SF Sketchfest: Freaks and Geeks Speak!

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Ian Lendler, our man in San Fran, gives his second report from the Sketchfest. Freaks and Geeks may not seem like a natural for Dead-Frog, but this is exactly the show I would have picked as well.

It’s good to catch up with old friends. That, in effect, is what several hundred of us did at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco over the weekend, when we attended a reunion of the cast for one of the greatest television shows ever made: Freaks And Geeks.

Again, with such an unbelievable line-up on offer during the San Fran Sketchfest, it’s incumbent our Your Dead-Frog Correspondent (YDFC) to justify why he chose this event over, say, the wildly popular Match Game with Jimmy Pardo, Patton Oswalt, or the newest latest thing, Whitest Kids You Know. So why, out of all of these did YDFC choose Freaks And Geeks?

Well, you could argue that the Judd Apatow school of comedy (which is actually the James Brooks school of comedy…discuss…) now rules Hollywood. 40-yr-old Virgin and Knocked Up were easily the best comedies of the last few years. And Freaks And Geeks, as creator Paul Feig remarked during the show, was the prototype of shows that have become gospel in the last few years. With it running story lines, mixture of comedy and drama, and large cast of characters that evolve from episode to episode, Freaks and Geeks could easily fit in alongside Lost, Sopranos, Mad Men, and The Wire.

You could argue all these things. But why bother? The reason YDFC went to this shows was that Freaks and Geeks kicked ass. And YDFC, like the hordes of fans that have driven the Freaks and geeks cult, wanted to glean any information that could shed light on how the show managed to kick so much ass.

But as moderator Patton Oswalt noted, we talk endlessly about the greatness of this show, but that’s not why we were at Cobb’s and that’s not why anyone is reading this now. So let’s get to the good stuff:

The participants in the show included creator Paul Feig, Linda Cardellini (Lindsay), an unrecognizably tall John Francis Daley (Sam), Samm Levine (Neal), a very possibly stoned Martin Starr (Haverchuck), Busy Phillips (Kim), David Allen (Mr. Rosso, who’s character, due to legal reasons, was almost named Mr. Del Monte), and Steve Bannos (Mr. Kowchevski)

So what did we learn?

  • Paul Feig is the unluckiest man on earth. Anyone who has read his memoir, “Superstud”, will know that the majority of the most embarrassing moments from the show (Sam’s Parisian night-suit, Lindsay’s car accident) were taken directly from Feig’s life. But it was revealing to learn that every moment on the set when Feig was in charge managed to devolve into slapstick disaster. When Feig organized an on-set softball game, actor John Daley took a fly-ball directly to the face, delaying shooting. And Feig was directing the scene (in “We’ve Got Spirit”) that sparked an actual brawl between James Franco and Busy Phillips. Though they’re now good friends, Franco and Phillips notoriously hated each other during the shooting, a fact which the writers gleefully exploited to get more tension out of their scenes together.
  • Even better, we learned the direction that characters might have taken if their had been a second season. Paul Feig knew exactly what the first scene of the second season would have been: Lindsay at a Grateful Dead show on a stretcher having a bad acid trip.
  • The Geeks were going to go their separate ways: Haverchuck, under the guidance of Coach Fredericks (the thinking man’s Mr. Woodcock) was going to turn into a jock. Sam was going to start to hang out with the popular kids. And Neal, well, Neal was going to stay a virgin for a loooong time.
  • But perhaps the best potential story-line was that Kim Kelly, under the increasing influence of Millie, Lindsay, and her experiences following the Dead, was going to a) try out for the school musical b) get cast and c) become the school’s theater geek, much to the bemusement of all.

There was general gossip of the “wasn’t it fun being on set together?” sort which is always fun to listen to but doesn’t really read very well in print, so YDFC will spare you.

The floor was then thrown open to some surprisingly nut-job-free Q&A. The only fairly dull question being: “What are you guys doing now?” (Answer: That’s what imdb is for. Stop wasting everyone’s time. Although it must be noted that Feig’s answer, “I’ve got a series of young-adult sci-fi novels coming out,” took everyone by surprise.)

However, the answers (ER, Bones, the writers’ strike, etc.) weren’t as instructive as the fact that every one of those actors have gone on to totally decent careers. It’s rare feat for a cast that included three 14-yr-olds and a bunch of 19-yr-olds to go on to bigger things (just ask Gary Coleman and Danny Bonaduce). And it provides some clue as to the show’s enduring qualities.

Paul Feig, Judd Apatow, and Mike White set out to create a show in which teenagers were portrayed as they actually are— awkward, gawky, frustrated, and misunderstood. There were no snappy one-liners. No witty repartee. So was it any surprise that when they asked a cast of teenagers to just be themselves, that’s exactly what they got?

-Ian Lendler
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Posted by jmachinder on 01/28  at  04:32 PM

Paul Fieg’s memoir is “Superstud,” not “Superbad.”

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 01/28  at  04:53 PM

Thanks for the correction. Fixed now. (It’s a mistake I’m constantly reminding myself not to make. Sorry I didn’t catch it in editing.)

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