Geek­ing out about Freaks

The Georgia Straight - - Doxa - > BY JOHN LU­CAS

There’s a mo­ment in Brent Hodge’s new doc­u­men­tary about Freaks and Geeks when Judd Apa­tow sug­gests that the pri­mary force that has driven his ca­reer since that short-lived TV se­ries was can­celled is a burn­ing de­sire to flip its naysay­ers the prover­bial bird. That’s why, he claims, he con­tin­ued to work with—and make bona fide, bank­able stars of—se­ries cast mem­bers Ja­son Segel, Seth Ro­gen, and James Franco.

“Part of me thinks the only rea­son I was in Knocked Up and The 40-Year- Old Vir­gin is so Judd could prove some NBC ex­ec­u­tive wrong—which is to­tally okay with me,” a dead­pan Ro­gen says in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view in Freaks and Geeks: The Doc­u­men­tary. “It doesn’t di­min­ish it, in my eyes. I’m to­tally okay to have a ca­reer that’s based on vengeance and rage.”

Apa­tow is pos­si­bly jok­ing (well, maybe half jok­ing), but the fact is that he prob­a­bly did feel he had some­thing to prove when NBC axed Freaks and Geeks in 2000 af­ter a sin­gle sea­son, de­spite near-uni­ver­sal ac­claim from crit­ics. The high-school dram­edy set in the early 1980s, which Paul Feig ( Brides­maids) cre­ated and for which Apa­tow served as pro­ducer in ad­di­tion to writ­ing and di­rect­ing sev­eral episodes, has since been hailed as clas­sic and has de­vel­oped a con­sid­er­able cult fol­low­ing.

If Freaks and Geeks was can­celled be­fore its time, it also ex­isted be­fore its time— or so Hodge ar­gues. “In 1999, it was prob­a­bly re­ally dif­fer­ent, in the sense that it wasn’t a sit­com, it wasn’t a drama,” the Van­cou­ver-based film­maker says when the Straight reaches him in New York, where Freaks and Geeks: The Doc­u­men­tary is slated for its world pre­miere at the Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val. “It was kind of in be­tween. It was filmed dif­fer­ently.”

By 2018 stan­dards, Freaks and Geeks hardly seems out of place if viewed along­side HBO’S Girls, Net­flix se­ries like Atyp­i­cal and Every­thing Sucks!, and even lat­ter-day NBC shows such as Com­mu­nity and Parks and Recre­ation. In its day, though, it seem­ingly came out of left field, with its fo­cus on the minu­tiae of the teenage ex­pe­ri­ence and its cast of mostly very reg­u­lar-look­ing kids. (You def­i­nitely weren’t see­ing any­one who re­sem­bled Mar­tin Starr or Stephen Lea Shep­pard on Bev­erly Hills 90210 or Daw­son’s Creek.)

“You were see­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of high- school show back then, where peo­ple in their 20s were play­ing high- school kids,” Hodge says. “They were su­per good-look­ing; it was just that typ­i­cal, cookie- cut­ter high- school story. This was some­thing very dif­fer­ent. It was be­fore its time in the sense that it didn’t re­ally have a chance. There weren’t that many places for it to go, like there are to­day. I think it would have re­ally suc­ceeded if it came out to­day.”

If Freaks and Geeks had con­tin­ued past its 18-episode run, mind you, its young cast might never have gone on to have the re­mark­able ca­reers they did, both on­screen and be­hind the scenes. In ad­di­tion to the afore­men­tioned Ro­gen-franco-segel tri­umvi­rate, the show’s stars included Linda Cardellini ( ER, Mad Men), John Fran­cis Da­ley ( Bones), Samm Levine ( In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds), and Busy Philipps ( Cougar Town).

“That’s wild to think that the en­tire cast has gone on to do such great things,” Hodge mar­vels. “Like, you look at so many shows back then—like Saved by the Bell or Boy Meets World. Where is ev­ery­one? But these guys—they weren’t even on a pop­u­lar show, but they’ve all lasted. They’ve all con­tin­ued to have ca­reers in this in­dus­try.”

It’s safe to say we can call that a win for the Apa­tow vendetta.

As part of the DOXA Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val, Freaks and geeks: the doc­u­men­tary screen sat SFU’S Gold corp Cen­tre for the Arts on Fri­day (May 11) at 8:15 p.m. and at the Cine­math­eque on Sun­day (May 13) at 8 p.m.

Seth Ro­gen shows us what vengeance and rage look like in Brent Hodge’s film Freaks and geeks: the doc­u­men­tary.

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