Dramedy created by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow for NBC, based on the former's experiences, about two groups of teenagers in the Detroit suburbs in 1980. The "Freaks" are into rock (not disco!), pot and just hanging out. The "Geeks" are into comedy, the AV club, role-playing games and are just getting into computers. Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) is at the fringe of the Freak group, while her younger brother, Sam (John Francis Daley), is at the core of the Geeks.Eighteen episodes were made in 1999-2000. Part of what made the show unique was its retro setting did not use the typical trappings like It Will Never Catch On, Hilarious in Hindsight and was even sparse in the use of Nothing But Hits. It was surprisingly immersive in the time period. The show was praised to heaven and back, making it on TIME magazine's top 10 new shows, but never quite took off with the ratings, which led to its notorious cancellation.note It actually topped the TV Guide list of the shows that were cancelled too soon.Compare its fellow high school drama My So-Called Life, and Apatow's follow-up college comedy Undeclared.Has a character sheet.
Aborted Arc: Sam's beginning frustration with Neal and Bill (as well as Gordon and Harris) in "Discos and Dragons" was to translate into the next season with Sam wanting to break away from the Geeks as he started with puberty, as well as the relationship between Coach Fredericks and Gloria Haverchuck (Bill's mother), and the divorce between the Schweibers. No further explanation is needed.
The whole reason for the Halloween episode was to give them an excuse for Joe Flaherty to dress up as a vampire, recalling "Count Floyd" from SCTV.
Adults Are Useless: Played with. The Weir parents generally give well-meaning and helpful advice to their children. However, generational differences in particular (they are, after all, pre-Boomers while the kids are early Gen-X'ers) often make it difficult for them to understand what their children are going through. This is particularly apparent in the episode "Boyfriends And Girlfriends," where the Weir parents' lack of familiarity with post-60's sexual politics makes them extremely paranoid about Lindsay and Nick hooking up. Fortunately, unlike a lot of other teen shows, F&G never goes overboard with this trope. It's actually presented in a very realistic (for its time, at least) manner.
The Alleged Car: Kim Kelly's Gremlin, Nick's Maverick...It's 1980, it's Detroit, if the series had lasted pretty much every marginal American car from the '70s would've shown up...
Ambulance Cut: Sort of. In "Chokin' and Tokin'," Alan yells at Bill that he put peanuts in his sandwich. Cue his Oh Crap face as he realizes Bill really is allergic to peanuts, and then cut to Bill on a gurney being rushed down the hall to the waiting ambulance.
Gabe Sachs claims to have based Nick on himself, complete with giant drum kit.
Author Tract: "The Little Things" is pretty much one long political ad. Somewhat understandable, as it aired a few months before the 2000 election.
Belated Backstory: Alan gets one in "Chokin' and Tokin'", where we find out that the reason he gives the geeks a hard time is because they used to ignore him when he actually wanted to be friends with them.
Betty and Veronica: Initially, Lindsay's two main love interests, Nick and Daniel, seem to fit this trope, with Nick being the sweet, slightly shy one and Daniel being the stereotypical "bad boy." This gets subverted to hell and back when we find that Nick is a stoner with an Edward Cullen complex and Daniel is actually a pretty good guy. Also played mostly straight with Lindsay's gal pals Millie and Kim.
Arguably reverted when Nick starts getting his act together, but that's also left hanging.
Broken Pedestal: Neal's idolization of his father is destroyed upon learning of his extramarital affairs. However, the show takes pains to portray the senior Schweiber as a good husband and father who is likely in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
Brother Chuck: There are a few unnamed extras in the freaks and the geeks that dont appear in later episodes after the pilot.
Coach Nasty: Played with; Coach Fredericks can definitely be rather blunt, sarcastic and mean, particularly to the less-than-athletically talented geeks, but he's got a heart of gold underneath it all and is actually rather compassionate and kind, particularly when he's not on the sports field.
Continuity Nod: Lindsay's mom referring to Nick as "the guy who ate all my Fruit Roll-Ups" in "Boyfriends And Girlfriends" counts as this; the series generally doesn't make too many references to previous episodes beyond well-established plot points, so this is particularly apparent.
Convenient Slow Dance: Subverted in the first episode. Sam gets Cindy out onto the dance floor just as the tempo (to Styx' "Come Sail Away") picks up.
