Freaks and Geeks is a television show that had its life cut short. Maybe if the network that hosted the show, NBC, knew how its stars would make out in their Hollywood careers, they might not have canceled the show after one season. More than two decades after cancelation, this show has left behind an unmatched legacy.
The cast is epic; nearly everyone from both the primary cast and guest star list has gone on to have full, successful careers. Seriously, almost every part – roles both big and small – boasted an entertainer that went on to have a hugely successful career. This “dramedy,” or drama-comedy, highlighted societal issues that were way ahead of its time, making it an icon for years to come.
This iconic show takes place in a fictional suburb of Detroit, Michigan, called Chippewa. Though the town itself isn’t real, it is named after Chippewa Valley High School, which one of the show’s creators, Paul Feig, attended back in the day. It looks like just another suburban town, but there are subtle hints throughout the program.
You can see their Detroit style as exhibited through wintery colors, often overcast skies, sweater vests (and regular vests), and so much more. Some characters, primary and featured, describe their parents working for General Motors (or “GM”), which is headquartered in Detroit. There are little hints of Detroit culture throughout the show, but it’s certainly a detail that can be missed if you don’t pay close attention!
Whether their sense of humor is your style or not, you cannot deny that the main stars of the show became giants in Hollywood. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segal, Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps, Martin Starr… seriously, this iconic cast is filled with stars that would take over the comedy world.
You could even argue that the “least successful” of the initial cast, Joe Flaherty as Harold Weir and Becky Ann Baker as his wife Jean, still were pretty freaking successful. Baker was nominated for an Emmy for her role as Loreen Horvath in the HBO show Girls, and Flaherty had an essential role in the film Happy Gilmore.
The show is centered around Lindsay and Sam Weir, following each teenager with their group of friends. The show highlights the changes that each Weir kid goes through during their time in high school, not only in growing up but in dealing with the loss of their grandmother.
Both Weir kids deal with the loss very differently; Sam doesn’t want to be seen as a little kid anymore, which is self-explanatory. Lindsay quits the mathletes, doesn’t sign up for the academic decathlon, and starts hanging out with the “freaks,” and even starts cutting class. The Weir siblings spend their time very differently.
Show creators Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, two legends in their own right, wanted to highlight the experiences of real people. Most of the hijinks that happened on the show were based on real experiences that the writers experienced. Feig and Apatow wanted authenticity, and they took steps to make it happen.
Feig and Apatow had all their writers fill out highly detailed questionnaires about their “most private experience in high school” before they got into the nitty-gritty of writing the rest of the show. They compiled those experiences and put them into the script as best as they could. One particularly goofy scene stands out…
In the middle of the show, Sam Weir and his friends go shopping to find something that he thought would make him look cooler. Specifically, he wanted to impress Cindy Sanders, played by Natasha Melnick. Along with his sidekicks Neal and Bill, played by Samm Levine and Martin Starr, the group finds their way to a disco shop.
Sam is convinced to buy a denim jumpsuit that is bigger than he is, and he comes into school not realizing how silly he looked. This actually happened to Paul Feig, who stated in the oral history of the show that he knew it was a mistake the moment he walked out his front door. “It was fun, on the show, re-creating the most horrific moments of my past.”
Fortunately, Judd Apatow and Paul Feig have proven through their actions that they care about women and their wellbeing. Though the rest of the industry would have told the women in their cast to lose weight for their roles, Feig and Apatow made it clear that under no circumstances should their actresses be doing that.
Apatow went on to become a “girl dad,” having a full house of women in his personal life, so his call probably set the best example for his family in the future. Feig and Apatow told Linda Cardellini and Busy Philipps specifically not to lose weight for their roles. They wanted the girls to look like real high school students, and losing weight was not going to make them seem like believable kids.
The show was canceled quickly and happened to be the lowest-rated show on NBC for weeks when it was initially broadcast. Seriously. Somehow, even though it became iconic in the following years, this show scraped by and barely got television ratings that were vital at the time.
Their standard viewership was about seven million, which would be seen as a hit by today’s standards! It made a bit of a comeback while streaming on Netflix but was taken off the platform in 2018. Now, viewers can spend their days binge-watching the program on Hulu.
