Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (2022)

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TW: The author and the company do not stand by sexual misconduct (i.e., perpetuated by well-known actor James Franco). While he and his harmful actions are referred to within this piece, The Daily Fandom does not support Franco’s actions or Franco as a person.

Set in the early 1980s and chronicling the lives of the Weir siblings (Lindsay and Sam) as they join separate cliques at the same high school,Freaks and Geeks(1999-2000) is an untouchable nostalgic dramedy. From Linda Cardellini’s compelling portrayal of former mathlete Lindsay to its encapsulation of the charming ‘80s vibe that hit shows likeStranger Things(2016-present) are still paying homage to today,Freaks and Geeksdid not lack compelling plot points and lovable characters.

Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (1)

Despite this,Freaks and Geekswas prematurelycanceledin the early 2000s after its first and only season due to low ratings. Since then, however, the show has garnered universal acclaim as a beloved cult classic ahead of its time.Freaks and Geekshas also achieved consistently high audience ratings from more modern viewers, with an average audience rating of 96% onRotten Tomatoes. i. Although several circumstances make the dramedy’s revival unlikely, fans continue to plead the show’s leads and showrunners to continue these beloved characters’ stories over twenty years later.

If you are less familiar withFreaks and Geeks, you may be wondering why a show about a bunch of teenagers set in 1980s Midwestern suburbia is still receiving so much attention today. Here are a few of the many reasons for the show’s continued success and reverence among modern-day viewers that are sure to put its acclaim into perspective.

Freaks And Geeks (1999-2000): The Freaks

Something thatFreaks and Geeksdoes well is capture the extremely clique-based nature of high school as teens come to terms with their identities alongside their like-minded friends. However, as frequently explored in coming-of-age media, these friends can be bad influences. A perfect archetype of these “bad kids” are the “Freaks,” the clique Lindsay joins when she needs a break from being the perfect daughter and star of her school’s mathlete team.

Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (2)

Lindsay’s new group of eccentric friends consists of James Franco as the cool bad boy Daniel, Jason Segel as aspiring musician Nick, Seth Rogen as sarcastic smart aleck Ken, and Busy Philipps as Daniel’s on-and-off girlfriend, Kim. While Lindsay’s parents, brother, and nerdier friends are immensely disapproving of her friendship with the Freaks, part of the reason she befriended them in the first place was to unapologetically let loose for the first time in her life without feeling the immense pressure from the greatness expected of her.

Unlike the archetypal “weird” kids who are rough around the edges, each of the Freaks has undeniable redeeming qualities. While Daniel and Ken are macho and stone-faced for much of the show, both are portrayed in a softer light when they share endearing moments with Kim and Amy (also known as “Tuba Girl”), respectively.The same can be said of Nick; while his relationship with Lindsay ultimately doesn’t work out since he is way clingier than Lindsay had expected, the immense joy he clearly felt when he was with her parallels his great passion for music. And, while Kim’s character is incredibly polarizing since she is unafraid of speaking her mind, it is this steadfastness that makes her so strong and persevering throughout the many bumps in her road.

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Freaks And Geeks (1999-2000): The Geeks

The show’s other clique, mocked as the “Geeks” by bullies and the Freaks themselves, consists of John Francis Daley as Lindsay’s younger brother Sam, Martin Starr as the endearingly goofy, and kind-hearted Bill, and Samm Levine as class clown Neal. Other prominent characters on the cusp of being considered true Geeks are Stephen Lea Sheppard as the wise and witty Harris and Jerry Messing (of“Fedora Guy”fame) as the chronically picked-on Gordon.

Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (4)

A fascinating aspect of the Geeks as a clique is watching them grow up throughout the series as they learn to stand up for themselves against bullies and the Freaks alike. This growth can be seen as early as the “Pilot” episode when the Geeks assert their newfound manhood and confidence by fighting their relentlessly domineering bully, Alan. While Sam is too busy exploring a romantic relationship with his crush Cindy to make it to the fight in time, Neal and Bill are able to beat Alan without Sam’s help.One fan-favorite Geek whose natural charisma particularly shines through is Bill. While Bill is allowed many comedic moments throughout the series, like when he gets drunk off a beer keg that the Geeks had confiscated from a Freak party hosted by Lindsay, Starr’s character has plenty of profound, heartfelt moments as well.

A particularly striking one occurs in the thirteenth episode as a frequent bully of the Geeks intentionally makes Bill, who has a peanut allergy, consume peanuts to “prove” that he was lying about his allergy. When it becomes clear that Bill was not lying, Bill’s best friends Sam and Neal immediately sense that something is wrong and ensure that their friend is taken to a hospital immediately, showing just how much they care about their third musketeer. When Bill finally wakes up near the end of the episode, his fellow Geeks cannot be happier to see him, and the joy within this scene is too wholesome to put into words.

The Refreshingly Relatable Depictions Of ‘80s Suburbia And Awkward Adolescence

Perhaps its distinct nostalgia factor is one of the most prominent aspects ofFreaks and Geeksthat has helped ensure its continued relevance two decades after its cancellation. Although the dramedy wasn’t filmed until the late ‘90s, it effortlessly embodies the early ‘80s because of its actors’ natural talents and appreciation of the era and the show’s authentic wardrobe and sets.

