Often considered one of the best “cancelled-too-soon” shows, this teen comedy-drama launched the careers of not only its creators Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), but also its young cast, including Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Linda Cardellini. Here’s why you should check it out.
What’s the premise? Set in Michigan in 1980, the show centers around teenagers Lindsay Weir (Cardellini) and her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley), as they navigate high school life and find peers in two very distinct groups of friends.
What’s it like? It’s a period coming-of-age teen dramedy with a period-specific soundtrack, like The Wonder Years, but set in the early 1980s. Instead of the tumult of the 1960s, the Weirs are growing up in late-Cold War, not quite end-of-disco-era America. The “freaks” are the post-punks — the burnouts, outcasts, etc. — who ushered in the DYI aesthetic of the mid-1980s, while the “geeks” are computer nerds in the making. All of the teens are misfits in one way or another, trying to fit into a social group while dealing with teenage angst and a desire for independence.
Where can I see it? The complete series is both available on DVD and streaming on Netflix.
How long will it take? With 18 44-minute episodes, a dedicated viewer could knock the whole series out in one weekend. Even if you did one episode a day, you’d be finished in less than a month.
What do the critics think? Although the show had lower ratings, it was a critical darling when it first aired, and the show’s esteem continues to grow nearly fifteen years after its cancellation. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly said it was one of the few shows to “treasure youth even as it embodies all of its contradictions, craziness, hopes, and fears.” Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik listed it as one of his “All-Time 100 TV Shows,” saying, “Adolescence never hurt so good as it did in this comedy-drama about outcasts in a Michigan high school circa 1980.”
Why should I watch this? Fans of any of the actors involved will get a kick out of seeing their faves so very, very young. But you don’t even have to be a fan of the cast to relate to the characters as they fumble their way towards adulthood. While the ensemble cast is rather large, their chemistry is amazing. Eschewing the “best friend” ideal most teen shows promote, Freaks and Geeks shows the fluidity of friendships — how some days you relate more to one friend, and other days to another. It also features one heck of a soundtrack, from its theme song — Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” — to Rush, Neil Young, Styx, and more.
What’s my next step? Star Linda Cardellini was a regular on E.R. for six seasons and John Francis Delay was on Bones for seven seasons. For more coming-of-age television with killer soundtracks, try Happy Days, The Wonder Years, and The O.C. For more features from Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, try Anchorman (produced by Apatow), Superbad, Bridesmaids, and their other short-lived TV show Undeclared.