Every great television show needs a great, premise on which to build a multitude of stories. Freaks and Geeks (September 25, 1999 – July 8, 2000) had it, though it was destined to fade away fast. The NBC show aired only fifteen episodes, with three more in the can that only later came to light. But it had a lot going for it: a strong creative vision from authorial forces who would go on to take Hollywood, a talented cast that would essentially do the same, and that premise. As the opening moments of the pilot episode demonstrate, this show wanted to bypass the jock and cheerleader to light on the "burnout" freaks and gawky geeks in the high-school ecosystem, specifically that of William McKinley High School in suburban Michigan, circa 1980.
Since creator Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) attended Chippewa Valley High School in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, circa 1980, the series didn't have to labor for its authenticity. The show Freaks and Geeks most closely resembles is the 1988-1993 ABC comedy-drama The Wonder Years, with its nostalgic but not romanticized view of coming of age in late-1960s suburban America. But if Feig's show also featured a relatable young leading boy and scads of classic-rock source music, Freaks and Geeks was able to push the envelope further in terms of subject matter and tone. Partly that was a function of the show's poor ratings and the quickly paid-off threat of early cancellation, which gave Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) the abandon to follow their chutzpah. This was, after all, a show that—sixteen years ago—devoted the better part of a televised hour ("The Little Things") to a story about one of the regular characters dating a girl with a penis (as Feig proudly points out, the episode "ended up receiving a nomination from GLAAD for its honest portrayal of a girl with ambiguous genitalia).
The show's ongoing story radiated from the Weir household, where burgeoning freak Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini of Mad Men) and cusp-of-puberty geek Sam Weir (John Francis Daley of Bones) lived with out-of-touch parents (SCTV's Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker). Lindsay found her stride with McKinley's brain-fried but mostly sweet-natured freak clique: Daniel Desario (future movie star James Franco), Nick Andopolis (future movie star Jason Segel), Ken Miller (future movie star Seth Rogen), and Kim Kelly (the great Busy Philipps). On the geek side, Sam hung out with Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr of HBO's Silicon Valley) and Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine of Inglourious Basterds). Each episode would have a "freak" storyline and a "geek" storyline, with the writers always looking for ways to entertainingly mix and match the characters.
The supporting cast (Ben Foster, Lizzy Caplan, Tom Wilson, Ann Dowd, and especially Dave (Gruber) Allen as counselor Jeff Rosso) and guest players (including Ben Stiller, Leslie Mann, David Koechner, Jason Schwartzman, and Rashida Jones) also shined; the above-the-line talent included writers Feig, Apatow, and Mike White (HBO's Enlightened); and the directing stable included Feig, Apatow, Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), Bryan Gordon (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Ken Kwapis (The Office), Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids), and Oscar and Emmy-nominated director Lesli Linka Glatter (Twin Peaks), among others.
In telling the stories of misfits, Freaks and Geeks had plenty of fodder for comedy and high-school pathos: gym class and sex ed, garage bands and beer parties, divorce and driver's licenses, not to mention disco and Dungeons & Dragons, the ostensible subjects of the series finale. With this much talent, and a find-the-universal-in-the-specific approach, it's no wonder the short-lived cult series remains beloved years after cancellation.
Shout! Factory became a hero to television fans by surmounting many obstacles to bring Freaks and Geeks to DVD in 2004, followed by a special "Yearbook Edition" in 2008. Now everything those sets offered and more have been packed into the nine-disc Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series Blu-ray Collector's Edition. The set includes not one, but two hi-def versions of the complete series. The first offers the show in its boxy broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1; the second features the widescreen 1.78:1 image that was originally shot. (Only the pilot wasn't "protected" for widescreen, so the widescreen edition of the pilot is cropped top and bottom.) Obviously, the set offers the best of both worlds: purists can stick with the broadcast versions, and everyone else can enjoy legit widescreen versions for the era of HDTV.
All of these transfers are newly struck from the 35mm source, converted into 4K masters, so as you can imagine, the series has never looked better: film grain looks fairly natural, the series' muted colors are true, and detail proves excellent. Audio comes in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, and while we again have a purist vs. upgrade choice here, the 5.1 tracks are almost certainly preferable, given the bump in immersion given to the classic rock and the subtle, occasional improvement to the placement of sound-effects ambience. In general, both tracks offer clear, clean audio, with dialogue never having to compete with the other elements.
Bonus features are plentiful. While there's only one new feature on the Bonus Disc, that's because the DVD edition was already amazingly packed with extras. The new (hi-def) feature is "A Conversation with Paul Feig and Judd Apatow" (45:59, HD) moderated by Los Angeles Times critic Robert Lloyd, which in engagingly chatty fashion revisits the series' trajectory and considers its modern legacy.
The rest archives the terrific bonuses from 2008. Disc One includes the following commentary tracks: "The Pilot" (Commentary 1: Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and Jake Kasdan; Commentary 2: The Fans Meet Samm - Michael "Humphries" Beardsley, Arnold "The Vegan" Freeman, Kibbles the Rocker (on phone), Samm Levine), "Beers and Weirs" (Commentary 1: Apatow, Linda Cardellini, Feig, Kasdan, Jason Segel, J. Elvis Weinstein; Commentary 2: The Parents - Bob Daley (John Francis Daley's father), Debbie Hagan (Sarah Hagan's mother), Jean St. James (Martin Starr's mother)), "Tricks and Treats" (John Francis Daley, Feig, Levine, Stephen Lea Sheppard, Martin Starr), and "Kim Kelly is My Friend" (Commentary 1: Apatow, Lesli Linka Glatter, Mike White; Commentary 2: The Executives - Justin Falvey (DreamWorks), Shelley McCrory (NBC), Dan McDermott (DreamWorks), Apatow). "Deleted Scenes" include "The Pilot" (4:23, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "Beers and Weirs" (5:40, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "Tricks and Treats" (5:20, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; and "Kim Kelly is My Friend" (2:20, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley.
