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20 Years Later: ‘Freaks and Geeks’ Still Captures Teen Spirit

The show earnestly conveys what it means to be a teenager: the growing pains, early heartbreaks, and first tastes of freedom.

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Despite being canceled in the midst of its 18 episode run, Freaks and Geeks holds a special place in the annals of television history. The comedy premiered in 1999 with a cast of talented Hollywood newcomers that included Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, James Franco, and countless others. After a network time slot that changed no less than seven times, NBC finally dropped the show once the twelfth episode aired. Although its chances for a second season were shattered, Freaks and Geeks grew a cult following and is now considered by many critics to be a meditative coming-of-age series that was cut down in its prime. 

For a show with such an expansive ensemble cast, Freaks and Geeks mainly follows two central characters: Lindsay (Cardellini) and Sam Weir (John Francis Daley). Once a star student, Lindsay begins hanging out with the freaks under the bleachers when a death in the family sends her into an apparent downward spiral. Meanwhile, her younger brother Sam enters his freshman year of high school with trepidation, flanked by his two childhood friends Bill (Starr) and Neal (Sam Levine). 

The cast of Freaks and Geeks.

Set in 1980, the show is filled with sonic references and nostalgic nods to the time period, capturing everyday life in suburban Michigan within a sentimental time capsule. In many ways, it feels like a spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused (1993), a summer comedy in which Richard Linklater depicted a single day in Austin, Texas in 1976. 

Much of Freaks and Geeks’ appeal lies in its slice-of-life storytelling and predilection for realism. For the most part, the cast members were close to the ages of the high schoolers they were portraying and this casting choice alone adds a youthful bend to the show. Something is charming about a series that earnestly wants to convey what it means to be a teenager and every loaded connotation that comes with it. Freaks and Geeks joyfully bares all: the growing pains, early heartbreaks, and first tastes of freedom. 

Linda Cardellini and James Franco.

The more memorable episodes (“Kim Kelly is My Friend,” “Noshing and Moshing,” and “Chokin’ and Tokin’”) often feature dramatic turning points that allow the teens to grow or present them with major setbacks, that inevitably, still allow them to grow. It’s clear that showrunners Judd Apatow and Paul Feig care about their characters. And even when they make ill-advised choices, those moments are always followed up opportunities for humility and human connection. 

In “Carded and Discarded” the freaks go to great lengths to acquire fake IDs to see Detroit’s hottest local band play a bar show, only to discover that the band’s lead singer is Mr. Rosso, the very guidance counselor that lectured them at the top of the episode. Even Rosso, an adult dismissed as lame by his students, spends his weekends pursuing the same rockstar dreams he fostered as a teenager. And before Rosso appropriately embarrasses his underage students in front of the bar crowd, there’s a small moment where the freaks enjoy themselves and feel a degree of fondness for an adult they previously treated with disdain.

Sam Levine, Martin Starr, John Francis Daley.

Even the handful of episodes that are less outwardly remarkable never lose sight of the show’s aim to endear viewers to Lindsay and her friends. Rich with trademark humor that would go on to define Apatow and Feig throughout the illustrious comedic careers, Freaks and Geeks is brimming with laughs⁠—both low and high brow alike⁠—but the encouragement always leans towards laughing with the characters rather than at them. 

Throughout the show’s arc, people check in on Lindsay constantly, worried that she’s throwing her life away because she’s skipping classes and falling into step with so-called burnouts. And though peer-pressure is present on the show, it doesn’t paint her friends as corrosive. The freaks change Lindsay, but Lindsay changes them too. She finds value in people that are used to being tossed aside and in turn, they allow her to shed an identity she previously clung to. At the end of the series, Lindsay realizes that her life as a straight-A student meant a life fueled by judgment and a strictness that didn’t allow for the change that adolescence requires. 

Franco, Segel, Rogen, Cardellini, Daley, Starr, and Levine of Freaks and Geeks.

Though the show takes place nearly forty years ago, the social structure of William McKinley High School is as familiar as any public high school in America. There’s social taboos, labels, overachievers, and underachievers. Wherever various groups of personalities gather, stereotypes will follow. And though the title of the show itself announces a dichotomy, nobody is wholly a “freak” or a “geek.” They’re all complex people with complicated home lives, insecurities, and personal obstacles. 

While the upperclassmen and freshman often have their own respective storylines, the show culminates in the ultimate overlap of the two social groups. In the last episode “Discos and Dragons,” Daniel is forced to join the Audio/Visual club after he’s caught pulling a fire alarm to dodge an exam. Initially his involuntary entry into the group is met with tension, but in the end, Sam, Bill, and Neal welcome Daniel into their fold to play Dungeons & Dragons. The geeks learn that they misjudged Daniel, and Daniel, in turn, realizes that there’s something freeing in loving something enthusiastically. 

The cast of Freaks and Geeks for a Vanity Fair photoshoot in 2012.

