Our salute continues! (Part I here)
4. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000, NBC)
Judd Apatow is a freaking genius. Freaks and Geeks is the only TV show I can think of to portray teenagers with any sense of realism. Set in a suburb outside of Detroit in the very early 80s, this show followed the awkward trials of Lindsay Weir, former mathlete turned “freak,” and her brother Sam, destined “geek.” Apatow handled the series with a remarkable blend of pathos and humor, but the best thing about the tone of the series was the complete lack of either schmaltzy sentimentality or undue glamor that plagues every show about teens. There are no rose-colored glasses here, no simple answers, and the endings are more often than not ambiguous–but that ambiguity is somehow more satisfying than a traditional happy ending.
5. Undeclared (2001-2002, FOX)
After Freaks and Geeks was canceled after one short season, Apatow gave TV another shot, switching to a new network and a new format. He brought along some of the actors from Freaks and Geeks, including Seth Rogan, who became a writer/producer on the show (Seth went on to co-star in Apatow’s blockbuster The 40 Year Old Virgin, and is the unlikely leading man in Apatow’s summer offering Knocked Up, which looks really, really funny). Set at the non-existent University of North Eastern California in the early oughties, Undeclared was based around a group of college freshmen trying to navigate their way through the tribulations of a new school full of new people. The show focused on Steven, a nerdy kid with the potential to reinvent himself in his new environs. He manages to hook up with fellow dormer Lizzie, despite her older boyfriend (Lizzie’s psycho-obsessive older boyfriend, played by Freaks and Geeks star Jason Segel, provides for one of the show’s funniest plots). Steven’s quest for cool is of course impeded by his father (played by folkie Loudon Wainwright III) who, after a nasty divorce, has embarked on his own quest for cool (midlife crisis style)).
Loudon Wainwright III plays “The Morgue.”
Before we leave our contemplation of Judd Apatow, I highly recommend everyone read this 2001 exchange of emails between Apatow and That 70s Show Creator Mark Brazill, published originally in Harper’s. Brazill accuses Apatow of plagiarism, hilarity ensues.
Later this week in the salute–is David Cross a dick? What do you do when the series that filled the Buffy-sized void in your pop culture heart is canceled? And does Nickelodeon really suck now, or have we just gotten older?