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School Days and Parisian Nightsuits: ‘Freaks and Geeks’ Episodes Ranked

In honor of the gone-too-soon show, we rank every episode of this cult TV classic, from good to great

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Whether the good people of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania know it or not, the world has them to thank for Freaks and Geeks as we know it. For it’s there, in Dub City, that series creator Paul Feig turned a narrative corner on his long-simmering desire to write a show about high school, in all its beautiful brutality. “I was out on the road on a traveling film festival that started in Wilkes-Barre, and that’s where I wrote the first few scenes and where I actually saw, on the street, the prototype for what would eventually become [the character of] Lindsay,” Feig says. “I was walking around trying to get some ideas for the show and I saw this group of tough girls, walking on the other side of the street, smoking. There was one girl who was trying to look tough, but that’s not who she was. I liked the idea of that: The smart girl who’s trying to change her life and trying to fit in with the cool kids.”

Within two weeks, Feig had fleshed out the concept enough to have a finished pilot; his wife encouraged him to send it to Judd Apatow. “Judd had just, a year before, signed this deal with DreamWorks to develop TV shows with them,” he says. “After seeing Life Sold Separately, the movie that I was out on the road with, he told me, ‘Hey, if you ever have any ideas for a TV series, let me know. Because I’ve got to come up with a bunch.’” Within a day of sending Apatow the script, the future comedy magnate wanted in as executive producer. “It was just that moment where you go, ‘Wow, my whole life just changed right now,’” Feig admits. “Since I had been written out of Sabrina the Teenage Witch [he played Mr. Eugene Pool on the series], I suddenly had no money because I spent it all on that stupid movie that I made. It was like getting a second lease on life. Then we just kind of really soared through it.”

By now, the story of Freaks and Geeks‘ rise and fall — or rather, fall and rise — is legendary. Though today you’ll find it at the top of just about every “best of” television list, it’s also a prime example of the many brilliant-but-canceled television series that have come and gone too soon. “We were always in danger of getting canceled,” Feig says, “and then we’d get one more script order. Then we’d get two more script orders. So you wouldn’t even get a back nine, which you normally get to fill out your 22 episodes.” Ultimately the final tally for the 1980s-set high school dramedy that demystified the worlds of the titular teen stereotypes came in at 18 episodes, 12 of which aired during its slated NBC time slot (the show premiered exactly 15 years ago, on September 25, 1999). Three more episodes were broadcast (thanks to fan demand) in the summer following the show’s cancellation, and the final three finally saw the light of day when the show went into syndication on Fox Family in the fall of 2000. While there’s no such thing as a “bad” episode, here are all 18 of them, ranked from good to great.

This list was originally published in September 2014.

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‘Tests and Breasts’

Air Date: November 6, 1999
Porn: It’s a rite of passage for every pubescent male and, as Sam discovers, it can also be a little repulsive. Clearly never having had “the talk” with his dad, Sam entrusts Daniel to teach him everything he always wanted to know about sex (but was afraid to ask). But as anyone who’s not Ron Jeremy knows, a XXX feature is not a substitute for sex ed. So it’s up to Coach Fredricks, in a rare non-machismo moment, to tell Sam the truth about how babies get made. Daniel is also at the center of yet another Weir Family controversy, when he and Lindsay are caught cheating on a math test. The accusation is spot-on, but Daniel is a master of getting out of trouble, and finally finds a subject about which he can teach Lindsay something.
Best Line: “Hey, you think there’s any short porn stars?”

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‘Looks and Books’

Air Date: February 7, 2000
Two words: Parisian nightsuit. Looking to up his style game, Sam takes his first mom-less shopping trip and ends up with what the sales clerk assures him is all the rage in Europe. It also happens to be the most embarrassing thing a high school freshman in Michigan could possibly wear. “The whole thing about dressing nice and the Parisian nightsuit…that really happened to me,” Feig says with a laugh. “That [outfit] was designed to the exact specifications. It was this soft denim with the giant collar and everything. It was that thing where you think you’re going to be so cool and the minute you broke through those doors, you were like, ‘Oh my god. I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.’”

Lindsay, too, is in the midst of an identity crisis. After getting into an accident with her mom’s stolen station wagon, she begins to question who her real friends are and returns to her former life as a homework-loving Mathlete. Which was yet another storyline — at least the first part — that was pulled from Feig’s own history. “I got into a car accident a week after I had my driver’s license,” he says. “I was in a car with a friend of mine and we were goofing around. He distracted me at one point and was like, ‘Turn here!’ I turned right into oncoming traffic and wiped out this car. So it was kind of fun to make somebody else go through that. It was like the greatest therapy ever.”

“Looks and Books” marked a key turning point in the narrative of the show. Up until this point (episode 11), Lindsay has remained a bit of an outsider who has always had a sense of not belonging. But when she finally finds the courage to put the rest of the Freaks in their place, they realize that the group is not the same without her. “I just think everything about that episode rings true to me,” says Feig. You’ll never listen to Joe Jackson the same way again.
Best Line: “It’s a jumpsuit. My grandpa in Fort Lauderdale wears them all the time because he’s too lazy to put on pants.”

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‘Discos and Dragons’

Air Date: July 8, 2000
Though we can all agree that a second (or a third, or a fourth) season of would have been wonderful and warranted, to think that “Discos and Dragons” wasn’t a proper series finale — and a great one at that — is totally incorrect. Feig knew well ahead of time that this would likely be the show’s final episode, and wrote it accordingly. “We actually shot that finale episode and then we shot four more episodes after it,” explains Feig, who opted for quiet closure instead of a slammed door. “My only goal was to have everybody in a different place at the end of the episode, because that was going to be the thing with the series if it continued on. I could never get over how one year you’re best friends with the nerdiest guy in school and then you go away for the summer and you come back and he’s a huge burnout. He won’t talk to you and he’s got long hair and it’s like, ‘What the fuck happened? Who is this person?’”

This explains explain the subtle shifts in each of the character’s behavior: Lindsay skips out on an academic summit to follow the Grateful Dead with Kim, while Daniel becomes a part of Sam, Bill, Neal, Gordon, and Harris’ regular Dungeons and Dragons crew. (This leads Bill to wonder aloud whether Daniel “wanting to play with us again mean that he’s turning into a geek, or we’re turning into cool guys?” To which Sam responds, “I don’t know. But I’m going to go for us being cool guys”). And while Ken maintains his position that disco sucks, the widest character arc comes courtesy of Nick — who, now drug-free, fancies himself a bit of a disco king, thanks to his budding romance with Sara.

It’s in the small moments, like Nick’s choreographed dance routine, that the show stays hilariously true to its mission to present high school in all its embarrassingly authentic glory, and to honor those years of transformation in a warm and refreshingly honest way. But about those dance moves? “Oh my god, Segel is such my hero,” says Feig of Nick’s moves. “We hired the guy who choreographed Saturday Night Fever to come in to teach Jason how to dance. I videotaped him rehearsing it — I’ve got to find those tapes — because I was directing it and trying to figure out what the dance was. He told me, ‘The only thing I ask is that you not show me any footage of me dancing until we’re done with the episode because I want to think that I’m great.’ He said that Nick would think that he’s great. I was like, ‘You’re on.’ So that’s what’s so funny: He so commits to it because he thinks he’s really good.”
Best Line: “Fine, I’ll be a dwarf. But my name is Carlos.”