The Greatest Canceled Television Show Ever

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Never saw "Freaks and Geeks" when it originally aired on NBC? Now you can finally check out one of the masterpieces of modern televsion...

Once upon a time, in 1999, NBC ran a brilliantly written and acted TV show about the ups and downs of high school outcasts called "Freaks and Geeks". Unfortunately, the show was given a deadly Friday night timeslot and was canceled before the end of its first season. The good news is that the show now lives on with a new six-DVD box set that show all the episodes in their entirety, along with deleted scenes, commentaries, and cast auditions among the extras. A sweet treat for those, like myself, who consider this the greatest canceled TV show ever.

The show takes place in suburban Michigan in 1980 and revolves around the Weir family, specifically 16-year old Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and her brother, 14-year old Sam (John Francis Daley). Their parents, played by SCTV alum Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker, are old-fashioned and set in their 1950's ways, with Mom cooking dinner every night while Dad works all day at his sporting goods store. They eat dinner with their two kids every night at the same time, watch television together, and reserve a "study time" for the kids after dinner. The perfect nuclear family, so to speak.

The "freaks" are led by Lindsay, a straight-A student and former Mathlete gone bad. After her grandmother dies, she starts wearing a green army jacket everyday and begins hanging out with a new batch of friends that include Daniel (James Franco), a burnout, Nick (Jason Segel), a stoner, Ken (Seth Rogen), a wiseass, and Kim (Busy Phillips), a badass bitch. It takes awhile for the group to warm up to goody-two-shoes Lindsay, but eventually she forms a relationship with Nick and she's more accepted by the outcasts.

Lindsay's hardest battle in the beginning is forming a relationship with Kim, Daniel's terminally angry and jealous girlfriend. In the first episode, Kim knocks the contents of Lindsay's purse all over the ground and storms away, but by episode 4, "Kim Kelly is my Friend" (which was too controversial to air on NBC originally), Lindsay is invited over to Kim's house to witness her tumultuous home life with an abusive mother and stepmother and begins to understand her more. Kim and Lindsay become somewhat best friends after the stormy incident, but the two remain on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Rush-loving Nick is obsessed with playing his 60 piece drum kit and "making it" as a drummer, but in episode 6 "I'm with the Band", Lindsay causes their band to break up after acting to "Yoko-like" at their practice sessions. To compensate for the damage done, she makes out with Nick and becomes his girlfriend for a short while until he becomes too obsessive. In one episode, Nick belts out a version of Styx's "Lady" to Lindsay in an effort to impress her, but his attempt goes over poorly. Instead, poor Lindsay is freaked out by the outlandish display and poor vocalization.

My favorite freak, however, is the terminally sarcastic and often hilarious Ken. After Kim runs over Millie's dog in "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers", Ken quips "I always say...Girl plus car equals dead animal", with such deadpan that you have to laugh at the tragedy. In "The Garage Door", he makes fun of his band geek girlfriend by saying "Sgt. Pepper, where's the rest of your lonely-hearts club?" but ends the episode making out with her at the Laser-Dome show much to the suprise of the other freaks.

The Geeks, led by the underdeveloped Freshman Sam Weir, dominate the other portion of the show. Sam and his best friends, uber-nerd Bill (Martin Starr) and wannabe comedian Neal (Samm Levine), hold court at the same lunch table each day. They are constantly picked on and beat-up, but have come to accept their place in the lower-rungs of popularity. Dreaming about the day they finally are accepted by their peers, they occupy their time going to Sci-Fi conventions, watching "Dallas", and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

In the episode "Beers and Weirs", Lindsay plans a keg party at the house when the P's are out of town, but the three replace the real beer with a keg of "near beer" and watch as the duped partygoers feign drunkenness while Bill chugs on the real beer in a back bedroom. In "The Diary", the three face the humiliating experience of being picked last in gym class, but things start to change after a few prank phone calls to gym teacher, Mr. Fredricks (Tom Wilson). In "I'm with the Band", Sam gets his towel ripped off by bully Alan (Chauncey Leopardi), and is forced to run buck naked through the school between class periods.

The standout geek is Bill, whose deadpan delivery, bad posture, oversized glasses, and mild depression paint the portrait of the ultimate geek. In "Chokin' and Tokin'", he is rushed to the hospital because of a severe peanut allergy, while his hot single Mom (Claudia Christian) admits to Mrs. Weir that she took drugs and drank while pregnant with him. In "smooching and Mooching", he spills his guts to the bitch head cheerleader, Vicky Appleby (Joanna Garcia), and ends up making out with her in a game of Spin-the Bottle.

One of the highlights of the series was its use of the actual music of its time period, which proved to be an expensive cost for the show. The series theme song is "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett, which seems so perfect for the opening credits of photo day at school. Van Halen, Styx, and Nick's favorite band, Rush all play huge roles in the soundtrack, as does "The Who", in an episode in which the freaks prepare to attend one of their concerts. "Girlfriends and Boyfriends" opens with Lindsay strolling the halls of high school to The Allman Brother's brilliant "Whipping Post", a metaphor for her increasingly overbearing relationship with Nick.

There's even a punk episode, with Daniel becoming a "punker" in order to impress a girl by spiking his hair and listening to Black Flag and X before a befuddled nose-piercing incident puts a damper on his plans. The final episode "Discos and Dragons", however, takes the music rivalries to a new level. Former disco-hating Nick is forced to enter a dance contest by his new girlfriend, Sara (Lizzy Caplan), much to the dismay of his rocker friends. Lindsay is turned on to The Grateful Dead by hippie guidance counselor Mr. Rosso (Dave Allen) and in the series' suprise ending, finds her true self.

Oh, what could have been.

If you grew up in the late 70's or early 80's, "Freaks and Geeks" is sure to be a treat for you. All the cultural and musical references are there, as well as the tacky fashions and hairstyles. Or like me, if you were a freaky geek in high school (I used to wear an exact replica of Lindsay's army green jacket), you'll appreciate the characters and their dilemmas. It is, perhaps, the finest television show about the high school experience ever. There's a good chance you knew these people in high school, or better yet, hung out with them.

If you were unfortunate enough to have missed "Freaks and Geeks" during its run on network TV, now's your chance to see what you missed. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder why the hell this show was ever canceled. Trust me on this. I have good taste.

Review by Libby


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