School Days and Parisian Nightsuits: ‘Freaks and Geeks’ Episodes Ranked
Whether the good people of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania know it or not, the world has them to thank for Freaks and Geeks as we know it. For it’s there, in Dub City, that series creator Paul Feig turned a narrative corner on his long-simmering desire to write a show about high school, in all its beautiful brutality. “I was out on the road on a traveling film festival that started in Wilkes-Barre, and that’s where I wrote the first few scenes and where I actually saw, on the street, the prototype for what would eventually become [the character of] Lindsay,” Feig says. “I was walking around trying to get some ideas for the show and I saw this group of tough girls, walking on the other side of the street, smoking. There was one girl who was trying to look tough, but that’s not who she was. I liked the idea of that: The smart girl who’s trying to change her life and trying to fit in with the cool kids.”
Within two weeks, Feig had fleshed out the concept enough to have a finished pilot; his wife encouraged him to send it to Judd Apatow. “Judd had just, a year before, signed this deal with DreamWorks to develop TV shows with them,” he says. “After seeing Life Sold Separately, the movie that I was out on the road with, he told me, ‘Hey, if you ever have any ideas for a TV series, let me know. Because I’ve got to come up with a bunch.'” Within a day of sending Apatow the script, the future comedy magnate wanted in as executive producer. “It was just that moment where you go, ‘Wow, my whole life just changed right now,'” Feig admits. “Since I had been written out of Sabrina the Teenage Witch [he played Mr. Eugene Pool on the series], I suddenly had no money because I spent it all on that stupid movie that I made. It was like getting a second lease on life. Then we just kind of really soared through it.”
By now, the story of Freaks and Geeks‘ rise and fall — or rather, fall and rise — is legendary. Though today you’ll find it at the top of just about every “best of” television list, it’s also a prime example of the many brilliant-but-canceled television series that have come and gone too soon. “We were always in danger of getting canceled,” Feig says, “and then we’d get one more script order. Then we’d get two more script orders. So you wouldn’t even get a back nine, which you normally get to fill out your 22 episodes.” Ultimately the final tally for the 1980s-set high school dramedy that demystified the worlds of the titular teen stereotypes came in at 18 episodes, 12 of which aired during its slated NBC time slot (the show premiered exactly 15 years ago, on September 25, 1999). Three more episodes were broadcast (thanks to fan demand) in the summer following the show’s cancellation, and the final three finally saw the light of day when the show went into syndication on Fox Family in the fall of 2000. While there’s no such thing as a “bad” episode, here are all 18 of them, ranked from good to great.
This list was originally published in September 2014.
‘Kim Kelly Is My Friend’
Air Date: September 5, 2000
Though it’s officially the fourth episode in the series, this Kim-centric episode was part of the collateral damage of Freaks and Geeks‘ early cancellation, and didn’t actually air until the fall of 2000, when Fox Family ran the series in its 18-episode entirety for the first time. Which is a shame, because while she doesn’t even merit a snapshot in the opening title sequence, Kim Kelly is one of the series’ most fully developed characters. And though she’s shown nothing but disdain toward Lindsay’s Pollyanna personality up until this point, she knows an ally when she sees one — or at least a pawn — and manages to embroil Lindsay in a game of dinner table subterfuge with her parents, which quickly spirals out of control. It isn’t pretty, but it sets the two female “freaks” on a path toward genuine friendship. Plus, in her efforts to exact revenge on her friend-turned-hussy Karen Scarfolli (Rashida Jones), Kim manages to earn Sam’s respect, too. She may not be the most “likable” member of the group, but this episode goes a long way toward showing us why Kim relishes the role of shit-stirrer (look for a quick cameo from Mike White, who wrote the episode, as Kim’s brother).
Best Line: “That’s Gary Moss’ seat. But he’s sick. He has impetigo.”
‘We’ve Got Spirit’
Air Date: January 24, 2000
When the basketball team’s mascot (played with deadpan perfection by Shia LaBeouf, a mere 14 years old at the time) breaks his arm, Sam auditions to wear the gigantic Norseman head in his absence, seeing it as the perfect way to cozy up to his cheerleader crush, Cindy Sanders. But when it becomes clear to Sam that Cindy’s goo-goo eyes are pointed squarely at the team’s star jock — “It’s not like a crush, it’s like an obsession,” she confides — he agrees to let Neal fill in for him at the big game. The trouble is that Neal thinks he’s hilarious, particularly in his full mascot regalia. And while he undoubtedly had the pleasure of spouting off some of the series’ most enduringly funny lines, his often failed attempts to be funny are where he gets the most yuks, as this episode proves. On the Freaks side: All of Lindsay’s worrying about the best way to break up with Nick are for naught, as her mom ends up (accidentally) doing it for her.
