[Calgary Underground Film Festival] Documentaries: Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary (2018) - Reviewed

Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary screened at CUFF
In 1999, NBC debuted Freaks and Geeks, an hour-long dramedy focusing on high school students set in early 1980s Michigan. It had poor ratings and only lasted eighteen episodes. But, due to a passionate fan base and before-they-were-stars cast, it has managed to remain relevant for nearly twenty years. Now, to put it all in perspective, comes Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary, a look back at the show featuring interviews with all the people who worked on it.

The documentary is mainly comprised of sit down conversations with the creators, writers, actors, producers and anyone else responsible for Freaks and Geeks. Mixed in with those are clips from some episodes as well as footage shot during the course of the production. A lot of interesting stories and insights are shared as they take us from conception all the way through to cancellation. There is nothing flashy or particularly creative about how this information is structured or presented. But its purpose is not to be groundbreaking. Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary exists to reminisce on a beloved, short-lived program, charting its history, influence and lasting impact. That is exactly what it does.

It also offers several possible explanations for the show’s failure, from an unhelpful network executive to the likelihood audiences were just not ready for it yet. There is a chance Freaks and Geeks was ahead of its time. Single-camera, hour-long comedies were not a common thing back then. It is pretty clear from the way it bounced around the schedule that NBC was unsure how to market it. It was unlike anything you could find on television starring teenagers at that point.

Thankfully for the filmmakers, a lot of funny people worked on the show. They are witty and articulate enough to keep the documentary consistently entertaining. In particular, writer/director Judd Apatow and series creator Paul Feig still have a strong passion for it and many interesting anecdotes to share. Their interviews seem to be used the most, probably because they are the most fun to listen to.

Freaks and Geeks is one of my all-time favorite television shows. I was in high school when it first aired and it really struck a chord with me. I am precisely the kind of person this movie was made for. A knowledge of, and appreciation for, its subject matter is assumed. Those involved loved the show and have only gratitude for the way it helped launch their careers. I greatly enjoyed hearing all the recollections and behind the scenes stories, but I am not sure how it will play for anyone who never watched it. There is nothing special about the movie itself besides the topic. However, as someone who was already enthusiastic about the show, that was definitely enough for me.

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-Ben Pivoz