Freaks and Geeks
The Complete Series (Shout! Factory-2004)
Freaks and Geeks started out as an above average cop on The Wonder Years formula. (Why isn’t that great show on DVD yet, particularly its perfect first few seasons?) It didn’t quite get a whole season on NBC (1999-2000). However, this little show about growing up in the early 1980s has gotten a rabid cult following. When the show originally ran, I liked the show, but couldn’t say that I totally loved it. Something seemed a little off to me. I was about the same age as these characters, and honestly it did not remind me of life as I knew it in the 80s. Too often the show had storylines that it seemed sure were little gems of universal truth that just did not connect with me. The music, the dress, the pop culture, it all seemed more like a rainbow-colored glasses look back than the real deal. I did, however, respect the writing and mostly enjoy the show. With four years away from the show and watching it in a more compressed time period on DVD, I enjoyed the series as a whole much more the second time around. It’s still not quite as good as many people want you to believe, but it’s a pretty good show.
What’s Good About It?
The show’s first and best attribute is the amazing cast that they put together. The ensemble cast introduced us to some terrific actors like Linda Cardellini (who went on to be in ER and the Scooby-Doo movies) and James Franco (the Spider-Man films), John Francis Daley, Samm Levine and Jason Segal. SCTV regular Joe Flaherty is a hoot as the harried father. The show does a pretty good job of recreating the caste system of high school. Most of the stories are not predictable and that sense of adventure does carry the story through the occasional rough spots.
What’s Bad About It?
As much as I liked the most of the series, everything that was wrong with it was brought into sharp focus in the last two episodes. In this last gasp, the show turns into the bullying, cooler-than-thou poseurs that it has claimed to be railing against. Suddenly, the group is mocking Nick because he starts listening to disco to impress a girl. Okay, first of all, it is way too safe a storyline… oh boy, let’s make fun of disco. Second of all, it is completely out of time with the show. Disco was over by 1979. This takes place in 1981. A DJ at the disco is given a speech that even the Rolling Stones had gone disco, but again the timing is way off… that song (“Miss You”) was already three years old, and the Rolling Stones had released two albums in the time between. There is also a very predictable subplot of the first George Bush visiting the school. Now I’m up for making fun of the Bush family as much as anyone, but you’d think they’d come up with something a little more cutting edge than the fact that politicians avoid hard questions. What was Ben Stiller doing there as a dissatisfied secret service agent? And what is the deal with turning one of the supporting characters into a hermaphrodite? That idea is not just dumb, it is ridiculous. Then, in the final episode, Lindsay decides to blow off a summer semester to become a Deadhead. (They make fun of disco and then celebrate the dull jam band pretensions of the Grateful Dead? Okay…) In fact the whole series is off base musically. They mostly play songs that only rock critics were listening to in the early 80s. Where is the Olivia Newton-John or Foreigner or even the Rolling Stones? Even the hip lesser-known critics darling bands we listened to at the time (Elvis Costello, The Clash, Warren Zevon) are ignored. I love Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but no one had heard “Bad Reputation” until she became a hit over a year after this show took place.
Not much. This is an exhaustive package. It has everything you could possibly want in the way of extras. Perhaps even too much. Most episodes have two commentary tracks, made up of groupings of cast members, crew, etc. Sometimes it goes too far. Do we really need to hear the commentary in one episode by the mothers of the young cast? However, you get documentaries, outtakes, cut scenes and auditions. You’d have to be a freak (or a geek) to make it through all of the extras, but it’s always better to have too much going on than too little.
PopEntertainment.com final grade: B
It loses at least half a grade because the last two episodes suck so much. Overall it was a terrific series, though, and worth the time spent. The acting is wonderful and the writing is mostly well above average. Freaks and Geeks may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darned good.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 6, 2004.