Conversational Troping: Both groups, constantly, although the geeks mostly talk comedy and science fiction, while the freaks are more into music.
Corpsing: When found out that he had Lindsay help him cheat on a math test, Daniel breaks into a monologue about how he was pushed into the dumb kids group and how it affected his self-esteem. When he finished, everyone in the room (teacher, guidance counselor, Lindsay and her parents) are all silent. That is, until Lindsay breaks into hysterical laughter because he had used, word for word, the EXACT same monologue to guilt her into helping him cheat in the first place.
Creator Cameo: Paul Feig plays Alex, the guitarist for Dimension, in "I'm with the Band".
Cringe Comedy to spare. Two notable examples are Neal's ventriloquism act at his parents' party and definitely Nick's disastrous audition for a professional rock band.
Nick serenading Lindsay with Styx's "Lady"...and, in a different episode, auditioning his own composition, "Lady L", to Ken.
"Smooching and Mooching" has a deleted scene in which Sam and Cindy dance while Sam sings, which everyone on the DVD commentary claims is the creepiest thing ever filmed... which is accurate.
Surely Sam walking into school wearing a baby-blue disco jumpsuit ("Parisian nightsuit"). The look on his face as he realizes that everyone is laughing at him is priceless.
Cut Short: And it makes the final episode, "Discos and Dragons", into...
Mind-Screw Ending: Let's see, Sam has become disillusioned with his best friends but Daniel has joined their gang. Nick and Lindsay are no longer a couple, he has also broken up from his circle of friends and Lindsay is off on a cross-country road trip while her parents think she's attending an academic summit. And Kim and Daniel's latest break-up may be the last.
Dawson Casting: Averted. Only John Francis Daley was actually the same age as his character, but with the exception of James Franco, Busy Phillips and Linda Cardellini, the actors playing students were still teenagers when they made the show.
Dramatically Missing The Point: Real Life example. Tons of F&G fanfics show Lindsay and Nick hooking up and living happily ever after, even though the series clearly suggests that the two make just as bad a couple as Sam and Cindy did.
Dream Apocalypse: In her marijuana induced episode, Lindsay believes she's in a dream belonging to Millie's dog, and begs her not to wake him up.
Dreadful Musician: Nick, although he is said to be getting better towards the end after taking lessons.
DVD Commentary: Most episodes have at least two, some have three, including fan commentaries and Rosso, Fredericks, & Kowchevski reviewing an episode in character.
The Eighties: Or more specifically, the part immediately following (and thus still retaining a lot of the look and culture of) The Seventies.
Enforced Method Acting: To make it look like Bill was laughing insanely at an Garry Shandling routine from Dinah (that actor Martin Starr found more annoying than anything), they filmed Bill's reaction shots without sound while Judd Apatow was standing off-camera telling the actor "extremely dirty jokes".
Fantasy-Forbidding Father: All Nick wants to do is play drums, but his father sells his drum set "for his own good" and threatens to send him to military school.
The Fellowship Has Ended: At the end of the series, the Freaks have all joined different groups. Lindsay and Kim are off to follow The Grateful Dead, Daniel has become one of the geeks and Nick had gotten into disco. Ken's a bit of a loose plot thread, though.
Ken was ultimately the least developed of the show's main characters, and the one character who was never really able to progress much beyond being a simple joke machine (although it was clearly intended that he would once his relationship with Amy went further).
Foreshadowing: In the Halloween episode, the geeks go trick or treating and one woman gives them circus peanuts. Bill asks "Are there any peanuts in those peanuts? Because if there are, I could die." Later in the season, a bully slips peanuts into Bill's sandwich. He nearly dies from an allergic reaction.
"Looks and Books" offers some foreshadowing during the conversation between Harris and Daniel: Harris is reading a Dungeons and Dragons book, and comments that Daniel would make a great Dungeonmaster. "Smooching and Mooching" also foreshadowed with a brief cameo of some Deadheads.
Bill (who is holding a large toy rocket): Oh, it is? I hadn't noticed.
Goofy Print Underwear: Nick has some black-and-white vertically-striped ones in "Smooching and Mooching." The print itself isn't so goofy, but the fact that the underwear was a pair of small, revealing briefs raises the hilarity.
In the DVD booklet, Paul Feig even commented, "Kudos for Jason Segel for allowing us to show him in his underwear."
