Last night, I finished watching all 18 episodes of “Freaks and Geeks,” leaving me that all-too-familiar sense of loss when a series as good as this ends, never knowing what becomes of a great bunch of characters. I can only hope that Lindsey comes to her senses, realizing that the following The Dead does not a productive life make. That may be the 52-year-old me speaking, but I’m pretty sure the 18-year-old me would have said the same thing. I never got the attraction of the Dead’s music, though I do understand the attraction of the community that rose up around it.
According to various sources, NBC canceled the show in 2000 after airing twelve of the eighteen episodes originally ordered. Though it had attracted a devoted cult following and the accolades of critics, it never garnered the ratings to justify its slot in the schedule. Reportedly, producers Paul Feig and Judd Apatow were devastated and devoted the rest of their careers casting the original actors in many of their subsequent projects.
To me, though, the reasons for the show’s poor ratings were all-too-obvious. “Freaks and Geeks” depicted marginalized kids navigating the most painful and difficult periods of their lives. The fact that it did it so well only made matters worse. Who wants to relive that? “My So Called Life” did much the same thing and suffered much the same fate. Why relive that agony, despite the moments of pure hilarity?
The show’s characters aren’t the popular kids — the jocks or cheerleaders — but the AV nerds and the burnouts, showing them with real lives and concerns. As someone tangentially associated with both groups in those years and similarly marginalized, it strikes home. Yet, the show didn’t stereotype. The characters all ring true to my experience.
Incidentally, the show also features some surprising appearances. Ben Stiller, Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex, Mean Girls), Joel Hodgson, and others round out a great cast. I especially loved Lindsey’s mom, because she didn’t seem like she was acting at all. We all know that mom. Most of us wish we had her as one. Joe Flaherty is great as always. If you loved him in SCTV, you’ll love him here.
Maybe it’s best that a second season never happened. I don’t think they actually established who was in what grade, but I assumed Lindsey and the Geek squad were seniors, although there was no graduation. Also, at the end of the school year, people were still walking around in their winter jackets, and I know that Michigan, where the show is set, gets as hot as New England in May/June.
I don’t think I wanted to see them go off to college. The story arcs completely change in that environment, so we might have ended up with a Glee-like conundrum of replacing great characters with sloppy seconds. Thankfully, we didn’t get to see the show jump the shark. Where else could they go with this?
Watch the show if you can, especially if you have kids on the cusp of their high school years. Like your actual high school years, it isn’t all painful. Believe it or not, some good things happened as well.