Why the Freaks of Freaks and Geeks Are More Famous Than the Geeks

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 14 2012 1:49 PM

The Freaks Have Triumphed Over the Geeks

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The cast of 'Freaks And Geeks.' From left to right: James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogan, John Daley, Martin Starr, and Samm Levine.

Chris Haston NBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In real life, so the stereotype goes, the nerd in your high school class goes on to become a software tycoon, while the handsome rebel flames out, the cachet of his cool having expired with graduation.

Not so much in Hollywood, though. Freaks and Geeks, possibly the greatest single-season TV show ever (I realize it has some competition), brought together an incredible group of talent: Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, Mike White, and Jake Kasdan were among the show’s writers and directors; James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and other actors you know were in the cast. Even many of its bit parts were played by now-famous people: Rashida Jones, Lizzy Caplan, Jason Schwartzman, Ben Foster, Shia LeBeouf.

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But if you tried to predict in the fall of 2000, when the show ended, who in the cast would become the biggest stars, your best bet would have been to take the freaks over the geeks. Franco, Rogen, and Segel were all on the former side of that divide, as were Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips—who haven’t hit quite the same big-time as their Apatow-supported male counterparts, but who are both in the news this week for a critically acclaimed new movie (Cardellini’s Return) and TV show (Phillips on Cougar Town). Rashida Jones was in the freak camp, too, albeit briefly.

The geeks haven’t been sitting idly by, mind you: John Francis Daley, a regular on Bones, wrote the script for Horrible Bosses; Martin Starr, who seems to specialize in great TV shows that get canceled before their time, was on Party Down; Samm Levine was in Inglourious Basterds. But each of these guys was well cast: They all looked like genuine geeks, and roles for actors who look like they do are generally less forthcoming than those for someone who looks like, say, James Franco. Franco has done more than rely on his looks, of course—and Rogen and Segel have largely made their own luck, writing the scripts for some of their biggest movies. But it helps that Hollywood is willing to cast them as romantic leads.

While geek culture may have triumphed more generally, nerds haven’t quite conquered Hollywood just yet.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog. Follow him on Twitter.