It’s been 13 years since Freaks and Geeks was cancelled by NBC and since that time, the show has become far more popular than it ever was on network television, where it bounced around from Saturday to Monday night, and was put on hiatus for weeks (or months) at a time. It is probably still the greatest cancelled-too-soon series of all time, and I have to imagine, one of the most popular series ever on Netflix.
There’s no particular occasion for this post; I just felt like reminescing about one of the best series ever, and the truest televised representation of all time about what it’s like to go through high school. One shortened season isn’t enough, but we’ll always have those 18 episodes.
1. Jesse Eisenberg was the second choice for the role of Sam Weir. Shia LaBeouf auditioned for the role of Neil Schweiber. Kaley Cuoco auditioned for the role of Cindy Sanders. Lauren Ambrose was considered for the role of Lindsay Weir. Busy Phillips also originally auditioned for the role of Lindsay Weir, but was asked to try out for Kim when it became clear she wasn’t right for Lindsay.
2. In addition, Lizzy Caplan auditioned for both the roles of Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly before being later cast as Sara, which was her first ever television role. Caplan had a short appearance in the pilot, and popped up occasionally in the series before Feig finally found a good use for her in the finale, “Discos and Dragons.”
3. Freaks and Geeks essentially kept several of the cast members out of college. Jason Segel decided not to go to college to act on Freaks and Geeks; Seth Rogen dropped out of high school (although, he lied and said he was doing correspondance school, when in fact he was writing Superbad); and Busy Phillip and Linda Cardellini both dropped out of college.
4. Cancelled after 13 episodes (after the episode “Chokin’ and Tokin'”), Freaks and Geeks was the lowest rated series on NBC at the time, with an average of 7 million viewers. It aired against the 10th season of Cops on Saturday night, and got its ass kicked. Meanwhile, Parks and Recreation, now in its 5th season, gets about half that number of viewers on NBC today.
5. It had been a dream of Linda Cardellini’s to appear on Late Night with David Letterman, and when she finally got booked, her publicist called her and told her “It had been cancelled.” Cardellini asked, “Letterman has been cancelled”? She had very mixed emotions, being on Letterman (yay!) to talk about the cancellation of her series (boo!).
6. The age of the cast members at the time they were cast was fairly evenly split between those who were the right age to be in high school, and those who fit under the label of Dawson’s casting: John Francis Daley, 13; Linda Cardellini, 26; James Franco, 20; Jason Segal, 19; Seth Rogen, 16; Busy Philipps, 19; Martin Starr, 16; Samm Levine, 16. John Francis Daley was the only actor, however, who was the actual age of his character.
7. Though pilot director Jake Kasdan cast James Franco because he thought he’d one day be a big star, Apatow and Feig didn’t see it. They thought “his mouth was too big for his face and he seemed perfect to be a small-town cool guy who wasn’t as cool as he thought he was. When all the women in our office started talking about how gorgeous he was, me and Feig started laughing because we just didn’t see it.”
8. Before filming the pilot, Judd Apatow and Paul Feig had an awkward conversation with Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips in which they suggested that the two NOT lose any weight like most television actresses, because they were so adamant about making everyone look like real kids.
9. Judd Apatow often thinks of the movies he makes as continuations of the lives of Freaks and Geeks characters, which is why he so often casts actors from the show in his movies.
10. Feig and Apatow refused to engage in stunt-casting, rejecting an idea from NBC to cast Britney Spears as a waitress in one episode.
11. Still, there were several “before they were stars” and “Hey! He was in that?” actors who guested on the show, including Rashida Jones:
Alexandra Breckenridge (American Horror Story‘s Sexist Character on Television)
12. The show spent a large portion of its budget for the rights to period appropriate music from the likes of The Who, Van Halen, Rush, Styx, the Grateful Dead, The Moody Blues, and Billy Joel, and when it came to re-airing the show on Fox Family, that network substituted cheaper songs. However, Feig and Apatow waited until they found a distributor (Shout! Factory) willing to pony up for the rights to the original songs before they’d release it on DVD. Here’s a blooper reel from the DVD.
13. If you watch the theme song, you’ll notice that Jason Segel was in the background of Seth Rogen’s shot rubbing his eyes. He was doing so to give the impression that he looked high.
14. As a favor to Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller agreed to appear in the 17th episode in an attempt to help Freaks and Geeks avoid cancellation. By the time the episode aired, the show had already been axed.
15. My very very favorite fun fact about Freaks and Geeks is that, during one of the series best scenes — in which Starr is home alone, eating, and laughing at Gary Shandling’s routine from Dinah — Martin Starr was actually laughing at Judd Apatow and one of the writers, standing off screen telling extremely dirty jokes (Starr did not find the actual Shandling routine funny). The scene is taken directly from Apatow’s childhood.
16. Had there been a second season, Paul Feig wanted to have Sam breaking with Bill and Neal to find a new group of friends, Lindsay struggling with drug addiction, Kim Kelly getting pregnant, Bill’s mom marrying Coach Fredricks and Neal’s parents divorcing; Lindsay and Daniel to eventually end up together, and Sam would have gotten tall (John Francis Daley grew almost a foot in the year after cancellation).
17. Paul Feig came up with Freaks and Geeks while out supporting his indie film, Life Sold Separately. He had seen the pilot for Felicity by his friend Matt Reeves, and he wanted to do something similar about his high-school experiences and friends.
18. Writer Gabe Sachs still has the Viking head from the episode, “We’ve Got Spirit,” which he trotted out in a USC Q&A.
19. Paul Feig wrote “Spacefunk,” the music used in the awesome cold open in “Noshing and Moshing,” in which Bill does the Rerun dance (from What’s Happening). The song had originally been written for Dave Chapelle’s entrance in the movie, 200 Cigarettes, but it was never used (Martin Starr, by the way, had no idea what the Rerun dance was, and had to be taught it by Paul Feig).
Here’s the actual Rerun dance (in an episode of Scrubs)
Here’s Bill’s version.
20. James Franco and Busy Phillips, despite being a couple on the show, reportedly disliked each other in real life. Part of that tension apparently stemmed from a scene in which Franco — who had developed a his own backstory about coming from an abused family, without telling Busy Phillips — pushed Busy to the ground as part of his “method” acting. Not expecting to be pushed, it knocked the wind out of Phillips, and she ran to her trailer crying. Franco apparently had a habit of improvising on set, and sometimes, not to great effect (such as improvising a scene in which he threw milk in a character’s face).