How 'Freaks and Geeks' Predicted Our Adult Personalities
A look back Judd Apatow's seminal short-lived series which—15 years later—still resonates. Maybe we never really grow up.
Fifteen years ago Paul Feig and Judd Apatow cornered the market on mid-level teen angst with the series Freaks and Geeks. The 18-episode series only lasted one season (much like its darker counterpart My So-Called Life) but if you were lucky enough to be a teen when the series aired, then you recall somebody on that show appealed to you in a way that had you saying, “They’re just like me!” Or maybe you’re a latecomer, who just discovered the series on Netflix because you were like three when it first aired. That’s cool too, and chances are you still relate to it. Freaks and Geeks was—simply put—the shit, and when old asses like myself say things like, “TV isn’t what it used to be,” I’m referring to this show. It ultimately launched the careers of people you still care about today like James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, and Linda Cardellini, and for the most part the actors in real life seem to emulate their F&G characters (at least the guys seem to).
The cast was a mixed bag of teens who fell into one of two categories: freaks or geeks. There were some grey area jocks and bullies who exhibited both tendencies, but for the most part the distinction was cut and dry. The freaks were stoners, burnouts, and anyone else who attended the fictitious William McKinley High School in the made-up Detroit suburb of Chippewa that went against the grain. The geeks? Partially self-explanatory, but they weren’t all about pulling As, rather there were other instances of Trekkie shit and Bill Murphy references that qualified these kids as ranking high on the geek-o-meter.
When you’ve watched Freaks and Geeks as much as I have (once a week since Netflix added the series in 2012, prior to that on DVD during sick days), you’ll note the subtle nuances in the characters that strangely make “freaks” and “geeks” synonymous. You’ll also have the characters so permanently burned into your brain, that every day people’s behavioral patterns will have you thinking, “Oh he’s such a Sam Weir!” What you also might realize is how many adults are very much like the teenage Freaks and Geeks cast—even as, well, adults.
For argument’s sake, let’s say the median age of the cast was 16 years old, making them all in their 30s now, which by societal standards (but not by your standards since you still live with your mom) qualifies them as grown ass individuals in 2015. The notion of “they’ve outgrown those patterns” is arguably out the window (as you’ll soon find out), because like Kristen Wiig says in Bridesmaids, “I think we stay the same, but grow I guess… a little bit.”
To make you understand the impact of Freaks and Geeks on adult lives, here is a breakdown of the prominent characters and the ways they manifest themselves as adults we know today, along with a modern day theme song to sum them up. (Side note: As this show was set in the early 80s the actual soundtrack is pretty kickass—revolving around the likes of Joan Jett, Styx, Rush, and XTC.) If you’re already an avid fan of the series, you’ll get most of this. If you’re not, then get your ass over to Netflix right now.
LINDSAY WEIR (Played by Linda Cardellini)
Style: An army jacket and perfectly washed hair that's made to look unwashed. It doesn’t matter what’s under the jacket (at the school dance she even had a skirt underneath it), because the jacket reads “Hey guys, I’m edgy.”
Lindsay Weir was the quasi-non-conformist, who one day got sick of being smart and wanted to act stupid. Lindsay hated being labeled (especially a “mathlete”) and found the freaks’ rebellion slightly revolutionary, but also found comfort in the safety net of boring geeks like Millie Kentner. That may be you; it’s definitely me. If you’re like Lindsay, you’ll go out drinking with your girls, but you’ll also have an Uber request already set up for pickup before you’ve even arrived at the bar, so all you’ll have to do is hit send when you’re shitfaced and you’ll still get home safely. Or you might do what Lindsay did in that episode where she threw a house party and pretend to be drunk off non-alcoholic beer. Whoops. But simply put, an adult Lindsay may pride herself on being badass and overprotective, yet deep down be a cautious dork masquerading as a party girl—you know the ones.
SAM WEIR (Played by John Francis Daley)
Theme Song: Adele - “Hello”
Style: Weird bowlish haircut and a striped shirt where the darker pattern of stripes match his slacks perfectly. An outfit that screams: “My mom picked this out for me!” There was a moment where Sam attempted to switch up his style for Cindy, but that was even worse than his daily Sears ensemble.