While filming the show, Seth Rogen and James Franco reportedly kept a strict vegan diet. Were Rogen and Franco taking a stance against animal cruelty, or were they just trying to be healthy? Rogen was trying to lose weight at the time of filming, and Franco just came along for the ride.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from his passion for hamburgers that he entirely cut out meat and animal products while filming. His character remained the same big-boned guy throughout the show, but it’s the effort that counts! Good for you for staying healthy, boys!
Seth Rogen dropped out of high school to complete his role. He was still a minor when they started filming; his parents had to be on set while he was shooting his scenes because of it. He was the youngest of the “freaks,” starring in the show at just 14 years old. He and his family relocated to Southern California for the role, leaving his school behind.
Rogen was discovered when Apatow and Feig took a casting trip to Vancouver. From a young age, Rogen was already writing and doing stand-up. He told everyone that he was doing “correspondence school from Canada,” but he wasn’t really. He spent his time off-screen collaborating on hopeful future projects with Jason Segal.
Seth Rogen is known for playing typically fun-loving characters. His character on Freaks and Geeks is the polar opposite of almost every other role that he played throughout his career. Typically, he plays an “energetic stoner” with a trademark goofy laugh, but his character was far from that on this show.
Rogen opened up about the anger he was harnessing at the time of filming. He reportedly had a “chip on his shoulder” for such an unexpected reason. He told Vanity Fair about the bitterness he had on the set of the show and blamed his virginity for causing him anguish. He was annoyed that no one had slept with him yet!
Toward the end of the series, Rogen’s character, Ken, starts dating a girl who reveals later that she was born with both female and male sex organs. They wanted to explore more controversial topics, and by the time the episode appeared in their lineup, they already knew the show was getting canceled. Why not test their limits in this case?
Though neither Apatow, Feig, or the writers had experienced something like that in real life (like the rest of the series), they were inspired to put the scene with Ken’s girlfriend opening up about her ambiguous genitalia after listening to Howard Stern. “In a way, it was a ‘F**** you’ to NBC, like ‘Now we’re going to get really ambitious and aggressive with storylines that you would never approve if the show had a chance of surviving,'” Apatow told Vanity Fair later.
Back in the days before on-demand and streaming services, a network time slot could make or break a show. Freaks and Geeks had a truly deadly timeslot – Saturday nights at eight p.m. The show premiered on September 25th, 1999, and much to their disappointment, the show was continually taken off air for other programs at that time.
The show was continually interrupted. It was taken off air during the World Series just weeks later, and it was later put in a different time slot. This new timeslot was not any better; it had Freaks and Geeks competing against Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The reviews were spectacular, but they couldn’t keep an audience.
TV shows can’t just use any song that they want to – producers typically have to pay a decent amount to get the proper licensing and rights to play it in their capacity. The show sampled a series of songs that required a ton of paperwork, and with that paperwork came fees that practically ate up the entire show budget.
The show’s 18 episodes sampled snippets from 120 songs, including Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” which is played through the opening credits. Bands like Van Halen, KISS, and The Who had rather difficult processes in allowing others to gain rights for song usage. Fox even removed most of the music when it picked up re-runs of the show, just to avoid paying extra fees!
Every other actor on the show was playing someone younger than they were in real life. Linda Cardellini was 24 years old while playing 16-year-old Lindsay. John Francis Daley, who played her younger brother, Sam, was 14 years old, the same age as his character. The rest of the cast was older but not too far off from him.
Samm Levine (Neal Schweiber), Martin Starr (Bill Haverchuck), and Seth Rogen (Ken Miller) were all 17 when they filmed this show. Jason Segel (Nick Andopolis) was 19, while Busy Phillips (Kim Kelly) and James Franco (Daniel Desario) were 20 and 21, respectively. They had all been around the block and had been high schoolers themselves at some point, so it should have been easy for them to pretend!
Because Freaks and Geeks was set in Michigan but filmed in Los Angeles, they had to make sure that everything was filmed in drab lighting. They wanted everything to look overcast. Feig and Apatow had a specific aesthetic they were looking for and gave their director of photography something very specific.
Director of Photography Russ Alsobrook elaborated on what they looked for. “No crazy, gratuitous camera moves. No elaborate, precious lighting. They said, ‘This is Michigan in the fall and winter—pretend it’s overcast all the time. Strip away all the turbocharged cinematography and get back to the basics of good storytelling.'”
