Paul Faaaaag!

The creator of TV's Freaks can't stop talking about being a geek

"So many movies are just recycled movies of recycled movies of recycled movies of recycled movies," Feig says. "If you really stop and think, 'Would a character really do that, or am I just saying that's what they'd do because I've seen it in a movie,' it's amazing how many times you bust yourself: 'I've seen that before.' That's always how we did Freaks and Geeks: 'What would you really do? I know that's what a TV character would do, but what would you really do?' All of our funniest twists and turns on the show came from the fact you had to come up with that. It's actually coming from someone's psyche and not just from some memory of a TV show or a movie. It's important to keep that honesty."

Feig often heard from even the most faithful fan that, on occasion, the show was just too hard to watch. Maybe it was the episode where stoner Nick, the would-be drummer, goes to audition with his favorite band and can barely keep up, much less keep time. Maybe it was the Halloween episode, where gawky Bill goes out dressed as a woman, echoing Feig's own distant disgrace. Maybe it was the episode where Lindsay, forever caught between the freaks and the geeks, ditches them all to explore the open road as a newly minted Deadhead. Or maybe it was the episode where Sam realizes his longtime crush isn't worth it since she doesn't love The Jerk.

At a time when everybody was falling in love with Raymond, who looked and sounded like every other sitcom pop since Rob Petrie, Freaks and Geeks proved you could fashion meaningful comedic television out of very real and very bad nightmares. You laughed till you hurt, you hurt till you laughed, sometimes you watched with one eye shut, and other times, it was too hard to take with both closed.

The geek, all growed up: Paul Feig is the voice of a generation -- a generation that got its ass kicked in junior high all the time.
The geek, all growed up: Paul Feig is the voice of a generation -- a generation that got its ass kicked in junior high all the time.

"And that makes me really proud--I've done my job," Feig says. "But at the same time, you go, 'That's probably not a good thing for the show if people can't watch the show and have to walk out of the room.' This is why [former president of NBC Entertainment] Garth Ancier just hated the show, why we were doomed from the beginning on NBC. Most of television operates under the theory of fantasy fulfillment, especially kids' shows and shows for teen-agers. They don't wanna watch themselves as they are; they wanna watch how they could be or these idealized versions of themselves. I always fight against that, because I don't like that. When I was a kid, I used to hate watching kids on TV who were smart or snappy. I liked watching adults being stupid. That's why I liked Monty Python, because these were adults acting insane, whereas when a kid came on, hey, he knew everything, and I was like, 'I don't wanna see that, because I don't know everything, and I don't wanna see a kid who's more together than me.' But, apparently, I am in the minority, according to television. So my inspiration for doing a show like this, at the end of the day, might have been the downfall of the show."

When Freaks and Geeks was canceled by NBC after 18 episodes, the timing was lousy. The show's hectic schedule had exhausted him, and his mother had just died. He was left without his friends--these marvelous characters, more tangible than people we knew--and without the show, which was so much a part of him that having it axed was like having a limb severed. "I do love those characters," he says. "I do miss those characters, to be honest." Every now and then there was talk of a reunion movie on Fox Family Channel, which ran the series in reruns, or a big-screen version, but nothing came of it. There's still the hope it will appear on DVD, but the cost of licensing all that period music might be too prohibitive; Feig hopes for, if nothing else, a best-of collection, but that's off in the far future. How, then, to keep telling these stories without the blessings and budget of a network?

As it turned out, there were executives at Random House who were big fans of the series and wanted Feig to write a book--a "prequel," as This American Life's Ira Glass says on the book jacket. He had 100 pages and needed only to complete the story, which never really ended for Feig; he grew up, but certainly not out of those tales with so many unhappy endings. Fact is, he hopes to write a second book full of similar stories. His, as it turns out, is a bottomless pit of juvenile woe. Then again, whose isn't?

"It's just cool to remember all this stuff, because it gives you a much broader basis to make decisions from," Feig says, laughing. "It's also good to remind people so they can tell kids, 'This is how it was when I went through this,' because that stuff never changed. I am absolutely convinced of this. Five hundred years ago, kids were dealing with the same emotions. Settings and circumstances were different, but people are people, and the insecurities are all there. It's only the culture and situation around you that changes it a bit. And I just think it's fun. My wife said, 'You're really being honest, aren't you?' I said, 'I know.' I don't know why it gives me such a kick, but it does."

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