Judd Apatow before his time

“Who wants to watch a handsome guy whose smart? There’s nothing funny in that”(1)
“That convinced the studios you could hire people who aren’t famous to star in mainstream comedies, which was always my intention.”(1)
– Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow known writer, producer, director, and comedian has gifted us with his new age humor. Apatow began his stand-up act when he attended the University of Southern California to study screenwriting. After abandoning his degree plan, he moved to Hollywood and became absorbed in its comedy scene. He opened for Jim Carey and soon began writing for him while living with Adam Sandler. He eventually started writing for bigger named comedians like Gary Shandling and Tom Arnold. He has currently worked on some of the most hilarious movies of this generation. He wrote and was an executive producer for the movie Heavy Weights (1995) starring Ben Stiller, and a producer for Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) starring and written by Will Farrell. He wrote, directed, and produced The 40 year virgin (2005), and produced Superbad (2007) and the recent release The Five-Year Engagement (2012). Apatow’s movies when first released were not taken lightly by older audiences. After an Interview with Tom Huddleston from TimeOut: film London, He was asked about the Katherine Higel’s (actress in Knocked up) statement about the sexism in the movie knocked up. He replied, “…It’s about a guy who doesn’t understand women. To me it couldn’t be more obvious. But I don’t think about it when I’m writing because I know where my heart is, I know what my intentions are, and if you do anything interesting at all there are people who will misinterpret it.” (1) Even though Apatow has had great success in movies, his television shows have been short lived. The now hit show Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) only lasted for 18 episodes on its network NBC.

