Why everyone seeks ‘Freaks and Geeks’ during pandemic

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When it was broadcast in 1999-2000, the now widely beloved television show “Freaks and Geeks” did not have the high accolades and large audience it later accrued. Under the pressure of time slots and ratings, the story of the Weir family and the conflicts that Sam (John Francis Daley) and Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) face in two distinct high school outcast groups barely completed its first season before being canceled. Though the show is largely credited for the rise of stars such as Jason Segel, Seth Rogen and Linda Cardellini, its initial run only seemed to attract a select following in the early ‘00s — individuals that uniquely recognized the painful relatability of teenage life presented in the show.

When “Freaks and Geeks” resurfaced on Hulu in January 2021 with its full original soundtrack, swarms of viewers binge-watched the series, either reliving childhood attachments to the show, or, for many young viewers, meeting the show’s freaks and geeks for the very first time. Turning their attention to social media, many viewers were quick to note the lovable characters within “Freaks and Geeks,” inspiring fan edits, tweets and many TikToks. Whether recreating the iconic opening credits set to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” or discussing the context of its infamous cancellation, young viewers watching the show have largely revitalized its popularity.

Now, in March 2021, #freaksandgeeks has more than 27 million views on TikTok, a shocking statistic that can be attributed to the rise in consumption of nostalgic film and television that has occurred since the start of the pandemic.

The popularity of “Freaks and Geeks,” though well deserved, is not an anomaly. “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” both also gained immense popularity during the pandemic, as older generations relived the comforting art from their youth, and younger viewers, desperate for new content amid several delays and cancellations, engaged with older media they had previously overlooked. However, the long overdue “Freaks and Geeks” renaissance of 2021 has perhaps made the show even more relevant than it ever was, connecting disparate generations in ways that have helped to briefly distract from the pressure and distress of COVID-19.

On screen, the Weirs face their own respective pressures; Lindsay, a former mathlete attempts to discover herself among a new crowd of rebellious “freaks,” while her younger brother, Sam, similarly faces bullies, cheerleaders and the daunting fear of evolving relationships with his band of lovable “geeks.” As painfully relatable as the Weir teens are, the ensemble within “Freaks and Geeks” embody the essence of real childhood friends with their own intricate quirks and emotional depth. This compelling band of outcasts is the show’s greatest appeal; through this cast of characters, “Freaks and Geeks” perfectly explores the vitality of friendship amid

demanding situations.

During a time where isolation is the new norm, the comfort of quirky friendships on screen hold the utmost importance. The geeks of the show, Sam, Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr), particularly form a coherent bond; they each confide in one another with their deepest insecurities as they collectively navigate the social expectations of high school. With the awkwardness and turmoil that accompany teenage relationships, family drama and self-expression, the geeks represent a gradual journey to self-confidence, one that must be completed with a tight-knit group of friends.

Lindsay’s relationship with the freaks of McKinley High similarly ushers in a painful trek to self discovery — a path that many have experienced during the past year. Lindsay discovers the extent of her own freedom, though this journey often lands her in trouble with her newfound friends. Whether they are smashing pumpkins on Halloween, cheating on tests or accidentally crashing cars, the freaks experiment with the possibilities of adolescence in ways that drastically change Lindsay as she outgrows her timid mathlete persona in favor of one adept at embracing adventure — and the Grateful Dead.

Apart from the enjoyable ‘80s references interspersed within “Freaks and Geeks,” the show’s depiction of high school friendship and the bond between the Weir family is uplifting and relatable in ways that do not restrict the show’s content to any specific audience. At its heart, the nostalgia of “Freaks and Geeks” lies in its emphasis on friendship and the distinct pressures of coming-of-age. The antics that the Weirs engage in with their respective friend groups, while initially hilarious, convey an emotional importance that resonates with audiences from all generations.

In this way, the show has provided a sense of unity during the pandemic, bringing viewers together to engage in discourse surrounding the significance of friendship and the relevance of empathy, especially in times of crisis and insecurity. Lindsay and Sam continually find themselves in unforeseen situations throughout “Freaks and Geeks,” but as they adapt and discover themselves among their band of outcasts, they find that the calamities they experience may not last forever — a theme that will hopefully continue to provide comfort and hope for viewers during the pandemic.

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].