On the show, Sam was awkward with fluffy hair and ill-fitting clothes, constantly concerned about something. Whether it was over that bully Alan White or trying to impress that basic ass Cindy Sanders, Sam was always reacting. Everywhere. Sam set the stage for every neurotic adult, who has grievances about everything and keeps the psychiatric profession in business. He (or she) has like two friends he relies on and when the chips don’t fall in his favor he plays the victim. Everyone is out to make him look silly. You probably work with a guy like Sam Weir. You know the type: the one who will throw you under the bus if your boss asks about that project that was supposed to be submitted by 5 PM and you forgot one minor detail, so Sam the Narc blames you in an effort to keep his job. Fucking lame.
DANIEL DESARIO (Played by James Franco)Theme Song:
Style: A leather jacket and ripped jeans with greasy hair. Are you really shocked?
Daniel was like the ringleader of the freaks—handsome, partially brain-dead, and wildly outspoken. He had this weird thing with Lindsay, where he knew she was too good for the group, but also knew she added stock value. He was an undercover nice guy. That didn’t stop him from acting like a complete idiot though, except for that one time he tried to be friends with the geeks (cute episode). James Franco in real life is like the adult Daniel Desario, where he’s kind of a stoner, kind of a scholar, kind of interesting, kind of not. You probably know a guy like this, and if you’re like me you’ve probably dated one. Face: Swipe Right, Personality: Swipe Left.
KIM KELLY (Played by Busy Philipps)
Style: Kim had no real style except for copious eyeliner and a powder blue ski jacket with stripes that she got on sale. Or stole. Whichever.
Kim dated Daniel on again and off again, and on again and off again. She was initially a major bitch to Lindsay, until they became friends. Still, she was kind of bitchy. Kim is today’s frenemy. She might be your “office best friend” who ends up fucking you over when it comes to a big promotion, or your friend who says “That dress hides your back fat really well,” a.k.a. the Queen of the Backhanded compliment. OK, I’m getting mad thinking about her, but she’s also the girl who would probably hit a guy over the head with a beer bottle at a bar if he said something shady to you.
CINDY SANDERS (Played by Natasha Melnick)
Style: Cindy would sometimes wear basic clothes—because she’s aggressively basic—but for the most part rocked a McKinley High cheerleading uniform. Actually that’s super basic too.
Cindy was Sam’s crush until he finally got to date her and started hating her. She was a cheerleader and everyone thought she was pretty (even though she was really just OK), until her personality came out and she was super annoying. This girl is most guys’ worst adult nightmare: the girl they go for because she’s hot and then they marry her and she ends up being the most annoying wife ever. Serves you right for marrying with your eyes, assholes.
NEAL SCHWEIBER (Played by Samm Levine)
Style: Neal always dressed like he was about to audit whatever building he walked into. That and he looked like a Young Republican. Slacks and a dress shirt and a sweater vest. Argyle was his mistress.
Poor Neal. He rounded out the Sam/Bill geek triumvirate, and he had a major boner for Lindsay. Neal was strangely street smart, but still annoyingly cautious. He thought he was the shit though, which is respectable but also pretty terrible. Today Neal is that guy who is very practical. He always carries an umbrella. He says things like “Well, to play devil’s advocate…” He always understands and actually means it. Guys like him are rarely good-looking btw. Sorry, but it’s true. He gets by on personality until he tries to separate his julienne vegetables from his rice pilaf on his dish at dinner and you want to throw him out of a window.
BILL HAVERCHUCK (Played by Martin Starr)
Style: Bill’s gangly frame could really only handle corduroys and his gym uniform. If he had a tiny bit of meat on his bones, those pants could’ve caused a friction fire at the rate he would run away in them.
Bill was gangly and awkward, had weirdly unorthodox interests, and out of his league crushes (like the school nurse), but he was a good friend. He made tons of jokes on the show that only he typically got. You also know this guy nowadays, and he’s probably still a virgin. There’s not much more to it than that.