Best Line: “These jocks think they’re such badasses. Like they cured cancer or something.”
‘Tricks and Treats’
Air Date: October 30, 1999
When it comes time to separate the boys from the men, there’s a simple barometer: Do you still trick or treat? After swearing that he’s too old for Halloween, Sam and company make an about-face and decide that one last year of begging strangers for candy is a great way to wave goodbye to their childhood years. They then elicit derision from just about everyone they encounter, with Sam incessantly explaining that he is Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, not The Wizard of Oz‘s Tin Man. Meanwhile, Lindsay gets her first taste of genuine hellraising as she and the rest of the Freaks engage in a night of pumpkin-stomping, mailbox-smashing, and egg-throwing, including an all-out assault on her brother (albeit unbeknownst to the crew). Though it’s one of the first times we see Lindsay genuinely enjoying being a little bit bad, she insists that the group stop the car so that she can attend to Sam and help her mom hand out candy — proving that Lindsay is not nearly as cool with being cool as she pretends to be.
Best Line: “Ma’am, I hope there aren’t any peanuts in those peanuts. ‘Cause if there are, I could die.”
‘Girlfriends and Boyfriends’
Air Date: January 17, 2000
As Nick and Lindsay's fairly one-sided romance heats up, the couple makes plans to spend an evening together. While she's already edgy, worrying about what sort of sexual escapades Nick might be envisioning for the evening, what he's got in store for her is much, much worse. Like a victim being lured into a serial killer's lair, Nick leads Lindsay down into his basement, where he's dimmed the lights and lit about 75 candles in order to set the mood for the world's worst serenade of Styx's already-intolerable "Lady." It's the stuff of which high school romance nightmares — and comedy gold — are made of. Meanwhile, Sam is furious that Bill and Cindy Sanders have become lab partners, necessitating that they spend time outside of school together. As for Bill, he can't wait to tell his friends that Cindy farted.
Best Line: "I heard it, man, I swear. She blamed it on the chair. But she cut the cheese."
‘Carded and Discarded’
Air Date: January 10, 2000
Freaks and Geeks has a history of fun cameos, and this episode has an onslaught of them: Look for brief appearances by Jason Schwartzman, Kevin Corrigan, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, and David Koechner, half of them half-assedly assisting the Freaks with scoring some fake IDs. The idea is to see a band, Feedback, play at a local bar — which would have worked for them if they hadn’t been spotted by Mr. Rosso, who happens to be the band’s lead singer. But the real story here is Maureen, a gorgeous new exchange student who, unaware of McKinley’s social hierarchy, ends up hanging out with the Geeks, giving each of the boys an inkling as to what life could be like with a girlfriend. (And prompts serious discussions about the role gas plays in a relationship.) Then the beautiful people notice Maureen, too, and they start swarming. So the guys decide to show her the greatest night of her life with an evening of all-you-can-eat ribs.
Best Line: “You have to sleep with your wife every night of your life. If you couldn’t blast one in bed, you’d get physically ill.”
‘The Garage Door’
Air Date: March 13, 2000
Sam and Bill have long been convinced that Neal’s got the coolest dad around, until Sam accidentally sees him at the mall…with another woman. They end up discovering a stranger’s garage door opener in Dr. Schweiber’s little red corvette; Neal then rides his bike around town with the opener in tow, clicking it at every garage he sees. Meanwhile, the normally stone-faced Ken admits to Lindsay that he has a crush on her tuba-playing friend Amy, and asks her to set them up. They end up going to a Pink Floyd laser show, but quickly realize that it’s Southern Rock Night. What makes this episode so unique is that it gives serious screen time and storylines to Neal and Ken, who had thus far been mainly positioned as the comic reliefs of their respective social groups.
Best Line: “Remember that time in science class when I tried to sneak out a fart but it came out a poop? And then I had to flush my undies down the toilet? Do you think I wanted to tell you guys that?”
‘Noshing and Moshing’
Air Date: October 17, 2000
Catharsis comes in many forms. For Neal, it’s a dummy. Still reeling from the discovery of his father’s philandering ways, Neal turns to the art of ventriloquism in order to express his inner turmoil — using Morty the Dummy, naturally, to help him say what he can’t. Unsurprisingly, it all ends terribly for him, when he puts on a show for his dad’s friends and patients that rips all of the Schweiber skeletons out of the closet. Just when he thinks it can’t get worse, he stumbles upon his super-cool college brother (played by David Krumholtz) making out with Lindsay, whom he has been in love with since childhood. The episode is decidedly more Geek-leaning, and shows how Lindsay is still toeing the line between her former self and her newly invented life as a Freak. Still, Daniel’s attempt to change up his own persona — going full “punker” and bringing Nick and Ken along for the ride — is a fun diversion.
