HomeGeek Culture... Geek Love, Geek Files, Mind Numbing Magazine, all kinds of geeky stuff!The Webstore! Get some cool stuff, and support your fave comic creators!e-Cards!The Forums!The Joy of Tech! ...your quick fix of comic fun!After Y2K ... the webcomic epic!webcam!

Freaks and Geeks. What a show.
by Meryn C

Set in 1980, Freaks and Geeks follows the social and emotional learning curve of two siblings: Lindsay Weir, a sophomore in high school (imbued with sweet confusion by Linda Cardellini) and her little freshman brother, Sam (played with heart-stopping tenderness by John Daley).

In the time-honoured high school tradition of everyone having to be pegged with a neat little handle, she's a Freak and he's a Geek. But the beauty and power of this show is in its exploration of the complex lives and complex questions behind the social file folders into which every living kid has to be stuffed.

I'll start with the Geeks.
Anyone who was a geek, and/or anyone who has loved a geek will find in this show recognition, humour, and the awakening of that little place inside all of us that wants to mother a searching soul.

Sam has two friends, Neal and Bill. Like an upside down buddy picture, these three band together against a strange and unfamiliar world (read: high school), debating with each other as to just what the hell is going on, and at the worst of times trying to provide each other with physical protection - or at least safety in numbers. The trio is hounded by the classic sociopathic kid who wants to intimidate and beat up kids less powerful and fight-worthy than he. (This character holds no other purpose in the show, and no doubt no other purpose in his life. We all know him. In time he will be either in jail, or coaching Little League.)

Now to the Freaks.
Lindsay has recently started to question a lot of what she has taken for granted in the past. She's a good student, but is no longer buying into being a 'good girl'. She has found her way to a small cluster of funny, cranky outsiders who aren't that interested in school, but seem to be actually engaged in life itself, doing the things lots of us put on hold 'til after we finish school, when real life apparently begins: sex, driving, playing in a rock band, drinking, checking out the world.

Lindsay identifies with this group and feels kinship in their desire to ask questions, or to sometimes not even bother to ask questions. At the same time, she is just beginning to realize that "Dare to Dream! You Can Do Anything You Want to Do With Your Life!" is more true for some people than it is for others. Such a chord is struck as she optimistically tries to help one freak after another to live up to the potential she can see in them so clearly, but the rest of the world doesn't seem to care much about.

And at the same time, she is learning from them that with her head in a book all the time, she hasn't really started to Live Life. .....But is high school really a good time to be trying to be actually living? It seems most suited to the zomboid creature.

This is where Freaks and Geeks sometimes just makes me ache. Eventually, some of Lindsay's new friends will fall away. Not just from Lindsay, but from a life filled with possibility. Because there's a sad equation in there about being social-smart, but not school-smart.

Think back to your own school's sweet, smart rebel(s). Isn't it kind of amazing how many people who refused to play the game of jumping through someone else's hoops ended up with no game to play at all? And that the kids who were smart enough to realize that high school is a crock of shit, sometimes end up paying with their futures for figuring it out too soon?

The writers of Freaks and Geeks explore these things in a realistic, yet somehow fairly nonchalant way. And I think the key is that they don't predict the future; they just show it like it is, this day in 1980. They know that most viewers past that moment in time - past the end of high school - can't help but ponder how some of these lives might play out.

The cast!
The cast of Freaks and Geeks

Terrific, understated performances abound on this show. I'm even loathe to talk about my faves, because the entire cast is amazing. That, of course, is a credit to each actor, but also the strong and steady hand of good directors and good producers. The shows are consistent in terms of their characterizations, their writing, and most incredibly, their FEEL.

....Here is something about which I am geekily, freakishly obsessed. If you're going to set a TV show or a movie in an era other than the present, then YOU'VE GOT TO GET IT RIGHT!! And "right" is much more than choosing vintage clothes and giving everyone funny haircuts.

I never got over Oliver Stone's "The Doors". Before it came out, everyone went on and on about how perfectly accurate it was historically; that attention to detail was so amazing, the designers had even recreated the exact red of the Marlboro package from 1967.

And then I saw the movie. . . and it looked ridiculous!! Like a sloppy 1980's rendering of a memory. (For the opposite end of the spectrum in movie land, Gus Van Sant gets circa 1972 so right in Drugstore Cowboy, it's breathtaking).

As a complete nitpicker about historical accuracy (especially recent history), I'm in awe of the even-handed production team at Freaks and Geeks. Every nuance, every bit of clothing, every hairstyle, every location, and every bit of dialogue (no nineties Neve Campbell-speak here) says 1980. And not, "wasn't 1980 quaint", but actually, "This is 1980, we are living in it, there are no future years because we haven't lived them yet."

(My only teensy objection is that I'm pretty sure that in 1980 we weren't
already saying "Hey" to each other as the standard greeting. I think the Olde Fashioned "Hi" was still in use quite universally in the average Home Towne. But that's a minor quibble to be sure.)

This accuracy of feel extends to the topics of the day; the things that mattered at that moment, late in 1980. Nick, the guy who wants to be a drummer, talks a lot about John Bonham, who has recently died.

And it seems likely that as the show moves forward into 1981, everyone will be reeling about the murder of John Lennon. Well, the freaks will be. And other people in the school just won't get it; will barely know it happened.

The most important thing, though, is not that Freaks and Geeks may be a perfect nostalgia tool for 'those of a certain age'. The gorgeous and sad and funny thing about these characters is that their struggles and connections and realizations are universal; across time.

High school, it seems, is the place where nothing ever changes. Despite the fact that it is, or should be, one of the most important formative phases of life, it is and always has been full of doubts, pecking orders, elation and confusion. More than any show on television, Freaks and Geeks tackles these contradictions with dead-on accuracy and delicate grace.


And so now it's playing! Every Monday!
.....As I began to write a review of the show for Geekculture, I visited the Freaks & Geeks site, and realized just how close the whole thing was to being over before it had really begun.

The show was off the air from November until its re-launch on January 10. It had faced a very tough time slot when it began in September, and was pre-empted by the World Series several weeks in a row.

What they need now is a big, robust, loyal audience. They need viewers JUST LIKE YOU, honey.
  • If you like Freaks and Geeks
  • If you have never seen Freaks and Geeks
  • IF YOU LIKE GEEKS AT ALL (and you're here, aren't you?)

Then watch the show Monday nights at 8 EST on NBC And if you like what you see, let the network know that you want it to remain on the air.

And as we used to say in the 70's: See you later. Much.

Check out Meryn's interview with Hearsay Magazine Online!

email Meryn

Back to Blurbs | Geek Culture home page


©1999 Geek Culture®
All rights reserved.
Contact Geek Culture®