KEN MILLER (Played by Seth Rogen)
Style: As the show progressed, Ken’s hair went from the Fonz to Ralph Malph. He always wore flannel and a weird ski vest, but somehow his style took on new dimensions once his hair did.
Ken was such a dick on the show. That is until he fell in love with that girl in band. He was a stoner who also enjoyed shrooms, yet was always sober enough to be bitingly sarcastic. A secondary member of the show, Ken always managed to chime in with some shitty comment that had someone feeling bad for speaking. Chances are the adult version of Ken is one of your good friends’ husbands. He’s always rude and maintains a look on his face like someone farted. Mind you, he is probably the one who farted. He’s not nice to his wife in mixed company and always tries to be the smartest person in the room. You’re only nice to him because you love your friend, but you already have the Party Bus on speed dial for when she inevitably divorces him.
NICK ANDOPOLIS (Played by Jason Segel)
Style: Nick always wore vintage baseball shirts with band names. That and jeans where if he gained the slightest bit of weight they would be uncomfortably snug. He also sported a permanent denim shearling.
Nick had some awesome traits, and then some awesomely annoying ones. He was hyper musical—a drummer who mourned the passing of John Bonham, and a stoner, but a very, very kind one (where he wasn’t too fried to be thoughtful). He briefly dated Lindsay and just tried too damn hard, going out of his way to the point where he was annoying (always attractive). He became a disco king by the series’ end once he started dating Sara (played by Lizzy Caplan). Nick today is just the male embodiment of the friend zone. He’s the nice guy you go on one date with, but he rents a limo and brings a wreath of carnations and you’re just like “Yeah, nope.” And that’s sad because he’s cute. But yeah, friend zone. Sorry guy.
MILLIE KENTNER (Played by Sarah Hagan)
Style: Millie was church ready at all times.
Millie was Lindsay’s best friend before her big “transformation.” She never understood what the hell was going on with Lindsay, and is a proud prude and goody two shoes (that is until she finds a dude). Millie as an adult is your friend who is born again. She’s the one who finger wags and has a Bible verse for every move you make, yet she’ll have her own Get Out of Hell Free cards that she reserves for herself and her wild whims. Most of the time she’s a fucking wet blanket though, and when she gets married will have three kids and they’ll all be named Connor and have gluten allergies and won’t be allowed to watch cartoons due to violence.
ALAN WHITE (Played by Chauncey Leopardi)
Style: Fuckboy crew neck, fuckboy bell bottoms, fuckboy cowboy boots, and an outgrown fuckboy bowl cut.
Alan was the bully who always had it out for Sam, but who the hell could take him seriously when it was the same actor who played Squints in The Sandlot? This kid rode the lamest bicycle and despite his bell bottoms and cowboy boots, he puffed out his chest. He’s basically every fuckboy with a bad attitude and terrible fashion sense that you encounter on a regular basis. What a shithead.
Harris Trinsky (Played by Stephen Lea Sheppard)
Style: Dressed in all black like he's Damien in The Omen.
Harris was a minor character on Freaks And Geeks, but I’m bringing him up because there’s merit to the kind of guy he is as an adult. On the show he was touted as this confident geek who was like the Svengali of losers or something. You know this guy as an adult. He thinks he’s the Dalai Lama because he juices and everything he says about “peace” and “mindfulness” comes across as douchey and condescending. You probably know a Harris. Maybe you even are Harris. If you are, please go away and take your farro with you.
Freaks and Geeks defined a generation of teens who didn’t give a fuck, yet in the process gave too many. That’s all of us. At any age. And it’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That bully in high school with loser tendencies grows up to be the bully in the office with loser tendencies. The cool guy is always low key uncool, and the uncool guy is seemingly cool in his lack of care for being cool. Everyone is an amalgam of someone, and Freaks and Geeks is a testament to that. All different, yet creepily the same.
Kathy Iandoli is actually considering being Lindsay Weir for Halloween. She already wears an army jacket, after all. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram.