Terry Gross interviewed Jake Kasdan on Fresh Air yesterday. Most of it was enabling him to plug a soon-to-be-out movie, and talking about his currently-in-progress movie, both of which sound very good. But much more interesting was the discussion of Freaks and Geeks, on which he was a director and co-producer. Interestingly, though, he misinterprets one of the central events.
Before proceeding with the spoiler, I should explain why, if you haven’t seen Freaks and Geeks, you should not read on until you’ve watched it (easy to do because its now on DVD, all 18 episodes, not just the 12 that were aired). Freaks and Geeks was the best thing on American TV in the past 20 years or so, and that means that it is better than, e.g., the Sopranos). If you have ever gone to school, at least in an English-speaking country after about 1960, you’ll recognise some aspect of your experience; and almost everything is believable. I knew two of the central characters when I was at school (in southern England); Lindsey is even dressed the same as one of my friends. You knew one or two of them too. Brilliantly written, perfectly cast, it’s what TV ought to be.
What does Kasdan get wrong? He says that the executives kept pressuring the makers to ‘let the geeks win one’, and that the writers and cast members quite properly resisted—the geeks always had to lose, in particular in matters of sex. A geek could not get to go out with a cheerleader, however much he longed to, and however sweet she was to him. In the end the writers caved, but with a twist. The key, Kasdan says, was that the executives wanted the audience to be able to “feel happy for them” (the geeks). So when, at last, Cindy decides to go out with Sam (because, she says, she “deserves” him) he discovers what the rest of us have known from the beginning—that she is a shallow nitwit, utterly unworthy of his time or attention. So, he loses. The audience’s longing to cheer for him is frustrated.
But Kasdan is wrong. We were delighted that Sam discovered the true nature of the object of his desire. Not because it made him happy, exactly, but because his reaction to it showed that he knew himself, and bode well, very well, for the future. He learned that his friends mattered more to him than she did, that he was, in the nicest possible way, too good for her, and got a hint that the constantly unreassuring message that he and Bill got from his parents that when they were older there’d be girls who would like them might, after all, be true. We, at least, were happy for him.
Update: and here is Scott, 7 years ago, also recommending it!