Watching: “Freaks and Geeks” Is Streaming

A perfect one-season wonder.

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By Margaret Lyons

Television Critic

Dear Watchers,

According to Variety, a second “Game of Thrones” prequel, called “Tales of Dunk and Egg” (really), is in development at HBO. Believe it or not, it is legal to tell new stories.

Have a safe and lovely week.

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I want something brief and wonderful

From left, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine and Martin Starr, the central geeks of “Freaks and Geeks.”Byron Cohen/NBC

‘Freaks and Geeks’

When to watch: Now, on Hulu.

The gentle, perceptive one-season wonder “Freaks and Geeks” is streaming again, thank goodness, a dream show for anyone who ever yearned to be cool or understood, who could barely envision even the fantasy of being both. Make yourself a grilled cheese and prepare to race through all 18 episodes.

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“Freaks” is set in 1980 and follows Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini); her brother, Sam (John Francis Daley); and their respective friend circles: burnouts and nerds. Like all great teen characters, they’re going through changes. Lindsay is shedding her mathlete identity, and Sam is relieved to have recently cracked 100 pounds, and both are occasionally troubled by what they see as the hypocrisy of the adult world. They appreciate the stability of their family while also bristling against their square but loving parents. Individuation, a classic rock soundtrack and a real knack for tender details — this show does it all.

I always think of “Freaks” and “My So-Called Life” as secret companion series. They share an emotional intimacy, and while “My So-Called Life” is more strictly a drama and “Freaks and Geeks” has way more humor, they hit similar beats: What’s it like to have a “bad” friend? What’s it like to have an all-consuming crush and then realize that person is different from how you imagined? Did you know that parents sometimes make mistakes and have lives and thoughts of their own? How do you keep the good parts of who you are but still grow and grow up? Why does band practice always devolve into something else? How come cool people can be so uncool sometimes? Both shows are perfect little dollhouses of teendom.

The combo of nostalgia and humiliation that “Freaks” captures is one reason it remains so present in its fans’ minds. Another thing I love about the show is that everyone has a different favorite moment. Bill’s latchkey after-school meal is a highlight, but my personal fave is from the seventh episode, “Carded and Discarded.” The geeks and the new girl, Maureen, gather to launch rockets, and the scene is set to Billy Joel’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes.” It’s a sunny autumn day, and the characters spend the whole time grinning and frolicking, and as a viewer you know that while these characters will be young for a long time, this might be the last time that they’re children.

Because so much of the cast has remained famous since the show’s debut in 1999, “Freaks” is sort of a double time capsule; we genuinely have watched these actors grow up. At this point in pandemic isolation, wistfulness feels almost like a vice, but don’t let that keep you from such a rich series. It’s also very funny! If you are craving a show that actually likes its characters, watch or rewatch this.

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Also this week

A scene from “Octopus: Making Contact.” The octopus’s name is Heidi because she likes to hide.Passion Planet
  • “Frontline: Trump’s American Carnage” airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.)
  • PBS is rebroadcasting the terrific 2019 Nature doc “Octopus: Making Contact” on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (check local listings). If you loved “My Octopus Teacher,” this is for you.
  • The three-part documentary “QAnon: Shadows and Lies” airs on Vice at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The Israeli thriller “Possessions,” which kicks off at a wedding where the groom is murdered, comes to HBO Max Thursday.

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