Set in early 80's Michigan, Freaks & Geeks follows a group of outsiders through a year of high school. Former mathlete Lindsay attempts to up the cool stakes and graduate to hanging around with the pot-smoking Freaks, while younger brother Sam and his geek friends explore the expanding possibilities of life in high school.
Whether they're receiving surprisingly compassionate sex-ed from Coach Fredricks (Biff Tannen to you and me) or just getting a plain-old beat down from some seniors, the story lines here have universal appeal that no 80's kid could forget. In fact, I doubt a kid from any era would have trouble relating to the episodes covered - which is surprising given the relative commercial failure of the show, which was cancelled after one season despite critical praise.
While it cannot be overlooked that the show owes a massive debt to 70's slacker classic Dazed and Confused, it addresses many of that movie's shortcomings and handles a lot of the topics in a more plausible manner, providing depth to the lives of the good and bad kids and even the parents. Due to its length (18 episodes), it also allows the characters and storylines to fill out much more completely, never feeling forced when it drops in era references to the likes of Led Zeppelin or Foghat, like Richard Linklater's film so often did. Unforgettable moments include an episode where the young geeks befriend a new hottie, scored entirely by Billy Joel tracks - or a true Rocky moment when the tables are turned and the geeks get to pick the teams for school baseball - and literally catch out the jocks.
While it doesn't quite have the writing confidence that Aptow found with his small-talking pop-culture dialogue in Knocked Up, it's all pretty convincing and the acting is uniformly good. Linda Cardellini's Lindsay walks the line between wanting to get good grades vs wanted to be cool very convincingly, while the younger geeks are played with a subtlety well beyond their acting experience - John Francis Daley (as Sam) and Martin Starr (as Bill, later to play 'Cocaine Era Scorsese' in Knocked Up) in particular. James Franco also justifies his more recent A/B-List status as the occasionally troubled, always charming head Freak - Daniel Desario.
Things tail off slightly in the last couple of episodes, where you can't help feeling that the seemingly cancelled run tried to shoehorn too much in - but all in all this is expertly crafted, unmissable television.