My favorite comedies are the ones that mix in a healthy amount of pathos with their humor. It’s likely because I’m programmed to cry several times a week and watch 40 hours of television, and I’d rather multitask and get it done all at once. For a show with an 18-episode single season, Freaks and Geeks was overflowing with tender, moving moments. It’s certainly one of the most purely funny shows in history, but while I could never even begin to list the funniest moments in any single episode, I think those distinctly nuanced moments deserve some attention. My list of most touching moments after the jump.
6. Lindsay’s Grandma, Pilot
“‘No, there’s nothing’. She was a good person all of her life, and that’s what she got”
Lindsay is the most consistently grounded character in the show (including her parents) and compared against some of the other characters on this list it’s impossible to miss how privileged she truly is. She has a warm house with two supportive parents, does well in school, gets along easily with different crowds, and clearly has a bright future ahead of her. This speech, late in show’s first episode, is so moving because, and not in spite, of that privilege. Lindsay is exactly the type of person other characters in the show secretly wish they could be, and yet she carries around a very real pain following the death of her grandmother, who she watched die knowing nothing was on the other end. It’s an experience that serves as the catalyst of Lindsay’s experimentation with the Freaks – and therefore the catalyst to the entire plot of the show – but more importantly lays the groundwork for the show’s themes of exploration and disappointment. For all her safety and support, Lindsay still feels meaningless.
5. Kim and Millie Bond, Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers
“Oh my God, I’m so bad”
I had to fight with myself to not put two Kim Kelly moments on here, as her fight with Daniel at the end of Kim Kelley is My Friend is just as raw and emotional. But this storyline in the show’s 14th episode wins for bringing two extremely different, yet equally endearing characters together. Kim and Lindsay learn that they accidentally ran over Millie’s beloved dog Goliath, and Kim is immediately crushed by her actions and Millie’s subsequent pain. By this point in the show Kim had already been established as a character with more depth and sensitivity than she prefers to show, but here she goes out of her way to befriend Lindsay’s ex-BFF, out of empathy as much as guilt. The episode almost threatens to veer into a morality tale when Millie pulls a mini-Lindsay and falls under Kim’s bad influence, but gets elevated into something much more nuanced when it’s Kim, and not levelheaded Lindsay, who ultimately chooses to confess to Millie that Goliath died because of her. Millie and Kim are polar opposites, and they never interact again after this episode, but their bond over their pain and guilt is significant, as is their tendency to wallow in darkness during difficult moments.
Plus, I’m a dog lover. This was going to get to me no matter what.
4. Sam Finds Out about His Dad, The Garage Door
“If this was your dad, you wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get home”
When Sam sees Neal’s dad with another woman, he and Bill tell him the truth instantly, but Neal refuses to believe that his great, cool dad could do something so cruel. Even in this sympathetic episode Neal still gets painted as the most obnoxious of the three Geeks, to the point of lashing out at his friends (“Shut up Bill, you don’t even have a dad”. ) Here, though, his obnoxiousness is more understandable. For Neal especially, this is a crushing moment. From his sweater vests to his vaudevillian comedy, he tries desperately to seem much older than he is. Yet in this crucial moment he clings hard to his innocence, until the audience has to watch it get ripped away from him. A child realizing his father is a cheater would resonate on almost any show, for any character. But Freaks and Geeks doesn’t just rely on the inherent sadness of the situation to mine emotion. After a public tantrum in a later episode, Neal is brave enough to talk to the rest of his family about what he’s discovered, only to learn that both his brother and mother have known the truth for a while. Not only was Neal’s family broken long before he even realized it, he now has to come to grips with the knowledge that his mother has accepted a more melancholy life largely for his own benefit.
3. Nick’s Audition, I’m With the Band
“You could be getting paid to drum, like a real job.”
Dreams rarely come true. And they very rarely come true for middle-class people with little to no support system and little developed talent. Lindsay and Nick both come out of this episode learning that lesson, and it’s almost too painful to watch. As their awkward relationship was starting to develop, Lindsay tried to become Nick’s support system, when she sees that his mean father (also John Locke’s mean father) will enlist him in the army if he doesn’t get his grades up. First, she offers to tutor him, but Nick immediately rejects that idea as he’s already learned that school will never be where he feels successful. So the two turn to music: Nick is an obsessive drummer with a 29-piece kit. Lindsay encourages him to try out for a local band, believing that he will be successful because – why wouldn’t she? She’s pretty much always been successful. And of course, Nick fails hard. He doesn’t have the talent that Lindsay assumed he had, and more importantly he doesn’t have her nourishing family life and variety of future paths. He just has the promise of a bleak future, weed, and the distraction of his loyal, equally aimless friends. It’s quite possibly the bleakest and most universal message this show had to send in it’s 18 episode run. It is brutal.
2. Amy tells Ken about her Condition, The Little Things
NOTE TO BRENDAN: DON’T READ THIS UNTIL YOU’RE DONE WITH THE SHOW.
“She was packing both a gun and a holster”
Ken and Amy’s relationship is probably the show’s most distinctive plot line. It’s the first one I think of when I try to recommend the show to people, and I need to refrain from describing it in much detail because it’s an episode that needs to be experienced cold. By The Little Things (the show’s penultimate episode and the last one produced), Ken had fallen for sassy tuba girl Amy. With Ken awkwardly dancing around whether or not he even likes her, their relationship had been the most true-to-life in the show. This episode takes a far less common route. Amy confesses to Ken (really, read no further if you haven’t watched the whole series) that she was technically born with both female and male parts, though she is completely a woman now. It’s clearly a painful and personal thing for Amy to share, and it signals that she trusts Ken enough to know he won’t immediately reject her. Ken, for his part, obviously struggles to make sense of what this means for them (in his defense this is a somewhat abstract, complex problem to have), but he pretty much never wavers in his devotion to her, going as far as trying to experiment to see whether or not this means he’s gay. It’s a very tender move for the detached Ken, who’s confident that he loves Amy but is completely confused about what that love means in this context. The episode’s treatment of this development is masterful, building up to a romcom ending where Ken kisses Amy publicly right before a band performance, a clangy tuba getting in the way. It’s a sweet love story with an amazing, awkward depth that’s signature of Freaks and Geeks. This is by far the show’s finest moment, but I can’t completely say it’s my favorite…
1. Bill’s After School Routine, Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers
I’ve watched a lot of TV since I first marathoned Freaks and Geeks when I was 15, but this remains my favorite scene ever written. When I was in school, I used to have Easy Mac or taco flavored Hot Pockets when I settled in at home to watch TV alone after school. Bill goes with grilled cheese and an Entenmann’s brownie. I believe Judd Apatow wrote this scene himself, and the details of it – the Kraft singles, milk in a Star Wars cup, Garry Shandling on the TV- are almost Proustian in their level of specificity and recall. This is a completely silent scene, and I don’t want to ruin it by writing too much. Simply put, there’s something quiet and so recognizable about this scene that moves me to tears.