When TV historians (and we don’t mean VH1) recount the biggest crimes of the decade, they’ll no doubt charge NBC with infanticide for killing off “Freaks and Geeks” after less than one season. Plenty of quality shows die premature deaths, but creator Paul Feig and exec producer Judd Apatow’s unfailingly touching hourlong drama/comedy about teenage life in the early 1980s never got a chance to truly live. Now an exhaustive, extras-packed DVD collection will help fans keep the “Freaks and Geeks” flame alive forever.
“Freaks and Geeks,” easily NBC’s best new show of the 1999-2000 season, had its fate sealed when the net skedded it on Saturdays — a timeslot so deadly that NBC (and most other nets) have now completely abandoned the idea of serving up original programming on the night.
The show might never have become a monster hit but, given a more hospitable home, there’s no reason it couldn’t have matched the success of “American Dreams,” a rosier retroskein about to enter its third season on the Peacock.
Despite its short lifespan, “Freaks and Geeks” managed to build a small but loyal audience of fans who treasured every hour spent with the misfits and misanthropes of a small-town Michigan high school. Indeed, an online petition signed by more than 40,000 such stalwarts helped convince DreamWorks TV and Shout! Factory to take the risk of releasing the complete series on DVD.
Even though Apatow and Feig have moved on to other projects– including another gone-too-soon series about young adults, Fox’s “Undeclared”– the duo decided to repay their fans’ loyalty by making sure the “Freaks and Geeks” DVD set was every bit as ambitious and audacious as the series itself.
While the cast members of “Seinfeld” reportedly held out for big bucks to participate in the creation of that show’s first season DVD, it’s doubtful any of the cast or crew will make more than a few bucks (if anything) from this collection. That makes the sheer bulk of extras on the “Freaks and Geeks” set all the more amazing.
Every episode of the series gets at least one audio commentary track, with a few segs getting multiple commentaries. Actors, producers, writers — even fans– all get a chance to weigh in; on one episode, three thesps who played teachers on the show provide commentary in character.
Also key is the fact that producers were able to clear all of the original music used on “Freaks and Geeks.” From the pilot episode’s closing scene, which featured a five-hanky use of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” few network TV shows in recent memory have made better use of pop music to underline dramatic points. It would have been a tragedy if DreamWorks and Shout! Factory had decided to save some coin and go with alternative tunes (see the first-season DVD of “Felicity”).
In addition to dozens of deleted scenes and some alternate takes, the set also contains more than a few bloopers, some of which reveal just how much bonding went on during the shooting of the original episodes.
Particularly poignant: An outtake in which several of the geeks are supposed to be watching a stag film. John Francis Daley struggles to keep his composure as some of his older peers make semi-lewd jokes about the on-camera proceedings.
The awkwardness of it all shines a light on one of the reasons “Freaks and Geeks” worked so well. Unlike previous TV skeins about teens, where the actors were well into their 20s and even 30s, this cast consisted mostly of real kids.
What’s more, the situations on “Freaks and Geeks” always felt genuine. Another short-lived gem, ABC’s “My So-Called Life,” was equally adept at honestly capturing the teen experience, but the latter show purposely amped up the drama. Feig and Apatow, along with the show’s writing staff, kept things small-scale, eliciting high drama from minor moments.
Everything about the “Freaks and Geeks” collection looks great, from top-quality prints to menus designed in part by fans of the show. Amazingly, Feig and Apatow also supervised production of an even more ambitious DVD set featuring two more discs of extras, plus a fancy yearbook-style cover. It’s available via the internet at freaksandgeeksdvd.com
For most, however, the six-disc set available in stores will serve as a more than sufficient time capsule of a show that demonstrated just how good network TV can get when producers with passion are allowed to execute their vision.