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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Reuniting Zack Attack, or The Slow Redemption of Jimmy Fallon

But in my heart it was so real. If you google “Jimmy Fallon” and “douchebag” together, you’ll get 17,000 hits. Well, 17,000 and one, now.

I don’t get what happened. But somewhere between ’00, when he was SNL‘s resident wunderkind, and ’08, when he was tapped to take over the Conan spot, everyone in our generation collectively turned on Jimmy. Maybe you could chalk it up to a couple shitty movies, but since when have SNL grads done otherwise? Case in point.

Around that time, I actually started to feel for the dude. Did I see myself in Fallon? A kid, once crushed on by white girls (and boys) everywhere, later forgotten, and later reviled: you’re damn right, man. I feel bitter for Jimmy, and felt a sense of redemption (misplaced, perhaps) when I heard about his latest stint on the Late Show.

Well, so far, it’s been rough. But the guy certainly has a knack for bringing old obsessions out of our dusty childhood closets. First, there was the Public Enemy reunion. Then, we saw the old curmudgeonly Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, toss a few zingers at Fallon and Jason Segel. And, if he actually manages to pull off last week’s Saved by the Bell reunion announcement, and get the Hot Sundaes and Zack Attack to reunite in one late night spandex and shoulder-padded jam out, then I think, collectively, we ought to forgive Jimmy for whatever he did that pissed us off. Make it happen, America.

Talkin' 'bout friends

[Update: Head on over to “Do As I Write” for a pretty hilarious, if skeptical, look at Fallon’s plan to reunite the ‘Bell’ cast.]

– Thumbu Sammy