“My clique should be cancelled: Freaks and Geeks”- Childish Gambino
“Freaks and Geeks” is still one of my favorite shows, because it was one of the only shows I could ever relate to growing up.
In most TV shows meant for teen viewers, the main character falls into a category: a jock, a cheerleader, a nerd, a goody two shoes, a band geek, etc. Additionally, most TV shows focused on the jocks and cheerleaders.
I felt like Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), the main character of Freaks and Geeks, in a lot of ways. Much like myself, she wasn’t popular in high school. She made mistakes. She stood up for herself, her friends, her brother, anyone who needed it. She was confident and smart. I respected Lindsay for staying true to herself, but being bold enough to take initiative to explore who she wants to be.
Exactly 20 years ago today, the show premiered. Here are five reasons why Freaks and Geeks is still relevant.
The cast was incredible and have all had successful acting careers
Lindsay was the star mathlete at William McKinley High School, but didn’t want to just be a nerd. She branches out of her friend group despite objections from Millie, her best friend, and Sam, her brother. She decides to hang out with the freaks of the school: Daniel Desario (baby James Franco), Nick Andropolis (Jason Segal looks exactly the same), Ken Miller (Seth Rogen sounds exactly as he did 20 years ago), and Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps playing a tough teen is a mood). The geeks of the show were Sam Weir (John Francis Daley), Neil Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr).
In a Freaks and Geeks reunion hosted by Vanity Fair in 2012, Rogen acknowledges the profound effect the show had on the cast’s careers, with Franco even admitting it was the first role he was proud of.
“For pretty much all of us, it was either the first thing we ever did or the first good thing we ever did,” Rogen told Vanity Fair.
Since starring in “Freaks and Geeks” together, Rogen and Franco have become a comedy duo starring in films together like “The Interview,” “Pineapple Express,” and “This is the End.” Additionally, Rogen played Pumba in Disney’s remake of The Lion King. Segal became Marshall Eriksen on the comedy “How I Met Your Mother.” Cardellini has starred in a few movies since her time on the show, including Laura Barton, Hawkeye’s wife, in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and Dolores in the Golden Globe and Oscars winning “Green Book.” Philipps starred on the comedy “Cougar Town,” and had her own talk show on the E! network, “Busy Tonight.” Starr plays Gilfoyle on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” and was a teacher in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” a movie which Daley co-wrote.
The creators of the show, Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, have also gone on to have successful careers. Apatow has produced and directed movies like “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Step Brothers,” “Bridesmaids” and “The Big Sick.” Feig recently produced “A Simple Favor,” and has worked on “The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale” and “The Office.”
The show pushed boundaries
During the Vanity Fair hosted reunion, Apatow acknowledges that he and Feig weren’t trying to be like other TV shows at the time, which may have led to their cancellation.
The show addressed topics like marijuana use, sex, alcohol, socioeconomic statuses, and gender identity. NBC even banned one episode of the show from airing, “Kim Kelly is My Friend,” because the network felt it was too controversial.
“It [Kim Kelly is My Friend] showed a very fairly realistic, albeit a bit humorous, view of a girl that comes from a pretty tough household where there’s maybe some domestic violence happening, not only from her mom, but her stepdad, there’s some creepy undertones,” Philipps said during a HuffPost interview. “At the time NBC just felt like for a show that was geared towards teenagers and young adults, it was inappropriate.”
In another episode of the show, “The Little Things” Ken begins to date Amy who he falls for rather quickly. She confides in him that she was born with both male and female reproductive parts and her parents chose for her to have the male parts removed. She tells Ken she’s happy with who she is and trusts her parents made the right decision, however Ken is visibly uncomfortable. Not many shows at the time would address a topic like gender identity. In the end, he decides that he genuinely cares for Amy and who she is.
High school relationships aren’t the be-all-end-all of relationships
One of the reasons I loved this show was because it wasn’t focused on romantic relationships. It was a real portrayal of what high school life is like: the peer pressure, the not fitting in, the unrealistic crushes.
In fact, Sam Weir, Lindsay’s brother, eventually ends up with the girl of his dreams, Cindy, only to find out they have nothing in common and he actually doesn’t like her at all. He ends up breaking up with her, showing that your high school crushes are sometimes just that. Unlike other shows, where it seems like the person you end up with in high school is who you’re with forever, “Freaks and Geeks” showed that having a crush is okay, but your expectations of someone else might not live up to who they really are.
The geeks were not stereotypical geeks
Most shows portray geeks as having funny voices, carrying large stacks of books, dressing hideously and having large glasses. Okay well, Bill had large glasses and a funny voice, but we find out in the episode, “The Diary,” Bill actually loves baseball. Because Bill always gets picked last in gym class, he decides to prank call Coach Fredericks, the gym teacher. When he gets caught, he stands up to Coach Fredericks and tells him he wants to play baseball, but Coach Fredericks made an unfair assumption that because Bill is a geek, he wouldn’t want to participate in gym class. The show’s creators even said in an interview with Vanity Fair, had there been a second season, Bill would have become a basketball player.
Daniel also discovers that he might even be a little more of a geek than we realized, even though he’s the stereotypical bad boy: leather jacket, apathetic attitude, has all the girls swooning over him. In the final episode of the series, Daniel is forced to take an AV class, but gets to hang out with Neil, Bill, and Sam. He plays their favorite game, Dungeons and Dragons, and learns that he loves it too.
You’re not confined to one label for your whole life
Lindsay becomes friends with the freaks, but she’s never ashamed of her intelligence and still makes time for her homework. Though the show focuses on Lindsay’s struggle finding where she belongs, almost all the characters questioned who they want to be.
Though Kim is tough and domineering, she wants to be a lawyer. Daniel, her boyfriend, laughs at her because, like her parents and one of her teachers, he doesn’t think she has the intelligence to become one. She is constantly being discouraged from being anything other than a freak. Nick, who loves drumming and aspires to be like Jon Bonham from Led Zeppelin, realizes he likes disco and takes up disco dancing lessons.
Throughout my life, in high school and college, I never felt like I belonged to one group of friends. Some of my friends were more on the artsy/creative side, while others rejected that lifestyle for science and math. There were times I felt I couldn’t make a Shakespeare joke because for sure I would be called a nerd. But in a completely different friend group, people were excited to see the Hamlet meme I found.
Lindsay was accepted by the freaks and geeks, but often felt like an outcast in both groups.
The episode “Looks and Books” is one of the best in showing Lindsay’s struggle with who she wants to be. Lindsay is pressured by her friends to take her dad’s car without his permission then gets into an accident while driving. None of the freaks take the situation seriously and she decides to end her friendship with them. She rejoins the mathletes but as a mathlete, Lindsay is arrogant, rude, and extremely competitive; a side we don’t see from her. Kim, Daniel, and Ken show up at her mathlete competition to support her and offer to help fix the car. She realizes she doesn’t have to give up being friends with Millie and being smart, but school is not always a number one priority.
The whole show’s focus is that you never have to place yourself into one category: you can be a freak AND a geek. Or a geek and an athlete. Or a rebel and a geek. The show perfectly demonstrates the struggle of trying to find yourself.
In high school, I thought I was the only one who didn’t know where I belonged. Freaks and Geeks gave me hope that it was more than okay to not place myself in one category.
Even in college, I found myself watching Freaks and Geeks with a beer or a glass of wine when I didn’t have plans on a weekend night. These characters and their stories helped cure me of my loneliness, I can only hope they’ll do the same for someone else.