‘Freaks and Geeks’ and music too
Colleen Fischer | Monday, February 22, 2021
A part of the charm of “Freaks and Geeks,” a single-season 1999 comedy-drama, is the fully developed and compelling characters. Each character has a strong narrative — there’s Lindsey’s relationship with her parents, Sam’s journey to deciding what he wants and Danny’s desperation to belong. Even the guidance counselor serves as a central character, developing along with the students, defining them as they grow, bringing them together and occasionally separating them, all with a gentle hand. Intrinsically tied to the characters is the music, so much so that the show’s creator Paul Feig said he never considered changing the music because it would be like cutting Lindsey — the main character — out of the show.
“Freaks and Geeks” features major artists such as Joan Jett, The Who, the Grateful Dead and Billy Joel. Music offers strong and quick labeling for characters who exist in between adulthood and childhood, trying to find themselves and define their tastes. There are moments where music is essential to the plot, such as when Danny decides to try a punk look in order to impress a girl, when Nick does the same thing with disco, and of course when Lindsey gives up the last bit of her geek persona to follow the Grateful Dead on tour.
Not only did music influence “Freaks and Geeks,” but “Freaks and Geeks” eventually influenced music. The iconic title sequence has made appearances in content for bands such as Modern Baseball and Wallows and has been remade hundreds of times by high school film students and AV club members. The people who have the time to sit in their rooms making music are those who resonate with the show, which is a love letter to counterculture and misfits.
When “Freaks and Geeks” was made in the ‘90s, creators procured the music rights for episode premieres and reruns, not streaming. When the show left Netflix in 2018, it was over issues related to the music rights. Thankfully, “Freaks and Geeks” is back on Hulu and the original music is still there. I came to “Freaks and Geeks” when it came onto Hulu. I started it with my parents and finished it last week, watching on my dorm room floor with a bottle of wine because I had became so attached and needed to mourn the end. But in the age of endless reboots, this is a show I hope never gets a reunion episode. It is perfect where it is. The characters live as eternal adolescents, forever dreaming their futures, always in the perpetual maybe.
“Freaks and Geeks” is the only TV show I’ve seen that features misfits without making their reality be the joke. It isn’t funny that they dream, it’s sad that others don’t. Reality hovers over them like a promise. The specific music choices help to build the alternate reality where they can always exist, never having to sacrifice their dreams for a stable paycheck.
In the weeks since “Freaks and Geeks” was made available for streaming, more than a couple of friends have texted or stopped me to tell me the show was perfect for me. For them — and later for me — the music was a sticking point. Now I’m happy that high school students and college kids will be able to spend their afternoons, evenings and lunchtime breaks with such a great show — music intact.