At first glance, “Freaks and Geeks” isn’t an obvious choice for a high-quality television show. It was canceled after just one season, after all. However, it is definitely one of the best shows in the decade affectionately coined “The Naughts.”
Judd Apatow, a now famous director and producer (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Funny People,” etc.), made his first project, along with Paul Feig, set in a high school in the 70s. Future stars like James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen are part of the cast, along with a laundry list of other talented actors who continue impress 10 years after “Freaks and Geeks” aired.
The show focuses on one family and their friends in town. Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) is a former teacher’s pet who wants to rebel against her perfect image by joining the gang of “freaks.” Her little brother, Sam (John Francis Daley) is a nerdy freshman, the head of the “geeks” gang, who aces his classes but struggles to impress women.
What makes the show work is the ease with which viewers can relate to the characters. The plots are always endearing and comical, but never not over-the-top. When Sam’s crush chooses to date a football player instead, or when Lindsay is pressured to return to her academic ways, viewers can see bits of themselves in the characters.
If the regular cast isn’t strong enough to entice potential viewers, the cameos push the show’s credibility over the top. Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore”) plays a big part in one episode as a fake ID seller. Lizzy Caplan (“Mean Girls”) is a student shown occasionally in various episodes. Ben Stiller is the U.S. president’s body guard when he comes to school. Perhaps the funniest guest role belongs to Joel Robinson, of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame. He plays a goofy disco fanatic during a time when disco is noticeably out of style.
Apatow and his crew have a knack for character development. Each friend of Lindsay and Sam’s has his or her own intricate plot line. Bill (Martin Starr) struggles with his mom’s dating life. Nick (Segel) plays the drums in spite of his father’s constant insistence to either bring his grades up or join the military.
Some prefer not to watch shows that got canceled prematurely. After all, they are often inclusive and unsatisfying when the final credits roll. This is not the case with “Freaks and Geeks.” Although Apatow had no way of knowing the season one finale would be his last, it is oddly conclusive. Viewers will end their “Freaks and Geeks” experience with a strong sense of who each character is and where he or she is going in life.
The show is a masterpiece and a joy to watch. The viewing experience is comforting, funny, sad, ridiculous and worrisome – just like any real high school experience would be.