Blu-Ray slight return: Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks may be the ultimate cult television series of all time. Just for perspective, Star Trek was not a cult show; it lasted three seasons. Likewise Mr. Ed was not a cult show; it lasted five seasons. Ditto The Twilight Zone.
Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series Collector’s Edition, which landed last week from Shout! Factory, features all 18 episodes in both it’s original 1.33:1 broadcast version as well as the widescreen 1.78:1 format in which it was shot on glorious film. Plus an extras disc that has an exhaustive amount of interviews, auditions, table reads of three eps, the NBC electronic press kit, and at least a couple hours of behind the scenes footage. Additionally, each ep has one (or more) commentaries and outtakes.
NBC cancelled F&G after an ep where Linda Cardellini, one of the show’s geeks, in this case a mathalete, experiments with marijuana. Thanks General Electric. Of the remaining six eps three were aired by NBC during the summer after the cancellation and three on a cable channel later that year.
Watching the show from the pilot to the last ep provides a journey through both the early 1980s as well as the creative landscape of actors and directors that in the current day rule the big screen.
Freaks and Geeks was created by Paul Feig (his newest film, the Ghostbusters reboot comes out this summer) and executive produced by Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Both wrote scripts and/or helmed individual episodes.
The cast included current movie stars/directors like Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segal. But even other regulars – Martin Starr, Joe Flaherty, Samm Levine, John Francis Daley, Becky Ann Baker, and Busy Phillips – can be seen in current televisions show and co-starring in feature films.
Don’t even get me started on peripheral actors who showed up once, a few times or in the background. That list includes Lizzy Caplan, Ben Foster, Mike White, Rashida Jones, Tom Wilson (Biff from BTTF), Jason Schwartzman, Shia LaBeouf (who was 14 at the time), Joel Hodgson, Leslie Mann, Kevin Tighe, David Krumhotlz, Dave Allen, and others.
Music for the show was a defining factor in its coolness. One ep features wall-to-wall songs from The Who, as some of the cast has to convince their parents to let them attend a rock concert. This ep also has a beautifully realized sequence where geeky Starr makes an afterschool snack of a grilled cheese sandwich and a brownie with milk and settles on the couch to watch Gary Shandling on the Dinah Shore show. The entire scene is silent save for The Who’s “I’m One.” Perhaps not ironically one-time stand-up comics like Apatow consider Shandling (who died last week) as a major influence.
No doubt one factor in waiting to release this deluxe edition was clearing the many rights for music heard on each episode.
On first viewing each show seems to be the best show ever, only to be outdone by the next show. Take the penultimate ep where an uncredited Ben Stiller plays a Secret Service agent assigned to the school when Vice President Bush makes a speech there. Stiller breaks down to the guidance councilor about his frustration with his job. The councilor himself (Dave Allen) has been banned from the speech because of his radical leanings in college.
I held off watching the last ep because I knew that it would be the emotional culmination of everything that had come before. When I did watch it I was floored by the almost existential ending that involves Cardellini heading off to attend her first Grateful Dead concert. This ep also contains “Box of Rain” and “Ripple.”
If you’ve never experienced Freaks and Geeks it’s time to get with the program. If you caught it on previous revolutions the return visit is sweeter.
— Michael Bergeron