TubaTV remembers: ‘Freaks and geeks’

Freaks and geeks

Before Judd Apatow finally found commercial success re-hashing the same, tired loser-centric take on the romantic comedy genre; before Seth Rogen became the unlikeliest of Hollywood-by-way-of-Canada leading men since Mike Meyers; before Jason Segel took some comedic respite in How I met your mother‘s prime time laugh track; before James Franco was making out with Sean Penn; before Lizzy Caplan was tripping on V with Jason Stackhouse or serving hors d’oeuvres alongside Martin Starr; before Rashida Jones was an Office/Parks and Recreation regular; they were all involved in Paul Feig’s amazing, one-season-long Freaks and geeks.

I’ll concede the possibility that at least some of my affection for the show derives from the fact that it was set in suburban Detroit circa 1980, say, half a generation before I myself was a skinny, prepubescent high school student obliviously fascinated with Stars wars (not to mention its mid-nineties equivalent, Magic:The gathering).  Independently of my regional prejudice, however, I’ll maintain that Freaks and geeks was far and away the best teen drama ever to grace the small screen — beating out even that first spectacular season of Friday night lights FTW.

What made the show so exceptional, especially when compared to its more popular (populist?) peers, was the banality of its storylines, and its adamant refusal to be organized episodically (and ideologically) by adult-approved and/or Nielsen-whoring Teen Topics.  During the all-too-brief 18-episode series, we’re not subjected to a single untimely teen death — no Johnny falling drunk from a cliff, no Marissa getting killed in a drunken car chase (and consequently no angry teen cage fights).  There are no “diet pill” addictions.  There are no teacher-student romances.  There is no hot lesbian action.

The show’s minimalist approach to verisimilitude is nourished entirely by the kind of suburban teen microdrama that (I imagine) dominated the high school years of much of (lower) Middle (class) America through the 80s and 90s: the uncertainties of disassociating yourself from one group of friends in order to gain membership to another; boyfriends who kind of almost cheat on you with your best friend; the minor emasculations perpetrated by bullies, who in turn have their own emotional and familial problems; the physical confusions and insecurities associated with puberty, and with growing up more generally; the regimes of consumption that begin defining social groups after junior high; etc. etc. etc.

None of this is to say that teens don’t die in drunk driving accidents, or that there are no unprofessional student-teacher relationships in high school, or that teens can’t have hot lesbian sex — just that these sorts of storylines are cheap, easy, unfulfilling drama.  It takes a sensitive observer of adolescent strife to produce a successful narrative without resorting to soap opera storylines.  All the more disappointing, then, that homeboy Paul Feig hasn’t been able to direct that sensitivity toward equally successful analyses of young adulthood or beyond.

In closing, an incidental post-script, since I seem to have a thing for bashing P.T. Anderson lately: Freaks and geeks also deserves some serious respect for its very clever camerawork (showcased nicely in the clip above).  It actually succeeds — as a meaningful, communicative device — where Anderson’s gimmickry (both in Boogie nights and Magnolia) failed.

— J.C. Freñán

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Good news for people who love TV news.

The lovely ladies of Dillon, Texas are back, yall.

It looks like Dillon, Texas’s answer to Winnie Cooper will be back for a fourth — maybe even a fifth! — season.  (Schlep on over to Pajiba — imagine Christofuh Moltisanti saying “conniver” — for the full scoop.)  Thank you, DirectTV, for your very clever business model.

So… does this mean we’ll have to deal with JT’s daddy issues for another year?

For those without DirectTV

This charming man via everythingicafe.com
This charming man via everythingicafe.com

(Or for those who don’t rely entirely on bittorrent for their TV habits…) January 2009 is going to get hot.  The new season of Friday night lights — which is airing now on DirectTV, set to air on NBC in January — is back on track. Last season’s unfortunate detour has been disavowed like a bad Nyquil overdose: Landry is rightfully among the supporting cast again; Saracen’s Guatemalan nanny has returned to her people; Riggins isn’t distracted by the MILF next door; and Lyla has left Jesus in the dust.  With the O.C.isms foregone (last night’s Ben Gibbard lead-out aside), the show’s central conflicts are being worked anew. A community’s systemic poverty and its totally fu-cocked set of priorities aren’t really things you can resolve in a single season, y’know?

I never would have thought a show about high school football could be so nuanced, but there you have it: my pick for best show on network TV.  It’s so good it makes me forget, momentarily, that Explosions In The Sky are such monumental douchebags.

Now, when are we gonna see sweet li’l Aimee Teegarden in an issue of Maxim?  Hot damn.

– J.C. Freñán