Freaks and Geeks

by Harry on April 5, 2007

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!

{ 67 comments }

1

K. Williams 04.05.07 at 2:57 pm

“Freaks and Geeks” was a wonderful show, but it’s frankly absurd to say that it was better than “The Wire.” They’re not even in the same ballpark.

2

Chris Bertram 04.05.07 at 3:05 pm

Oh, sitting here in the UK it is hard to know, but I had the thought about The Wire too. The thought that _anything_ could be better than The Wire causes my robot doppelganger to emit squawks of “does not compute!” in a Dalek-like voice whilst smoke pours from its ears.

3

Geoff 04.05.07 at 3:08 pm

It’s OK, I liked Freaks and Geeks better than The Wire too. Although the writers did have to thread the needle between depressing and uplifting quite a lot. I’ve noticed the same issue in other great shows – Battlestar Galactica, for example.

4

harry b 04.05.07 at 3:13 pm

I’ve seen a couple of episodes only of the Wire, and I think its very good indeed. But I think F&G is better. And it was on network television. Not for long, and well-hidden, but still!

5

harry b 04.05.07 at 3:18 pm

Oh, and Chris, you’d love it. Worth getting it from the UK site (on NTSC Region 1) and watching on your computer.

6

lindsey 04.05.07 at 4:26 pm

F&G is a great show. I unfortunately missed it when it was on air, but my roommate had to watch it a while back to find clips for a psych experiment. Even though it was set in the 80s, it was a dead ringer for my high school (’00-04). The only difference was that I don’t remember any girls like Lindsey ever crossing over, though I did know a lot of boys who were like her in class and intelligence that did (joining up with the potheads was their silent rebellion against their parents). Maybe it’s harder for girls to shrug the “over-achieving” academic mode their parents pressure them into? I’m not sure. Oh, and obviously the Sams at my high school never got the popular girl, but again, they were the better for it.

7

Tom Hilton 04.05.07 at 4:54 pm

I don’t think it’s better than The Wire, but it is an extraordinary show–smart, sad, funny, and above all absolutely true. (And the fact that it’s set just a year or so after I graduated is just lagniappe.)

DVD bonus: every episode has commentary, and some have more than one commentary track. And they are, by and large, immensely entertaining.

8

Ben Alpers 04.05.07 at 4:57 pm

In addition to The Wire, I’d say that Homicide and My So Called Life are also better than F&G (which is still a wonderful show).

9

Matt Kuzma 04.05.07 at 5:07 pm

Everyone so far is incorrect. The best TV in the last 20 years was Firefly. Quite appropriately, it spawned the best sci-fi movie of all time. It’s sad when so many smart people can be so wrong about such a simple thing.

10

Michael Rebain 04.05.07 at 5:34 pm

F&G was a fantastic show and a great DVD set. My high school days were 1970-74 at a Catholic boys school in northern New Jersey, but everything about F&G ran true. And let’s not forget the great Joe Flaherty as Lindsey and Sam’s dad, preaching doom and gloom at every opportunity.

11

Rasselas 04.05.07 at 5:37 pm

I like the acknowledgment of the superiority of The Prisoner implicit in the 20-years-ago timeframe. At least, I assume that’s what’s intended. What else could it be?

Also, Firefly sucked. Characters that all speak the same precious and twee nonsense aren’t rendered distinct by different costumes.

12

maurinsky 04.05.07 at 6:03 pm

matt kuzma – while Firefly is possibly my favorite show in the past 10 years, I differentiate that from being the BEST show in the past 10 years. F & G is way up there, IMO, ahead of all those shows that force you to pay extra money to watch them (The Wire, Sopranos, Six Feet Under – as good as they are). That F&G could be so great while under the restrictive thumb of a network is a testament to how incredibly great it was.

13

djw 04.05.07 at 6:33 pm

I have all sorts of indirect reasons to believe The Wire is “true” in all sorts of ways, but I–like most readers here, I imagine–*know* that F&G rings true. I don’t think that makes it better than The Wire, but it does make it pretty great.

