Ken Tucker explains what's great about ''Felicity'' and ''Freaks and Geeks''

By Ken Tucker
February 29, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Here are the two most unfairly overlooked shows on TV

If I had to pick an excellent TV show whose lack of success baffles me most, it would be the WB’s ”Felicity.”

If I had to pick an excellent TV show whose lack of success doesn’t surprise me at all, it’s NBC’s ”Freaks and Geeks.”

Let me explain.

Of all the shows about and aimed at young adults, ”Felicity” is the one that most satisfies the rules of its genre — moody romances, flights of foolishness, Lilith Fair wannabes on the soundtrack — and then transcends them imaginatively enough to hook an adult like me. So I look each Monday morning at ”Felicity”’s unfelicitous ratings with dismay: I know it’s tough being up against ”The Simpsons” and ”Touched by an Angel,” but where is the ”Dawson’s Creek”/”Charmed” audience for this often-superlative show?

More crucially these days, where is the support for the show within its own ranks? I am surprised, to say the least, that the show’s creator, producer-writer J.J. Abrams, has taken to publicly flogging himself for what he feels are this season’s weak episodes as well as the misbegotten permission he gave for star Keri Russell to cut her hair into a short bob.

Mr. Abrams, you have nothing to be sorry for: This season’s shows, in which the agonizingly shorn Felicity has grappled literally and figuratively with her art teacher’s (played with more disciplined spunk than might have been imagined at this point by Sally Kirkland) creepy son, have been strong and moving, and once she divested herself of this self-absorbed twit, the series has only grown richer and more emotionally complex.

There is one area for improvement: Julie (Amy Jo Johnson) and Sean (Greg Grunberg) should either Get Together or not, and Julie should stop playing the perrennial victim (come on, girl — you used to be a Power Ranger!). But other than this minor complaint, Abrams and company are doing their part — it’s up to the network to either move it to a better time period,or get behind it promotionally to boost its ratings.

On the other hand, I can understand why the remarkable ”Freaks and Geeks” is finding it hard to gather a sizable audience. This show about disparate groups of ’80s teens is, in fact, not a show for New Millennium teens at all, but rather a series that adults who came of age in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s will most enjoy. ”F&G” is chockablock with first-rate performances, including Lindsay Weir’s conflicted teenage Lindsay, James Franco’s wonderfully nuanced interpretation of hoody teen Daniel, and Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker’s portrayals of fearfully protective parents.

Being stuck on Monday nights at 8:00 until recently doomed ”F&G” to being considered kiddie fare, which it isn’t. Now it’s been pulled from the prime-time schedule entirely, with lots of first-rate episodes still waiting to be shown. Write to NBC, please, and ask them to give ”Freaks and Geeks” the push it deserves.