Many beloved television series get asked back to the Paley Festival during their runs. Then there are those short-run shows whose brief lives on air have been surpassed by their staying power with audiences so that a retrospective draws passionate fans back for more. Such is the love for Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's Freaks & Geeks and Apatow's Undeclared.
Apatow, the evening's moderator who has since moved on to a massive feature film directing career, is clearly well aware of the fans' reverence for the two shows that first put him on the comedy radar. As such, he pulled out nearly all the stops for Saturday's double-header panel. Virtually every member of each huge ensemble cast showed up for the post-episode Q&A sessions. Charlie Hunnam, formerly of Undeclared and now of Sons of Anarchy, sent a videotaped message from snowy Montreal, as did Loudon Wainwright, who strummed a quick ditty about the show. Original Freak James Franco held up an iPad with a photo of Anne Hathaway in his greeting and joked that he was busy with her rehearsing to host every other award show this year. (“Do you have anything to say, Anne?”… “Yes, Love & Other Drugs is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray!'”)
Following a crowd-pleasing introduction from Apatow's eight year old daughter Iris (“Good evening, nerds. Are you ready to rock?”), fan-favorite Undeclared episode “Eric Visits Again,” in which Jason Segel's short-fused boyfriend to Carla Gallo's co-ed turns up on campus to pick a fight with Jay Baruchel's meek Steven (who she slept with), was screened before bringing out the panel. An unannounced Amy Poehler, who played the head resident adviser, drew perhaps the greatest applause, closely followed by Segel's copy shop compadres Kyle Gass and David Krumholtz.
“I didn't think the show was personal,” said Apatow of Undeclared's genesis.
“When I watched it later I realized it was a very personal piece of writing. [At college] I thought I could reinvent myself… and people were on to me in like four days.”
Highlights from the panelists included the revelation that Baruchel auditioned for the lead against a cast member from The Real World: Hawaii.
“Thank fucking God you beat that guy!” Seth Rogen exclaimed, only for Segel to deadpan, “Yeah the show would never have made it.”
They reminisced of how the show's 2001 debut the week after 9/11 might have hurt its jocular tone.
Rogen enthused about a Q&A he was “so proud” of wherein he interviewed Apatow for TV Guide.
“It was funny if 9/11 didn't happen. The cover of TV Guide was the towers on fire!”
There was an odd question for Segel about how all his love interests' names seem to begin with “Li-.” An awkward pause where he struggled to answer was dive-bombed in classic Amy Poehler fashion as she cast a glance at Krumholtz and said, “Sounds more like a question for the guy from NUMB3RS.”
Following an interval, it was time to get bittersweet.
Apatow's selection for the Freaks & Geeks half of the program was the show's eighteenth and final episode, “Discos and Dragons.” In this episode, Nick (Segel) is alienated from the freaks, but finds love with a disco-fan girlfriend. Meanwhile, the geeks bond with Daniel (Franco), who has been busted into AV club and joins their D&D-playing Friday night, and Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) makes a potentially life-changing decision at the start of summer.
Afterward, Feig, whose late '70s high school tales were the genesis of the series (“Paul had just hundreds of the most humiliating stories” Apatow observed), said “I'm still in awe and shock that we got to do eighteen episodes. We were the lowest rated show [on NBC].”
Most of the then-young cast (it was noted that John Francis Daley, a.k.a. little brother Sam, still believed in Santa Claus at the time) took to the stage to reminisce about everything from everyone's first screen kisses, most of which took place amongst one another, to audition stories.
“For no reason, he did an impression of William Shatner,” said Apatow of Samm Levine, whose Neal became known for that impression on the show.
They also discussed very method stylings of one absent James Franco.
“Excuse me, I'm a little drunk, it was a long [wait] backstage,” cracked Busy Phillips (tough girl Kim Kelly) before launching into a hilarious anecdote about how her on-screen boyfriend Franco had decided to concoct a back-story about how his father abused him, so, in one scene where Kim slugs Daniel in the arm, he turned around and threw her to the ground, shocking everyone on set.
In further tales of “serious actor” shenanigans, Apatow told of how all the boys in the cast hadn't wanted to do press for the show after they read an interview with Edward Norton where he said he doesn't do press.
“We were kids!” Segel protested. “A lot of us have no higher education because of you.”
He went on to admit though that the creator had kept many of them working in the years since.
As filming took place during their formative years, many in the cast noted that emotions ran high and self-discovery was a challenge. Leading lady Cardellini ran out after an early screening in tears.
“Everyone was so good and I didn't know what to think of myself. I was afraid I was ruining something wonderful!”
Daley's adolescent on-screen crush Natasha Melnick (Cindy Sanders) found it abhorrent that her young Republican good-girl found no humor in The Jerk.
“I had such a problem [acting unamused]!”
Meanwhile the legend that is Martin Starr (Bill Haverchuck) nearly ruined his archetypal geek status when he started working out.
“Me and Martin lived together for a while and I would see his body on a daily basis,” Rogen revealed as Starr chuckled further down the stage over the ribbing about his sudden teenage athletic burst. “It was a great fucking body!”
In fact, Apatow revealed that had the show received a second season, he and co-creator Paul Feig flirted with the idea of having Bill slowly become more athletic in the show. His mother and jock chieftain Coach Fredrickson, who were dating in season one, would have eventually married.
And what about that poignant ending where Lindsay and Kim ran off to follow the Grateful Dead over the summer? How would that have turned out?
“The [second] season would have started with [Lindsay] being taken out of a… concert on a stretcher,” Apatow revealed.
The kicker? Queen's “Tie Your Mother Down” on the soundtrack. Even if the show had taken a dark turn, we'd still have had a plethora of killer tunes.