Kim Kelly and Daniel Desario are the show’s token dramatic couple. They fight, break up, and make up again on just about every episode of the series. Their volatile relationship is often seen as co-dependent; however, having that kind of chemistry on screen might allude to a strong off-camera friendship. In that case, you’d be wrong!
Busy Philipps, who played Kim Kelly, and Daniel Desario, played by James Franco, did not get along in real life. Philipps once said Franco was the most difficult person she’d ever worked with (at least at that point in her career), also sharing that he’d once shoved her to the ground while improvising one day.
Though it isn’t part of the usual ceremony for acting awards, casting is a Creative Arts Emmy category. The show was not only nominated for an award, but it took an Emmy home! The show won the Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Comedy Series.
Not only did the show win this award, but Paul Feig was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, both in 2000 for the pilot of the series and in 2001 for his writing on the finale. Unfortunately, he didn’t win either one of those nominations.
After Freaks and Geeks came to an unfortunate early demise, the dynamic producing duo headed in their own direction, separately from each other. Apatow went right into directing Undeclared on Fox (which also ran for just one season) before blasting off into success with his comedic films like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Feig worked as an executive producer on others, too.
Feig worked as co-executive producer of The Office and Nurse Jackie, along with directing episodes of Arrested Development and Weeds. Later, the two would team up again for Bridesmaids, which became the highest-grossing R-rated female comedy ever. It was also Apatow’s highest-grossing film, despite having a number of other hits under his belt before!
If you’ve watched any of Judd Apatow’s films, you will see a continuation and use of the same actors you’ve seen in Freaks and Geeks. Apatow loved those he worked with and cast them in any role possible. Martin Starr, Jason Segal, and Seth Rogen are just a couple of examples. In Vanity Fair’s oral history of the show, Apatow opened up about employing the actors further.
“Whenever I see an opportunity to use any of the people from Freaks and Geeks, I do it. It’s a way of refusing to accept that the show was canceled. 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.”
Jason Segal played Nick Andopolis, who briefly dated Lindsay Weir, portrayed by Linda Cardellini. His character had a tendency of being a little more… obsessed with his girlfriends than they were with him. Nick and Lindsay didn’t last long as an on-screen couple, as Lindsay said he was a bit “intense.”
In real life, though, the two ended up dating for five years. They first met on set, and even though she was a few years older than him, they spent some intimate moments together. It’s rumored that Cardellini was the inspiration for Segal’s infamous nude breakup scene at the beginning of Forgetting Sarah Marshall!
The actress who played Lindsay Weir was in the early days of her career when she landed Freaks and Geeks. She was previously taking guest roles in shows like 3rd Rock from the Sun, Kenan & Kel, and Boy Meets World. Little did she know that her career would soon launch into hyper speed!
Just a year after Freaks and Geeks wrapped, this actress found herself in some important leading roles. She played Velma in Scooby-Doo and reprised the role later in a sequel. She played Chutney, the daughter who accidentally killed her father in Legally Blonde. She also played the wife of Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and currently stars in Netflix’s dramedy, Dead to Me.
He had a baby face then, and he still does today! Freaks and Geeks was his first-ever screen credit. His debut was at the young age of 14 years old, and he went on to do some pretty phenomenal things during his time in Hollywood. His teen years were filled with acting gigs, while his adult life has allowed for a career revitalization!
Daley spent the years following Freaks and Geeks, appearing on shows like Boston Public, The Geena Davis Show, Spin City, and Kitchen Confidential. He’s appeared in movies like View from the Top and Horrible Bosses. He’s written for projects like Horrible Bosses (and its sequel), Spider-Man: Homecoming, directing Game Night and Vacation, and producing Stuber!
Though he wasn’t unheard of, James Franco was in the earlier days of his career when he appeared as Daniel Desario. When he was cast in his role, he had recently appeared in Never Been Kissed. While the others might not have known what was to come for him, we have an inkling that Franco might have seen his success coming.
Franco and his younger brother, Dave, have both gone on to have lengthy careers. Franco is widely known for his goofy movies, like Pineapple Express, This Is the End and The Disaster Artist. He’s also written and appeared in other films, even earning an Oscar nomination for his role in 127 Hours, his first nomination!
Before landing this part, he only had one acting credit before. He was only 17 when he landed his role and had previously played Hector in an episode of One Life to Live back in 1997. He was set off into a successful career, gracing the silver screen. Levine has come a long way since playing geeky Neal Schweiber.