Freaks and Geeks is a show about two different groups of friends in high school during the 1980’s. The “Freaks” was a group of outcasts who fit into the ‘punk rock’ stereotype and the “Geeks” were the nerds who played dungeons’ and dragons’ and fanaticizing about girls they would never get with. The show faces real scenario’s that hook you to know more about a character that you can relate to. Viewers have mixed feelings and some agree that the show related most to them during their high school years and others thought the characters were not interesting enough for television. On the website IMDB.com there are many reviews about Freaks and Geeks. A frequent reviewer on IMDB J.P writes,
“Freaks and Geeks” is about as good of a television show as tv can be. I’m only two years out of high school, and although the show is set in 1980, it effectively captures the life of high schoolers. Nowadays, with this huge surge in teen movies and television, I feel that young people are misrepresented by television shows like Dawson’s Creek and movies like “Varsity Blues.” Simply put, beautiful people were rare at my high school. Nobody I ever knew engaged in sexual relations with a teacher as a freshman, and I was never approached by women wearing only whipped cream (and I was a three-year varsity athlete). My high school life exactly resembles what the kids in “Freaks and Geeks” do: talk about sci-fi movies, get high, feel alienated by my parents, had confusing talks with guidance counselors, etc. And these kids look like teens, with big glasses, young faces, and zits. From watching “Dawson’s” or all the other teen movies out there (although some of those films are admitteldly entertaining I liked “She’s All That” and “10 Things I Hate About You) one would glean that all teenagers are young Adonises. “Freaks and Geeks” thankfully corrects that error. (2)
After fishing through a lot of praised comment I finally found an opposing reviewer by the pin name Mr. Rodent who felt otherwise by commenting,
I regret reading the reviews for F&Gs before watching the show for the first time because the euphoric reviews over-hyped this show for me. Yes, it’s a great show deserving more than one season. But I wouldn’t say it’s a classic .The series didn’t get interesting until the final few episodes when the show started to explore new tangents. Throughout most of the series, the storyline between Lindsey and Nick was boring, tedious and a tremendous drag on the flow of the show. It occupied valuable real estate that could have been devoted to something more interesting and humorous. By the way, even though Lindsey was the main focus of the series, she was actually the weakest character. I felt the writers were too hell-bent on converting her from being a goodie-goodie mathlete to the dark and wild side. The conversion was forced and contrived. OK, fine, people change in high school. I get the point. But the writers should have taken a course on how to be subtle. Oh, and the “freaks”? Why are they so good-looking? How many “freaks” in your high school look like James Franco and Jason Segel? Both look like they can model in fashion magazines. I wouldn’t say their portrayal was particularly “realistic”. And realism seem to be what many fans of the show hold up as a trophy. The show really shines with the several “geek” characters — not just the three main “geeks”, but also the overweight guy and the dungeon master. Their dialogue was often funny and endearing. Their portrayal of geeky teen angst was far superior and realistic to that of The Wonder Years. I would have preferred the show focus more on the geeks than on the soap opera of the freaks. (2)
In a short interview about the show with Inside TV (3) Judd Apatow talks about why the show failed.
Apatow says, “: I was talking to someone from NBC recently who was involved in its cancellation, and he said that they realized that we were never going to adjust the show to make it more about victories and easy problems easily solved…, they realized that they were not going to have any effect on us creatively, and so they decided to cancel us. It was scheduled very badly. We were on Saturday nights, when not a lot of kids are watching that type of show, and then when they moved us they moved us to a slot up against Who Wants to be a Millionaire at the height of the craze. So we never really got a shot to find our audience. Who knows if it ever would have.”
Even though it was only aired for one year, Apatow still has no regrets working on the show.
He says, “ I do think there will certainly never be a project that we’re more proud of than Freaks and Geeks. When Freaks and Geeks ended, in a lot of ways it freed me creatively because I thought, no matter what else happens, I was a part of Freaks and Geeks. And I always thought, I don’t think I’ll ever surpass this, my magical moment. Which I use as motivation to take a lot of risks in my career. And that hasn’t changed. As the years go by, I don’t even feel like I worked on the show. I feel like a separation from the show because I’m such a fan of it now. I can’t even believe I was there.”
The show to me was entertaining and enlightening. It is straddling the border of realistic and enthusiastic characters and scenarios’ which may cause confusion. As we parade through are everyday lives we fixate our attention to lives on television that we wish we had. Freaks and Geeks doesn’t have the same animosity as shows like Degrassi. The situations are more real and relatable and not all viewers want to relate to their fictional characters on television. Judd Apatow continued on with his idea on the Show Undeclared (2001) a year later.
Undeclared was a television show that was the supposed sequel to Freaks and Geeks. It is about a group of college students forced to be friends because they live in the same dorm. It touches on topics like having a boyfriend back home while you’re at college and the pros and cons of school and family life. This show has the same structure as Freaks and Geeks, but was run by FOX and also never given its chance to win over audiences. Like Freaks and Geeks it too has its varieties of reviews.
Clay- Pigeon writes,
“This is a rare television gem that relies on originality and cleverness to bring a diverse group of characters to life without using the usual sitcom gimmicks to drag it down. The series is fast-paced going quickly from one funny little scene to another all the while showing us the quirkiness of these University of North Eastern California students. One thing that makes this fun and smart show stand out even more is the fact that the show was cast first and then a pilot was written based on the personalities of the primary actors making their characters even more funny and human than any others on TV. Make time to see this wonderful show and I’m sure you won’t regret it. The writing is excellent and the cast truly shines in what I’m sure will be star-making performances. I only hope people will see this great show for what it is, appreciate it and not let it suffer the same fate of producer Judd Apatow’s previous effort the marvelous “Freaks and Geeks”.” (3)
Clay-Pigeon’s is contradicted by Cookmat who shares,
“I don’t know if this is because I watched it on netflix, and perhaps there are some alternative time lines or something (I didn’t notice any mention of that) but this show seemed to alter it’s time line at random. More than once the plot seemed to ignore events that had happened and revert to previous time lines. Steve and Lizzie’s relationship seemed to start and stop from episode to episode without any logical sequence of events. Similarly Lizzie and Jeff seemed to be boyfriend and girlfriend or broken up somewhat at random. This could all be due to me not really paying attention at times, but even if it’s quickly explained here and there, it still makes for an annoyingly repetitive sequence of events. So, although the characters are fairly interesting, and the humor overall isn’t terrible, the show goes nowhere and the characters seem to go through the same paces, while the story jumps around, and characters disappear and reappear at random. Due to this, the show kinda sucked.” (3)
Apatow became discouraged after the cancellation of this could-be hit television show. I also agree with Cookmat, that it was hard to follow at times, but I still enjoyed the witty humor that pushed my interest for the show. In its defense I think the networks can’t handle what they can’t control which is reality.
Apatow has recently started working on a new television drama that was released this year called Girls (2012) Another article in our blog Sticky Baltimore titled Girls and the City is a review on the show itself. It is about a group of girls living in New York City and getting into trouble and learning lessons. Apatow seems to not be able to stay away from teen lessons and mistakes. That may be because when young adolescents’ screw up it’s funny to watch or lets older audiences reminisce about their youthful days. In an interview for collider.com he speaks about the show with the creator Lena Dunham. When asked why he returned to television after his many failed attempts Apatow responds,
“Well, this is the first time I’ve done television since 2001 or 2002. I really wasn’t interested. I was hurt. I was wounded and sad, from my television experience. The only good television experience that I ever had was with HBO, working on and off throughout the run of The Larry Sander’s Show. So, I knew HBO was the best place to be, but I never had my own idea for a show… So, when I heard that Jenni Konner was working on this with Lena, and Jenni and I worked on Undeclared and other projects together,… I thought, “These are friendly people who will be nice to me and not hurt me,” which is the main thing I’m concerned about, generally… So, I thought this would be fun, and it’s been truly the best experience that I’ve had.” (4)
Apatow expands on his thoughts about the characters in Girls,
He is asked How he balanced the characters journey’s throughout the show and he answers,
“All along, we’ve thought that it’s important that you realize that it’s okay to be annoyed by these people, and that they’re making terrible mistakes. There’s a sense of self-entitlement. They’re immature. It is every disaster that happens before you figure out your life.” (4)

Apatow knows what he is doing and even if some audiences don’t. Those few who won’t wait for his ideas to develop that is their loss. He has started a new era of television and comedy. Degrassi as I mentioned earlier is a drama about the most ridiculous things that could happen to a group of teenagers. The show Skins that first aired in the United Kingdom and then a spin off in the United States is conceptualized on the idea of bad parenting. These shows hype up the things teens get into when really we were just trying things out little by little and if not that wasn’t everyone’s life. Maybe giving his movies and shows more thought and getting past the mask of its humor, you can find Apatow’s true meaning to his ideas. Or just for the simple fact enjoy television and if you don’t like it change the channel.

(1) Timeout: Film, London – http://www.timeout.com/film/features/show-feature/8472/
(2) IMDB.com – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0193676/reviews?start=0
(3) Inside TV – http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/09/28/freaks-and-geeks-judd-apatow-paul-feig/
(4) Collider- http://collider.com/lena-dunham-judd-apatow-girls-interview/138711/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s