Best Line: “Why don’t you go pick on someone your own size. There’s a bus in the parking lot.”
Air Date: January 31, 2000
At the suggestion of Kim Kelly’s mom, Lindsay’s parents decide to read her diary in order to determine what their sweet little girl has been doing. What they find instead is Lindsay’s no-holds-barred assessment of their boring existence and loveless marriage, prompting Jean to start spicing things up (first in the kitchen, then eventually the bedroom). They also forbid Lindsay from ever hanging out with Kim again, which brings her friend’s insecurities to the forefront. Meanwhile, the Geeks decide that enough is enough when it comes to that legendarily horrifying practice of picking teams during gym class. So Bill places a series of prank calls to Coach Fredricks, including one hilariously pathetic onslaught of insults that includes terms like “stinky turd” and “poop head.” Even funnier is Coach’s attempt to catch the culprit by having every one his students read a transcript of the call. Oh, those good old pre-caller ID days.
Best Line: “Everything I do, I do to serve you. I think of you when I’m stocking fishing poles. I think of you when I’m answering questions about cross-country ski wax.”
‘Beers and Weirs’
Air Date: October 2, 1999
On the heels of a drunk-driving assembly at school, Lindsay’s new “friends” encourage her to have a keg party while her parents are away in Chicago. More experienced in the sort of shindigs that involve clowns and magicians, Lindsay attempts a cool-vibe makeover of the Weir home to make it more “party-like.” But Sam and his friends aren’t as blasé about the lessons they learned in that same assembly and, with the help of a liquor store employee, switch out the real keg for a non-alcoholic one. While the bulk of the series shows the different cliques interacting in passing, this episode (number two in the series) throws each level of McKinley High’s social strata into one small space and lets teenage politics do the rest. Some of episode’s best moments come with the arrival of lovable dork — and Lindsay’s former BFF — Millie, who declares that she’s going to have more fun than anyone by not drinking. She then launches into a mean piano version of the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright,” with backup from Nick.
Best Line: “I’m Jewish. That’s no cakewalk either. Last year, I was elected school treasurer. I didn’t even run!”
‘Chokin’ and Tokin”
Air Date: March 20, 2000
In its earliest incarnation, Feig wrote Freaks and Geeks to “be like an HBO show, because I wanted it to be honest. I wanted to have swearing and pot smoking and cigarette smoking and all this stuff that I saw happening around me when I was in school.” And while he admits that the original pilot was “much more in an HBO world,” he did manage to get away a lot, especially as far as network television is concerned. In this episode, directed by Chuck and Buck‘s Miguel Arteta, Lindsay decides to smoke pot for the first time after being called out on her good girl rep by Nick. There’s just one problem: She’s supposed to be babysitting for her neighbors. So while she deals with the effects of her first-ever joint, she’s also got a playful kid to contend with; thank god she’s got Millie to help — both with the kid and to talk her down from her high. On the other side of town, the Geeks are gathered at the hospital with Bill, who is unconscious after eating a peanut that was secretly slipped to him by their nemesis/bully Alan White. When Alan pays a visit to Bill’s bedside he admits that the reason he’s so mean to the guys: “I like comic books and science fiction too, but you guys never ask me to hang out.” It’s a harbinger for the series’ conclusion that we’re all the same.
Best Line: “I know what high people look like. I went to a Seals and Croft concert last summer.”
‘I’m With the Band’
Air Date: November 13, 1999
Lindsay gives her best Yoko Ono approximation when she becomes the sole champion of Nick’s dream of becoming a professional drummer. After causing the breakup of his band, Creation, she redeems herself by finding him a better opportunity: an audition for the band Dimension (with cameos from Feig, producer/writer Gabe Sachs, and composer Mike Andrews). The trouble is that Nick is a terrible drummer — yes, even with his 29-piece drum kit. Back at school, the Geeks face their own brand of humiliation when Coach Fredricks mandates that all students must take a shower after gym class. Regardless of how embarrassed some of them (read: Sam) might be about the fact that they’ve yet to grow any armpit hair. He gets the last laugh, however, when he’s forced to run through school naked after Alan steals his clothes and locks him out of the gym, only to see his cool factor increase when Sam’s peers think he went streaking.
Best Line: “Good luck with that 29-piecer, man. Maybe some day you’ll knock it up to an even 30.”