He spent the early 2000s appearing in episodes of Spin City, Yes, Dear, Just Shoot Me! The Steve Harvey Show, That ’70s Show, and Life as We Know It. He also picked up roles in Not Another Teen Movie, I Love You, Beth Cooper, and Inglourious Basterds. He also had a series of featured roles in reenactments on Comedy Central’s Drunk History.
Seth Rogen has proven his comedic genius for years and is arguably one of the best comedians of all time. His first on-screen role was as Ken Miller in this show, and he developed a strong relationship with executive producer Judd Apatow, which would help make both of their careers hugely successful.
It’s hard to decide where to begin with him! He went on to appear in a series of shows and films both produced by him and by his pal, Apatow. Some of these include Undeclared, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, and Funny People. We could keep going, but that would require another few pages!
Jason Segal appears to be the same good guy both on and off-screen. He joined the series after having already landed a few roles, including Can’t Hardly Wait, SLC Punk! and Dead Man on Campus. His career took off almost instantly, and he went on to become one of the most successful members of the cast.
Segal found success across several platforms. He wrote, he directed, he starred – what couldn’t he do? Naturally, he was cast in tons of other Apatow projects like Knocked Up, but he also had success outside of that. He spent nine years playing Marshall Eriksen on How I Met Your Mother and starred in and wrote a series of films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You, Man, and Sex Tape.
Who would have thought that the mega-nerd from Freaks and Geeks would go on to become an incredibly successful actor? He was just a rookie actor when they filmed this show, receiving his second on-screen credit with Freaks and Geeks. This show has pumped out icons like nobody’s business!
Let’s see – where to begin! Starr has had a full career in his short time on earth. Not long after Freaks and Geeks, Starr appeared in Party Down as Roman DeBeers. Starr also appeared in Knocked Up, The Incredible Hulk, Adventureland, Save the Date, The Lifeguard, 2014’s Veronica Mars movie, This Is the End, multiple Spider-Man films, Honey Boy, and TV shows like Burning Love, Hawaii Five-0, Life in Pieces, and Drunk History. He currently stars in Silicon Valley as Bertram Gilfoyle.
Becky Ann Baker, who plays the token mother of the series, Jean Weir, had a pretty successful career before her time on Freaks and Geeks began. She appeared in Blue Steel in 1989, Lorenzo’s Oil in 1992, Sabrina in 1995, and Men in Black in 1997. Her success certainly didn’t stop after Freaks and Geeks came to an end.
She had a series of other roles in Sex and the City, Life as We Know It, All My Children, and Kings. She appeared in a couple of other movies before playing the role of Loreen Horvath in HBO’s Girls. She played Alma Hoff in The Good Wife and its spinoff, The Good Fight. She also went on to appear in some other notable shows, like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Big Little Lies, and Younger.
Baker and Flaherty were like two peas in a pod during their time playing Jean and Harold Weir. Flaherty had a pretty lengthy career before Freaks and Geeks, with numerous credits to his name. SCTV, Going Berserk, Club Paradise, Innerspace, Back to the Future Part II, Maniac Mansion, Happy Gilmore, and Police Academy: The Series were all included.
Flaherty still had a flourishing career after the show was canceled. He had a series of 2000s appearances, including Even Stevens, That ’70s Show, The Legend of Tarzan, The King of Queens, and even Family Guy. He also appeared in the movies Slackers, National Security, Home on the Range, and Summerhood back in 2008.
She landed her first major role in Hollywood as Kim Kelly on this show. She played a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, known for being a bit of a wild child. She was known throughout the series for her on-again, off-again relationship with Daniel, played by James Franco – whom she couldn’t stand.
She’s had a lengthy and successful career up until now; she appeared in Home Room, White Chicks, Made of Honor, He’s Just Not That Into You, and I Feel Pretty. She’s appeared on several shows with roles on ER, Cougar Town in the 2010s, and some parts on HBO’s Vice Principals, Camping, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Lizzy Caplan started in a minor role in Freaks and Geeks, playing Sara, who appears here and there throughout the show. She really came to light when her character started dating Nick (Segal), and the two became disco partners. She’s appeared in a series of other great series and films since then.
Caplan has had a long career since then. Many young folks today remember her as Janis Ian, the rebel art student who takes Lindsay Lohan’s character under her wing. She had roles in Party Down and Hot Tub Time Machine, among others, but most people know her now for her role on Masters of Sex.
