Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's short-lived Freaks and Geeks premiered in 1999 and didn't even make it to a second season. Maybe NBC didn't know how to promote it, or maybe it was just bad timing. This was a show that virtually no one knew about, but those that did were absolutely rabid for it. Alas, word of mouth wasn't quite fast enough to bring up the ratings in time, and it was only a memory by mid-2000. Petitions sprouted up over the Internet to save the show as fans clamored for its resurrection on TV. They obviously adored the show, and for good reason: it was one of the most well-conceived and strikingly honest portraits of high school life to ever grace the screen. Combining all of the best qualities of My So-Called Life, The Wonder Years, and even the animated classic Daria, Freaks and Geeks was a truly special show that didn't deserve its early expulsion.
Freaks and Geeks takes place circa 1980 at William McKinley High School, where the students are as ordinary---and extraordinary---as in any of our own high schools. Fights break out, kids gets picked on, young romance blossoms and the school lunch is disgusting. This is high school, real and horrifying, and these stories revolve around young kids just like we were, growing up. The characters are extemely well-developed, and just might remind you of old friends and enemies in many ways.
First, the cast of main characters. "Freaks" refers to one social class of students: those who skip class, smoke outside, act tough, but are still considered outcasts in most peoples' eyes. "Geeks" is pretty self-explanatory: Star Trek (and Star Wars!), math, braces, and packed lunch. While there are many different social groups at William McKinley, these two are the primary focus. The "Freaks" include Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini, who was 24 when this was filmed!), Daniel Desario (James Franco), Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps), Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel) and Ken Miller (Seth Rogen). The "Geeks" are a smaller circle, and include Sam Weir (John Daley), Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr). While the groups don't always interact with each other, this is how they are introduced. Like many of us in school, we were mostly defined by our social circles. However, things change, and so do relationships. This young group of kids have fights, get picked on, fall in love…and suffer through school lunch. It's all part of life.
Notably absent from Freaks and Geeks are the typical clichéd high school soap-opera staples: life is not sugar-coated, and nothing is held back. Even at its most optimistic, it doesn't take the easy way out to satisfy the viewers. Tragedy strikes, and you feel genuinely moved---because you know these kids. Of course, this isn't an overly dark and depressing show; in fact, Freaks and Geeks is heavily rooted in comedy. There are tons of laughs here, provided equally by almost every major character, making this a very well-rounded show that really entertains.
Why it never succeeded is beyond me…but I guess it's the same reason so many other great shows (and movies!) go unrecognized during their brief tenures. Regardless of TV ratings, Freaks and Geeks has made a stellar entrance on DVD, and is available in two formats. The first one isn't bad at all: a six-disc set containing all 18 shows in their intended order (this includes a few that never aired), complete with a nice amount of extras on each disc. However, this review covers the much-anticipated 8-disc "Fan Edition", which also includes 2 bonus discs chock full of more bonus materials! Additionally, this version takes DVD packaging to a whole new level…but more on that later. Firstly, I'd like to give a run-down of the included episodes, along with the episode-appropriate extras that are included with each disc (other extras---including the bonus discs---will be covered later). This is an extremely detailed release in every regard, so I'd advise you to make a sandwich and get comfortable for the remainder of the review. Let's get started, shall we?
Episode 1, "Pilot" - In the series premiere, Lindsay begins hanging out with a new group of kids, much to the dismay of her parents (and the Math Team). After a series of horrible mishaps and confrontations, Lindsay becomes more depressed, culminating with a run-in with the school guidance counselor. Her brother, Sam, becomes more and more interested in a cheerleader, Cindy, but he and his friends must also battle a school bully. Note: This is the Director's Cut of the pilot, and features additional scenes that weren't shown on TV.
Episode 2, "Beers and Weirs", - Lindsay's parents are planning a weekend vacation...so it's party time! Naturally, the party gets out of hand, and it's up to Lindsay to keep things under control. Things take a turn for the strange, as Nick tries to go a little far with Lindsay after she seeks his help. Meanwhile, Bill samples a bit of the ol' keg, and learns a thing or two about the effects of alcohol.
