Thursday, May 5, 2016

FREAKS AND GEEKS Review - A Love Letter To Apatow, Feig, Rogen, Segel, Cardellini, Franco & Co.

As a super fan of Rogen, Goldberg, Apatow and that whole group of comedy that established itself in the film world with The 40 Year Old Virgin and has kept making top tier comedies since then, I was really eager to check out this show that started it all. Now, I cannot possibly put in words how much these people mean to me and how much I love their work so I will not even try. Granted not all of their material turns out great, but even when they fail they come out with something really worth the time anyways and when they succeed we get pieces of eternal rewatchability and undefinable joy. I don't know if it was possible, but after watching this show my love for them has increased even more, almost to Nolan-Hitchock-Linklater levels.

One doesn't simply watch Freaks and Geeks, it is experienced and holds a mirror towards you. I'll just pop in a story about me to possibly make it understandable how much I love this show: yesterday I finished the binge watch that took me five days. I was saddened I didn't have anymore episodes to consume. This night I dreamed about discovering ten more episodes from the show. That might sound crazy, I don't know, but it is exemplary of the deep love and connection I have with this material.

I don't think there is any way or adjective to get across how good the writing is here, how brilliant every single characterization is and its intrinsic commentary and message, how every story beat feels genuine and engaging. The love and passion poured into this story glows from every frame.

The understanding the writers have of the storytelling necessary to make this great is something natural and instinctive, they simply don't know how to make something not work. They treat this people as equals and with the uttermost affection, we never laugh at the characters, we laugh with the characters, something crucial in comedy. These are all people we relate to, they all have complex dynamics and the solution for overcoming the obstacles they are presented to is never a cop out, it is always coherent to the tone and the way in which everyone of them is presented to you.

These filmmakers understand character and its relations with comedy and drama and more importantly the connection of the two. You are thrust into an emotional journey with every one of these episodes, they all feel necessary and interesting and they all have big laughs in them too. I cannot commend the writers enough for the fantastic work they manage to produce. Something that is so thematically rich without ever rubbing it into your face, the themes of friendship, love, growing up, social issues, sex, transgression, finding your place, affection, nostalgia, the list doesn't stop and the reason is because there is not one single time the themes overstep the characters. By simply having these fantastic people interact in a believable world through brilliant story beats what emerges naturally is a portrayal of life that makes my heart soar in joy and emotion.

Furthermore the writers exploit the high school setting for a really coherent story structure. Firstly they nail the feel of school, friends, hanging out, arguing and getting back together. Yet more importantly the fact that these are teenagers gives a sudden credibility to every story beat, no matter how far fetched it might be, they get it right to the point that in thirteen plus hours of content I genuinely never questioned half an event, it all happened naturally and that is thanks to the understanding the writers have of the, for the lack of a better word, naivety of teenagers.

It would be really easy to discredit all of this as a teen show and find it silly because of its optimism, but the commitment and passion invested here is so overwhelming it is impossible not be won over by the will of these people to entertain, to say something and say it having loads of fun and laughs along the way because that is part of life and a part that so often gets cheapened or overlooked. Thanks to this determination and sweet intentions we end up with a story that makes my heart warm and soar whilst at the same time giving me both a nostalgic outlook on youth and a reflective, dramatic and emotional stance on all of the above themes. You are presented to these characters and stick with them through every one of their "adventures", you care and relate to them and ultimately can't help but find yourself in trying to analyze who you are the most represented by.

This is one of those pieces of storytelling where a nostalgic montage of the characters actually gets your heart weeping in nostalgia because you love them so much and have spent so much time with them, you yearn for their company. That is something I can say of probably ten, fifteen tops, stories I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Indicative of this is the title sequence which is without a doubt the best title sequence of a TV show, because it nails the characters so perfectly with barely two shots each.

