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.