December 24, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Head of Her Class

In a year that saw TV overrun with flawless young faces playing unnervingly with-it teenagers, those of us with not-so-fond memories of high school found salvation in NBC’s reality-check drama Freaks and Geeks—specifically in the sweet-but-meek freak played by Linda Cardellini. As Lindsay Weir — a wallflower who tentatively ditches her nerdy ”mathlete” cronies for a gang of denim-clad burnouts — Cardellini embodies the awkward courage, anger, and joy of female adolescence with a certainty that comes from having lived it. ”I was how Lindsay is—a pretty good kid, but every once in a while she does something stupid,” says Cardellini, 20, who got her start playing ”the tough, funny girl” in several TV guest spots. With all the scripts now heading her way, she’ll be able to add a couple more adjectives to her resume. ”Suddenly, people have noticed what I’m doing,” Cardellini marvels. ”And they want to know what I’m gonna be doing.”

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