Florescent lights. Combination locks. Clueless parents. Clueless teachers. Clueless friends. Paranoia. Alienation. Hormones. Zits.
These are but a few selling points of the NBC series Freaks and Geeks, which debuted September 25, 1999. Set at a white suburban high school circa 1981 and devised by men who knew the territory, creator Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow, it was hailed by critics as one of that season’s freshest new series. It lingered in the basement of the Nielsen ratings for 18 episodes, less than a full season, until the network, which never really knew what to do with it, finally pulled the plug.
In retrospect, it seems a minor miracle that the series lasted as long as it did, since its stock in trade was honesty. And when the subject is adolescence, a period that grows rosy in the memory but sucks ass when you’re actually living through it, honesty isn’t much of a selling point. Mass audiences are only interested in reliving high school if it’s sentimentalized. The chance to revisit something remotely in the ballpark of the real thing is as appetizing as cafeteria food—and Freaks and Geeks was a weekly feast of teen awkwardness.