Most TV fans are aware of how ruthless and seemingly uninterested in fans’ views US networks are when it comes to cancelling shows. If ratings drop below some arbitrary figure, that’s it, your favourite programme’s in the can, never to be seen again.
This has been the case for years. Some of TV’s most revered shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad didn’t have big followings during their first two or so seasons. Luckily for them, and us, they were kept on board, for whatever reason.
But often, shows can be true hidden gems, garnering a dedicated following but never reaching the masses. HBO’s renowned for giving projects a chance when networks won’t, but even they brought an end to Togetherness after two brief seasons, leaving fans of the Duplass Brothers’ tragi-comedy devastated.
The one cancellation that always comes up in this conversation though is Freaks & Geeks, the Judd Apatow-created teen dramedy that was binned by NBC after just one season at the turn of the century.
It’s the perfect example of something being ahead of its time. It was groundbreaking; had a stellar cast of young talent; writers such as Paul Feig, who would later go on to showcase his directorial chops for the big screen; and probably the most heartfelt and genuine representation of teenage life we’ve ever seen.
You could put Freaks & Geeks on TV now, bill it as a new creation, and even without the modern tech that young people’s lives revolve around, the situations the characters find themselves in and the feelings they have to confront would ring true to this day.
Technology may have moved forward, society may have progressed, but the angst and issues of growing up never will.
You don’t need to be a teenager to relate to Freaks & Geeks though. We’ve all felt that friction between our parents; the pressures, the expectations. Everyone knows what it’s like to just want to do nothing, to not exist, after a tough break-up. Most people have felt the stress of trying to work out where you belong, not just in school, but in life.
So whether it’s watching Jason Segel’s Nick struggle through his relationship with his father, or James Franco’s Daniel wrestle with the notion of being the resident bad boy, or John Francis Daley’s young Sam slowly realise that just because a girl’s beautiful she might not be the one, Freaks & Geeks’ characters and stories always connect with the audience.
You don’t need to have grown up in an American suburb to relate. These tales are universal and a testament to the group of writers who worked on the 18 episodes.
And if you really want a snippet to perfectly sum up Freaks & Geeks, one scene’s got a lot of buzz recently. Just watch Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) forget about all his troubles as he watches some Garry Shandling on TV.
The truly sad thing is, with the rise of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video, Freaks & Geeks would have a multitude of options to find a home and get a run of three or so seasons if it was made in 2016.
But it was caught up in a time when every network was looking for the next big out-and-out sitcom – a Friends or a How I Met Your Mother. No-one wanted a hormone-fuelled look at the struggles of teen life in Michigan.
With sort-of-comedies like Louie, Girls and Master Of None – discounting the swearing and sex for a moment – sticking well past a one-year run, it’s ultimately quite sad that Freaks & Geeks came along when it did. It’s doubtful we’ll ever get that many fantastic young actors with those kinds of comedy writers ever again. It was a perfect marriage – just ten years too early.