Apatow championed the script, it was greenlit for a pilot by big US network NBC, with a cast which included Rogen and Franco, plus Jason Segal, Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps and John Francis Daley, and went on to film 18 episodes between 1999 and 2000 before being cancelled.
Its crime? “Maybe it could have had a happy ending every now and then,” says former NBC president Garth Ancier, the man who canned Freaks and Geeks and who gamely appears in the documentary defending his decision to do so.
And it’s this that makes the documentary so interesting – to see the politics behind TV programming laid bare. That one man, who supplied notes suggesting Franco take his shirt off or that Britney Spears appear in a guest role, could be responsible for the end of a show just because he didn’t like it. And not only did he not like it, according to the documentary, he actively championed its demise with bad programming and little publicity.
It’s sad but eye-opening and explains how many fan-favourite and acclaimed shows – 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Community – have been turfed or continually threatened with the axe because they didn’t fit the mold of wish-fulfilment TV.
It also goes to show how much television has changed – networks have all but lost their clout, reality shows and game shows suck up free-to-air ratings, while the interesting stuff, those that champion the antiheroes (hello, Stranger Things!), can be found on Netflix et al, streaming 24/7 with no remit for a happy ending.
So even if you have never watched Freaks and Geeks, this documentary is for anyone who has had a favourite TV show cancelled or unappreciated. It’s for everyone who has shouted to all their friends “You. Must. Watch. This.” It’s for those who have appreciated Freaks and Geeks’ unofficial happy ending – The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids and Anchorman, to name a few. Because without Freaks and Geeks, these films may not have existed, and that’s a pretty sad ending for everyone.
Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary
SBS Viceland, Tuesday, 9.30pm