pretty much sum up being a teenager. The best part of all of this is that the show doesn’t play up one or more of these elements for the sake of over-saturated drama (Lindsay doesn’t get drunk and accidentally reveal that Sam isn’t her actual biological brother; Nick doesn’t turn to crime and incite a string of robberies after a breakup). Classic teen antics come into play understatedly and honestly. The show is poignant, and at times, heartbreaking for its viewers in its all-too-real encapsulation of adolescence. To me, that sense of honesty in story-telling can never be recreated.

So there you have it. If you haven’t watched the show and are now thinking, man I’m mildly convinced, go off of that instinct. You won’t regret it. If instead, you’re thinking that a show about some heartbroken guy named Nick starting a crime ring sounds better, fair enough. I’ll make one final point. In the twenty years since Freaks and Geeks was released, I haven’t found a better or more compelling show about teenage years. If you’re a teenager seeking to be understood or an adult feeling nostalgic, look no further. 

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