Hidden Depths: Naturally it occurs in the main cast, but recurring characters receive it as well. For example, Gordon Crisp is introduced early as just a fat kid, but he proves himself to be rather intuitive.
Jerk Jock: Seldom played straight, which is surprising given all the other stock high school tropes.
The bullies and jocks are completely separate cliques—the bullies are mainly losers picking on others even lower on the social ladder, while the jocks are mostly just known for sleeping around. They can be obnoxious but few actually antagonize others. One example is Cindy's boyfriend Todd: he starts out as the Romantic False Lead keeping Sam from dating Cindy, but turns out to be an unusually decent guy. There is a straight example, though, in Seidelman, the enormous football player who torments, well, just about everybody whenever he appears.
In fact in the beginning of one episode, a jock accidentally hits Sam very hard in the stomach while giving his girlfriend a gun show, and though Sam doesn't admit that he got hurt, the guy did genuinely act apologetic.
Subverted with Mr. Fredricks. He initially appears to be a cliched asshole gym teacher, but is later revealed to be very compassionate and understanding, even when dealing with students who don't do well in gym (Sam and Bill.) He risks losing his job to have a more frank discussion about sex with Sam after realizing that he's seen a pornographic movie and makes a good effort to bond with Bill after he starts dating Bill's mom.
Limited Wardrobe: Lindsey's everpresent green Army surplus coat, and Bill's blue-and-white horizontal-striped shirt.
Locked Out of the Loop: Neal's brother and mother knew about his father's affairs long before he did, poor kid.
Luke Nounverber: Meta-subverted by a first-time D&D player, Carlos the Dwarf.
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Although never directly stated, definitely so when it comes to the Geeks, but this when Daniel talks with Harris:
Daniel: Am I a loser?
Harris: Well, you're having sex, so no.
Monochrome Casting: There really are very few people of color with speaking roles, and a grand total of one recurring Hispanic character.
Justified since the setting is Suburban Detroit where you could realistically have an all-white case even in the present.
Most Writers Are Adults: A rare aversion for for a show about highschool students. The kids actually act like kids their age, and deal with relatively realistic issues.
Music Video Syndrome: Averted. Feig and Apatow wanted the emotional scenes that would, on most teen dramas, be underscored by music from hip new bands, to simply speak for themselves. The results speak for themselves.
Nerd: The "geeks" in the show, who are everything you ever think of when you heard the word "nerd". Neal's older brother is rather noticeable in that he is awkward, not too handsome, and completely uncool, but knows and accepts this unashamedly.
However, it's never implied that the geeks are particularly smart. Bill, in particular, comes off as being surprisingly dumb at times. So this might actually be an aversion in some sense.
No Ending: About the only downside to discovering the show on DVD.
Odd Friendship: Lindsay and Kim (starting with "Kim Kelly Is My Friend"), Millie and Kim ("Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers"), Daniel and the Geeks ("Discos and Dragons", although it technically began when Daniel lent Sam a porno in "Tests and Breasts").
Orphaned Punchline: A raunchy joke that the Geeks don't understand is the impetus for their plot in "Tests and Breasts". We only hear the punchline, "...'How do you think I rang the doorbell?'", until near the end of the episode, where the audience finally gets to hear enough of the setup to figure out the joke ("So there's this guy with no arms and no legs...").
Power Walk: The Geeks and Maureen, in "Carded and Discarded".
Present Day Past: Mostly averted. And, since the show's 1980 setting was really more about averting Totally Radical (see below) than wallowing in period nostalgia anyway, it's pretty easy to forgive the occasional anachronism.
Pretender Diss: Kim initially resents Lindsay hanging out with the Freaks, viewing her as "just some rich kid who's trying to piss off her parents".
Primal Scene: Interestingly used. The Geeks enter the Weir house, and Sam calls out for Jean; he hears Harold and Jean in their bedroom and makes a disgusted face. Both Bill and Sam walk away, but Neal listens in...
Satellite Love Interest: Justified with Cindy. We know next to nothing about Cindy when Sam gets together with her, and this comes to bite him in the ass later, as they have nothing in common and never really have any fun.
Scare 'Em Straight: In "Beers and Weirs", the students are shown a slide presentation depicting students who suffered alcohol-related fatalities.
Harold Weir: "I had a friend that used to smoke. You know what he's doing now? He's DEAD!"
