Opinion: What Makes ‘Freaks and Geeks’ So Special

By Quentin Basnaw

A high school student sits with his girlfriend on the football stadium bleachers. He’s shifting nervously. She’s holding his hands, worried.

ASHLEY: You seem so distant these days, Brad. Is it something I did? ‘Cause if there is, I want you to tell me.
BRAD: Ashley, it’s just…
ASHLEY: I’m willing to work through whatever it is we need to work through. But we need to communicate. I need you to talk to me.
[Brad turns to Ashley.]
BRAD: Ashley, it’s just that I love you so much. It scares me.
[Ashley’s grin spreads from ear to ear. She moves in and kisses Brad. He returns the kiss.]

The opening scene to Freaks and Geeks is full of charm, high school drama, humor, and heart. This is a standard that the entire show strives to balance, and it succeeds in spades.

For the uninitiated, Freaks and Geeks tackles high school in the 1980s, following a group of “Freaks” (slackers and burnouts) and “Geeks” (freshmen boys who are into “geeky” things). The show goes into detail about the lives of each individual in their respective cliques, and how each one navigates the high school social life. This show also gave the “big break” to many Hollywood stars, including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, and John Francis Daley.

Freaks and Geeks knows how high school works. The show slowly and deftly sets up its characters, starting them off close to high school stereotypes, then transitions them into complex characters with every subsequent episode. When I say characters, I mean any character that has more than four lines of dialogue. The background school bully, the minor love interest to one of the Geeks, another mean cheerleader, the gym teacher (a.k.a. Biff Tannen), all get due time that lets their complexity rival the Freaks and the Geeks that we follow throughout.

This focus on the characters makes the show feel relatable. The characters themselves rarely, if ever, achieve “victory.” It’s just like high school: no matter how well you could be doing, there’s always something that sucks. The show takes that idea and knows what sucks and what really sucks when it comes to a high-schooler’s perspective. Take, for instance, the woes of attraction and lust you feel for your “first love.” This is handled with a comedic and light tone in the show. Then there’s the “really sucks” part of high school affairs: families who don’t care for their children, parents who have a hard time connecting with their children, and teenagers who deal with confused sexuality.

There’s not much to say except that the show knows the proper balance between levity and seriousness, while still being compelling and entertaining. It’s so well written and acted and passionately made that is impossible to not fall in love with every aspect of the show, even the characters that just SUCK (looking at you, Lindsay and Cindy). You just keep watching because you understand them and why they take actions and make infuriating decisions. This is a testament to everyone involved with the show who just “gets it.” They get how high school can be chock full of so many conflicting emotions, and then how you can sit back and laugh at some of that, because a lot of it is completely ridiculous!

I will never forget watching Seth Rogen’s Ken be a sarcastic jerk who meets and falls for someone who matches his wit. I will never forget the Geeks’ struggle for acceptance from the rest of their school. I will never forget Neal crying when his mom confirms that she knows his dad is having an affair. I will never forget Kim Kelly racing away from her house, avoiding her abusive parents. I will never forget Sam breaking up with Cindy and her reaction to it. I will never forget every moment the Weir parents help their children or attempt to help them, often with hilarious results. I will never forget all the bumbling and sometimes true advice Rosso gives to all the characters. I will never forget every conversation Nick spends with his father. I will never forget when Daniel plays Dungeons and Dragons with the Geeks. I will never forget the funk/disco/70’s music that plays throughout the show. Above all, I will never forget the ending, where a sixties hippie van drives down the road and the image fades to black while bittersweet music plays.

Freaks and Geeks is a show everyone should watch. Everyone can find some form of enjoyment and truth from this show. Whether it be sad and reflective, truthful and sad, happy and sad, truthful and funny, or just simply hilarious, Freaks and Geeks has it all, and it is something that should be celebrated. Thank you to everyone who made Freaks and Geeks possible: you created one of the best TV shows of all time.