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'Freaks and Geeks' pilot fan recap: Come sail away

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Sep 25, 1999

Somehow in my ever-constant TV binging, I never took the time to sit down with Freaks and Geeks. The cult high school show lasted a single season, but it was basically a casting call for all future Judd Apatow stars. Here I am, though, to make amends and to recap all 18 glorious episodes. For those who have watched and for those newbies like me, let’s get started!

The pilot opens, and we quickly get a run-through of the social classes at William McKinley High School, circa 1980. First up, there’s a jock and cheerleader, our obvious popular kids, making out in the bleachers. Then the camera pans below, and the soundtrack promptly changes to rock music, the best way to introduce our resident freaks, Daniel (James Franco), Nick (Jason Segel), and Ken (Seth Rogen). The star of the show, straight-A student, army-jacket-wearing Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), watches them from nearby. Symbolically, she waits at the edge of the bleachers, not belonging to the freaks, but not belonging anywhere else either.

Our geeks are the last to appear, doing their best impressions of Bill Murray until a bully declares, “Bill Murray sucks,” and begins to threaten them. (Side note: Has anyone ever truly said that? Come on, he’s Bill Murray!) The smallest geek of the three, Sam (John Francis Daley) is practically pocket-size and thus the easiest target. But his big sister, Lindsay, comes in to save the day, telling the bully to pick on someone more than 100 pounds.

Sam, for obvious reasons, is embarrassed. “By the way, I weigh 103 pounds,” he says.

“Man, I hate high school,” says Lindsay, repeating a sentiment felt by most of mankind.

Welcome to Freaks and Geeks, folks.

This week’s biggest issues revolve around the upcoming homecoming dance and Sam’s bully. Neither of their parents can understand why Lindsay and Sam don’t want to go to the dance. School is about socializing, too, the parents complain. Kids these days, right?

Lindsay doesn’t want to go to the dance, because who would she go with? When she broaches the idea to the freaks, they laugh. It’s nothing but lame disco music, and Ken has a prior arrangement with some mushrooms (Seth Rogen is still Seth Rogen, it seems). Lindsay’s other option is her geeky friend Millie (Sarah Hagan), who’s currently scandalized about Lindsay starting to hang out with the freaks. That, and Lindsay hasn’t signed up for the academic decathlon yet. Lindsay does her best to quiet Millie and any mentions of her mathlete status.

Kim (Busy Philipps), our resident lady member of the freaks, isn’t pleased with Lindsay moving in on her turf. She denounces Lindsay as a rich kid trying to piss off her parents, and empties her purse out in the school hallway.

But Lindsay gets her bully-beating mojo back when she defends Eli (Ben Foster), a mentally disabled kid who gets teased mercilessly at school. In front of his bullies, Lindsay asks him to the homecoming dance. This later backfires when she tries defending him against more tormentors and accidentally calls him “retarded” in the process. He breaks his arm trying to run away from her, so that’s not too good. Her school guidance counselor, the super hippie Mr. Jeff Rosso (Dave Allen), can’t understand what’s going on with her. But like Millie, he’s mostly concerned she hasn’t joined the mathletes.

This leads to Lindsay cutting class with Nick, the nicest of the freaks. He shows her his beloved 29-piece drum set and tells her she needs to find her passion, too. He even works out a plan to take Lindsay to the dance (honoring her parents’ wishes) but then split early and hang out together (honoring their wishes). For a half-second, things seem to be working out. But then Mr. Rosso catches them playing hooky, and Lindsay is now forced to work the homecoming dance refreshment table.

Meanwhile, little Sam needs to figure out a way to ask his crush Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick) to the dance. She’s nice to him, but she’s also a popular cheerleader and a good foot taller than him, so the odds look slim. First, though, he needs to stop Alan the bully, who harasses him constantly, crushes his Twinkies at lunch, and constantly Hulk-smashes various lockers.

So far, Sam hasn’t been getting great advice. Mr. Kowchevski tells him to man up, and his best friend Neal (Samm Levine) suggests avoiding Alan like Han Solo does to Jabba the Hutt. There’s no way for the geeks to avoid Alan, though, and even their gym teacher seems to be against them when he announces a game of dodgeball in class. It’s a massacre for our various geeks, including some significant hits to Bill (Martin Starr) that might impair his ability to have children one day. Miraculously, Sam beats Alan in dodgeball, but this doesn’t exactly help things.

“You just signed your death warrant,” says Alan, drawing from his extensive list of bully threat cliches.

Sam, Bill, and Neal eventually seek advice from the upperclassman geek Harris (Stephen Lea Sheppard), who, despite an unfortunate wispy mustache, has wise advice to share. He suggests the Cressman conundrum: If they go ahead and fight Adam, he should then leave them alone. That, at least, was the case with Harris’ former bully, Tom Cressman. “He broke my tailbone, but the results were effective,” says Harris. “He got expelled,” explains Harris’ friend.

The boys agree to this. The stage is set. “Renegade” by Styx plays as Bill and Neal dramatically walk down an empty street to meet the terrible Alan. Unfortunately, Sam is late when he gets distracted by Cindy and asks her to the dance. Cindy, predictably, already has a date, but she promises a slow dance with him.

This awkward interaction is intercut with the epic clash between Bill, Neal, and Alan. It’s what you would expect of three pubescent geeks doing their best not to die. In the end, Bill and Neal survive and walk away, extolling each of their heroic fighting moves. Sam catches up and is genuinely happy his friends stood up for him.

At last, we make it to the dance, and despite the week’s dilemmas, things work out for well for the Weir clan. Sam indeed gets his dance with Cindy, and after initially watching the dance from a distance, Lindsay joins the festivities and makes amends with Eli by apologizing and dancing with him. Another Styx song, “Come Sail Away,” triumphantly plays.

It’s a great first episode and a refreshing change of pace from the usual teen dramas where schools are populated by abnormally good-looking 30-year-olds.


Papa Weir follows a very specific approach to parenting/teen guidance: If you do something bad, no matter what it is, you will die. A similar method can be seen from Coach Carr in Mean Girls: “Don’t have sex. Because you will get pregnant. And die.”

Nick: “You need to find your reason for living. You’ve got to find your big gigantic drum kit.” A true poet on carpe diem, that Nick.

Bill, wearing tiny green gym shorts: “These shorts aren’t very flattering, are they?”

Sam, somewhat unconvincingly: “Nah, you look good.”

Bill: “Thanks.” Such good buds.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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