‘The Little Things’
Air Date: July 8, 2000
After spending the bulk of the season relegated to snide one-liners, Ken takes center stage and with a storyline that is befitting of his perfectly sardonic style: He falls in love with a tuba player in the marching band, who reveals that she was born a hermaphrodite. The idea sounds outlandish, yet it’s played with an absolute sincerity that allows us to glimpse, for the first time, more about who Ken is apart from his apathy. (For his part, Feig admits that Rogen “was the most fun to write jokes for, just because we’d think, ‘What word would sound the funniest coming out of his mouth?'”) It’s the most surreal episode of the series, which carries over into the rest of the episode’s dissecting storylines: Sam breaking up with Cindy Sanders (she didn’t laugh at The Jerk); Lindsay turning the chance to ask an innocuous question of Vice President George Bush, who’s paying a visit to McKinley, into a public discourse; and Mr. Rosso helping a straitlaced Secret Service Agent (Ben Stiller) decide whether he might be better off making pancakes for a living.
Best Line: “I’ve got the best job in the world! Twelve grand a year and I’m overpaid!”
‘Smooching and Mooching’
Air Date: July 8, 2000
After years of lusting after Cindy Sanders, the most beautiful girl in school tells Bill that she likes Sam — like likes him, a fact that both thrills and scares the hell out of Sam. He manages to muster up the courage to ask her to a party; unbeknownst to him, it’s a make-out party, which is exactly what Cindy has in mind. After sweetly asking if he can kiss her, the normally demure Cindy takes charge of the situation, and the look of terror on Sam’s face as she turns out the lights is brilliant. In the other room, a game of spin the bottle ends with Bill and head cheerleader Vicki spending seven minutes in heaven. Teen romance is even more complicated back at the Weir household, where Nick has been staying since running away from home, bonding in ways with Harold and Jean that both frighten and bother Lindsay.
Best Line: “Everyone looks cool in turtlenecks. That’s the point. We can’t both wear them. We’ll look like the Smothers Brothers.”
Air Date: September 25, 1999
“I just think we really got it right,” says Feig of the introductory episode, which gives us a large enough glimpse of the show’s basic set-up and most important characters to make us immediately care enough to learn more about them. Sam’s storyline, in particular, was deeply personal to Feig. “The whole Sam story is basically all things that happened to me,” Feig admits. “I had the bully. I was in love with the cheerleader. I asked her to go to the homecoming dance with me the day of the dance. So that was all torn from my experiences.”
“We did a table read a day or two before we started shooting and we all felt like there was something wrong with Lindsay’s character,” recalls Feig, who calls it “a real turning point for me as a writer, because I remember going to Judd and Jake and saying, ‘I know what the problem is. It’s that she is already part of the freaks, so we are just meeting her and her friends. Shit’s too easy; she’s already in there.’ I told them: ‘Give me tonight. I’m going to go off tonight and I’m going to write this.’ I holed up in my office in Burbank and did that rewrite to make it that Lindsay is new [to the group]. They don’t accept her, they’re suspicious of her, and Franco’s character is the one who’s ushering her into the world. That was a very distinct moment in my life.”
That small tweak is what sets up the foundation for the entire series — the question mark for both Linda Cardellini’s character and the audience as to which group she truly belongs, or whether someone can be defined by a single descriptor. Lindsay becomes the personification of this when she invites a mentally challenged student (wonderfully played by Ben Foster) to the dance. “I though about what stand somebody would make to try to tell the whole school to ‘fuck off,'” Feig recalls of his inspiration for this pivotal conclusion. “I thought that was a great way for her to show that’s she’s rebellious and all that, but that she has a good heart.”
Best Line: “She’s a cheerleader. You’ve seen Star Wars 27 times. Do the math.”
‘Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers’
Air Date: October 10, 2000
Yet another casualty of Freaks and Geeks‘ cancellation, “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” is yet another episode that fans didn’t get to see until the show ran in syndication. After accidentally running over Millie’s dog, Kim and Lindsay assuage their guilt over not copping to being the culprits by bringing her into the friendship fold and invite her along to see the Who with them. Lindsay hasn’t even been able to convince her own parents to let her attend the concert, but she’s got that covered: Harold and Jean are going to listen to an album to make sure there’s nothing obscene about the music. (Their differing views on what a Squeezebox might be is worth the price of admission alone.) There’s a trainwreck about to go down at Bill’s house, too, when his mom reveals that she has been seeing Mr. Fredricks — and it’s getting serious.
Best Line: “Sure, Lindsay. You can go see the Who. And you can go see the Rolling Stones at Altamont, too.”
