Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi "Freaks and Geeks" on NBC

By Devin D. O'Leary

OCTOBER 11, 1999:  Watch enough of the new television season and you'll walk away with the abiding impression that teenagers are all either angst-ridden cheerleaders or angst-ridden yearbook staff nerds -- both of which have an overwhelming propensity to verbalize their inner neuroses directly at the camera.

That isn't to say that NBC's new teen drama "Freaks and Geeks" varies wildly from the formula. Placed up against all the other high school-based comedy/dramas, however, "F & G" emerges as an intelligent and sympathetic stab at the old flashback genre. At least it understands that there are far more strata in the high school food chain than merely the popular (rich, dumb athletes) and the unpopular (poor, smart computer geeks).

Set in the nascent days of the 1980s, "Freaks and Geeks" follows an ensemble cast of adolescent dweebs at a Michigan high school. Stories center largely around sophomore chick Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her freshman bro Sam (John Daley). Cursed with both a brain and a rich family, Lindsay is trying desperately to reinvent herself as the new school year starts. Adopting a petulant attitude and decked out in her dad's grungy old Army jacket, Lindsay tries her best to shake off her "mathlete" past and wiggle her way into the school's "freak" contingent. Sam, by way of contrast, is a hopeless little nerd who spends his days huddling in a corner of the lunchroom with fellow geeks Neal and Bill talking "Star Trek." Unlike his older sibling, Sam isn't yet armed with enough self-awareness to try and shake off the bad haircut and high-water pants.

The greatest asset in "Freaks and Geeks" is that it never tries too hard to drive home a funny joke or nail down some hard-hitting drama. The show never sacrifices believability for the sake of fiction. The characters never descend into easy stereotypes. The stories never wrap themselves into pat sitcom endings. As a result, some may find the show a little too realistic, a little too mild. But it's a refreshing change from all the silly histrionics of (yawn) anorexic cheerleaders and (yawn) overachieving honor students.

The greatest sin of today's teen-driven shows is that the characters are all blessed with a ridiculous level of intelligence and introspective ability, allowing them to outthink all the bumbling, jaded adults and to comment wryly on everything around them (thank you very much, "Dawson's Creek"). The teenagers in "Freaks and Geeks" are exactly as advertised. They all talk and act just like real teenagers -- lacking in confidence and understanding, and trying desperately to figure out the skills it will take to navigate the adult world.

No one here has a quick, catty quip. No one here looks like they belong on a Noxema commercial. No one here knows anything about sex, except that their raging hormones are telling them that they need it soon. The funniest moments are tiny, yet well-observed. The most dramatic moments are understated, yet telling.

Forget all those other teen talkers -- with a crackerjack cast, some damn fine writing and that added nostalgia bonus, "Freaks and Geeks" deserves to be at the head of the class.


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