14

Phoenician in a time of Romans 04.05.07 at 6:37 pm

Also, Firefly sucked. Characters that all speak the same precious and twee nonsense aren’t rendered distinct by different costumes.

I am so terribly sorry that you had to endure a sf show which:

i, Portrayed the future as consistently culturally different from middle-class America AND

ii, Used characters instead of stereotypes labelled with neon signs.

Truly, accept my apologies. As I understand it, the Cartoon Network might have the sort of shows you’re looking for.

15

Aaron Swartz 04.05.07 at 6:50 pm

My So-Called Life is indeed even better than Freaks and Geeks, as hard as that may be to believe. (It was even on network television. And the network tried to keep from killing it! Man, those days were incredible.) I definitely recommend you find a copy, Harry. The episode with Roger Rees is perhaps the best thing ever shown on network television.

MSCL not only makes you recognize your experience it makes you relive it all the realism and emotion that entials. What an absolutely incredible show.

16

gzombie 04.05.07 at 6:53 pm

You’re all horribly mistaken. The best show of the last 20 years is obviously Cop Rock.

17

garymar 04.05.07 at 6:57 pm

Yes, I also don’t understand rasselas’ use of the word ‘twee’ regarding Firefly. I had to look it up to make sure I knew what it meant: yes, it means “overly precious” or “affectedly dainty or refined”. When the captain says “I aim to do some misbehavin’” it might be faux cowboy and affectedly rugged but no way is it twee!

The Gilmore Girls is twee.

18

maurinsky 04.05.07 at 7:15 pm

I didn’t like My So Called Life. I found it booooring. But I was probably too old to relate – I experienced high school in the years that F&G was depicting.

19

Chuchundra 04.05.07 at 7:26 pm

I heard that interview this morning and I’m now very hot to see the movie he’s currently working on. A send up of the musical genius biopic (e.g. Ray, Walk The Line) starring John C. Reilly? Sign me up!

As for Firefly, I must must temper my criticism, since the woman I love adores it so much. When we first started dating she made me watch the whole DVD collection with her. I will allow that if you have to watch cowboys in space, doing it with a beautiful woman certainly takes the edge off.

The main issue I had with Firefly was that it’s not nearly as clever or smart as it thinks it is, which can really be annoying at times. I did enjoy watching it, but I don’t see what makes people rave about it.

20

Tom Hilton 04.05.07 at 7:46 pm

My So-Called Life was excellent. I prefer Freaks & Geeks for its balance of drama and humor. The world is too funny to be taken entirely seriously.

21

Rasselas 04.05.07 at 8:05 pm

Phoenician, I might have suggested going with an imputation of racism or sexism as your primary attack, but the middle-class/middlebrow thing is effective, too, given the status anxiety rampant in the commenting class.

Your apologies are duly accepted, but they can never exceed my own shame at having expressed an opinion dissenting from right-thinking affection for the witty plotting and intricate repartee of that Whedon guy. Indeed, it is I who should apologize to you. The only thing I can do now is try to live with myself, taking it day by day.

22

radek 04.05.07 at 8:10 pm

I too instinctively screamed inside my head “The Wire!” when I read Freaks and Geeks was the best thing on American TV. I actually have moments of quiet despair during an average day when I think of the fact that the 5th season hasn’t started yet. Re watching past seasons of The Wire and old episodes of Homicide and The Corner has kept me going. Firefly was really good and entertaining but not in the same category.The Prisoner gets some kind of award for an old show but it had some unnecessary episodes (and not necessarily the ones Patrick McGoohan thought unnecessry) and in the end sort of ran out of things to say. Anyway, It was British. Also I watched an Iron Maiden documentary sometime ago (don’t laugh, we all got these skeletons in our closet) and the part where Bruce Dickinson talks about how they got permission to do the song about the Prisoner from McGoohan is really funny.

23

harry b 04.05.07 at 8:52 pm

radek
Iron Maiden is closer to us than you think.