Shout Out: To nearly all the musical cult favorites of the late '70s, which is probably one of the reasons why it took so very long to clear the rights for the DVD release. Bill watching Garry Shandling qualifies, as Judd Apatow was a writer on The Larry Sanders Show before Freaks and Geeks.
Shower Shy: Sam in the episode "I'm with the Band," when the school starts requiring students to shower after PE. Things only get worse for him when he finally tries to overcome his fear, only to be pushed out of the locker room and into the hallway without clothes or a Modesty Towel.
Shown Their Work: Set in the Detroit suburbs, regional brands are often seen and Japanese cars are conspicuously absent.
Single Mom Stripper: In one episode, Bill worriedly asks his mom if she's going to start "dancing" again.
Teens Are Short: Averted. Nick is six foot four and played by nineteen year old Jason Segel while the rest of the cast are quite tall. The only exceptions are Neal, and Sam, who is noted as being short for his age. Had the series made another season, Sam would have averted this as well, as John Francis Daley had a growth spurt immediately after filming the first season.
Totally Radical: Averted. The whole show was explicitly set in 1980 to avoid this. Although the guidance counselor is prone to the '80s equivalent of this.
Troubled, but Cute: Daniel has a bad home life and does poorly in school, but Lindsay is still interested...
True Companions: Two separate groups with the Weir siblings as the connection.
Though they were not the leaders; Alan Sepinwall identifies Daniel and Neal as the heads of their respective groups.
TV Teen: Hugely averted. The characters deal with girls/boys, body image (Sam), sexual identity issues (Ken), fitting in and generally finding yourself (Lindsay). It's all amazingly real.
Unconventional Smoothie: "Tricks and Treats" begins with Bill accepting a wager to drink one of these. Sam and Neal mix cayenne pepper, mustard, pickle juice, pickles, a generous handful of salt, sardines, vinegar, soy sauce, chili, a spoonful of grape jelly, powdered dairy creamer, and after-dinner mints. Bill actually likes it.
Had there been a second season, Paul Feig wanted to have Sam breaking with Bill and Neal to find a new group of friends, Lindsay struggling with drug addiction, Kim Kelly getting pregnant, Bill's mom marrying Coach Fredricks and Neal's parents divorcing. And Sam would have gotten tall; John Francis Daley grew almost a foot in the year after cancellation.
Feig also wanted Lindsay and Daniel to eventually end up together.
On the topic of how Sam was supposed to be tall, Daniel was supposed to be Hispanic, and Ken was supposed to have long blonde hair. Neal was supposed to be named Art Thompson, Lindsey was supposed to be 15, etc.
Was Shia LaBeouf asleep because he was concussed or just because he was really tired? Did he ever wake up?
Where did Alan go after making peace with the geeks?
Was Lindsay really smoking as her mother accused her of in the pilot? This troper's instinct is no, but it was never really elaborated on in the rest of the episode...or the rest of the series.
Then there's Britt and Ashley, the football player and cheerleader seen in the very first scene of the first episode. We see them have a brief discussion about their relationship, then the camera pans down below the bleachers they're sitting on to where the freaks are hanging out...and we never see or hear from them again. (Of course, since the whole show is depicted from the perspective of kids whose social orbits are light-years removed from that of the school's Britts and Ashleys, this only makes perfect sense.)
That opening was a Mind Screw. The show wanted to open with some contrived melodrama to make you think it would be another Beverly Hills 90210 or Dawson's Creek, and then immediately subvert it by panning the camera down at the far more interesting and realistic Freaks, basically telling the audience "This isn't that kind of show!"
Also subverted in that nothing that bad really happens, most of the crises you'd expect never occur, and to all intents and purposes the kids get away with it.
Wrong Genetic Sex: This is a major plot point in one episode, when Ken's new girlfriend Amy tells him she's one of these. There was no DNA test or anything - the conflict came from Amy getting upset at Ken telling his friends her big secret.
Yoko Oh No: In-universe, Lindsay inadvertently becomes this in "I'm with the Band", where she splits up the freak's band when actually trying to get them to improve. Ken even calls her Yoko at one point, although they're all back together by the end of the episode.
He teases her about it again in a later episode, referring to the time she broke up their band so she could make out with Nick. She doesn't correct him that she actually made out with Nick in part because she felt bad about breaking up their band.