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Even from simple visuals like Lindsay’s iconic green army jacket and Bill’s thick Coke-bottle glasses, it is immediately apparent thatFreaks and Geekstakes place in the early ‘80s. This also comes across throughout staple segments such as Weir family dinners as Harold (Lindsay and Sam’s father) makes mountains out of molehills during dinner-time lectures, a relatable experience for kids with overprotective parents.

Mr. Weir: “Sam, what are you doing? You’re too old to go out trick or treating.”

Mrs. Weir: “Oh, Harold. Stop.”

Mr. Weir: “Well, it’s true. There was a kid in my neighborhood growing up, Scott Byron. He kept on trick or treating until he was well into his twenties. You know where he’s living now? At home! With his ninety-year-old mother. He’s the laughingstock of the community. Never took a wife either.”

Freaks and Geeks ii

Another dynamic thatFreaks and Geeksdepicts incredibly well is the unavoidably awkward phase that high school represents. In this transitional period, teens are only just growing out of childhood and coming to terms with their beliefs and the world around them before venturing out into the real world, whether as college students or as adults with full-time jobs. Much of this awkwardness manifests in the Weirs’ newfound love lives, with Lindsay exploring a relationship with the sweet but clingy Nick and Sam testing the waters with his long-time crush Cindy.

  • Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (7)
  • Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (8)

Although neither of their relationships ended up working out in the long run, both Lindsay and Sam were able to reach emotional maturity because of this. As both Weir siblings realize that romantic relationships are often better in one’s imagination than they are in reality, neither of them regret that they had acted on their feelings. Rather, both Lindsay and Sam are able to break up with their partners on their own terms and stay true to themselves in the process.

Freaks and GeeksAs Inspiration For The Hit Netflix ShowStranger Things

The dramedy is often compared to the Duffer Brothers’ hit Netflix seriesStranger Things, with Freaks and Geeks basically beingStranger Thingswithout the demogorgons and tragic deaths (#JusticeForBarb). Because of this, the fact thatFreaks and Geekswas a favorite show of the Duffer Brothers growing up is by no means surprising. iii. While fans of both series mainly find similarities between the two shows byjuxtaposingimagesof the Weir and Wheeler siblings, the similarities between the two shows exist beyond an aesthetic level.

  • Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (9)
  • Why ‘Freaks And Geeks’ (1999-2000) Still Holds Up Today • The Daily Fandom (10)

Many fans have noticed abounding similarities between the two shows’ characters in terms of personality. Beyond the obvious shared sibling dynamic, the first season ofStranger Things(likeFreaks and Geeks) explores the topic of growing out of old friend groups as Nancy gradually moves away from Barb (or Millie, in the case ofFreaks and Geeks’ Lindsay) and her good grades and toward the “bad kids” as she starts dating Steve.

Fans of the two series have also intricatelymapped outhow the main cast ofStranger Thingsexpands upon character archetypes explored in one of its prime inspirators.The Partyis almosttoosimilar to the Geeks. While many additional stresses plague Mike and his friends in addition to that of navigating their adolescence, their problems are essentially rooted in the awkwardness of growing up as nerdy outcasts, whether they’re standing up to bullies or trying to understand why their romantic interest is mad at them.

In addition, the trajectory of Steve from a rugged bad boy to “mama” Steve (as fans lovingly refer to his close friendship with the Party) closely resemblesFreaks and Geeks’ Daniel Desario. Much like Daniel, Steve’s tough exterior begins to fade as hebefriendsand joins the Party as they go on their “Dungeons & Dragons”-esque adventures — an idea that was likely inspired byFreaks and Geeks’ own where Daniel (literally) does the same.Steve also develops an unlikely, endearing friendship with Dustin, a relationship that reminds countless fans of the unexpected brotherly bond that formed between Daniel and Sam after their first D&D campaign.

Why WasFreaks and GeeksCanceled In The First Place?

Despite the dramedy’s countless redeeming and charming qualities, NBC canceled itafter airing only twelve of the show’s eighteen episodes. This cancellation was mainly due to low viewership and ratings sinceFreaks and Geeks was forced to compete with sitcom giants that were entering their glory days. For instance, whileFreaks and Geeks episodes had roughly seven million viewers on average,Friends‘andFrasier’s average number of views doubled this. In its defense, the now cult classic wasn’t given a fair chance in the early 2000s, as it was aired at varying times that were subject to change and went on several months-long hiatuses that were left unannounced by NBC.

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The dramedy wasn’t even allowed to promote its own website. According to Judd Apatow, one of the show’s creators,in an interview with Vanity Fair,

“We started a Web site, but NBC refused to let us put the address on any of our ads because they didn’t want people to know the Internet existed. They were worried about losing viewers to it.”