24

Slayton I. Musgo 04.05.07 at 9:33 pm

Must note that Joel Robinson had a bit role (headshop owner?) in F&G – the only reason I watched an episode. (It was good, but not MST3K good.)

I understand TV’s Frank produced Sabrina, Teenaged Witch, but that wasn’t enough to get me to watch it.

25

radek 04.05.07 at 10:01 pm

In that case
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Tb8Jo11uGo

The Prisoner… I dunno, it was a really ambitious show that tried to create suspense through symbolism and mystery and never really letting you know what was going on but in the end it just didn’t know how to resolve itself. If it explained all the puzzles, riddles and symbols at the end it wouldn’t have been true to its nature and any such explanations would’ve surely been very stretched and farcical. On the other hand, leaving the viewers hanging would’ve been crappy too and sort of saying “ha ha none of this really meant anything”. So it went for extra weirdness and surrealism towards the end but to me at least that just felt way forced. Anyone who thinks that all the answers to the show’s puzzles are within the show is just goofy thinkin’. Paddy Fitz and other writers were just making stuff up as they went along. Half of it doesn’t mean anything.

“Lost” has sort of a similar problem now, except of course there’s the added incentive of drawing it out and milking it for all it’s worth, whereas I think those considerations didn’t play a role for McGoohan.

Man, I’m nerding out today.

26

nick s 04.05.07 at 10:22 pm

“Lost” has sort of a similar problem now

JJ Abrams did it with Alias, too. Which is why many fans of that show, especially its early episodes, deliberately chose not to get into Lost because they predicted he’d just twiddle with the mythos until cancellation time, then wrap it up unsatisfyingly.

27

Daniel Rosenblatt 04.05.07 at 11:03 pm

I find it really, really, REALLY hard to believe that I am apparently the fist person here whose response to the idea of F&G as best American TV show was not “What about Buffy?!?!”

28

Matt 04.06.07 at 12:06 am

I’ve not seen nearly every show mentioned here. But I did see more than a few episodes of My So Called Life when it was on and thought it was awful- over-acted, sterotypical, annoying characters, hysterical reactions to small problems, and so on. This is to say that it was, in fact, quite a bit like high-school since high-school also has all of those features. Why anyone would want more of that, though, is beyond me.

29

BillCinSD 04.06.07 at 12:18 am

The best TV show of the last 20 years was Remember WENN, but it’s not available on DVD and was only ever on American Movie Classics, so very few people saw it. And of course it’s about a radio station in the 1930s and early 1940s.

30

Bruce Arthurs 04.06.07 at 4:15 am

disclosure: I have not seen Freaks & Geeks, or My So-Called Life.

BUT… of all the shows based on high-schooler protagonists that I HAVE watched over all the years, the BEST, bar none, the one that most succinctly and accurately captured the high school zeitgeist, was…

DARIA

(Mike Judge’s spinoff from Beavis & Butthead, but with better animation & writing, that appeared on MTV for several years. Like Remember WENN mentioned above, the series isn’t available on DVD, damnit.)

31

christopher 04.06.07 at 6:56 am

Daria seems so distant in my memory that I don’t think I can objectively judge it. Is it out on DVD?

In any case, I was reminded more of college (or at least, college at a big state school) by Daria than high school — all the characters had discovered enough about themselves that their facades fit naturally. There wasn’t the sort of tension that F & G or Buffy were so good at exploiting.

I vote for Twin Peaks.

32

Matt McIrvin 04.06.07 at 1:39 pm

According to Wikipedia, there have been a couple of DVDs of Daria episodes, but they’ve got all the music removed except for the opening theme. There’s no official release of the whole series.

It sounds as if music rights are a major problem with any prospective DVD releases of Daria. I recently read this was the case with WKRP in Cincinnati and I know it was so with one of my favorite shows, SCTV (which used a huge amount of recorded music without permission in its original run). Both of them had to have a lot of music removed or substituted for syndication runs and on DVD, with occasional damage to the humor.

