TV: Freaks and Geeks

Humor is an odd thing.  It varies from culture to subculture and from person to peer.  And it comes in many, many flavors.  There are the broad strokes of slapstick and parody as well as the more delicate and intricate details of irony and satire.  Freaks and Geeks lies somewhere in between those broad and subtle strokes, firmly in the land of "so painful it's funny."

You know this territory; anybody who has ever been a high school student knows this territory.  It's what Chris Rock and Bill Hicks and George Carlin are famous for dealing, or having dealt with, in public and on tape.  Those situations that are excruciatingly painful, so humiliating, so debilitating, that the only way to remember them is with laughter, lest the tears send you running back to the therapist's couch.

I'm not sure how this show slipped by me.  It originally aired in 1999 and 2000 and would have been a little too much salt in wounds still to fresh to be truly funny to me.  Even now, a full 15 years after high school, there are times I find myself pausing the disc to just walk away and gain some perspective before I can finish the show.  It's that good.  From the musical selections to the acting to the directing, this is quality work.  Where it stands out, of course, is the writing.  The dialogue was left largely to the actors to improvise, leaving it feeling fresh and natural; nobody speaks too cleverly in this show.  There are no pithy one liners and no guaranteed happy endings written here.

But for all that pain, for all that embarrassment, it is a funny show.  The characters survive and learn and grow and that makes these stories funny, in that hard to define, "thank God it's not me…anymore" kind of way. 

So, if you find yourself in need of a good show this summer, check out the DVD set, just make sure you've put both the knives and the yearbooks away first.

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