Tidbits from Vanity Fair's oral history of 'Freaks and Geeks'
Mark Seliger exclusively for Vanity Fair[/caption]
Though it lasted only a single season on NBC, Freaks and Geeks is justifiably beloved — for presenting an unvarnished take on adolescence in the Dawson’s Creek era, for perfectly mixing comedy and drama, and for launching the careers of big names like Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel. And it’s not only fans who have a special place in their hearts for Freaks — since its cancellation, nearly every member of its cast and crew has said that working on the series was the high point of their career.
That’s a sentiment that’s echoed over and over again in Vanity Fair‘s new oral history of the show, which appears in the magazine’s just-released Comedy Issue (guest edited by Apatow himself). The article also includes plenty of fun facts for those who still love Freaks, such as:
1. Paul Feig wanted the show to be about “the fear of sex”
As the Bridesmaids director and F&G creator explains, “I got tired of every teenager being portrayed as horny and completely cool with sex, because that was not my experience.” Casting the actors who ended up on the show certainly helped him attain his vision — Seth Rogen describes his 16-year-old self as “incredibly angry and repressed,” because “I hadn’t gotten any girls to sleep with me yet.” Apatow goes even further: He says the future Knocked Up star was “a mad, troublemaking Canadian lunatic who was quiet and angry and might kill you” as a teenager.
2. Feig and Apatow didn’t think James Franco was a hottie when they cast him
Says Judd: “We thought his mouth was too big for his face and he seemed perfect to be a small-town cool guy who wasn’t as cool as he thought he was. When all the women in our office started talking about how gorgeous he was, me and Feig started laughing because we just didn’t see it.” Who’s laughing now, Apatow?
3. Samm Levine’s bad William Shatner impression won him his part
This is so Neal Schweiber — Feig and Apatow were so charmed by Levine’s cheesy Captain Kirk impersonation that they cast him as Sam Weir’s cheesy best friend.
4. The show’s most cringe-worthy moments were all drawn from real life
Maybe this isn’t so surprising, but: The writers spent two weeks telling their most embarrassing personal stories to Feig and Apatow. Those tales — including Jeff Judah’s memory of realizing his father was cheating on his mother while watching an episode of The Phil Donohue Show — formed the crux of most of F&G‘s episodes, much to the writing staff’s chagrin.
5. James Franco thinks he “maybe took [him]self a little too seriously when [he] was a young actor.”
Now, of course, he takes himself just seriously enough.
6. Director of Photography Russ Alsobrook won Kodak swag after shooting a million feet of film on set
It takes a ton of reels to capture the nuggets of greatness within the long improvised scenes that would become Apatow’s hallmark.
7. The show wouldn’t have been as true, edgy, or good if it had had a future
According to director and editor Jake Kasdan, “There was this sense [among the cast and crew] that it wasn’t going to last, so the network wasn’t really going to try to fix it. I’m not sure you could get away with those things on a show that isn’t about to be canceled.”
8. Freaks and Geeks ended Seth Rogen’s formal education
He dropped out of high school when he was cast on the show at 16, though he didn’t admit that to Feig and Apatow: “I told them I was doing correspondence school from Canada and just wrote Superbad all day.”
9. The key to Freaks‘s renewal hopes could be found on the craft services table
Take it away, Jason Segel: “It started out with, like, cold cuts and delicious snacks, and it was reduced to half a thing of creamer and some Corn Pops by the end.”
10. The cast and crew said goodbye to their show with an awesome ’80s prom
The first — and only — season’s wrap party was “1980 Prom” themed. The men rented ’70s tuxes; Feig and Apatow sported custom-made class rings; Rogen rocked a gigantic afro; Busy Philipps (who played bad girl Kim Kelly) wore the actual dress she had worn to her junior prom. As she recalls, “I got really drunk and was crying hysterically afterward, just like ‘Now what am I going to do? Go back to college? Oh God!'”
11. Star Linda Cardellini found out the show was canceled while en route to promote it on Letterman
At least she didn’t find out on the air, right?
12. In Judd Apatow’s mind, everything he’s done since Freaks and Geeks has been an extension of the series
“It’s a way of refusing to accept that the show was canceled,” he tells Vanity Fair. “In my head, I can look at Knocked Up as just an episode of Seth’s character getting a girl pregnant. All of the movies relate in my mind in that way, as the continuous adventures of those characters.” That might make us like Funny People just a little bit more.
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