33

Tom Hilton 04.06.07 at 5:02 pm

I did see more than a few episodes of My So Called Life when it was on and thought it was awful- over-acted, sterotypical, annoying characters, hysterical reactions to small problems, and so on. This is to say that it was, in fact, quite a bit like high-school since high-school also has all of those features.

My reaction to MSCL was that the creators of Thirtysomething–oh, excuse me, I mean thirtysomething had found an age group in which the behavior of their characters was developmentally appropriate instead of merely insufferable.

34

theCoach 04.06.07 at 5:21 pm

Perhaps too high brow for this crowd, but Action Family really is the quintessential TV show.

35

das 04.06.07 at 7:24 pm

I like all these shows (i haven’t seen the wire yet). but has no-one seen Slings and Arrows? I suppose it may not qualify as a ‘tv show’ …more of an ongoing mini-series (though it does seem to have definitively ended after the third run). But if you were either freak or geek, and/or drama nerd, then you must MUST watch it. Which means you’ll have to order the dvd’s from canada…..

I suppose I just figured out why no-one has watched it.

36

Scott McLemee 04.06.07 at 10:14 pm

“Slings and Arrows” has been shown on cable in the US. It is very, very good would be worth the effort to track down on DVD.

We just finished watching the third season, which is definitely supposed to be the end. Too bad in some ways, but they kept it at such a high level throughout that it might be for the best this way.

37

peter ramus 04.06.07 at 11:53 pm

Slings and Arrows is next up on our Netflix queue, coincidentally.

These lengthy but closed-ended shows make motion pictures seem like short stories in comparision, with the way they can lavish time on developing character and place that even the longest films can’t touch.

38

novakant 04.06.07 at 11:57 pm

has nobody seen Carnivale? – even should you hate the story and the characters, which might be possible as it’s a love it or leave it thing, it’s visually the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV

39

Phoenician in a time of Romans 04.07.07 at 2:33 am

Phoenician, I might have suggested going with an imputation of racism or sexism as your primary attack, but the middle-class/middlebrow thing is effective, too, given the status anxiety rampant in the commenting class.

The problem with that approach is that it is too easy to get both race and gender wrong on the internet.

Your apologies are duly accepted, but they can never exceed my own shame at having expressed an opinion dissenting from right-thinking affection for the witty plotting and intricate repartee of that Whedon guy. Indeed, it is I who should apologize to you. The only thing I can do now is try to live with myself, taking it day by day.

If you find the shame too much, I have one piece of advice – up and down the wrist, not across. Much more reliable, and so much easier for the embalmers to deal with.

40

Kent 04.07.07 at 4:18 am

No need to oversell Freaks & Geeks. I don’t think it’s the best show ever, or even the best show I’ve ever seen (and I don’t have cable and have never watched an episode of The Wire or The Sopranos). Just say it’s an awfully good show that everybody will relate to on some level, and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing something pretty special.

“Lindsay, tell your brother he has a beautiful body.” (I still laugh/cry/cringe every time I think about that line.)

41

Kadin 04.07.07 at 4:20 am

As someone currently attending high school in New Zealand, I am baffled whenever I see people praising a show like F&G for it’s accurate depictions of high school life. Are American high schools really like that? At mine (a fairly large one, with close to 2000 students), sure there’s some cliquery, but the social networks are far more complicated than American TV would have you believe, and the majority of people, as far as I can tell, are genuinely happy.
NB: under this weird American labelling system I am a “nerd” or “geek”.

42

nick s 04.07.07 at 5:40 am

Yes, Slings and Arrows‘ third series is currently on Sundance, and the first two are on DVD. It’s fantastic. And I’m not just saying that as a fan of Paul Gross dating from Due South.

kadin: apparently, they are. At least, I had the ‘are American high schools really like that?’ conversation with my wife, and she sadly concurred.

