If you caught A&E Network’s Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary on Monday night, you were one of the lucky ones. As part of A&E’s new Cultureshock series, which delves into the “untold stories behind watershed moments in pop culture,” we were transported back to the hallways of William McKinley High School, which, for one year at the turn of the millennium, was the setting for one of the greatest TV shows of all time.
That Freaks and Geeks was a “watershed moment” that influenced society years after it aired isn’t really up for debate. It’s a show that not only helped redefine the high school TV show genre at a time when most people were getting gooey-eyed over Dawson’s Creek, but it also championed the underdog, perfectly captured the pain of those awkward teenage years, and starred some of the biggest faces in Hollywood today. Yet unlike those “damn Dawson’s River kids,” Freaks and Geeks was never given a real chance.
A&E’s documentary helps pinpoint why this was. Essentially, it can be boiled down to two things. Firstly, the arrival and immediate success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? pushed it out of regular airtime slots, meaning viewers couldn’t rely on a schedule. Secondly, it was just too damn real for NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier. He just wasn’t into it, so he axed it. But little did NBC know, this move would prompt a huge revenge mission for Freaks and Geeks executive Judd Apatow and creator Paul Feig.
So much love and energy had gone into crafting the show, with scenes, story arcs, and character profiles drawing inspiration from the IRL high school experiences of the cast and crew. The kids that starred in it were life’s weirdos and oddballs, and this was a way to give their stories a platform. They weren’t the gorgeous faces you’d find on shows like 90210, they were way more relatable. But, because of this, NBC told Apatow and Feig that their kids would never make it, they’d never be famous — so the two creative heads decided to prove them wrong.
As Apatow describes in the documentary, he decided to take control of their collective creative destiny. He and Feig wanted to nurture their talent pool and create opportunities to turn these alternative teenagers into Hollywood stars. And that’s exactly what they did. The following list is but a mere surface-scrape of the major movie and TV projects that have materialized as a result of Apatow and Feig’s direct and giant “fuck you” to NBC. And it is glorious.
Pineapple Express, Superbad, This Is the End
Freaks and Geeks connection: They were all written by Freaks and Geeks star Seth Rogen (and Evan Goldberg) and, with the exception of This Is the End (although the filmmakers still held him up as a direct inspiration), produced by Apatow. They all starred Rogen, while fellow Freaks and Geeks alumni James Franco, Steve Bannos, and Silicon Valley‘s Martin Starr appeared in two of the three movies.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Rogen played Ken Miller, Franco played Daniel Desario, Bannos played Frank Kowchevski, and Starr played Bill Haverchuck.)
The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Freaks and Geeks connection: Written, directed, and produced by Apatow, and starring Rogen and Bannos.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Freaks and Geeks connection: Produced by Apatow and starring Rogen, Apatow, and Dave Allen.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Allen played Jeff Rosso.)
The Interview, Sausage Party, The Disaster Artist
Freaks and Geeks connection:The Interview and Sausage Party were co-written by Rogen, with Rogen co-directing The Interview. Both starred Rogen and Franco, and Lizzy Caplan appeared in The Interview.
Caplan also appeared alongside Franco in The Disaster Artist, which he directed and co-produced. The Tommy Wiseau biopic was produced by Rogen (who co-starred) and featured an appearance from Apatow.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Caplan played Sara.)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bad Teacher, Knocked Up
Freaks and Geeks connection: Written by and starring Jason Segel and produced by Apatow. Segel went on to appear in Bad Teacher alongside Allen and Feig. In Knocked Up, he found himself alongside Rogen, Starr, Feig, and Franco. The picture was written, directed, and produced by Apatow.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Segel played Nick Andopolis.)
Freaks and Geeks connection: Apatow produced Girls, Lena Dunham’s TV series in which Becky Ann Baker stars as her mother — she was the mom in Freaks and Geeks, too.
Love, which was created, written, and produced by Apatow, features Allen and Bannos as the protagonist’s odd neighbors.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Baker played Jean Weir.)
The Office (US), Arrested Development, Mad Men, Bridesmaids
Freaks and Geeks connection: Feig plucked the relatable, grounded humor of Freaks and Geeks and injected it into his later projects, from Bridesmaids (which stars Bannos) and Mad Men (which he directed an episode of and starred Linda Cardellini) to Arrested Development (which he appeared in and directed seven episodes of), Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (directed and co-wrote), and The Office (produced, directed episodes of, and appeared in).
(In Freaks and Geeks, Cardellini played Lindsay Weir.)
Freaks and Geeks connection:Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s screenplay was co-penned by John Francis Daley, featured Starr, and is, at its core, a high school story. Daley also co-wrote the screenplay for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Vacation, which he also co-directed.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Daley played Sam Weir.)
Drunk History, New Girl, Wet Hot American Summer, Blades of Glory
After appearing in Freaks and Geeks, Busy Phillips starred in Dawson’s Creek for three years, as well as all six seasons of Cougar Town, New Girl (also features Caplan), Drunk History — which Starr and Samm Levine also appeared in — and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She also co-wrote the story for Will Ferrell comedy Blades of Glory.
As well as Mad Men, Cardellini later scored roles in Brokeback Mountain, New Girl, and Gravity Falls, while Levine continued on a teen home stretch, popping up in That ’70s Show and Wet Hot American Summer with Jason Schwartzman.
(In Freaks and Geeks, Levine played Neal Schweiber and Schwartzman played Howie Gelfand.)
I think the Freaks and Geeks team proved their point in the end, don’t you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Next, this infographic shows the terrifying size of Disney’s media empire.