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Too Good and Weird 

The Happy Life and Inevitable Death of Freaks and Geeks

Wednesday, May 10 2000
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The family feeling continued through the next night's wrap party -- "a big happy sad convention of everyone who had ever worked on the show," as Martin Starr recalled it. The American Legion Hall on Highland Avenue was decorated as if for a 1980s prom, with a professional prom photographer shooting couples against a sky-blue backdrop, and a surprise cap-and-gown graduation ceremony for Levine, Starr and Rogen, all of whom were finishing real-world high school. There were yearbooks to sign, and karaoke. Judd sang his standard "Spinning Wheel," and Paul did "Viva Las Vegas," and they slow-danced together while Busy Philipps and Linda Cardellini, the latter in a blond wig and her mother's ä own prom dress, sang "Wind Beneath My Wings."

A week later, Paul's mother died suddenly.

And the night after that, after a week in which the show received a total of one minute and 20 seconds of promotion, NBC ran Freaks and Geeks for the last time, the episode "Chokin' and Tokin'," in which Bill Haverchuck's peanut allergy puts him in a coma and Lindsay gets paranoid on pot. Some of the cast came by the office to watch the show. "It got to that montage of her rolling a joint," recalls Jake Kasdan, who was there working late cutting the last episode, "and I had this grim flash that this is not going to last, I could just see people all over the country going, 'Huh?' And the scene where Sam and Neal are sitting in the hospital hallway having the conversation about what if Bill died, would he be a ghost and hang out with us, and it ends with Sam saying, 'He'd just be dead and gone, wouldn't he?' Great moment, total Feig -- just this simple presentation of the strongest ideas in the world, in plain English exactly the way kids encounter those ideas. As we were watching the show that night, I just had this feeling, like, this show is too good and weird to be on the air."

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Notwithstanding a slight improvement in the numbers, Freaks and Geeks was history by noon the next day. Judd got the news from Shelley McCrory, NBC's head of comedy development, then called Paul at his father's accountant's office, where he was settling his mother's affairs.

Then Garth Ancier called, Judd remembers, "and I'm screaming and half crying and saying every single thing I ever wanted to say to him in one phone call. And he's a hard person to talk to, because he's one of those people who does not confront you, so you could say anything and he'll just go [sympathetically] 'Yeah, I know, yeah.' So it's no fun even to let it all go. He sounds like he's made that call a thousand times, he may have made that call three times that day. For all I know he's on a speakerphone and there's someone else in the room and they're giggling -- I know it doesn't bother him. So it's just a terrible moment, because you also know that he's a guy that in his own way supported the show, and there's a much larger political process that has to do with affiliates, and GE, and you don't know if he has anything to do with it. I doubt he woke up one morning going, 'We must get rid of Freaks and Geeks.' But he's the guy you have to talk to. And then you feel terrible the next day that you lost your mind on the phone. But then you do it again to [West Coast NBC president] Scott Sassa the next day, 'cause you can't stop yourself."

They had to reach Linda Cardellini, who was flying to New York to appear on Late Show With David Letterman. When they told her the show had been canceled, she said, "They canceled David Letterman?" The news didn't hit her until "I was actually on, and David kind of touched my hand, and I looked over and went, 'Woah, that's David Letterman,' and then he said, 'I'm sorry to hear about the show.' And hearing David Letterman say 'Sorry' before I'd even told my family, I sat there and I was like, 'Ohhh, it's ohhhhkay.' It made it real at that point."

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