For all the nuances of the show—like Neal grappling with divorced parents, the deconstruction of the nice-guy trope with Nick, and Lindsay’s parents letting go of an idealized version of their daughter—Freaks and Geeks reminds viewers time and again that the characters are just kids. They feel too much, and their problems might seem small in the grand scheme of life, but every whim and emotion is validated. The show allows us to see ourselves in everyone from Lindsay to Bill to even Mr. Rosso. 

Strains of Freaks and Geeks live on in the various projects Apatow has embarked on since the early aughts, especially in his sophomore effort Undeclared, which was essentially “Freaks and Geeks: The College Years.” Apatow often casts alumni from the show in his projects, favoring key players like Rogen, Segel, and Franco. For a cast that still works together to this day, it’s a wonder that Freaks and Geeks isn’t currently slated for a return, especially since reboots and revivals are cropping up on streaming services and television networks at every turn. 

Although a sequel series would undoubtedly attract viewers perhaps Freaks and Geeks is better left in the past, at least for now. And when fans want to reach for it, they can return to it on their own; watching reruns on DVD boxsets and reliving the best parts of their own respective adolescence as they catch up with old friends: freaks and geeks alike. 

Meghan Cook is a comedy writer currently residing in North Carolina with one cat and fifty shows in her Netflix queue (that she will get to eventually).

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‘Mr. Robot’ Just Changed Everything with a Shocking Reveal

There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot’s fourth season. Several of them just came together, in devastating fashion.

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Mr Robot

There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot‘s fourth, and final, season. On Sunday night, however, several of those pieces came together for one of the best episodes of the entire series in “Proxy Authentication Required”.

The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints.

Staged like a five act play, and utilizing a cinematic aspect ratio, “Proxy Authentication Required” immediately lets viewers know that it’s doing something a little different. While this may not be a huge surprise for fans (Mr. Robot just did a dialogue-free episode two weeks ago, among other experimental efforts throughout the series) the reason for it is fitting.

Essentially a bottle episode, “Proxy Authentication Required” takes place entirely in the apartment of Elliot’s former therapist, Krista. As such, the five act structure makes it even more like a play than it already is. Moreover, the episode is very dialog heavy, with almost no action.

Mr Robot
Still, with a meaty chess match between Elliot/Mr. Robot and drug dealer Fernando Vera making up the majority of the episode, the dialogue is weighty enough to justify this structure. The first round goes to Vera, who obviously has Elliot over a barrel, having kidnapped both he and Krista. However, Mr. Robot turns the tables in the second round, pointing out the lack of originality or planning in Vera’s drug-fueled, mystically-advised bid to take over New York City.

Finally, the third round comes: the tie breaker. As Fernando orders Krista to have an impromptu therapy session with Elliot, the most shocking reveal in the series is laid bare. After a tense build-up, and against the protests of both Krista and Mr. Robot, Elliot finally digs up the truth behind his alter ego. Mr. Robot wasn’t created after Elliot had an accident, he was created to protect Elliot from a series of traumas that came before it.

In an emotional moment sold gloriously by Rami Malek, Elliot accepts the truth: his father molested him throughout his childhood. In one fell swoop, so much of what we know about Elliot suddenly makes sense – and the fact that Mr. Robot looks like his dad is just the beginning. There’s also the details of the trauma that we’ve had up until now: that Elliot told Darlene to hide when he heard his dad coming; that he grabbed a bat to defend himself – and, finally, that he threw himself from the window when he feared he couldn’t best his father in the altercation.


The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints. Certainly it’s more logical that Mr. Robot was created out of these terrible memories rather than materializing after the injuries sustained during Elliot’s fall. It also lets the viewer know that Mr. Robot had a history of altering Elliot’s perception and memories long before the events of the series.

Even more disturbing is that the creation of false narratives and fake memories is actually a real-life coping mechanism used by survivors of sexual abuse, especially children. As such, the reveal fits naturally into the character of Elliot – but it’s a huge shock to drop on the audience a mere three episodes before the end of the show.

Of course, the reveal will no doubt ignite debates as to whether Mr. Robot creator and showrunner Sam Esmail planned this backstory from the start, or whether it was concocted as a wrench to throw in the gears at the last minute. Either way, questions remain as to how this new information will affect the remainder of the series.

Will Mr. Robot be back or is he gone for good, now that his job of protecting Elliot from the truth has become obsolete? Did/does Darlene know? Will this affect the plan to hack the Dark Army that has been building all season? All of these questions and more will be answered in the next three weeks but in the meantime, we’ll be waiting with baited breath.

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Watchmen

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “Little Fear of Lightning”

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Watchmen Podcast Episode 5

This week, Watchmen delves into Looking Glass’s past and revisits one of the biggest events from the comic: the “interdimensional” squid attack on New York that kills over three million people and psychologically damages millions more. “Little Fear of Lightning” the finest hour yet, a focused character study that connects past and present in fascinating ways. And as always, there’s a lot to digest.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this fifth episode, Simon Howell, Sean Colletti, and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “Little Fear of Lightning” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.