43

mq 04.07.07 at 6:38 am

This thread demonstrates that internet posters absolutely cannot be trusted on the relative merits of sci-fi shows (or books…). The heavy geek overrepresentation skews everything. Battlestar Galactica is better than the original, is about all you can say. Next we’ll have people saying Dr. Who is better than the Sopranos.

Speaking of the Sopranos, is it getting hip to diss that great show? Granted, it’s fallen off lately, but the first 4-5 seasons deserve their rep as the best series ever. A couple of others compete (The Wire, yes), but nothing surpasses.

The Corner was a special case though…in one sense maybe the best show ever, but in another sense such a journey into misery and despair that it was almost unwatchable. The Wire was the next effort by the same crew…it basically adds enough unrealistic melodrama and unlikely super-human characters to make the world of inner-city Baltimore depicted in The Corner entertaining. Once you see The Corner, The Wire, great as it is, sort of looks like NYPD Blue by comparison.

44

Kadin 04.07.07 at 10:43 am

Ummm…my comment seems to have mysteriously disappeared. Either there’s something wrong with your website or it was deleted. If the latter: Why? I’m fairly sure it was on-topic — it talks about an aspect of the show discussed in the post (“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 attended, and am still attending, school in an English-speaking country after 1960 and I have never found an American depiction of high school to be believable.Is there a commenting policy here that I’m unaware of?
A comment that contained a reply to mine also seems to have disappeared.

45

Kadin 04.07.07 at 10:49 am

What the hell?! Both comments are back! Disregard everything I said in the previous comment. This is weird, man. I refreshed multiple times before submitting that.

46

peter ramus 04.07.07 at 1:11 pm

The Resurrection — it’s not just for Jesus anymore!

47

lindsey 04.07.07 at 3:29 pm

I agree with Bruce, Daria is a great depiction of high school, not necessarily because it’s more accurate, but because it’s more critical (and definitely funny). For those who care, you can sometimes catch it being played on noggin (at least you could last year). And to kadin, from someone recently out of an american hs, I hate to say that a lot of these depictions of the high school social system are quite accurate. The only time they miss the mark is when they show the kids at the not-cool end caring so much about the popular kids. In my experience, the lower down the ladder you were, the less you even thought about the cooler crowd. Only those who were sort of cool but not quite cool enough to be included cared about those above them (which I think Daria does a good job showing). So even though the cliques are tight, people didn’t really care as much as the shows make you think.

48

lindsey 04.07.07 at 3:52 pm

I take it back, Noggin stopped playing Daria, which is a shame.

49

luci 04.07.07 at 6:57 pm

I’ve never seen F&G, but a short answer to Kadin’s question is probably, “yes”.

My school experience was near Houston, TX, in the late 80′s/early 90′. Since then, when speaking to people from other countries, and more civilized portions of the US, all are amazed that the social distinctions and cliques are so rigidly defined, and absolute.

50

Basharov 04.08.07 at 4:59 am

Oh, c’mon. “Freaks and Geeks” was a great show, but “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Deadwood” all blew it away. You call yourselves TV fans and none of you has mentioned these three? For shame.

51

garymar 04.08.07 at 12:37 pm

Well, subjectivity is objectivity.

52

something polish 04.08.07 at 1:59 pm

“Baseball Tonight” is consistently good. Web gems, baby. Web gems.

53

something polish 04.08.07 at 2:03 pm

Also, where’s the love for “Veronica Mars”? Some fleshed out, 3D characters, tight writing, good themes, commentary, and so forth. Sure, it’s no “Working Stiffs,” but it’s pretty durn good. Shoosh, dude, there’s a string of like five eps with Big Lebowski references/jokes. What’s to not like about that?

54

Scott McLemee 04.08.07 at 3:12 pm

We’ve just started watching Twitch City on DVD. Not to get into superlative escalation, but it is definitely worth seeing. At very least, it is the best TV show ever made about watching TV.

55

Valuethinker 04.08.07 at 4:21 pm

Am I the only one who thought that Hill Street Blues, in its time, was the best show Hollywood had ever created to that point?

