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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary’ (review)

Produced by Ally Kelly, Matthew Galkin
Directed by Brent Hodge
Starring Paul Feig, Judd Apatow,
Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini,
Busy Phillips, James Franco, John Francis Daley


There’s nothing like the pain of learning your favorite TV show is now cancelled.  The time you spent getting to know the characters, the constant mentioning of the show to your friends in hope they would watch it too are now all for naught.

What hurts even more is the almost cult-like status the show becomes after it was cancelled.

Now everyone is agreeing with what you previously told them, except it’s just too late.

This is what it feels like to be a Freaks and Geeks fan.

A show which was completely ignored by the masses, suddenly became a cult sensation. But what was it like to experience the sudden high of a new show only to have it watch its slow demise into the land of cancellation?

Thanks to Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, fans are taken on a journey through the halls of McKinley High to experience what it was like planning, casting and filming the greatest TV show that never was. This behind the scenes documentary also rehashes the crushing defeating of losing the ratings war with NBC’s own former president who was determined to see the show’s demise.

Airing for only one season, Freaks and Geeks was a show about real people experiencing the harsh realities of life.

Created by Paul Feig and executive produced by Judd Apatow, they set out to create an honest dramedy about an average family (siblings Sam and Lindsay Weir) in a fictional Detroit suburb trying to make it through the awkward and uncomfortable complexities of adolescent and high school who considers themselves freaks or geeks. Unlike other TV shows of the times, it featured everyday looking teenagers and adults to make the show relatable to everyone; admitting they purposely picked “unattractive” actors for their show.

Luckily for fans the “unattractive” gang is back with new insight and behind-the-scenes footage of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Natasha Melnick, the crew and even the former NBC employees who was involved with the show’s promotion.

Filmed with the backdrop saved set pieces, the fans are given access to the creation of the show to Samm Levin’s disastrous audition to personal stories that were added to make the show more realistic to its fans. The trip down memory lane is a happy one filled with the same love, chemistry and genuineness nineteen years ago.

While the documentary spends time with the beloved cast it also welcomes inside access to how a show like Freaks and Geeks was treated by NBC.

When the show was first presented to the head of the company, it was welcomed with great enthusiasm. Debuting on September 25, 1999, the show saw gushing reviews from critics and applauds from executives. It was considered rich, edgy and finally a show for teenager show couldn’t relate to Beverly Hills, 90210 or Dawson’s Creek. From NBC presentations to the lavish parties NBC threw for the show, everyone was ready for a ratings hit.

Unfortunately, it never came.

People just weren’t into the show and social media didn’t exist to help spread the word of mouth. Despite meaningful episodes filled with great acting and hilarious dialogue, the show never found its footing and slipped lower in the ratings. The success of Friends, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and 3rd Rock From the Sun didn’t help either.

Soon the Freaks and Geeks was thrown into the schedule shuffle, making it harder to find for those who did watch the show. To make matters worse, between the random air dates, the network also aired more repeat episodes than originals, further frustrating audiences. As the network turned its back on the show, the general reason given was that the show was just too advanced for audiences who just wanted something happy to watch.

In a surprising move, the documentary features in-depth interview with former NBC Entertainment President Garth Ancier, the person responsible for axing the show.

Despite much push back from the cast and production staff, for Ancier it all came down to numbers. No one was watching the show and as a result it was no longer profitable. He didn’t have time for emotions even from fans and critics who pleaded with the network to save the show and candidly admitted he hated “sad shows” that put their heroes through painful journeys. If Freaks and Geeks had ended on a positive note, then it would have had a better chance at seeing a second season.

Freaks and Geeks was deeply personal and the first show for many of its young actors.  Knowing the end was coming was deeply heartbreaking but they could see it coming when the catering service started to diminish and praise from the network died.

Ending on October 17, 2000 with eighteen episodes under its belt, after its cancellation Freaks and Geeks somehow found a cult like status with young teenagers. Despite the documentary’s comprehensiveness, how the serjes became a cult hit after its cancellation is sadly never explored. Instead, it does explore how Judd Apatow continued to work with the show’s actors and production staff, which successfully launched their careers.

Directed by Brent Hodge, at its heart the documentary is an inspiration to anyone who is considered or feels like a failure. Apatow even argues he was driven by the show’s cancellation to help launch Superbad, Sausage Party, 40-Year Old Virgin and more. He carried the guilt of the show’s cancellation which only fueled him to dominate Hollywood.

Passionate, funny, heartbreaking, and downright enjoyable. Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary is for anyone who watched the show, has interest in show business or simply loves a good underdog story.

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