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Aug 27 2011

Popular Culture (TeeVee) 20110826: Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks is one of the few TeeVee shows with a predominately child and adolescent that ever had much appeal to me.  Part of the appeal was that the program was masterfully written and directed, and another part is that the acting was really very good.  It ran only for one season, 1999 through 2000, and even then not all of the 18 taped episodes were aired.  It was an NBC show and was the precursor for later, more successful shows like That ’70s Show.

Even though it aired in 1999 and 2000, it was set in 1980 in a made up suburb of Detroit.  The production team did a really good job with getting the period right, in particular the cars that were often used as unifying devices in several episodes.  I have to tell you a personal reason that I immediately liked the show.  As a really big admirer of SCTV, the fact that Joe Flaherty was cast as the father of the protagonist made me watch faithfully.

The Independent Film Channel (IFC) runs episodes of the show from time to time, but you have to consult the viewers’ guide because it is not broadcast on a regular schedule.  If you have never seen the program, I recommend that you give it a try.  As I said, it is unlike most shows about adolescents in that it is actually quite realistic.  It reminds me very much of the old Andy Griffith Show in that it was not quite a comedy, not quite a drama, but always entertaining to watch.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the plotline.  The major protagonist is Lindsey Weir (played by the hauntingly beautiful Linda Cardillini, who was around 24 when it was taped.  She is the teenage daughter of Harold and  Jean Weir (Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker).  Harold runs a sporting good store and Jean is a stay at home mum.  She has a brother, Sam (John Francis Daley) who is just started the ninth grade at Lindsey’s high school.  It was never made clear if she were a junior or a senior.

Lindsey is an honor student and maths whiz, and is encountering alternative influences in her life, the Freaks.  Mostly slackers, they are typical high school kids with a lack of motivation.  Lindsey is torn betwixt her old world being highly conventional and compliant with her new world of being unconventional (which is actually the crux of the show, as she craves acceptance by the Freaks and thus emulates them, becoming compliant but just to another convention).  Subplots concern her brother and his two friends trying to fit in to an alien school and trying to figure out girls.

Here are the opening credits.  Note that the theme music is by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and the music in the series was usually even better.

Now, you KNOW that I could not resist to feature something by The Who in this series!  Here is the classic scene where her parents first listen to “Squeeze Box”.  Flaherty is genius in playing her highly repressed and conservative father.

You Whovians out there note that this is one of only three songs by The Who that features banjo.  Care to same the other two?

Here is what I really liked about the show, a willingness to pay some homage to days past.  Here is the entirety of Episode 3, about Halloween.  At about 23:30 you can see the first hint of the vampire cape that Joe Flaherty wears later, and that comes at around 26:00.  By the way, ALL of the episodes are on You Tube for free.

And here is vintage Flaherty from around 1977 as Count Floyd.

As I said, SCTV was funny, funny, funny!  One day we shall discuss that seminal series.

There is another opening that I could not find on You Tube about Floyd being in rehab for too much drink.  In this one, he barely gets out of his coffin and hardly can do more than whisper the opening scene.  If anyone can find it, please put it up in the comments.

In Episode 13, Lindsey and her boyfriend have a falling out after she essentially accuses him of liking pot more than he likes her (not an uncommon accusation in 1980 relationships, I daresay) and he takes off and tell her that he does not need to pot, and leaves it with her.

She smokes some, then her dad tells her that she has a babysitting gig starting just then. Here is the entire episode 13, with pertinent parts at 13:00, 24:00, 25:50, and 29:00.

Here is essentially the conclusion with her and her very religions friend, Millie (Sarah Hagen) taking care of her.

I am going to stop here.  You have a couple of complete episodes to whet your appetite, and as I said You Tube has them all if you are interested.  I know that many people already know about this delightful nugget of TeeVee, so this is more intended as an introductory survey for those who are not familiar.  As is so often the case, a really good show never got picked up for a second season.  However, think of it this way:

When the Beverly Hillbillies first began, it was fresh and new and funny.  By the time that it finally drew its last breath, it was stale and old and trite.  They ran out of ideas.  Although I do not think that a second season would have exhausted all of the ideas, after several the kids would not be credible as being in high school.  Perhaps it was for the best that we have 18 gems rather than the 18 gems, 18 so so, and 18 dogs.  I would rather remember it as outstanding rather than stale and trite.  Remember, Twin Peaks has a brilliant first season and a dismal second (and last) one.

Please let us know what you think about what I consider to be an outstanding TeeVee show, and it holds up well even today.  Other than outstanding production, direction, writing, and acting, I think that one secret was to have the setting in the past, even when it was first run.  Only a few other TeeVee shows (other than the plethora of westerns in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s) were set in the recent past, notable amongst them The Untouchables.  Even though it might not have been worldchanging, I think that Freaks and Geeks was a very well crafted series.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at Daily Kos,

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