Apatow’s TV show Freaks and Geeks follows a teenage girl and her brother as they attend fictional Detroit suburb high school at the beginning of the 1980’s. The show deals with surviving high school, friendship, relationships, family, outcasts, pot and beer. By discussing key themes, motifs, and casting this paper will analyze the ways in which Freaks and Geeks, though slightly different, is representative of Apatow’s work.
In most of Apatow’s films the Man-Child is generally the main character, however in Freaks and Geeks this theme does occur. This is probably due to the fact that the story is about teens and their lives, not adults and their lives. It could be argued that Coach Fredricks is a Man-Child; he does take Bill, Sam, and Neal go-kart racing in “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” and enjoys it a lot.
Male Camaraderie is quite common in Apatow’s films and exists in Freaks and Geeks, though it is not just male camaraderie, but camaraderie in general. There are two groups in the show; one is comprised of all white males (the geeks), while the other (the freaks) includes males and females. The geeks are comprised of three males; Sam Weir, Neal Schweiber, and Bill Haverchuck. The freaks are comprised of Lindsay Weir, Daniel Desario, Kim Kelly, Nick Andopolis, and Ken Miller. However there are numerous scenes in the series that show just Dan, Ken, and Nick talking smoking pot, and goofing off together; the normal form of male camaraderie in Apatow’s works. The two groups bond differently, the geeks bond in “Beers and Weirs” by replacing the keg of beer the freaks bought for the party with a non-alcoholic beer keg. In “Chokin’ and Tokin” Sam, Bill and Neal bond by going to a Science Fiction convention, and Lindsay bonds with the freaks, more specifically Nick, when she smokes pot. Though the two groups bond doing different activities there is no mistake that these groups are comrades.
Both of these groups are closely knit, and show true caring among the members. In “Chokin’ and Tokin” Bill, Sam and Neal get in an argument; Neal and Sam want to watch cheerleaders over the weekend and Bill wants to go to a Science Fiction Convention. This causes a division in the group and causes tension. However when Bill ends up in the hospital due to his peanut allergy Sam and Neal are there worrying about him. In the end Neal and Sam decide to go to the convention with Bill. In “The Little Things” Ken shares a secret about his girlfriend Amy with the guys. Later in the episode Ken punches Dan in the face because he believes Dan is dissing Amy. Ken leaves and Dan follows him and offers him a ride home. Not a lot is said, but it is clear that Dan is not mad at Ken and Ken feels bad about his actions. These examples show how people in the group care about each other even when they disagree, something that is quiet common in Apatow’s films.
As is the case in most of Apatow’s works Freaks and Geeks does not have any antagonist. The conflict that the characters face is that of growing up and surviving high school. In “Beers a Weirs” Lindsay is pressured into holding a house party, and Neal breaks it up when Lindsay tells him she wants people to leave. In “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” Bill finds out that his mother is dating his gym teacher, Coach Fredricks. Bill hates Coach Fredricks because he feels the coach never gives him a chance. During this episode Kim also hits Millie’s (Lindsay’s nerdy and religious former best friend) dog. Though Kim feels bad she does not want to tell Millie. Instead of telling Millie the truth she befriends her. In the end however Kim tells Millie the truth and Millie storms off. In “The Little Things” Sam is unhappy dating the pretty and popular girl, Cindy, because she is shallow and rude. He tells his friends that he is going to break up with her, and they call him crazy. Despite the fact that he will be labeled a bigger loser Sam breaks up with Cindy.
All of Apatow’s works have flawed characters. During Freaks and Geeks Lindsay changes or transforms from being a geek, to a freak. In “Beers and Weirs” Lindsay mentions that she was a mathlete and her room contains blue ribbons and trophies. In this episode also she drinks beer, which she is hesitant to do, but does to impress her new friends. In “The Diary” Lindsay’s parents mention how they are worried about how her new friends, specifically Kim, are having a negative effect on her. They worry about Lindsay hanging out with Kim because she does drugs, has sex, and is not doing well in school. Lindsay talks to Kim at school and invites her back to her house despite her parents’ request to stay away from Kim, another change. In “Chokin’ and Tokin” Lindsay is hanging out with Nick when he scores some pot. Nick smokes it and Lindsay criticizes him telling his he’s a better person when he isn’t high and that he’s an addict. Nick gives Lindsay the pot to prove he is not. Once home she becomes curious and smokes a joint. Now Lindsay has experimented with drugs, which furthers her change. Lindsay is not the only flawed character in Freaks and Geeks, every character is flawed, even the adults. In “The Diary” Lindsay’s parents go through her room and read her diary to find out what she is going on in her life and what she is doing.
The importance of family is clear in Apatow’s works. The importance of family is not prominent in Freaks and Geeks, but it is there. In “The Little Things” Lindsay’s father and Lindsay mention that she is a member of the Weir party. Lines like that make it clear that family is of great importance to the Weir family as well as Apatow. In “The Diary” Sam calls out that he is home, when he returns from school. When his parents do not answer Sam goes to their room to make sure they heard him. Sam’s dedication to communicating to his mother and father shows his respect and caring for them. In “Beers and Weirs” Sam shows concern for Lindsay when he and his friends buy non-alcoholic beer for her party. The caring and concern Sam shows towards his sister and parents lets the audience know that family is important to him. The Weir family is also present in every episode, the fact that the Weir family is always there shows that it, like all family, is important.
Some consider Apatow to have a conservative social agenda, due to his high value on family and his anti-drug stance. This anti-drug perspective is present in Freaks and Geeks. Though pot is present through-out the series it is not presented in a positive light. In “Chokin’ and Tokin” Nick who is going through withdrawal, cannot concentrate and is easily agitated, he even yells at his dealer telling him he’s holding out on him. Later in the episode when Nick finally gets a hold of some pot, Lindsay calls him an addict and tells him that he’s a better person when he is not high. This causes Nick to throw a fit during which he throws the pot at Lindsay and tells her he does not need it. Later that episode Lindsay decides to smoke a joint, she becomes paranoid, and is convinced if the dog wakes up from his nap that will be the end of the world. This inability for Nick and Lindsay to function gives smoking pot a negative connotation. Apatow’s biased against pot is not the only conservative agenda in the show.
There is also an episode in Freaks and Geeks that has to do with under aged drinking. During the episode “Beers and Weirs” there is an assembly at McKinley High School about under aged drinking. At the assembly there are skits about drinking responsibly and an information section with pictures about people who have died because of drinking. Later in the episode teenagers at Lindsay’s party act like fools when they believe they are drunk. This anti-drug and alcohol stance is very Apatow, especially because he makes the people using them look like fools.
Many of Apatow’s works have to do with outcasts. In Freaks and Geeks the geeks are the outcast trying to fit in. In “The Diary” Sam, Neal, and Bill along with a fat boy are picked last in baseball. It is made clear that the jocks picking people do not want to pick the geeks at all. Coach Fredricks dismissively tells the jocks to divide them, being the geeks, up. Bill makes a phone call and the fat kid is given a chance at the game, but Bill and his friends are not. Bill makes another prank phone call to Coach Fredericks and is found out. The coach gives Bill, Sam, and Neal a chance; however it does not change how the other students react to them. In “Chokin’ and Tokin” a girl tries to talk to Sam in the hallway, but is hurried off by her friends. And in “The Little Things” when Sam is breaking up with Cindy, we find out she was dating because he was not the typical guy, he was nice. The freaks are also outcasts, in that they are not the jocks or the cheerleaders. They sit alone at lunch and keep to themselves. But unlike the geeks the freaks are not harassed by others at school. Bill has peanuts put in his sandwich as a prank and is rushed to the hospital. Nothing like that happens to the freaks.
As is common in most Apatow films women not idealized. They are not either all stunningly beautiful or plain. Lindsay is attractive and intelligent, but hides behind a large coat and caves to peer pressure. Kim is blonde and attractive, but not overly skinny, she acts like a tough girl but Dan says she is very sensitive. Cindy the “prettiest girl in school” is also attractive but looks like a girl you went to school with, not some model in a magazine. She is also very mean and self-centered; she puts Sam down, but expects him to stand up for her.
As with all Apatow work comedy is central and important. In “The Diary” Same, Bill, and Neal make prank phone calls to Coach Fredricks. Prank phone calls are seen in other Apatow films because he and his friends made them when he was young. In the same episode when Coach Fredricks figures out the last prank call was from Bill he calls him a comedian. During “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” Coach Fredericks give Bill, Sam, and Neal fake poop, fake puke, and a dollar on a string that he got from a joke shop, because he knew they liked playing jokes on people and comedy.
The cast of Freaks and Geeks contains a few actors that Apatow is known to work with. A few he had worked with before the show, where-as others were new, but would work with Apatow again. Actors that Apatow had worked with before included: Leslie Mann and Ben Stiller. Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, appears in many of her husband’s works, including the episode “Chokin’ and Tokin” where she plays Mrs. Foote, the teacher that Bill has a crush on. Ben Stiller, one of Apatow’s friends and an actor who also appears in many of Apatow’s works, appears in “The Little Things” as one of the Secret Service Agents on duty when Vice President Bush makes an appearance at McKinley High.
During Freaks and Geeks Apatow found new talent that he would continue to work with. Steve Bannos plays Mr. Kowchevski, the math teacher that appears through-out the show. Bannos continues to act in most of Apatow’s works. Apatow still collaborates with two young men from the show, Seth Rogan and Jason Segal. In Freaks and Geeks Seth Rogan plays the freak Ken Miller and Jason Segal plays the freak Nick Andopolis. Seth Rogan appears in many Apatow’s films. Rogan also writes and produces with Apatow as well. Jason Segal does not work with Apatow as Rogan, but he is still seen in Apatow films and has helped with a script or two. Martian Starr plays the geek Bill Haverchuck and appears in later Apatow films, as does James Franco who plays the freak Dan Desario.
Despite some deviations Freaks and Geeks is still an Apatow work because of the use of common themes, motifs and actors. In the show there is no antagonist, rather Lindsay and Sam deal the conflict of surviving and making friends in high school. The characters are flawed, Lindsay beings her transformation from a geek to freak and Sam accepts that he is a geek. Family is prominent in the show and it is portrayed and important. The show is also anti-drug, by making fun of the stoner Nick and Lindsay’s research and dislike of pot. The geeks and to some extent the freaks are outcasts. Comedy is mentioned in various episodes. Freaks and Geeks differs from the typical Apatow because shows camaraderie, and not just male camaraderie, but camaraderie among males and females. One of Apatow’s main themes, the Man-Child is not present; due to a female and a teenage boy are the main characters.