The point of the Love Story series here is to examine your response to your favorite things. What in your life creates an atmosphere for you to fall in love with some movie or some television show?
I’ve know for some time that I wanted to write about my love for Freaks and Geeks, but I couldn’t find a unique angle. The show is a pretty ubiquitous favorite among people my age, even though during its actual run, few of us were actually watching it. As I pointed out in my story on Sons of Anarchy, sometimes a show can outlive its usefulness, so in retrospect, it’s actually nice that Freaks and Geeks ended when it did. It exists in a perfect shell. Some of the perceived perfection is colored by romanticism, but this show remains pretty timeless. It remains heartfelt. It remains true.
And this point has been made time and time again since it aired in 1999-2000. As its stars, writers, producers, and directors have moved on to become main fixtures in the entertainment world, the positive noise around the show has grown so loudly that I’m sure there are even valid arguments made about why it is overrated.
All of this is to say that I wanted to write about the show, but what is left to be said? My story about it isn’t unique. A lot of us related to Lindsay, the main protagonist, who was stuck in between worlds, having a typical teenage identity crisis. We too related to the geeks but also to the freaks. And it’s brilliantly written. It’s hilarious. It’s emotional. It strikes so many common chords for all of us.
But there’s one scene in the pilot, that for me, still holds a story worth telling. I love this scene because it is so realistic in its portrayal of loneliness.
In it, Lindsay explains explicitly why she’s in crisis to her brother, presumably the one person in the world that can empathize with her. This darkness that has driven her into existential peril comes spilling out of her, and she’s scared and confused. She’s crying out for help, or at the very least acknowledgment.
Her brother, Sam, barely even registers it. Not because he’s heartless, though he is a somewhat clueless teenage boy. He’s just wrapped up in his own crisis, an upcoming confrontation with a tormenting bully.
And this is a timeless life lesson that resonated with me upon first watch, and still simultaneously saddens and comforts me.
We live in a time where we announce our day to day life details on multiple platforms. We connect instantly to so many people, our news spreads within our online communities so swiftly that if you don’t check Facebook for a day, you may miss a hugely important announcement from a loved one. We’re told it is imperative to have an online presence while we also must walk the line between networking and attention whoring. We send our condolences electronically. We announce our joys with photoshoots. But even with all of that, and even when we are face to face, the other person hearing and seeing you, they can’t take any of your pain from you. They can’t match your joy.
Lindsay wants empathy here, and she gets it. We all want people to understand us, and they often do. What we fail to realize is that empathy, as it is even defined is simply recognition. Sam in this scene immediately moves on to his own problem which also requires his sister to recognize his concern; can you assure me that I can do this awful thing I have to do?
I can think of few other television scenes that have stuck with me so strongly. It’s the first scene I think of when I think of the show. I don’t think we ever outgrow feeling alienated from others. I don’t think we can outgrow the feeling that no one else is giving our trials the due attention we think they deserve. Simply put, we never outgrow loneliness. When I think of powerful movies that I love, or powerful books – few of them can eclipse this scene in emotional weight.
And so we move on from one another, as soon as we like a status or comment on a photo. We recognize each other. But we can rarely do much more than that. And while it is easy to write off the fluttering concerns as modern narcissism or a crumbling society or even human selfishness, maybe it’s just that we see you – but we also see our own bully waiting for us in the next scene.