Every now and then, certain shows arrive that reel in a core fan base and then fizzle out due to low ratings or not enough critical acclaim. The last show I could think of that suffered from this is "Arrested Development," but at least that show had the good fortune of having at least three seasons to establish a plot. Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's show "Freaks and Geeks" was given only an eighteen episode order due to low-ish ratings, and I must say, after viewing the pilot, I'm wondering how the show would've done in the current climate. Look at the cast the show had, at how superb the writing is, how realistic the show is without being too real or how it's willing to have ridiuclous things in it without going too far in that direction. It's disappointing that the show had to be cancelled, but it gives me an even better chance to look at the show as a whole and see how well it did considering it's short lifespan.
The pilot was one of those episodes that made you feel like you got thrown directly into the middle of the action, as if you already know these characters. As a result, we get sucked into a lush world of high school society, where there are the freaks and the geeks. The way the show bounces back and forth between the two groups, sometimes focusing on individual characters in between it all, makes the show feel so rich with detail. The pilot tends to focus mainly on the Weir family, with brother and sister Lindsey and Sam as they trudge their way through high school, trying to figure out what they want out of their time here and how to deal with bullies. The Weir family is at the center of the show (in a way) and it's fascinating to be sucked into their world, where the father says very fatherly things such as "Jimi Hendrix cut class and you know what happened to him? He died!"
But the Weir family isn't necessarily the core part of the show, despite the characters being the lead characters in their respective groups. There's the freaks, which consists of young versions of James Franco as Daniel, Jason Segel as Nick and Seth Rogen as a deadpan Ken. If you want to see all these actors before they became the huge names in Hollywood that they are now, watch this show for sure, but also watch it because you can see where Jason Segal's future characters are born out of; you can see where James Franco might get influence for his role in Pineapple Express.. and honestly, Seth Rogen is perhaps the one character who plays against type. He's a deadpan guy who spews some pretty great lines throughout the first few episodes. We follow the freaks through the eyes of Lindsey and how they come to tentively accept her into the group. There's also Busy Phillips who plays a girl named Kim Kelly. If you thought she was ridiculous in Cougar Town, wait until you see her here: she's vindictive and completely crazy in a much more realistic way than in Cougar Town.
Then there's the geeks. The freshmen of the group are played by Samm Levine, John Francis Daly and Martin Starr, and throughout the first three episodes, they become the highlights of the show. They're all fairly awkward, with Sam (played by Daly) getting the brunt of the bullying in the school, while Neil (Levine) is the nerd of the group, sounding like a fifty year old accountant and Martin Starr plays the types of roles he's come to domninate in Adventure Land and Party Down, except a little less tame and just as hilarious. It's difficult to decide which group is funner to follow, since they have different styles of humor. I'm inclined to say the geeks, only because I'm not comparing the actors against their future roles.. Franco and Rogen are great here, but they sort of fade into the background next to Jason Segel, Linda Cardenelli and other actors.
That being said, the pilot is written extremely well. Everything flows perfectly and Paul Feig has a certain way of introducing us to dozens of supporting characters right at the beginning and making us understand who they are, what makes them that way and where they may go in the future. If there's ever a show that's established a plot right off the bat, it's definitely this show.
I've watched a few more episodes, so I know the show stays good, but the Pilot is just fantastic, a great bit of television that finds a good blend of drama and comedy and also somehow avoids a lot of the high school cliche's found in TV and movies these days. You can definitely see where Judd Apatow's raunchy humor would come from.