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Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series

I didn’t see “Freaks and Geeks” when on TV. It was always one of those shows that everyone said I should watch, but that I somehow never made time for. Hey! Maybe that’s why it was cancelled. Now that I’ve seen the complete series on DVD, I regret that I didn’t have the brains to support it the first time around. Whoops. “Freaks and Geeks” is a lot like the “Wonder Years” only without the gratuitous Kevin voiceovers. Set in the burgeoning 80’s, it’s a brother sister tale with all the usual coming of age High School frills. What sets it apart from say, “Saved by the Bell” (besides an abhorrent lack of Belding) is that “F&E” doesn’t care much for the cool kids. Zack Attack won’t be playing on this show. As the title aptly tells you, it’s all about the geeks and freaks.

Representing the geek contingent is Sam (John Francis Daley) and his nerd herd. When asked to turn in a book report, Sam hands in a paper on the novelization of Star Wars. On Halloween, Sam decides he isn’t too old to trick or treat and suffers exactly the sort of humiliation you’d expect a High School freshman in robot garb to endure.

His sister however, is a geek in flux. Played by the brilliant and absolutely luscious Linda Cardellini, Lindsay Weir is struggling with her identity. Where Sam is the show’s moral center and sometimes comic relief, Lindsay is a burgeoning rebel with the brain of a valedictorian. She awkwardly introduces herself to the school’s crowd of freaks, partly out of rebellion and partly due to a teenage attraction to Daniel (James Franco channeling the man he would later play, James Dean). Suddenly she starts dressing sloppy and hanging with what seems a bad crowd. Is she throwing her life away, or has she found there’s more to living than cramming books?

Each episode is a self-contained story, which is nice for a TV series, since you don’t want to be penalized for missing an episode. For DVD though, it’s irrelevant and what’s nice about the format is that it allows you to watch every episode back to back like a gigantic film. This is especially great for a show like “Freaks and Geeks”. Yes every episode is technically self-contained, but if you watch them back to back you’ll discover that events from one episode influence the next. You’ll catch all the inside jokes you might have missed otherwise, and watch in wonder as the show matures so that “Freaks and Geeks’” fantastic characters can develop and unfold.

It’s hard to sum up an entire season of incredible television in just a few words, but Freaks and Geeks turns out to be every bit as groundbreaking and wonderful as we all heard. Every episode is a rock solid ball of humor, emotion, and good old fashioned angst. Because it is so real, things don’t always end up in a perfect package, troubles aren’t always resolved. That’s not to say that the show is bleak, merely true to the world inhabited by me and you. What’s great about it, is that though its set in 1980, “Freaks and Geeks” doesn’t club you over the head with the time period. No gratuitous disco breakdowns, just honest characters facing all the things you’ve tried to forget about growing up.

Television is no place for this kind of quality program. “Freaks and Geeks” is a special gem for those of us who couldn’t find a place to sit in the lunchroom or sat staring longingly at the cheerleader who would never know we exist. Not since “My So Called Life” has such a groundbreaking piece of drama simply disappeared. Thank god for DVD… And a nice DVD set it is. All eighteen episodes come three to a disc, in a six disc set. Each disc has an easy to use menu screen, with the magic of a “Play All” button proudly displayed front and center. Thee episodes at a time is the way I recommend watching it, but if you can’t handle the pressure, you can dig deeper into the disc to play them one at a time. The same is true of all the features, which also showcase handy “Play All” functions… hard to resist.

Speaking of features, they’ve really gone out of their way to pack in a discful. Every episode comes complete with a ton of deleted scenes, outtakes, and at least 2 commentary tracks featuring various members of cast and crew. There’s even commentary for the deleted scenes, which is just going above and beyond in my book. The commentary can be a bit disconcerting, after all the kids voices have gotten a bit deeper, and I initially had a helluva time figuring out who is who. Give it a few minutes and you’ll get the vibe. Sam has gotten manly and will soon be substituting for James Earl Jones as the new voice of Darth Vader. What can be really confusing are some of the commentary tracks done in character, which while an interesting idea, never quite work. Also included are a few comments from fans, a nice little bonus.

The transfer is just what you’d expect from a television show, full frame, nice and clear so you can pause on all the best shots of Linda Cardellini. The packaging is sharp and includes a pretty nifty 28 page booklet, the type you geek out about at first and then promptly lose behind your couch.