While the show only lasted a season (although ratings were enough that, were it on today, it would be a big hit), so much of what’s proved successful in the comedy world in the last decade can be traced back to ” Freaks & Geeks.” Executive produced by Judd Apatow, who’s been behind many of the most successful comedies in recent years, from “Anchorman” to the upcoming “The Five-Year Engagement,” and created by Paul Feig, who reunited with Apatow for last year’s smash hit “Bridesmaids,” it followed a group of nerds and burnouts in a Michigan high school.
And looking back, the cast is a who’s who of the people that have made you laugh in recent years: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Samm Levine and Busy Phillips were all in the original cast, along with Linda Cardellini, while her screen brother John Francis Daley wrote the screenplay for last year’s hit comedy “Horrible Bosses.” And guest stars who got their start on the show included Ben Foster, Lizzy Caplan, Kevin Corrigan, Jason Schwartzmann, David Krumholtz, Leslie Mann, Rashida Jones and Ben Stiller, among others.
The show was critically beloved even the time, but the cult has only grown, and this week, Genevieve Koski from the always-excellent AV Club sat down with Feig for a walkthrough of the entire series. It’s an epic five-part interview (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five), that’s a must-read for anyone who loves the show, or has any interest in the comedy or television. Below, you can find five key things we discovered from the feature: head over to the AV Club for much more.
1. The show got on the air thanks to “Welcome To The Dollhouse,” which NBC were trying to replicate on TV
“It was the year ‘Welcome To The Dollhouse‘ came out, that Todd Solondz movie, which I loved. So the networks were trying to develop a show kind of with the same feel. NBC had two or three of them in development, but when we walked in with this, they read it and liked it so much I think they just kind of threw all the other ones out and said, ‘This is the one, make it,’ ” Feig said. “And they liked the script so much, they were like, ‘Just shoot this script.’ That doesn’t often happen.”
2. “Transformers” star Shia LaBoeuf almost got the part of Neal, which was eventually taken by Samm Levine
“Samm Levine was a New York cast. Shia LaBeouf, when he was 11 years old, came in and read for that part, too. And I thought he was hilarious. Just such a weirdo. He came in with these suspenders on, and he has this weird, adult attitude, but not in that obnoxious way where kids say adult things,” Feig explained. “But Judd, who was watching these casting tapes from New York, he comes running in and says, ‘Okay, don’t watch the audition, but watch at the end of the audition.’ Because Levine was reading for the character of Sam. So he does it, and he’s fine, but then he stops, and he looks off-camera and goes, ‘Can I do it now?’ And the casting director goes, ‘Yes.’ And he starts doing this William Shatner impression, and we go, ‘Oh my God, that’s it. That is all of our comedy nerd friends doing all of these dopey voices.’ So he really got the part by doing that. That was the minute we were like, ‘He’s totally Neal.'”
3. Owen Wilson was the inspiration for one key scene in the episode “Tests And Breasts,” where James Franco’s character feigns tears in order to get out of being caught cheating.
“I don’t know where the idea for this one came from. All I know is that the ending is based on something Owen Wilson did. Because Judd said Owen told him once that he’d gotten in trouble with something similar to this, and he just started crying. But it was this calculated thing, because he could pretend to cry to get out of it. Then it just became her getting bamboozled, and the audience getting bamboozled, too,” Feig said. It’s a pretty great scene, watch it below.
4. The show’s most controversial plot point, where Ken (Seth Rogen) discovers that his new girlfriend (played by “Election” star Jessica Campbell) was born an intersex woman, started as a joke.
“I wasn’t even there. I was off supervising the set, and I had heard that—we were all sitting around and just got on this laughing jag, because it was like, ‘We’ve got to get Ken a girlfriend. What would be the funniest thing that could happen if Ken got a girlfriend?’ The joke was, ‘She has a dick.’ I think it was said just as a joke, and then Judd [Apatow] and [writer] Mike [White] got obsessed with trying to make it happen,” Feig elaborated. “And there was, like, an uprising, and the writers were like, ‘Oh, you’re joking, right?’ I’m like, ‘No, we’ve got to do this!’ People really got upset, like we were totally going to jump the shark—not that we knew what ‘jump the shark’ was back then. I’ve always been up for a challenge, so I remember them coming to me, going, ‘Nobody wants to do this,’ and all the writers were complaining to me, and Judd was like, ‘I don’t know, I think it’d be funny.’ I remember just saying to Judd, ‘Let’s do it.’ I love a challenge like that. You know, try to figure out a realistic way to do something crazy. Not that it’s crazy, but it’s kind of crazy.”
5. Feig wrote the show’s final episode while in Vegas at Christmas with a motley crew including Apatow, Quentin Tarantino, Adam Sandler… and Carl Weathers.
“I had to write it over Christmas vacation. We’d write stuff down on the board that we wanted to do, and I remember we always had up there, ‘Lindsay becomes a Deadhead,’ we wrote ‘Nick gets into disco’ and [‘Dungeons & Dragons’]. So it was kind of like, ‘Okay, those things are up for grabs. They’re not going to get used in any other episodes.’ So I remember just going, ‘I’m going to just write all of those in this last episode,’ and kind of not knowing how to do it. So I really struggled for a while trying to figure it out, and then got it close, and then we went to Vegas over Christmas vacation, and Judd was there with Quentin Tarantino, and it was just crazy,” Feig said. “I think Adam Sandler was there. Carl Weathers. We had this weird group we were all hanging out with, and I remember like sitting in one of the big hotels with Judd, going through the outline, trying to figure stuff out. And then sitting in a bathtub—by myself—in this hotel with all these Grateful Dead books, reading up on the Grateful Dead, and going through their lyrics and stuff. That episode, a lot of it got written in Las Vegas, for whatever reason.”
“Freaks & Geeks” is available in a must-have DVD box set right now.