Episode 3, "Tricks and Treats" - It's Halloween time, and Lindsay and her mom must uphold the tradition of handing out candy. Eventually, Lindsay ditches her mom in favor of hanging out with friends, leaving her mom very upset. Egging, vandalism, and fun-size candy bars are all present and accounted for, and a series of mishaps and confrontations lead to Lindsay returning home to her mom out of guilt.
Episode 4, "Kim Kelly Is My Friend" - Sam gets in trouble for vandalizing his locker, even though the real culprit is a friend of Kim's. After a confrontation with her parents, Kim escapes her house with Lindsay in tow, and they establish something of a relationship (much to the disgust of Sam). Finally, Kim has a fight with the friend who vandalized Sam's locker, and threatens to beat her up.
Episode 5, "Tests and Breasts" - Lindsay's attempt to help Daniel pass a test gets her into hot water. Trouble is also brewing in sex education class, as Sam receives more details than he bargained for. Basically, Daniel lets Sam borrow a porno to help him get the general idea, but Sam ends up more confused than ever before.
Episode 6, "I'm With the Band" - The freaks of McKinley High decide to form a rock band, with interesting results. In the meantime, Lindsay's relationship with Nick gets a little more complicated. In a scene most young men can relate to, Sam refuses to take a shower after gym because he doesn't want to be seen naked.
Episode 7, "Carded and Discarded" - Sam, Neal and Bill become friends with a new transfer student. After she becomes social with more popular students, the three guys move into action to keep her on their side. Also, some of the freaks decide to get fake IDs to sneak into the bar where a popular band is playing, but they learn some pretty surprising information about the band. Jason Schwarzman (Rushmore) shows up, too!
Episode 8, "Girlfriends and Boyfriends" - Lindsay learns that appearances can be deceptive after some confusion concerning her relationship with Nick, especially after hearing from Millie that freaks are only after girls for sex. Meanwhile, Bill is partnered with another student in class, and Nick becomes extremely jealous. Also, Sam joins the yearbook team to get closer to Cindy, but she constantly thinks of him more as a friend than anything else.
Episode 9, "We've Got Spirit" - After some personal reflection, Lindsay worries that Nick is taking their relationship a little too seriously. In other news, Sam decides to be the school mascot in order to be closer to Cindy, who is still the girl of his dreams. A rivalry heats up between McKinley High and the rival Lincoln High, and Daniel, Kim, and Ken take matters into their own hands.
Episode 10, "The Diary" - Lindsay's parents decide that her friend Kim is a bad influence after she is caught hitch-hiking, and they forbid Lindsay from hanging around her. In a very funny subplot, Bill decides to make prank calls to Coach Fredericks after being continually picked on in gym class. He eventually persuades the coach to let him be a team captain, and the guys all participate in a somewhat friendly came of baseball.
Episode 11, "Looks and Books" - There's trouble behind the wheel, as Lindsay takes her parents' car without permission. Distracted on the road, she gets into an accident...and a lot of trouble. After some more personal reflection about her old friendship with Millie, Lindsay decides to re-join the Math Team. Elsewhere, Sam tries everything to impress Cindy the cheerleader: new hair, new clothes, the whole nine yards. However, all he really needs is a new attitude.
Episode 12, "The Garage Door" - After discovering a disturbing secret about Neal's dad, Sam wonders whether their friendship will continue. Also, Ken falls for a girl in the band, Amy, and enlists the help of Lindsay to hook him up. And of course, Sam gets the best present a kid could ever receive: an Atari. By the way, you Playstation 2 brats don't know what you were missing.
Episode 13, "Chokin' and Tokin'" - Ah, the drug-themed episode. Lindsay worries about Nick's potential drug problems, but she ends up trying pot out of curiosity. In other health-related news, Bill's allergic reaction to peanuts turns deadly serious. Also, Lindsay and Millie's friendship continues to develop, but Millie has doubts that Lindsay will stick around after the 'drug ordeal' is over.