And we haven't even started talking about cast or directing yet. Lets go for the latter by mentioning how surprisingly well directed is the show and probably integral to the success of the whole thing. These aren't just three camera setups that slog us scene through scene. There is insightful camera work, clever visual cues, intimate attention to detail in costume and production design, a coherent style and tone that keeps flowing through the whole eighteen episodes, a distinctive and characteristic visual look and feel, all further demonstration that they really cared about this and didn't go for the cheap choice. By the way this soundtrack fu**ing rocks! 

Now to what is probably the beating part of the show: the actors. It is really hard to start talking about them, I could write hundreds of words for each of them from the recurring cast to the guest stars, they all own it and continuously steal the show from one another. Cardellini is a joy to watch, she makes a confused teenager translate to the screen as a real person that repeatedly does strange decisions, but we don't question her for it since she makes us buy her every move. She is a glowing talent. Busy Philips too does the same great job of taking us close to a messy teenager. Then we have the usual gang: Franco, Rogen, Segel and this is where it gets almost ironically frustrating: you see not only are they all brilliant writers and comedic presences, they also are legitimately excellent actors that carry you from the most outrageous laugh to the sweetest dramatic beat, not to mention their offbeat style and terrific improvisational skills.

Still we aren't halfway through yet: Daley and Levine are child actor miracles, in the company of Martin Starr in the role of Bill, who just might be the best performance here, giving a naive, childish and, lets say it as it is, ugly nerd a three dimensional balance that results as a high point of acting actually: the way he moves on screen, his blocking, his wording, it is a marvel to watch, because he manages to make you feel empathy for him whilst at the same time always having a good laugh with the physicality of the character. You probably believe I am exaggerating, but the more I think of it the more it is clear that what Starr achieved in this performance is nothing short of genius.

Then we have the adult cast who is integrated into this story in an essential non invasive way and avoids what could have been easily a stereotyped, teenage-perspective adult figure. They don't come off as the the one dimensional people they could have easily been, they all have gray areas and complexity in them, whilst at the same time keeping up with the comedic tone and delivering the goods there too. Steve Bannos and Dave Allen are hilarious, Becky Ann Baker conveys the complexity of mother-ship perfectly whilst Joe Flaherty is something all of his own. He transforms in this person and nails every word and action coming out of him in a mix of hilarity and drama that I don't think I have ever had the pleasure to watch before.

I will shamelessly admit that this is exactly targeted towards me, it is something I had been only dreaming about before becoming aware of this show. It is in all regards the show I wish I would have made, it hits home for me in almost every possible way, but that doesn't not in anyway make the quality of the filmaking less important. I do repeat that high school nostalgia, mix of comedy, drama and romance in the context and all of the themes explored here are all things that light me up instantly, yet I do also repeat that the cleverness and endearment with which they are treated is triumphant storytelling.

Now, I have to be objective and maybe recognize flaws in here. Yet having thought extensively about it there is only one thing that could possibly be a detractor to the show even though it can be seen from different points of views and not be seen as such. The show is slightly episodic, but given the time it was released it might even be considered the opposite. Honestly, thinking hardly about it there isn't really that much to complain about here, the most it could have benefited from is a slight spicing up of certain story lines throughout the episodes, but that really is all and I'm stretching here.

My heart and my brain are in conflict when thinking about the cancellation of this show, I don't know if further seasons could have been as good or if they would just have bloated the story unnecessarily, I really don't know. What I do know is how sad I felt when the episodes ended and how hard I wished for there to be more, yet at the same time how good I felt watching them and the urge I had to start over again as soon as I finished which is something so rare for me I still can't digest the feeling those few times I get it.

I have thought hard about how to grade this, I have tried to find flaws in it and miserably failed and after having reflected loads on it Freaks and Geeks actually enters my personal circle of love, that place reserved to my favourite and inspiring (almost life changing) stuff. It gets to be in the company of Breaking Bad, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, 12 Angry Men, Harry Potter, American Beauty, Hitchcock, Chaplain and some more. If you are a film fan, a TV fan, a storytelling fan, you cannot miss out on this, it is a joy that is now proudly part of my life and that I am sure I will consume, rewatch, debate, recommend to all my friends, defend with all my love.

James's Score: Freaks and Geeks gets a 10/10!

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