Excerpted from Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks, out June 24 from Penguin Books.
The bible for Freaks and Geeks was for the executives, of course, but I mostly wrote it for me. When you’re thinking of something for so long and you have a million thoughts in your head and you keep taking notes—and especially when a show is based on truth, something you actually went through—a series bible is almost this stream of consciousness way to dump all that stuff out and then organize it. —Paul Feig, 2014
General Notes About the Series
This show must be real. The teens in this series will talk like real teens. They will never be too clever or grown-up sounding. We don’t want a bunch of teenage Neil Simons spouting off wittily. These kids generally engage in teenage put-downs, they overextend their language (“Oh, yeah? Well, you’re a ... uh ... big idiot, that’s what you are”) and never talk in that writers’ “Now that I’m in my 30s, I know what I’d say in that high school situation, so I’ll give this kid a snappy comeback” style of writing. These kids have to deal with each other with whatever is in the lexicon of a teenager and nothing more (and despite the fact that most of us think “if I knew then what I know now, I’d really be cool and in control,” the sad truth is that if we knew what we know now when we were in high school, we’d probably get beaten up on a regular basis because teenage bullies don’t respond well to clever put-downs at their expense).
What They Listen To
Here are some of the bands that the freaks and geeks would be listening to in the Midwest in 1980 (the great thing is that, even though the groups divide pretty cleanly on what they listen to, there’s lots of spillover in what they like, partly because of their siblings and parents and partly just because they’re kids who are easily persuaded):
Asia—geeks, some freaks
Blue Oyster Cult—freaks
Blood, Sweat & Tears—geeks
Eric Clapton—freaks, some geeks
Alice Cooper—freaks and geeks
Cheap Trick—freaks and geeks
Doobie Brothers—freaks and geeks
Eagles—geeks, some freaks
Fleetwood Mac—geeks, freak girls
Peter Frampton—freaks and geeks
Foreigner—freaks and geeks
Journey—freaks and geeks
John Lennon—freaks and geeks
Lynyrd Skynyrd—freaks and farmers
Marshall Tucker Band—freaks and farmers, some geeks
The Steve Miller Band—freaks and geeks
Tom Petty—geeks, some freaks
Rolling Stones—freaks for early stuff, geeks for Some Girls
Roxy Music—nobody who’d admit it
Santana—freaks and geeks
Simon & Garfunkel—teachers
Patti Smith—Creem-reading freaks
Bruce Springsteen—not very big in Midwest, some cooler geeks
The Police—freaks, a few geeks
Supertramp—geeks, some freaks
Jethro Tull—freaks and geeks
Queen—freaks and geeks
James Taylor—geeks, some freak girls
Jackson Brown—geeks, freaks who smoke lots of pot
Paul McCartney and Wings—geeks, some freaks
Yes—freaks, some geeks
ZZ Top—freaks, some geeks
Frank Zappa—only the coolest of freaks
Bob Seger—geeks, some freaks
J. Geils Band—freaks for early stuff, geeks for “Centerfold” era
April Wine—freaks, some geeks, lots of Canadians
Jeff Beck—cool freaks
Three Dog Night—geeks
Devo—very cool geeks
Elvis Costello—moody geeks, some freaks
Talking Heads—some geeks, some freaks, mostly no one
The Romantics—geeks, a few freaks
Sex Pistols—no one knows about them
The Ramones—them either
What They Wear
Overall note is that all the students will have about four or five outfits they will wear all the time. Pants can stay the same a lot of the time, shirts change daily (except for some poorer kids). Even cool kids and rich kids shouldn’t have a lot of different changes. Bottom line, all these kids are blue collar or lower-end white collar.
In general, the geeks try to dress well but just don’t quite pull it off. Maybe if they were better looking or cooler guys, their clothes would make them attractive. But on them, no matter what they wear, it somehow doesn’t work.
Overall look: Sam looks like a kid who cares about how he looks but only up to a point. He dresses more for comfort and his fashion sense is limited to knowing what other kids are wearing and then trying to approximate their look. He thinks he looks better than he does in his clothes. (Everything looks fine to him from head-on in the mirror, but he doesn’t see that what he can’t see doesn’t really hang well.) He’s not so much rumpled as the victim of poorly made clothes.
Shirts: Pullover velour V-neck shirts with collar (a little baggy and ill-fitting), short-sleeved knit pullover with zipper V-neck and collar (white stripe on edge of collar and sleeves), terrycloth pullover with two- or three-button V-neck and collar (shoulder pieces are darker color than rest of shirt, with a stripe on each upper arm), not usually tucked in.
Pants: Brown, green, burgundy jeans, never denim blue jeans (until second season), occasionally polyester slacks.
Shoes: Tan suede earth shoe hybrids with rimpled soles (remember those things? The soles were shaped like two W’s and the whole shoe looked kinda pumped up like a loaf of bread—see Paul Feig for details), dark suede tennis shoes (occasionally).
Coat: Parka, faux–Members Only jacket (maybe), windbreaker with stripe or father’s sporting goods store logo embossed on back (cheap, low-end looking).
Accessories: Always a belt, sometimes with a large copper novelty belt buckle (like a train or Model T car or a tennis racket).
Overall look: Bill’s pretty much a mess. But not a sloppy guy. His family isn’t very well off, but his mother tries to dress him nice. The result is a lot of clothes from the irregulars bin. He looks like a guy who leaves the house neat but immediately becomes unkempt. Bill is so unaware of his clothes that you get the feeling he doesn’t care what he wears.
Shirts: Plaid cowboy shirts, sweater vests (Bill tries to take his fashion cues off of Neal, but it’s always off a bit), brightly printed button-up shirts, pullover shirts that no one else would buy (different color swatches sewn together, weird patterns patchworked into solid colors, stuff from the irregular bin).
Pants: Off-brand jeans, rumpled khakis, occasionally vertically striped pants.
Shoes: Orthopedic black dress shoes (not jokey looking—just sensible-looking shoes), suede gym shoes (Tom Wolf brand—see Paul Feig for explanation).
Coat: A beat-up, hand-me-down football/baseball jacket with the name of the school on it.