Where does one begin when diving into Rashida Jones’ career? Though her role in Freaks and Geeks was minor, things really took off for her after playing Karen Scarfolli in one episode. Her character is seen trying to get intimate with Kim Kelly’s boyfriend, and wow, did Kim hate what she saw!
She’s had no problem keeping busy since then. She has since appeared in numerous films, television shows, and shorts. Some of her best and most well-known work includes a series of episodes on Boston Public, The Office, and Parks and Recreation. She has produced a series of her own films, such as Celeste and Jesse Forever, and appeared in Black-ish, Mixed-ish, and #BlackAF.
He’s known for being the hippyish school principal throughout the show. He encourages Lindsay to stay on the straight and narrow path while still encouraging her to do what makes her happy. He catches the gang of freaks at a bar where he’s playing with his band and calls them out for attending underage.
He’s hilarious and plays a character that everyone loves, and this doesn’t stop with Freaks and Geeks. He’s lent himself out for roles in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Gilmore Girls, and Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. He’s appeared across the board in films like Ghostbusters and Sex Tape, and many others.
Shia LaBeouf appeared in Freaks and Geeks in a minor role, playing Herbert, the injured school mascot, who guides Sam Weir in his mascot journey at McKinley High. Little do most people know, but LaBeouf auditioned for the role of Neal Schweiber. Fortunately, Samm Levine was a great fit.
LaBeouf is yet another great example of someone whose career launched into hyper-speed after his time on this show, though he already had plenty of credits to his name prior. He’s starred in Even Stevens, Disturbia, the music video for Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” and recently, Honey Boy. He’s got a long career that we don’t have the time or space to elaborate on – but he’s certainly done well!
Leslie Mann had a brief role in Freaks and Geeks as Miss Foote, the teacher who helps Starr’s character after he has an allergic reaction to peanuts. She had already appeared in Last Man Standing, George of the Jungle, and Big Daddy before appearing in her husband Judd Apatow’s show.
Just a couple of years later, she appeared in a series of movies that you could find filed under “comedic gold.” Where does one begin in that case? She’s appeared in Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, and Drillbit Taylor, which barely scratches the surface. She’s also appeared in Modern Family, among other guest roles, and even had her own character on The Simpsons!
Steve Higgins had a brief role as the audio-visual club advisor for Sam, Neal, and Bill. He’s been performing in a comedy troupe with his brothers from a young age and eventually landed his big break on Comedy Central. That would make sense, especially for a comedian!
Now, Higgins is primarily known for his work on Saturday Night Live. He’s even won an Emmy from the show! He’s written at least 351 episodes of Saturday Night Live, which is an incredibly impressive feat for anyone. Now, he’s known for announcing and interacting with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Ben Stiller didn’t appear in Freaks and Geeks until the end, and he actually came onto the show in an effort to save the program. By the time he appeared as a secret service agent, the show was already canceled, and he had no problem making his character a little more dramatic than intended.
Again, where does one begin when highlighting the career of Ben Stiller? From The Ben Stiller Show, which aired prior to Freaks and Geeks, to Zoolander, this guy has truly established himself as the best of the best. He’s starred in Dodgeball, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Tropic Thunder, and of course, the Meet the Parents franchise with Robert DeNiro.
The Coppola family legacy has managed to carry on through actor Jason Schwartzman. He plays a minor role in Freaks and Geeks as a guy selling the group a bunch of fake IDs and showing up for some of their shenanigans here and there. His time on the show was brief, but he keeps climbing to the top!
His career after the show hasn’t been brief by any means. He got his film debut in Wes Anderson’s 1998 film, Rushmore, along with a series of other Anderson films. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Isle of Dogs, to name a few. He was also a member of the band Phantom Planet until 2003.
While fame and good fortune have followed many of the actors from the show, time hasn’t been too kind to actor Shaun Weiss. He appeared in a few episodes of the show, though he was never the main character. He starred in The Mighty Ducks, Heavyweights, Pumpkin, and Four Dogs, amongst others.
Weiss is not at the top of his game lately. This New Jersey native has served time in jail after being arrested multiple times for petty theft charges. Not long after his release, he was arrested for public intoxication in California. Fortunately, he seems like he’s on the come-up, having moved into a sober living facility in 2020.