Freaks and Geeks

In honor of its 10th anniversary, I decided to watch the pilot of a little show that lasted only 18 episodes, Freaks and Geeks.

It’s 1980 in Michigan. High school kids are doing high school things. Each social group is shown in the first minutes with its own little musical intro. Not much explanation is needed since, if you went to high school in the 80s—or ever—you know all the players.

The main plot centers around an older sister, Lindsay and younger brother, Sam, a freak and a geek, respectively. The brother is an adorable pre-growth spurt John Francis Daley (Bones’ Lance Sweets). Other recognizable faces abound: James Franco, Seth Rogan, and Jason Segel.

Although it’s by and large just another school day, for a pilot there has to be something in transition. We eventually find out that Lindsay has been acting differently since the death of her grandmother. She’s less interested in being a mathlete, and more interested in becoming friends with a bunch of stoners. She’s also a defender of the weak, be it her brother or the token retarded kid.

The characters are three-dimensional and engaging. I can imagine getting to know them over the season would be a fun ride. And I must give the show kudos for bucking a stereotype for having a cheerleader who’s not a total bitch.

This show has been lauded by fans for being cutting edge. Maybe it was. Today geeks are cool, and maybe this show paved the way. But really, the geeks aren’t even that geeky, compared to say, the cast of The Big Bang Theory. And it has a similar aesthetic to My So-Called Life, which debuted 5 years earlier. Other shows debuting in the fall of 1999 included Big Brother, Judging Amy, Law & Order: SVU, The West Wing, and Angel. Maybe Freaks & Geeks stood out by way of comparison to adult-centered dramas and reality shows. What is this show anyway, a comedy or a drama? At any rate, it didn’t last, but it did launch writer Judd Apatow and several successful acting careers.

Quotable line: “She’s a cheerleader. You’ve seen Star Wars 27 times. Do the math.”

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How I Met Your Mother

It used to be that you watched a show if you happened to be home with nothing else to do on the right day at the right time. There was the VCR in the 80s, but how reliable was that? Now that shows are available on DVD, and can be easily recorded with DVR, and are often available online, there is no reason not to watch shows from beginning to end (if a show warrants it). We are aware of continuity among episodes. As a side note, prior to the 90s, did anyone know the titles of individual episodes of shows, or that episodes even had titles?

As a result I think that television producers and writers have become more concerned with season-long or even series-long plotlines. Rather than each episode being its own one-off story where everything goes back to normal at the end (a recurring joke on The Simpsons) things change from episode to episode. I would venture to say that Friends pioneered this concept for sitcoms. Perhaps CSI did it for dramas, although I cannot claim extensive knowledge of that show or its spinoffs.

But I digress… How I Met Your Mother has a clear story arc. It’s right in the title. I took notice of this show part-way through its second season and quickly recognized that it needed to be viewed from the beginning to be fully appreciated.

The pilot opens, in the year 2030, with a voice telling two uncomfortable looking teens on a sofa that it is about to regale them with the story of “how I met your mother.” So we figure, that’s what the pilot is going to be about. Boy meets girl. Boy goes on date with girl. Boy professes love for girl way too soon. So is she “your mother”? For that matter, is the narrator “your father”?

Toward the end, Ted (the aforementioned Boy) tells Robin (aforementioned Girl), “if some hypothetical woman were to bear with me through all this, I think I’d make a damn good husband.” So our heads are dancing with visions of what the future will hold for this 20-something, good-looking, idealistic New Yorker. In his longtime friends Marshall and Lily, who have just gotten engaged, we see the possibilities. And in his smooth-talking, suit-wearing wingman Barney, we see the opposite possibilities. But we have possibilities.

The episode ends with the narrator telling the kids, “That, kids, is the story of how I met your Aunt Robin.” Irritated teenager: “I thought this was the story of how you met mom!” Narrator: “Like I said, it’s a long story.” How could you not keep watching after that?