This is the show that ended the first episode by (apparently) killing off two main characters. I mean in 1980, TV didn’t *do* things like that. That had complex, multi-episode story lines that were difficult to follow. That had characters who never redeemed themselves.

That first 2 minutes, when the late Michael Conrad finishes the morning briefing and then says ‘Heh, let’s be careful out there’

and then the credits roll with the police despatcher voiceover:

‘Call dispatch. Armed robbery in progress, see surplus store corner People’s Drive and 124th Street.’

And like knights riding out of the castle, the boys in blue roll their cruisers out onto the streets.

And then one episode, Michael Conrad was dead, and Betty Thomas’s character is appointed duty sergeant, and as she finishes the first morning briefing

‘and heh, let’s be careful out there’.

For a moment, she’s not acting, the cast and the characters are one at the loss of their colleague.

I am sure Homicide, the Wire, the Corner have surpassed it. Let alone Buffy. For various reasons, I am in a TV near zero zone since the late 1980s (try it sometime– you will have a better, happier life).

(On the animated track, Daria was very, very clever. A bit too adult and knowing perhaps. But Samurai Jack beats them all– see the work Genady Tartovsky went on to do in ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars’ (the first series wasn’t great, but the second).)

And in the history of television, who could forget those first 120 seconds of Hill Street Blues?

56

Felix Sadeli 04.08.07 at 6:42 pm

Since I have yet to find within this discussion something remotely resembling an objective criterion to rate the qualities of a TV show, here is my unabashed two cents:

“My So-Called Life” was quite good and pretty original for an early/mid 1990s show.

“Firefly” was mildly entertaining but overall mediocre at best.

The new “Battlestar Gallactica” is indeed good and it is clearly more than just a scifi show.

But my best TV shows ever would have to be “Picket Fences” and “Farscape”; though they both are of very different genres, it’s hard for me to decide which is better.

Sorry, haven’t seen “Freaks and Geeks” but I will keep an eye open for it in the future.

57

mq 04.09.07 at 7:45 am

Hill Street Blues was groundbreaking all right. So was “St. The first TV shows that dared to be gritty.

I’ve actually met a number of cops who loved the old “Barney Miller” though…kind of a cross between a cop show, a sitcom, and Sartre’s “No Exit”.

58

mq 04.09.07 at 7:45 am

Whoops, I meant “St. Elsewhere”.

59

Valuethinker 04.09.07 at 3:57 pm

mq

Barney Miller was apparently dead on accurate. Remember when Harris (the black cop) couldn’t get an apartment because the landlord said New York cop was not a stable job?

If you remember the film K-Pax (Kevin Spacey as a maybe alien) then there was a Barney Miller episode which was even better: when the alien tells Harris about the future price of zinc, and Harris is running around ‘has anyone ever heard of a town called ‘Medicine Hat’?

Cops I knew said being a cop was 20% Adam 12 and 80% Barney Miller.

I got bored of the melodrama in St. Elsewhere (yes, I know, the same thing happened on Hill Street) and the more and more extreme plots. But the one where Dr. Sigmund Ausfaller refuses to allow the hospital to join in Reagan Administration planning for nuclear war, and quotes Robert Oppenheimer (quoting the Hindu Scripture) at the detonation of the first atomic bomb

‘for I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’

was completely classic.

And the scene where they show the head of the hospital’s autistic son being treated with electroshock, and at the end him reading his son a story.

For the same sort of thing, and killed off because of actor Ed Asner’s stance against the Reagan Administration, Lou Grant.

In particular, the episode where the US and USSR face off over ‘Kular’ (read: Iran) and the episode, having run all over the issues of nuclear war, ends with an ambush of American troops, and as the rest of the cast leave the newsroom, Lou Grant saying ‘no, I’m gonna sit here and watch TV, and see how it all comes out’.

60

Valuethinker 04.09.07 at 4:03 pm

On the Sci Fi shows, let me toss in two:

- Babylon 5

and

- Blake’s 7

The latter, a classic Terry Nation piece from the early 80s (see also his: The Survivors, Dr. Who and the Deadly Assassin), had most of the elements that we now treasure in B5, Battlestar Galactica, Andromeda had many straight ripoffs from it, ST: Deep Space 9, Firefly.