Disc Two includes these commentaries: "Tests and Breasts" (Commentary 1: Mr. Fredericks, Mr. Kowchevski, Mr. Rosso (in character); Commentary 2: Feig and Ken Kwapis); "I'm With the Band" (Commentary 1: Apatow, Feig, Jeff Judah, Gabe Sachs and Segel; Commentary 2: The Production Team - Russ Alsobrook, Apatow, Curtiss Bradford, Feig, Victor Hsu, Debra McGuire and Jeff Sage); "Carded and Discarded" (Apatow, Cardellini, Feig, Joanna Garcia, Levine, Seth Rogen, Mr. Rosso and Segel); and "Girlfriends and Boyfriends" (Apatow, Cardellini, Daley, Feig, Levine, Patty Lin and Segel). "Deleted Scenes" comprise "Tests and Breasts" (3:58, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley, "I'm With the Band" (6:14, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley, "Carded and Discarded" (4:03, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; and "Girlfriends and Boyfriends" (10:16, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley.
Disc Three includes commentaries for "We've Got Spirit" (The Fans - Geoff Black, Tami Lefko and Eric Williams); "The Diary" (Commentary 1: Apatow, Feig and Rebecca Kirshner; Commentary 2: Apatow, Feig and Joe Flaherty); "Looks and Books" (Commentary 1: Apatow, Daley, Feig, Levine, Natasha Melnick, Jerry Messing, Stephen Lea Sheppard and Starr; Commentary 2: Feig and Kwapis); "The Garage Door" (Commentary 1: Apatow, Daley, Feig, Judah, Sam McMurray, Rogen and Sachs); Commentary 2: Feig, Bryan Gordon and Levine), and "Chokin' and Tokin'" (Apatow, Miguel Arteta, Sarah Hagan, Rogen and Starr). "Deleted Scenes" appear for "We've Got Spirit (8:12, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "The Diary" (12:53, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "Looks and Books" (5:58, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "The Garage Door" (2:58, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; and "Chokin' and Tokin'" (8:51, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley.
Disc Four offers commentaries on "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" (Apatow, Claudia Christian, Hagan, Bob Nickman, Busy Philipps, Rogen, Starr and Tom Wilson); "Noshing and Moshing" (Commentary 1: Apatow and James Franco; Commentary 2: Michael Andrews and Kasdan); "Smooching and Mooching" (Commentary 1: Daley, Feig, Levine, Melnick, Messing, Sheppard and Starr; Commentary 2: The Girls - Cardellini, JoAnna Garcia, Melnick and Hagan); "The Little Things" (Apatow, Jon Kasdan, Rogen and White); and "Discos and Dragons" (Apatow, Cardellini, Daley, Feig, Levine, Sheppard and Segel). "Deleted Scenes" include "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" (4:05, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "Noshing and Moshing" (2:22, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "Smooching and Mooching" (7:48, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; "The Little Things" (6:10, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley; and "Discos and Dragons" (5:12, SD) with optional commentary by Apatow, Starr and Daley.
The Bonus Disc has that aforementioned new interview and much, much more. "Paley Center Q&A" (1:12:11, SD) is a great public Q&A with cast and crew. We get the "Table Reading" for "Kim Kelly is My Friend" (49:38, SD), "I'm With the Band" (47:16, SD), and "Girlfriends and Boyfriends" (51:45, SD). More "Deleted Scenes" (9:04, SD) come with optional commentary by Sam Weir and Bill Haverchuck. A suite of "Cast Auditions" includes "Main Cast" (12:16, SD), "The Freaks" (7:37, SD), "The Geeks" (6:54, SD), "Students of McKinley High" (8:57, SD), "Freaks and Geeks Alternate Universe" (11:37, SD) and "The Authority Figures" (11:45, SD). "Long Live Rock" (7:41, SD) montages some musical segments, while "Sober Students Improv Players" (5:04, SD) is clip of a comically bad high-school presentation and "Tales of the Secret Service" (7:19, SD) gives us more of Ben Stiller. "Behind the Scenes" (18:32, SD) is a cool collection of raw B-roll from the set.
Rounding out the disc is the Smorgasbord section, which includes "Raw Footage" (27:01, SD), "Odds and Sods" (26:03), "NBC Promos" (27:58, SD), "Bloopers" (5:28, SD), "Seven Minutes in Heaven" (1:51, SD), "Graduation" (2:33, SD), "Extra Goodies" (14:46, SD), and "Thanks, Goodbye" (2:50, SD). The cases for the discs helpfully break all this down in yet further detail, as does the 38-page booklet that contains an episode guide (each episode with liner notes by Feig), new liner notes for this Blu-ray set, and excerpts from the Yearbook Edition. Lastly, Digital Yearbook sends fans to WilliamMcKinleyYearbook.com for more, including the unproduced script "The Bus."
In short, this is a beautiful Blu-ray set of a great television series, and a leading contender for Blu-ray release of 2016.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer