By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Set in a leafy suburb of Detroit in the 1980-81 school year, the series centered on 16-year-old Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her 14-year-old brother, Sam (John Francis Daley), and their attempts to navigate the shoals and shallows, and sometimes sharks, of most anybody's adolescence. "Lindsay is trying very, very hard to grow up," executive producer Judd Apatow has said, "and Sam is trying very, very hard to stay a child," which is about as much of a "situation" as the show ever had. Sidelined by an existential crisis upon the death of her grandmother, honor student Lindsay (the only TV heroine I have ever heard say she doesn't believe in God -- you go, girl) abandons overachievement to hang with slow-track "freaks" Daniel (James Franco), Nick (Jason Segel), Ken (Seth Rogen) and Kim (Busy Philipps); Sam, whose character bore the burden of reliving Paul Feig's peerlessly clueless adolescence, had his own best friends, Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr), hip-joined in the twilight of childhood and endlessly speculating on what comes next. Becky Ann Baker and SCTV's Joe Flaherty played the senior Weirs. To meet them as a viewer was like making any real-world acquaintance, with first impressions continually revised and complicated by subsequent encounters and deeper knowledge.
The show flirted with type -- the tough bad girl, the sexy bad boy, the stoner, the brain, the doof, the cranky dad -- only to demolish type at every opportunity. "You never quite knew where you were going to go as a character," says Jason Segel, "but it was always going to be interesting." Indeed, the show's seasonal arc was less about developing a narrative, less a matter of gathering force toward a conclusion or cliffhanger, than of enlarging understanding: The arc was inward, you might say, and the series grew richer, and more serious, with each episode -- though it was at the same time extremely, if most often painfully, funny. ä
IT'S LATE MARCH, A WEEK AND A HALF AFTER THE cancellation call, and at the Freaks and Geeks production office at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, the Who and Zeppelin posters are still on the walls, desks are still covered with papers, colored-marker story breakdowns remain unerased from whiteboards, the copiers and printers are still plugged in, and the kitchen has been stocked for at least one more morning with candy bars and cookies, bagels and cream cheese. The staff is due out of the office by the end of April. "Hopefully they'll wash the carpet before new people come in," says Maureen Jennings, the producers' assistant and Web producer.
And yet, though the show is off the air -- in the gentle terms of the television business, it is on "indefinite hiatus" -- with six filmed episodes languishing unseen, it is not yet exactly dead; its spirit still hovers over the body on the operating-room table. The locker-lined halls of McKinley High have been taken from Raleigh Studios to a downtown warehouse in what DreamWorks, which produces the show, is for the moment calling "a fold and hold" -- which is to say, not a "dead strike," which is to say that all hope has not been abandoned that they may yet be of use. Cast members still drop by the office, although often it's on the way to or from an audition for another show. As the days pass, Martin Starr will be cast in an as-yet-untitled Wayne "Newman" Knight pilot, John Francis Daley in the new Geena Davis sitcom, Samm Levine in a project from King of the Hill's Greg Daniels. But everyone remains in touch -- Starr and Seth Rogen are even going to find an apartment together -- and Freaks and Geeks holds an option on their services until June 15. It isn't over until it's over.
Meanwhile, there are still two episodes to finish, music to lay in, sound to mix. The final five were all directed by either Paul, Judd or Jake. Paul wrote and directed the season finale early and out of sequence to be sure of closure in case of early cancellation. Exactly who they are finishing them for besides themselves and the gods isn't exactly clear at this point, though several cable networks have expressed interest in rerunning the completed season. (MTV now seems the likely winner; the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills is currently staging a marathon showing of the season, which culminates this weekend, May 13 -- which sold out in 15 minutes -- and 14, with the six unaired episodes.) Their best hope is that whoever reruns them will do so well that they'll order new episodes, though neither Paul nor Judd would make a "cheaper" version of the show, which cost about $1.5 million an episode to produce. Their other best hope is that, once networks set their fall slates and realize how crappy all their pilots are, one will discover a hole in its schedule that only Freaks and Geeks can fill. If nothing else, they'll do what they did with "Kim Kelly Is My Friend" -- an episode NBC thought was a little too rough to run -- and send tapes of the unaired shows, which they all agree are some of their best, out into the "unofficial distribution system." Let the bootlegging begin. On this particular afternoon, Judd estimates the chances of new episodes at 20 percent; a week later, he's revised it downward to 8 percent.
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