Before Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad) ruled Hollywood with his signature brand of adolescent dude humor, he was producing the less successful, but somewhat-less gender-biased Freaks and Geeks. The show depicted the lives of a group of gawky high school students in 1980. It aired on NBC from 1999-2000. Yes, like many a brilliant dramedy before it, Freaks and Geeks was canceled after just one year.
But what a year it was! Lucky for fans of painfully perceptive shows about the high school experience, Freaks and Geeks, which featured future Apatow mainstays Seth Rogen and Martin Starr, will be reissued in October on DVD in its bonus-filled Yearbook Edition (Shout, $169.99), marking the second time this version of the cult show hits DVD. (Suppose it has something to do with the newfound popularity of Rogen and Starr?)
If Apatow’s gross-out humor doesn’t make you chuckle, fear not: Freaks and Geeks was really a vehicle for the underrated Linda Cardellini (Scooby-Doo). Cardellini portrays Lindsay, an honor roll student whose academic decline serves as the show’s backdrop. You know you’re going to see some hellbent teenage rebellion with a show whose opening credits blast Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation.”
Lindsay goes from mathlete to slacker during her senior year with the help of best friend Kim (Busy Philipps). With graduation approaching, army jacket-clad Lindsay looks at a future filled with uncertainty. The show’s writers catch every little nuance.
The show’s title refers to just how this oddball collection of friends breaks down in the social strata at McKinley High: half are academic, Dungeons & Dragons-playing geeks while the rest are freaks, that is, the kids who dress weird, play the drums, and get crushes on other weirdos. Watching Rogen’s character fall madly for the awkward girl who plays the tuba in the school band brought back a lot of memories for me.
I was a freak, a popular one, but nonetheless. Not a week went by that my friends and I, back in the late 1980s, weren’t coloring our hair the various shades of LifeSavers candies and skipping school to hang out in thrift stores. I was voted, in fact, Most Unpredictable at my high school and there I am in the superlative section of my senior yearbook with my Velvet Underground T-shirt on beneath a natty old man blazer I found at the Goodwill.
I remember those days fondly, but the hell if I would ever return to them. Something tells me that it was more fun being a freak. I can’t imagine dressing normal, being a cheerleader, or dating jocks. Though I have met plenty of women who did just that and turned out fine.
Were you a freak? A geek? Or did you – gasp – fit right in at your high school?