Episode 14, "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" - After an unfortunate accident involving Millie's dog, Kim becomes friends with her. Also, Bill is devastated when he discovers his mother's relationship with the gym teacher. The gym teacher attempts to become friends with Bill, but the tension between the two prevents them from really seeing eye-to-eye with each other.
Episode 15, "Noshing and Moshing" - Neal becomes obsessed with ventriloquism after his grades take a turn for the worse, giving way to very interesting results. In another turn of events, Lindsay becomes drawn towards Neal's older brother, Barry. Also, Daniel discovers punk rock after being invited to a club, but he discovers the punk scene to be a little rougher than he thought.
Episode 16, "Smooching and Mooching" - After a fight with his dad over his drum set, Nick leaves home. Lindsay feels sorry for him, but unwillingly takes him in as a guest. After Cindy the cheerleader breaks up with her boyfriend, Sam sees his chance. Also, Bill gets a little action in the closet when he gets to play "Seven Minutes in Heaven" with a girl from school, Vicki.
Episode 17, "The Little Things" - After testing the ropes in their new relationship, Sam finds himself somewhat disappointed to be with Cindy. She becomes a totally different person than he had imagined, and their relationship is soon in ruins. Gossip leads to big-time trouble between four friends: Amy, Ken, Nick and Daniel. Also, Vice President George Bush makes an appearance at the school, and extreme politics ensue. Keep an eye out for Ben Stiller, too!
Episode 18, "Discos and Dragons" - In the series finale (like it or not), the students wonder what the future will hold for them. Unsure of their place in the world, the last day of school is soon approaching, and they may not be ready for it. Also, there's more disco than most people would like to remember. Oh yeah, some of the guys experience Dungeons & Dragons, too.
So, that's it for the episodes: 18 in all, and not a bad one in the bunch. While it's unfortunate that we'll never see these characters develop even further, Freaks and Geeks remains a classic portrait of high school life, and will hopefully capture the attention of many new fans. As mentioned before, the commentaries for each of these episodes are great and cover a lot of ground…it was especially nice hearing from such a wide variety of contributors. But that's not all! We've still got to cover the technical portion of this release, not to mention the rest of those bonus features. Go make another sandwich in the meantime, will ya?
Presented in the show's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Freaks and Geeks looks excellent. The visual style of the show is a little unconventional when compared with your typical TV fare: it's somewhat gritty and grainy, appearing slightly washed-out and heavy with contrast. However, this stylistic choice suits the tone of a show where nothing is saccharine or glamorous, and it looks great on DVD! The transfers are very clean, as expected for such a recent offering. This was a nice effort by Shout Factory and Dreamworks, and this fine visual presentation ensures that Freaks and Geeks will look great for future generations to discover.
The audio is another nice surprise. Viewers are given a choice between the original stereo or new 5.1 Surround mixes, and either one is a great choice. Obviously, most viewers will prefer the 5.1, as it offers a much more realistic and enveloping soundstage, but I can't blame purists for sticking with the original. Surrounds are used lightly, but come into play on occasions…mostly for general ambience and musical cues. While this dialogue-driven show could never be considered demo material, the perfectly natural audio presentation is a great effort and should please fans. On a related note, it's unfortunate that subtitles weren't included...they're about the only thing missing, besides for chapter selections.
Freaks and Geeks offers relatively simple DVD menus, but they look great! These designs include basic collage photos of the cast, as well as memorable audio clips and background music. Navigation is also simple and straightforward, which is necessary for such a packed set of discs. Each disc also offers a 'Play All' option, which is a great inclusion for fan marathons and lazy evenings. As far as the packaging goes, most interested parties have heard of the amazing yearbook-style design for this 8-disc release. This is quite an excellent package, and is both sturdy and extremely convincing (not to mention a great conversation piece!). The $120 price tag on this set might seem a little high, but hey…my yearbook cost a bundle and it didn't even include 8 DVDs! All things considered, this release could be the one to beat as far as packaging and presentation go, for 2004 or any year.
Special thanks go out to Carlton Doerner for sending in photos of the packaging!