A ship full of characters on the run from the ‘Federation’. Conflict between the ship characters. An obsessive leader (who gets killed off) — Blake. An anti-hero (Avon). A villainess (Jacqueline Pierce as Servalan) who out-villains all space villains.

Main characters who get killed off. Episodes that end badly or inconclusively. Betrayal. Leaders who make fatal mistakes for their followers. Infighting amongst the ‘heroes’. Onboard supercomputers (Orac).

If you watch ‘Firefly’ or ‘B5′ or ‘Andromeda’ you will realise how much these shows owe to Blake’s 7.

http://www.hermit.org/Blakes7/

61

garymar 04.09.07 at 11:27 pm

Well, I saw the entire Beverly Hillbillies first season run in ’61 (or was it ’62?). One of the high points of western culture, with a cultural resonance close to Beethoven’s late quartets and the plays of Aeschylus. I pity the fools who weren’t there to witness it. Glorious it was in that dawn to be alive!

62

Katherine 04.10.07 at 1:51 pm

I’ll third (fourth? whatever) the general “are US High Schools really like that?” incredulity. The cliquery plus the apparently enormous sizes of schools makes the whole thing seem terrifying. You should all be done under the Convention Against Torture.

63

blah 04.10.07 at 5:39 pm

In my experience, American high schools do have quite extreme cliquery, though obviously more complicated and with much more fluidity than can be portrayed on TV. Also, for many Americans high school is perhaps the most miserable time of their lives. Large public high schools are cruel and inhuman.

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Wrongshore 04.10.07 at 6:24 pm

The best shows ever are Twin Peaks, Buffy, Freaks and Geeks, Six Feet Under, and the Wire. Twin Peaks gets the award for special accomplishment; it died so good television could be born. (I am even grateful that it followed James Dean’s live-die-leave dictum.) The Wire is Dickensian in ambition and scope. Buffy was verbal, ass-kicking, and plotted in ways that changed television. Freaks and Geeks had more empathy than anything else ever. Six Feet Under was the best-ever melodrama. I have not watched the Sopranos.

Firefly was terrific, but maybe not successful? I don’t think we’ll look back in five or ten years and say thank god for Firefly, it really led the way to this or that thing. I am glad it happened, and I saw the movie twice, running from the theater the first time to call a friend and say, “If I told you there was a movie where a teenage ninja girl kills an army of cannibal space zombies, you’d want to see it with me, right?”

Of course, this is to say nothing of half-hour comedies. Simpsons! Family Guy! News Radio! Arrested Development! And that’s just the present moment and recent past. And yes, I meant all four of those.

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harry b 04.10.07 at 7:04 pm

valuethinker — you know that you can now get The Survivors on DVD (UK region, but you can play it on a computer if you’re in the US)? I’m startled by how good it is (having seen it first in my teens, the first time round).

OK, anyone up for a post on school size?

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lindsey 04.11.07 at 1:16 am

While American high schools are bad, middle schools are worse. The stakes may be higher in HS, but the cliques are more vicious in MS. They need to bring back K-8, because something about isolating early teens full of angst all together just makes for a horrible experience for everyone (popular or not). Of course shows about middle school, the few that there are, don’t come close to doing this justice.

And yes for a post on school size.

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C.L. Ball 04.11.07 at 3:37 am

It’s amazing that no one has mentioned the aborted “Wonderland” or the long-running “Homicide” in the drama category. I liked “Firefly” on DVD — where the 2-hour intro is shown first, not Fox’s ‘let’s start with the 2nd episode (3rd hour) first’ — but it was no BtVS.

There is a good epsiode of “Dinner for Five” with Judd Apatow, who was F&G’s executive producer commiserating with Peter Berg, who a “Wonderland” ex. pro., over how their shows were cancelled.

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