And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

Before_The_Internet_Podcast-2-1024x1024

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Wrestling

The Career of Seth Rollins: From Face to Heel at Lightning Speed

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It wasn’t that long ago that The Shield debuted on Survivor Series, setting the main event careers of three talented wrestlers in motion. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins all came to the WWE through NXT. In and out of The Shield, each man has held multiple championships and has had great success.

Seth Rollins
The Shield stands together.

These days, look a lot different for the former Shield members. Dean Ambrose left the WWE for AEW to wrestle again as Jon Moxley and Roman Reigns took a step back from the spotlight after warring with cancer. Meanwhile, the career of Seth Rollins has taken a turn of its own.

Becoming Seth Rollins

Colby Lopez joined the WWE in 2010 as part of Florida Championship Wrestling under the name Seth Rollins. He was there when it was re-branded in 2012 as NXT and became their inaugural champion. Seth Rollins turned heel in epic fashion by betraying The Shield and embarking on a huge singles career after his main roster debut.

Seth Rollins heel
Rollins turns heel and betrays The Shield.

Rollins hitting his Shield brothers with a steel chair still rates as one of the most shocking turns in WWE history.

More recently, Rollins had two wars against Brock Lesnar over the Universal Championship. Rollins won the Royal Rumble, using the title shot he earned to beat Lesnar at WrestleMania. Then, Lesnar somehow won a Money in the Bank match he wasn’t technically involved in. He used that shot to get his belt back. Rollins would then reclaim the title at SummerSlam.

Rollins defeats Lesnar at WrestleMania.

It was a repetitive feud.

Rollins vs. Lesnar Into Infinity

The back and forth between Rollins and Lesnar became exhausting to fans. Not shockingly, WWE viewers were already sick of Lesnar being an absentee champion by the point that Reigns finally took him down. When he reclaimed the belt after Roman’s cancer announcement, the focus turned to Rollins hunting Lesnar.

Even when someone else like AJ Styles or Baron Corbin got in the mix, fans knew they wouldn’t win. It was always going to be about Lesnar and Rollins so fans started to turn on Rollins. His Hell in a Cell match against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt was the final nail.

Top Face or Top Heel?

There was a time long ago that fans over the age of eight cheered for John Cena when he came out to the ring. At some point, it became cooler to boo him. The same is true of Roman Reigns, who had to go through a traumatic personal experience to get fans to ease up on him. In both cases, they were the corporate champions chosen to lead the brand.

In reality, fans didn’t really care if they were good wrestlers or not. It’s just something they chafe against.

The boos echoing through the arena are growing louder and louder for Seth Rollins for similar reasons. That’s due in no small part to the long, tedious promos he’s sent out to give to personally connect with the audience. Play that card too often and the opposite becomes true. WWE was frequently guilty of the same thing with both Cena and Reigns.

Rollins cuts another promo.

Watch the video from the night when Reigns made the announcement of his hiatus to fight cancer. Fans were reflexively booing him because they figured they were in for another long promo. The mood changed quickly when Roman started talking about leukemia.

Things Go Wrong at Hell in a Cell

All of this was already building to a head when Hell in a Cell came along.

Rollins faces The Fiend.

Universal Champion Seth Rollins was set to defend his title against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt in the titular main event. Unfortunately, WWE had painted themselves into a corner. They wanted Seth to retain, which he did, but couldn’t use the traditional DQ or count out to do it. Instead, WWE went for some weird finish where Seth hurt Wyatt so much so the ref stopped the match.

Essentially, a DQ in a no DQ match.

Rollins became the focus of much of the rage for the bad finish but the feud between him and Wyatt would continue. Wyatt finally won the Universal Championship and took it back to SmackDown. The side effect of this would be Lesnar returning to Raw with the WWE Championship.

It’s inevitable that Rollins and Lesnar will cross paths for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, fans will have to choose between the two. They’ll end up cheering Rollins on as the lesser of two evils from their perspective.

The main miscalculation that WWE made at Hell in a Cell is the same one they made with Reigns and Cena. They assumed that being the top face in a match makes you the fan-favorite. Bray Wyatt is, by far, the most over wrestler in the company. People love Firefly Fun House and they love ‘The Fiend.’ Rollins simply couldn’t compete as any ending that wasn’t Wyatt with a belt would not be satisfactory to fans.

Seth Rollins’ Next Phase

Now, Rollins is stuck in a weird limbo. The top face on Raw for management that’s morphing into a heel based on fan opinion. His heel run alongside Triple H was some of his best work and he is still a superb in-ring performer. WWE should let what’s going to happen by letting Rollins perform to his strengths.

Let Rollins burn it down as a heel one more time.

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