Freaks and Geeks: The Doc­u­men­tary

Exclaim! - - FILM - KEVIN SCOTT

Di­rected by Brent Hodge

Freaks and Geeks aired on NBC from 1999 to 2000 and fo­cused on Sam and Lind­say Weir, a brother and sis­ter try­ing to nav­i­gate the murky wa­ters of high school along­side their re­spec­tive groups of friends in a fic­tional Detroit sub­urb in the early ’80s. From its gen­e­sis as an at­tempt to cap­ture the in­ef­fa­ble pain of grow­ing up, cre­ator Paul Feig and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Judd Apa­tow in­tended the show to be as awk­ward and un­com­fort­able as ado­les­cence is. To fa­cil­i­tate that goal, the show em­barked on one of the most leg­endary cast­ing ses­sions in en­ter­tain­ment his­tory; the show landed sev­eral ac­tors who would go on to not only be­come ma­jor movie stars, but suc­cess­ful writ­ers and di­rec­tors as well. Their re­turn to ap­pear in the doc­u­men­tary means new in­ter­views with James Franco, Seth Ro­gen, Ja­son Segel and Linda Cardellini, all of which are cre­atively staged on fa­mil­iar old sets from the show. We also get a glimpse of some of their au­di­tions and hear them all re­flect back on the strangely col­lab­o­ra­tive process. Samm Levine’s ter­ri­ble au­di­tion, for in­stance, is sal­vaged only by a dorky Wil­liam Shat­ner im­pres­sion that feels like an af­ter­thought. It’s even nice to see in­ter­views with some of the show’s sup­port­ing cast, in­clud­ing the ac­tress who por­trayed Sam’s crush Cindy San­ders (Natasha Mel­nick), look­ing al­most un­rec­og­niz­able now.

Trac­ing the show’s tra­jec­tory from an ex­cit­ing new NBC com­mod­ity with a lot of buzz sur­round­ing it to be­ing shuf­fled around to dif­fer­ent nights on the sched­ule, the gen­eral con­sen­sus is that it was ahead of its time or per­haps even too good for tele­vi­sion. One of the more sur­pris­ing peo­ple to ap­pear in in­ter­views is for­mer Pres­i­dent of NBC En­ter­tain­ment Garth Ancier, the man re­spon­si­ble for even­tu­ally can­celling the show. To his credit, he ex­presses re­gret, but does at­tempt to dou­ble down on some of the per­ceived short­com­ings of the show at one point, ar­gu­ing that per­haps it might have been bet­ter if the show’s char­ac­ters were pro­vided more vic­to­ries along their painful jour­ney.

For any­one who has watched the show’s one trun­cated sea­son over and over again, it’s il­lu­mi­nat­ing to hear all about the cre­ative process be­hind scenes and episodes. Sto­ries were fre­quently mined from the writ­ers’ own aw­ful ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up, in­clud­ing the heart­break­ing episode where Neal dis­cov­ers who his fa­ther is hav­ing an af­fair with by go­ing around town with a garage door opener he found at home. They also ac­knowl­edge how much they pushed the bound­aries with cer­tain episodes; Feig notes how many view­ers surely tuned out of the pi­lot episode right af­ter a men­tally chal­lenged char­ac­ter breaks his arm. But there’s plenty of po­etic jus­tice to be found in how the nerds and out­casts on the show, as­sured they would some­day find their place in the world, even­tu­ally did in com­edy clas­sics like Su­per­bad, For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall or This Is the End. It’s nice to think that so many of McKin­ley’s finest ended up mak­ing some­thing of them­selves.

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