After the “Undeclared” half of Saturday (March 12) night’s “Undeclared”/”Freaks & Geeks” reunion at the William S. Paley Television Festival, there was a brief intermission, followed by the triumphant return of Iris Apatow.
“Is everybody having a good time?” she asked. “Would you like to watch the last ‘Freaks and Geeks’ or the ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’?”
The crowd voted for “Discos and Dragons,” which was probably a relief to Iris, who may not actually have had access to any entry from the “Real Housewives” family.
“We’re so proud of the show and so depressed that none of us will ever do anything as good again,” Judd Apatow said, leading things off.
As a contrasting perspective, series creator Paul Feig said, “I’m in awe and shocked that we were able to make 18 episodes.”
Highlights of the “Freaks and Greeks” PaleyFest Panel after the break… As many as I can remember, since it’s 3:30 a.m. now…
Joining Apatow, Feig and pilot director Jake Kasdan on the panel were Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Samm Levine, Busy Philipps and a random assortment of supporting favorites including Natasha Melnick (Cindy Sanders!), Sarah Hagan (Millie!), Stephen Lea Sheppard and Steve Bannos. At one point during the panel, Apatow stopped and listed a slew of directors, writers, composers, cinematographers and other talent responsible for various aspects of the show.
Naturally, the figure who dominated the first half of the panel was the guy who wasn’t there, James Franco.
Franco appeared via a very funny taped message on which he shared the screen with Anne Hathaway, or at least a picture of Anne Hathaway. He sent his regrets, but said that he and Anne were already in rehearsals to host the Emmys and the NAACP Image Awards. On Anne’s behalf, he also reminded the crowd that “Love and Other Drugs” is now available on DVD.
It was a funny moment, but a darker side of James Franco was revealed.
“I remember right before the show started saying you Judd, ‘Are we about to ruin these kids’ lives?’ And Judd was great. He was a parent already and he said, ‘Let’s just treat them like they were our kids,'” Feig recalled. There was no messing around. The feeling was to make it the same behind the camera as in front… There were no drama queens. There was no yelling. Except Franco.”
He was partially joking about the Franco thing, but then somebody mentioned that Franco once pushed Philipps.
“Oh, seriously? Really? He threw me to the ground!” Philipps exclaimed.
It turns out that footage of the incident exists and Apatow promised, “I have it for the day I need to destroy James.”
The incident took place during the shooting of “We’ve Got Spirit.”
Philipps recalls, “It was when we get hit by water balloons and we’re running after the car and Danny [Leiner] had directed me to turn around and give him a smack on the arm and say ‘Damnit Daniel, do something,’ which is the line I’ll never forget, because it got me thrown to the grown. So I turn around and I say, ‘Damnit Daniel, do something,’ and he goes, ‘Don’t you f***ing ever touch me’ and then he grabbed my arms threw me to the ground. And I feel back… and everybody rushed over.”
There’s always a context for such things and Philipps said that she and Franco had discussed the incident five years ago and he said that he’d had discussion about his character’s intimacy issues stemming from childhood abuse and that Leiner’s direction and the direction Franco had previously been given came into conflict.
At the end of a lengthy discussion of somebody not in attendance, Segel cracked, “That story took 127 hours.”
A long critique of Segel’s punchline ensued, with Apatow pointing out, “He’s the only person of all of you to be nominated for an Academy Award,” to which Segel added “In fairness, he’s way more attractive than all of us.”
There was some actual discussion of “Freaks and Geeks,” though a lot of that discussion hinged on the events that led to the show’s demise.
“There was no head of NBC at the time. I think he’d just stepped down or was fired. And Scott Sassa was the high guy and he liked the script, he liked the cast, he even liked Jason Segel,” Apatow flashed back. “We were allowed to do the pilot the way we liked it. And then the new guy came in and he let us know that he went to private school and didn’t understand this world. And then we thought, ‘Oh. We’re gonna get cancelled really fast.’ So we thought, ‘Well, let’s just use all the good ideas we have for six yeas and compress them into this one season’ and that, I think, is why the show worked so well. We’re not saving anything. Our head was in the guillotine.”
Added Segel, “We shot the finale half-way through the season.”
Apatow’s quick [decidedly un-PC] rejoinder, “That’s such a Jew thing to do, assuming the Gestapo’s at the door.”
Cardellini recalled Apatow calling her to let her know the eventual bad news seconds before an appearance with David Letterman.
“You said, ‘The show’s cancelled.’ I said, ‘David Letterman is cancelled?'”
There were serious moments of praise, particularly coming from Segel towards Apatow.
Jason Segel didn’t offer one of those series moments when he observed, “I’ve always assumed that’s why you took care of us. Judd has taken amazing care of our entire group and I think part of it has to do with that we were kids. A lot of us have no higher education because of you.”
Martin Starr was more genuine, and got the last word from the cast, when he said, “I don’t think that that process, until I worked on a show called ‘Party Down,’ I don’t think I could ever hope, besides those two experiences, to be around people who really care about what they were doing so much and gave so much, day in and day out, to what they were doing, 100 percent of the people, not just the people on the stage. It was just an experience that I feel so thankful to have had.”
Some other “Freaks & Geeks” PaleyFest2011 Hightlights:
*** As I said in my “Undeclared” post, it was a long evening for everybody. How long? Seth Rogen stopped in the middle of the “Freaks and Geeks” panel and left to use the bathroom, returning several minutes later drying his hands. That doesn’t happen very often.
*** On the show, we pretty much realize that Cindy Sanders is evil when she doesn’t find “The Jerk” funny. But don’t worry. Melnick said, “I had such a problem doing that, because we were literally watching ‘The Jerk’ and it was so hard not to laugh.” Whew.
*** Both panels featured shout-outs to casting director Allison Jones. I want you to look at the casts of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” and then look at all of the supporting players and guest stars who came through. It’s hard to give Allison Jones enough credit for how great the two shows turned out, so it was nice to see that recognition.
*** Samm Levine was a good-natured whipping boy all evening, for his ever-youthful visage, but when somebody in the audience requested he do his William Shatner impression, he put his foot down. “I’m a serious actor now. I was on ‘That’s So Raven.'”
*** Ideas for Season Two would have included Neil joining show choir, Kim getting pregnant and doing a school play and Lindsay returning from her time following the Grateful Dead with a newfound love for acid. “All these ideas suck,” Rogen cracked.
*** Another person from the crowd asked Segel why he has yet to host “Saturday Night Live.” He replied, “It’s my last unaccomplished dream.” This this, Rogen interjected, “Well, he *did* f*** Megan Fox on Mt. Kilimanjaro.” Apatow had to shut down inquiries to Jason, who was getting to many queries from the crowd. He also responded to a question about musical clearances with, “A legal affairs question? Sit down!”
*** One of the questions for Segel that went unanswered was a request to sing “Lady L” (written by Segel and Rogen, though Rogen downplayed his involvement). Instead, Sarah Hagan sang “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Which was awesome.
*** Want more negative things associated with the absent Franco? Well, after reading an interview in which Edward Norton said he didn’t talk to the press, Franco led a revolt that nearly marred the show’s first press day. And, to make matters worse, Franco encouraged Starr to join him at the set gym, which led to Bill Haverchuck becoming too darned muscular.
*** How young were they when they started doing this show? “I will sat this: John Daley still believed in Santa Claus when we were shooting.” Daley added, “I also didn’t have pubic hair.” “I can confirm that,” Rogen added.
And now, it’s 5 in the morning… Apologies for any typos in my tired haste.. Lousy springing forward…