This is admittedly a very old tv show but why not touch on what some consider a cult classic? After all, it is one of Judd Apatow’s notable babies after early work on The Ben Stiller Show and The Larry Sanders Show. It features probably James Franco’s best known appearance before Spiderman as Hobgoblin and perhaps more impressively is the acting debut of comedy giant Seth Rogen. I never really watched the series when it aired, probably in part due to my aversion to self deprecating geek titles, but I recently got to watch all of the first and only season.
The title sequence starts with Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation, a punk theme song about people not caring about their reputation. Then the entire show (sans one episode) has nothing to do with punk culture and follows a couple groups of teenagers who care about nothing more than their reputations. It does well to ground the 1980 period but has little relation with the bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin that the main characters listen to. To be fair, the angst of the song certainly carries into the show and matches with the famous pilot episode line, “Man, I hate high school.”
The series follows two groups of kids a few years apart: the ‘freaks’ who are the bad kids who don’t care about school and smoke pot and the ‘geeks’ who are the kids who are so nerdy that they don’t know how to be normal and talk to girls and get beat up a lot. One thing Freaks and Geeks should be commended on is the semi realistic portrayal of these archetypes. Sure the stereotypes are cheesy and overdone, but at least these aren’t your normal Hollywood movie geeks who are dudes that work out but wear glasses. No, these kids are truly *asking* to get beat up, and the older kids who skip school are real losers most normal people wouldn’t want to hang out with.
Still, the things the series does right isn’t enough to overcome the faults. The 1980’s setting is a cool touch and I get the sense that Apatow is likely drawing from his experiences as a kid but I think there’s a reason this show got cancelled. The storylines were obvious, the characters were unlikable fuckups and posers, and the entire premise was a lie. I found it extremely hard to relate to these characters and it’s very possible mainstream audiences felt the same way.