This one's for Polly!
Polly- Sneakers Ear Cartoons
I Hope Things Will Turn Around- Chixdiggit! Safeways Here We Come
Complex World- Young Adults Complex World
I Believe- The Volcanos The Volcanos
Four Dollar Date- The Take The Take 7"
Missing You- Green Day ¡Tré!
Foreign Girls- Tours Language School 7"
Prove It- The Cute Lepers Can't Stand Modern Music
^Timothy- The Buoys Timothy
Savage- The Nuns The Nuns
How Can We Go On?- Bill Lloyd Nashpop: A Nashville Pop Compilation
Gravity- Soul Asylum Delayed Reaction
Not My Girl Anymore- The Bats How Pop Can You Get
Lonely Enough To Lie- Best Kissers In The World Yellow Brick Roadkill
*Larry- The Scientists The Scientists
*Geno- Dexys Midnight Runners Searching For The Young Soul Rebels
*Eric- Radio Stars Songs For Swinging Lovers
*Trevor- Senseless Things Postcard C.V.
Northern Lights- Allo Darlin' Northern Lights Single
Even The Girls Don't Know- Slyk Slyk Records Single
Married To Me- The Ravers I Was A Teenage Rock and Roller
Endless Weekend- The Golden Horde The Golden Horde
Talk To Me- Myracle Brah Life On Planet Eartsnop
Send Me Something Real- The dB's Falling Off The Sky
>Jesus- The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground
Will You Be Mine- The Blend Anytime Delight
Movin In- The Doits This Is Rocket Science
Are You Gonna Move It For Me- The Donnas Turn 21
What I Got- International Q International Q 45
Honest Boy- Dred Scott Believe You All E.P.
Jimmy Jazz- The Clash London Calling
^Power Pop Peak: #17 Billboard Hot 100 1/2/71
*SacroSet: All Kindsa Guys
>Power Pop Prototype: 1969
I have always loved coming of age stories. As a child I was drawn to TV shows and movies about kids facing the challenges of growing up, from Will and Penny on Lost In Space to Jody Foster in Freaky Friday to Jan and Peter on The Brady Bunch. Not much has changed; when you take a look at my Top 5's from last year you'll see the film The Perks of Being A Wallflower, DVD's Pariah, Chronicle and Tomboy as well as books The Fault In Our Stars and Ready Player One. In fact coming of age stories invariably show up on every Top 5 List going back to my first in 1999. Maybe I suffer from a form of arrested development (a great TV show but not what I'm talking about here). Ultimately who knows why we love what we love. And who cares? The act of loving something and sharing it with other people is the important part.
Among my TV favorites are several shows from the 60's (Ultraman, Get Smart, Underdog, The Banana Splits, Wild Wild West) and 70's (Kung Fu, Baretta, Soap, SCTV, SNL). Even in the 80's and 90's when my life got more interesting I'd still manage to make time for Hill Street Blues, Seinfeld, The Simpsons or Twin Peaks. And television in the last ten years has been pretty amazing with The Wire, Lost, Arrested Development, Deadwood, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, Justified, Louie, Game of Thrones.... the list goes on and on. Even so, of all the great television I have seen in my life, my all-time favorite show is one that ran on NBC for only twelve episodes in the 1999-2000 season. The show is called Freaks and Geeks and, of course, it is a coming of age story.
I'll never forget the night I came home from band rehearsal and found my wife sitting on the couch crying in front of the TV. I figured she had just seen another of those sappy ATandT or Kodak commercials, but Jaime proceeded to tell me about a show that could have been taken from a diary of her high school years in Plymouth, MI. I watched the following week's episode of Freaks and Geeks and every one after that, taping each on the VCR. I was hooked. The show was cancelled in March, with NBC blowing out the last three episodes on one night in July and that was it.
Freaks and Geeks is centered around Lindsay Weir and her friends (the "freaks") as well as her brother Sam and his friends (the "geeks"). Set in fictional Detroit suburb Chippewa, MI in 1980, the series has one of the best opening switcheroos in history. While cheesy canned music plays in the background the camera pans across the football field at William McKinley High School and up into the bleachers. There we pause on a football player and cheerleader, both beautiful and blonde, professing their undying chaste love for each other, before the camera indifferently moves on, panning down below the bleachers as the opening riff of Van Halen's "Running With The Devil" blares out of the screen. We then meet the "freaks" who are being stalked by a girl in her dad's green Korean war coat. We later learn that this girl, straight A student Linsday Weir, is a former Mathlete going through an existential crisis after witnessing the death of her grandmother- hence the army jacket and interest in the "freaks." The camera then moves on to Sam Weir with his friends Neil and Bill. The three are goofily running through their favorite Bill Murray comedy bits from SNL and Caddyshack only to be rudely interrupted by a bully and his toadies who start threatening Sam. Lindsay rescues her brother, shaming him in the process, and after Sam snaps at her while skulking away she turns and says "Man! I hate high school." Then the show opens with the driving guitar and drums of Joan Jett's anthem "Bad Reputation."
When creator Paul Feig establishes then promptly abandons the telegenic yet banal football player and cheerleader on the bleachers he is telling us that Freaks and Geeks is not going to be like Dawson's Creek and virtually every other high school show we've seen. Sam's humiliation in front of his friends sends the message that neither is it a That '70s Show style nostalgia comedy. Freaks and Geeks isn't glamorous; some cast members are overweight or have bad skin and more than a few have greasy hair. The show also isn't fashionable; one of the first things I noticed is that in the winter the cast wear the same coats everyday (which is certainly realistic, though today imagine a network exec lamenting that it "doesn't move product"). The biggest difference between Freaks and Geeks and other shows about young people is that it doesn't shy away from or overly dramatize the pain of adolescence. Furthermore, the parents on the show are not the typical broad stroke caricatures we usually see on TV. All Feig's characters, young and old, are fully realized which is what makes the show so great. The Freaks and Geeks episode "The Garage Door" is perhaps my favorite episode of any show ever:
It is pretty amazing how many big stars came out Freaks and Geeks:
|From left: Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips (Cougar Town), Samm Levine, Jason Segal, John Francis Daly (Bones), |
Linda Cardellini (ER), Martin Starr (Party Down), James Franco
- Creator Paul Feig, a Mt. Clemens, MI native, has directed a ton of TV shows as well as the film Bridesmaids
- Writer Mike White created the show Enlightened and wrote School of Rock
- Co-Executive Producer Judd Apatow has changed film and television comedy forever, making in my opinion the funniest film of the last ten years The 40 Year Old Virgin
So why did NBC cancel Freaks and Geeks after only 12 of its 18 episodes aired? Some might say it's because "people are idiots, and that goes double for network television executives." I prefer to take a more nuanced view. I think young people ignored Freaks and Geeks because it had neither the slick aspirational sexiness of shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and One Tree Hill nor the lighter silliness of Boy Meets World and Saved By The Bell. (Granted, during sweeps all of these shows would trot out their "very special episodes" about drugs, teen pregnancy, etc. but none come close to the everyday reality of Freaks and Geeks.) As for adults, I imagine they ignored the show partly due to a lack of teen sex appeal but mostly because Freaks and Geeks clearly illustrates the pain and awkwardness that most of us experienced in adolescence and who wants to watch that? Well, I do and it has been a pleasure sharing the show with my kids over the last few months. My rule is that we only watch an episode when all four of us are present. It's been great seeing the show through my children's eyes and since there are only 18 episodes my goal is to savor every one.
Here are the links to download this week's show (right click and "Save Target As")