‘Tests and Breasts’
Air Date: November 6, 1999
Porn: It’s a rite of passage for every pubescent male and, as Sam discovers, it can also be a little repulsive. Clearly never having had “the talk” with his dad, Sam entrusts Daniel to teach him everything he always wanted to know about sex (but was afraid to ask). But as anyone who’s not Ron Jeremy knows, a XXX feature is not a substitute for sex ed. So it’s up to Coach Fredricks, in a rare non-machismo moment, to tell Sam the truth about how babies get made. Daniel is also at the center of yet another Weir Family controversy, when he and Lindsay are caught cheating on a math test. The accusation is spot-on, but Daniel is a master of getting out of trouble, and finally finds a subject about which he can teach Lindsay something.
Best Line: “Hey, you think there’s any short porn stars?”
‘Looks and Books’
Air Date: February 7, 2000
Two words: Parisian nightsuit. Looking to up his style game, Sam takes his first mom-less shopping trip and ends up with what the sales clerk assures him is all the rage in Europe. It also happens to be the most embarrassing thing a high school freshman in Michigan could possibly wear. “The whole thing about dressing nice and the Parisian nightsuit…that really happened to me,” Feig says with a laugh. “That [outfit] was designed to the exact specifications. It was this soft denim with the giant collar and everything. It was that thing where you think you’re going to be so cool and the minute you broke through those doors, you were like, ‘Oh my god. I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.'”
Lindsay, too, is in the midst of an identity crisis. After getting into an accident with her mom’s stolen station wagon, she begins to question who her real friends are and returns to her former life as a homework-loving Mathlete. Which was yet another storyline — at least the first part — that was pulled from Feig’s own history. “I got into a car accident a week after I had my driver’s license,” he says. “I was in a car with a friend of mine and we were goofing around. He distracted me at one point and was like, ‘Turn here!’ I turned right into oncoming traffic and wiped out this car. So it was kind of fun to make somebody else go through that. It was like the greatest therapy ever.”
“Looks and Books” marked a key turning point in the narrative of the show. Up until this point (episode 11), Lindsay has remained a bit of an outsider who has always had a sense of not belonging. But when she finally finds the courage to put the rest of the Freaks in their place, they realize that the group is not the same without her. “I just think everything about that episode rings true to me,” says Feig. You’ll never listen to Joe Jackson the same way again.
Best Line: “It’s a jumpsuit. My grandpa in Fort Lauderdale wears them all the time because he’s too lazy to put on pants.”
‘Discos and Dragons’
Air Date: July 8, 2000
Though we can all agree that a second (or a third, or a fourth) season of would have been wonderful and warranted, to think that “Discos and Dragons” wasn’t a proper series finale — and a great one at that — is totally incorrect. Feig knew well ahead of time that this would likely be the show’s final episode, and wrote it accordingly. “We actually shot that finale episode and then we shot four more episodes after it,” explains Feig, who opted for quiet closure instead of a slammed door. “My only goal was to have everybody in a different place at the end of the episode, because that was going to be the thing with the series if it continued on. I could never get over how one year you’re best friends with the nerdiest guy in school and then you go away for the summer and you come back and he’s a huge burnout. He won’t talk to you and he’s got long hair and it’s like, ‘What the fuck happened? Who is this person?'”
This explains explain the subtle shifts in each of the character’s behavior: Lindsay skips out on an academic summit to follow the Grateful Dead with Kim, while Daniel becomes a part of Sam, Bill, Neal, Gordon, and Harris’ regular Dungeons and Dragons crew. (This leads Bill to wonder aloud whether Daniel “wanting to play with us again mean that he’s turning into a geek, or we’re turning into cool guys?” To which Sam responds, “I don’t know. But I’m going to go for us being cool guys”). And while Ken maintains his position that disco sucks, the widest character arc comes courtesy of Nick — who, now drug-free, fancies himself a bit of a disco king, thanks to his budding romance with Sara.
It’s in the small moments, like Nick’s choreographed dance routine, that the show stays hilariously true to its mission to present high school in all its embarrassingly authentic glory, and to honor those years of transformation in a warm and refreshingly honest way. But about those dance moves? “Oh my god, Segel is such my hero,” says Feig of Nick’s moves. “We hired the guy who choreographed Saturday Night Fever to come in to teach Jason how to dance. I videotaped him rehearsing it — I’ve got to find those tapes — because I was directing it and trying to figure out what the dance was. He told me, ‘The only thing I ask is that you not show me any footage of me dancing until we’re done with the episode because I want to think that I’m great.’ He said that Nick would think that he’s great. I was like, ‘You’re on.’ So that’s what’s so funny: He so commits to it because he thinks he’s really good.”
Best Line: “Fine, I’ll be a dwarf. But my name is Carlos.”