Freaks and Geeks
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Original airdate: Sept. 25, 1999
Emma: Now onto our new show Freaks and Geeks and where to start?! I’ll give a quick background with my history with the show. F&G has never aired in the UK so I didn’t see it when I was a teen, the first time I saw it was last year when a friend lent me the DVD boxset. I’ve watched all of the episodes once, all except for the last one because (and this is dumb) I didn’t want to have watched them all. So by the time I first saw it I had a string awareness of all of the lead actors and many of the smaller roles. I was also very aware of the legacy behind the show and that it always features in “Cancelled Too Soon” lists. I remember being surprised at the dramatic tone of the show and thought there would be stronger comedic elements (not that it isn’t hilarious as well).
With My So-Called Life I had a personal connection in that I had watched it when I was about the same age as the lead character and it is set in the decade in which I was a teen. F&G is not the same experience of course; it’s set in 1980 and I was 29 when I first saw it. This doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t resonate as there something so timeless about the high school experience; we all feel confused and are trying to figure out who we are whether we are wearing plaid or an army jacket (I did both). It doesn’t matter who the band of the moment or what technology we have, we all want to fit in and we all want to have an easy time at high school.
Lindsay Weir, like Angela Chase, is going through a personal change and both are figuring who they want to be and who they want to hang out with. We’ve previously spoken about our own experiences of old friendships fading and Milly is very much like the Sharon in the Freaks & Geeks world. For Angela there wasn’t one life changing event that made her question who she is, but Lindsay has a strong reason for her existential crisis (I don’t think this diminishes Angela’s reasons as it’s something we all go through).
The moment she tells her brother Sam about what happened when their grandmother died is a real sucker punch and one that shows why F&G is revered. We’ve already been told that Lindsay has been acting different since her grandmother died and it’s easy to see why when she explains that her grandmother was terrified in her final few moments before death. This is a real “end of innocence” moment for Lindsay as she was alone in this experience and this feels like the first time she has shared the depths of what happened with another person. The question of “What is good?” in how we behave is important and Lindsay’s rebellion isn’t even that rebellious.
Lindsay gets accused of being a poser by Kim, a rich girl wanting to piss off her parents but there is a lot more to this than that. There are different levels of acceptance with Lindsay — Kim is instantly hostile, Seth Rogen (I had to look up his name and it’s Ken) is also not particularly welcoming and both James Franco (Dave) and Jason Segel (Nick – I promise I’ll remember their names soon) are more than happy for Lindsay to hang out with them.
I already really like Lindsay as a character, she seems complex but also like a decent human being who is trying to figure out who she is.
I haven’t mentioned the Geeks yet, but I figure I should throw it across to you first. When did you first see the show?
Julie: So, this show aired in 1999, when I was in college and not watching much television…because I was studying. I don’t remember exactly when I watched it for the first time, but I think it was about eight years ago. The only thing I know for sure was that I was married and we were living in our Evanston apartment. The rest of the details are fuzzy. The cool thing was, I only knew who James Franco was at the time (because of Spider-Man, probably, and the Emmys). I really didn’t recognize anyone else (so, obviously, I must’ve watched the show before How I Met Your Mother hit the air). It has been fun watching the actors from this show grow more and more famous, and I feel the same kind of affection for them that I feel for actors from The Wire and Felicity and Lost. The husband and I always get excited anytime we see Sam Weir or Bill or Neil in anything.
This time around, of course I’m comparing this show to My So-Called Life. Lindsay is definitely Angela. Millie is Sharon. Daniel is Jordan. The main difference, I think, is Sam. He’s the “Danielle” of the show, but unlike Danielle, people actually pay attention to him. So, yay for Sam Weir! You are less pathetic than Danielle Chase!
This show does such a fantastic job of balancing the serious and the funny. I laughed out loud many, many times while rewatching the pilot and I was all alone in my bedroom. That’s not sad. One of my favorite moments of the episode (possibly of the whole series) is when Sam and Cindy are taking to the floor for their dance and the music (“Come Sail Away” by Styx) switches to the uptempo part just as they’re about to start their slow dance. Perfection. It’s a funny moment, but also kind of heartbreaking (even though Sam takes it all in stride).
There is so much to get into with this show, with this one episode. Since I started talking about Sam Weir, I’ll keep the focus on him for a moment. He is just delightful and I adore his interactions with his friends and his family. I am an older sister (my brother is three years younger than me), and the two of us did not really start to interact with each other until he was in high school. We didn’t run with the same kinds of crowds, but we a mutual affection for each other, and I see a lot of that in the relationship between Lindsay and Sam. They are very protective of each other.
So, were you a freak or a geek? I’m not really sure where I fell. I was kind of somewhere in between, neither geek nor freak, but still not the cool kid making out in the bleachers either.