Because of this, viewers who wanted to get into the series had a hard time tuning in sinceFreaks and Geeksnever received a uniform timeslot. Its network wouldn’t let its creators promote a platform where viewers could have easily found this information.Another factor that propelled NBC’s cancellation ofFreaks and Geekswas the many creative differences between the network’s creative directors and the show’s creators, Paul Feig and Judd Apatow.

One of the leading creative differences that waged an outright war between the two parties was how realistic the show should depict its teenage characters and high school. While the network insisted that the show’s characters had to be cool and popular, the show’s creators wanted to depict the high school experience as it truly is: an awkward, uncomfortable time sprinkled with a few small victories along the way that ultimately make it all worthwhile.

The High Demand And Clear Potential For AFreaks and GeeksRevival

AlthoughFreaks and Geekswas taken off the air over twenty years ago, new and long-time fans alike continue to celebrate the show’s characters and how ahead of its time it truly was. After all, ifFreaks and Geekscan become a cult classic while working with a network that undervalues its creators and cast, imagine what additional heights the show could have soared to if they had gotten to work with a network that appreciatedFreaks and Geeksfor what it was.

The abounding potential of the show’s cast (many of whomactually making their acting debut onFreaks and Geeks) is even more frustrating in consideration of how its writers have fully planned storylines that will never be seen on our screens. Unsurprisingly, Feig and Apatow were planning on giving their characters even more depth, with the geeky Bill coming to terms with his athletic side by joining his school’s basketball team to former sweethearts Sam and Cindy becoming rivals as they run against one other for class president.

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While the cast has gotten together in the past for various reunions (as pictured above), these reunions mainly were organized because of the dramedy’s nostalgia factor. Unlike other comedy-based series’ reunions,Freaks and Geeksreunions generally stray away from featuring the talents of the actors themselves and instead focus on how life-changing the show was for its entire cast and crew. While other cult classics’ reunions likeCommunity‘sandParks and Recreation‘s respectively featuredtable reads of beloved scenes and a set of previously unaired scenes, Freaks and Geeks‘ did not. This lack of new content forced fans to ruminate in the cruel reality of howFreaks and Geeks’ planned plotlines will likely be left unacted, existing only on paper.

WhyFreaks and GeeksWill Never Return With A Second Season

Although the cult classic’s creators have many ideas and even more support from their fans if they ever decided to officially reviveFreaks and Geeks, countless obstacles stand in the way of this ever happening. One of the main issues that arise is what to do about the recent controversy surrounding James Franco, who playedFreaks and Geeks’ charming bad boy Daniel. Suppose you haven’t been following Franco’s career. In that case, the news that he has recently been accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct that stretch across his extensive acting career can be shocking, to say the least.

In 2018, five women spoke up about how they were sexually assaulted or disrespected by Franco due to an unbalanced power dynamic on set. iv. Four out of five of these women were students of Franco’s atStudio 4,an acting and filmmaking school founded by Franco. They felt pressured to follow his instruction on various projects due to his immense influence in the industry and as a big name in Hollywood. Unfortunately, this abuse was happening as far back asFreaks and Geeks, which Busy Philipps (who played Daniel’s girlfriend Kim on the show) has recently spoken out onduring an interview with Variety. According to Philipps, one of her co-star’s first outbursts was provoked when she lightly hit him while in character as Kim. Shortly afterward, Philipps alleges that “he grabbed my arms and screamed in my face, ‘DON’T EVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!’ And he threw me on the ground. Flat on my back. Wind knocked out of me.”

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As claimed by Philipps, he only lashed out because this is what Franco thought his character Daniel would have done:

“He felt like he wanted his character to be one way. He had had a discussion with the producers that he [Daniel] came from an abused family or something, and so he didn’t want his girlfriend — I played his girlfriend — to ever physically hit him.”

ManyFreaks and Geeksactors have similarly distanced themselves from Franco, with Seth Rogenpublicly statingthat he has no plans to continue collaborating with Franco in light of these recent allegations. Although the two have worked oncountless projectstogether after the cancellation ofFreaks and Geeksand are quite successful as a comedy duo, Rogen has made sure to voice his opinion on the issue: “What I can say is that I despise abuse and harassment and I would never cover or conceal the actions of someone doing it, or knowingly put someone in a situation where they were around someone like that.”

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Although it can be challenging to separate the art from the artist, Franco’s recent allegations will never take away from the fact thatFreaks and Geekswas truly revolutionary as a show that authentically depicted the high school experience. Featuring both charismatic and lovable characters like Bill and Sam and even characters that you love to hate like Daniel and Kim,Freaks and Geekswas perfect the way it was — even if NBC was unwilling to admit this while the show was in production. While a true revival ofFreaks and Geeksis unlikely, there is plenty ofcontentout there that will perpetuate fans’ undying love of the series and countlessonline forumswhere these fans can appreciate the series’ greatness together as one happy family of FreaksandGeeks.

Footnotes

  1. Freaks and Geeks: Season 1,” Rotten Tomatoes. []
  2. “Tricks and Treats.”Freaks and Geeks. 1999-2000. NBC. []
  3. “Influences & references,” Stranger Things Wiki. []
  4. Daniel Miller, “Five women accuse actor James Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2018. []

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