I've already mentioned the Audio Commentaries and Deleted Scenes from the first six discs under the 'Episode Guide' above, but there are additional extras to be found here. Among other things, the highlights include Bloopers, Behind-the-Scenes footage, Promos & TV Spots, and much more! However, this limited release contains an additional 2 discs of extras that go into even greater detail about the production, development, and execution of Freaks and Geeks. There's an amazing amount of stuff on here (about six hours' worth!) that will absolutely thrill hardcore fans, while putting all other TV boxed sets to shame in the process. Let's get started:
Disc Seven starts off with a complete Table Reading of the episode "Kim Kelly is My Friend" (50 minutes). This is the first of several readings on these two discs, and is a great snapshot of the cast getting to know one another (it's their first read-through of the material). Next up is the complete Question & Answer Session at the Director's Guild Theatre on March 11, 2000 (72 minutes). This was produced in association with the Museum of Television & Radio, and features most of the cast and crew participating. Also on this disc are a series of 5 Deleted Scenes (8 minutes)…there's also a hidden Easter Egg which features the scenes with Audio Commentary by Sam Weir & Bill Haverchuck. Next up are some Cast Auditions with The Freaks (7 minutes), The Geeks (6 minutes), and several other students of McKinley High (8 minutes).
Rounding out this disc is the "Smorgasbord" section, which contains a number of other supplements (mostly in raw form). The collection includes Raw Footage (12 minutes), Odds & Sods (gag reel and bloopers, 11 minutes), Long Live Rock! (a collection of the music-themed segments, 7 minutes), extended scenes of the hilarious Sober Students Improv Players (5 minutes) and Tales of the Secret Service (featuring Ben Stiller, 7 minutes), and a collection of Photo Galleries, including appearances by the writers and publicity stills. Whew…and there's another disc too!
Disc Eight includes two more Table Readings for the episodes "I'm With the Band" and "Girlfriends & Boyfriends" (100 minutes total). Next up are a series of NBC Promos, including the complete press kit and additional promo material (26 minutes total), as well as some additional Behind the Scenes Footage (11 minutes). More Auditions are next, including the interesting Alternate Universe where cast members read as other characters (11 minutes), as well as auditions for the "Authority Figures" of the show (11 minutes).
This disc also has its own "Smorgasbord" section, which includes more Raw Footage (14 minutes) and Odds & Sods (13 minutes). Also here is a complete Script for the episode "The Bus", as well as raw footage of the Seven Minutes in Heaven scene where Bill gets some action (ironically, this footage only lasts 2 minutes). Finally, there's footage from The Graduation scene (3 minutes), and a montage of memorable scenes entitled Thanks, Goodbye.
Overall, this was an absolutely exhaustive amount of special features, plain and simple. Combined with the Audio Commentaries and other goodies on the first six discs, this is one of the most complete presentations ever offered on DVD, period. Move over, Peter Jackson…you've got some competition!
On one hand, it's a shame that this show was cancelled before it ever really got off the ground. But look at the bright side: if Freaks and Geeks would have survived, we might not have gotten this staggeringly detailed and complete DVD package. Freaks and Geeks: The Fan Edition is simply the finest TV-related boxed set ever created, plain and simple. The dedication of the creators, crew, and cast is amazing, as this must have taken an incredible amount of work. This exhaustive 8-disc package covers all of the bases, and is perhaps the most definitive love letter to fans I've ever had the pleasure of wading through. Freaks and Geeks was an excellent show, and this DVD set combines a great technical presentation with a massive amount of extras and a stunning presentation to boot. Even at the extremely stiff price of $120 (and no shopping around!), this boxed set is too incredible not to be part of the DVD Talk Collector Series.
From hardcore fans to freshmen, this package comes with my highest possible recommendation to each and every one of you guys…it's definitely in the running for the best DVD release of 2004. Whether you're in the market for the regular edition or this version, you can't deny the love that was put into this thing. Who knows? Maybe with enough sales, it'll pull a Family Guy and get resurrected in a few years. No matter what, Freaks and Geeks: The Fan Edition is something any fan can be proud to have in their collection. Skip school, skip work, whatever...just go out and buy this thing already!
The Official Site of Freaks and Geeks (with even more DVD information!)
Randy Miller III is an art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.