Emma: It’s weird that Franco is clearly the Leto of the group and I know he’s a bit of a dick but I still find him hot. Wonder why Franco gets a free pass with me and not Leto.
There is an instant rapport between these characters and it really feels like they are friends. This is especially true of the three geeks and their interactions. From them quoting their favorite movies to their debate on how they can tell that Cindy is into Sam, they feel like fully formed characters even at this early stage. Neal is the confident one, who uses humor to maintain this confidence, Bill is the super awkward, gangly one, and Sam feels like the everyman. Bills comment on how their gym shorts are not at all flattering is so true of any decade, I feel you, Bill. Bill is instantly my favorite of the group and it’s probably because he is the most awkward. And dodgeball really is kind of pointless (though I have to admit I did find it fun at school).
I was also somewhere in between the freaks and the geeks; I liked the guys in bands and went to the secret smoking place at break time but I also wasn’t much of a rule breaker and never cut class. Also is this a designated smoking area?
The bit at the school dance with Cindy and Sam really is hilarious and this song is great (it will always make me think of The Virgin Suicides/South Park — weird combo I know). It’s good to see Lindsay having a good time in the moment and that Eli has forgiven her (how great is Ben Foster?!). The whole Eli story is really interesting with Lindsay thinking she is doing the right thing and thinking that the others are bullying him. It’s difficulty because they are teasing him, but at least they are including him and not calling him retarded. It’s heartbreaking when he falls down the stairs.
Oh, and other than Ben Foster, the other supporting actor who is now more famous is Lizzy Caplan, who, if I recall correctly, is recurring.
Now to the parents and I love Lindsay’s dad ending each story with a death (much like the Mean Girls sex ed class — YES first Mean Girls reference!).
What else did you think about the pilot?
Julie: Good question about the smoking. Were there dedicated high school smoking areas in the ’80s? This wasn’t the Mad Men era. Were they also drinking Old Fashioned in the student lounge? [Ed.'s note: Les was. -NK]
Maybe it’s the more jovial tone of the show, but Daniel seems less dangerous and jerky than Jordan Catalano. And he helped Lindsay pick up the contents of her purse, so that was nice. Also, Jared Leto has this sort of “above it all” aspect to his persona, and Franco is just a likable guy (Oscar hosting performance notwithstanding).
Not surprisingly, the Daniel character never “did it for me,” which sounds horribly inappropriate coming from a lady who first watched this show in her early twenties. But I also read a ton of YA, so basically I’m a perpetual 16-year-old. I did, however, think Ken and Nick were just the cutest, but we’ll get into more of that as the season progresses, I’m sure.
Oddly, I remember being kind of put off by Bill when I first started this show, but as the season went on (and especially watching again), he’s probably my favorite. The geeks are just adorable, mostly because they’re just tiny innocent freshmen. You know, though, Neil is totally going to grow up to be Schmidt.
Ben Foster, who I definitely didn’t know about when I watched the show the first time, was amazing. And I really loved how the show kind of dicked over poor Lindsay in this scene. She’s trying to be a good person, and she is being a good person (despite the use of the R-word, but it was the ’80s), but nobody sees her as the good guy. It’s such a hard thing to be a teenager who stands up to injustice, because more often than not, your good deed will be punished.
It definitely took me all episode to remember Lizzy Caplan’s name. I know. I’m a horrible Internet nerd person.
And, yay for the first Mean Girls reference! Not much happened in cars or bathrooms in this episode, so that’s a disappointment. But I am glad we haven’t been subjected to any parental sex or budding adultery. In that regard, Freaks and Geeks has it over My So-Called Life, for sure.
Emma: The Jeff Rosso character is hilarious in his persistence. We had a teacher at school who wore rainbow tank tops and made us call him by his first name, it was for Art so it made sense but it definitely felt a bit weird. The whole notion of a school guidance counselor is really alien to be beyond TV and movies as it’s just not something our schools have — there isn’t one person designated in this role and I guess if you had a personal issue you just spoke to your form tutor. I’m going to blame the stiff upper lip and how we don’t like to talk about our feelings.
While I don’t have much more to add I do want to say what a solid pilot episode this is as you get a real sense of who these characters are.
Julie: All teachers should wear rainbow tank tops. This should be law.
We had guidance counselors at my high school, but mostly just to help with applying to college and stuff. I’d be hard pressed to remember my counselor’s name, but I do remember she was a woman, so there’s that. Maybe guidance counselors play a bigger role in some schools, as this show and Suburgatory would suggest.
I also think this was a terrific, jam-packed pilot. It introduced just about every character, and every character came into the episode fully realized. We’ve already seen a dodge ball match, a school dance, and a fight. I can’t wait for episode two!