Confessions of a Spec Tater — Freaks, Geeks and Pricks

Forget leaves falling from trees or cornucopias spontaneously disappearing from kitchen table centerpieces, the real proofs that fall is being overtaken by winter is the disappearance of your favorite television shows from the airwaves for a few weeks (or in the case of Glee, a few months).

Sure, there are a few new mid-season replacement shows on the air but for the most part, these are hardly worth wasting your DVR’s memory for — let alone planning your schedule around to watch.

What are we couch potatoes to do?

Don’t fret — there’s no need to leave your favorite spot in front of the television set just yet. Here are a couple of recommendations to keep you entertained between new episodes of your favorite television show.

Action

Action — The Complete Series

Air dates: September 16, 1999 – December 2, 1999

Synopsis: Jay Mohr is Peter Dragon, a hotshot Hollywood producer facing imminent destruction. After his latest big-budget action movie flops harder than a fat kid jumping from the diving board, Dragon is left with two options — make the best movie of his career and earn back his reputation or quit the film industry forever.

During its 13-episode run, Action dealt with the production of Dragon’s last shot at glory: Beverly Hills Gun Club.

One of the filthiest shows ever to air on network television, Action was racist, homophobic, sexist and downright nasty. But, in the end, it remains one of the funniest shows ever made.

Cast: Mohr’s Dragon represents everything that is wrong with Hollywood. When he’s not bashing any number of minorities, Dragon is lying, cheating and stealing his way into undeserved success. Audiences will hate Mohr by the time the series is over, but boy will they admire his acidic wit.

Illena Douglas co-stars as a prostitute hired as vice-president of production by Dragon. This “hooker with a heart of gold” rises from the curbside and excels at a different form of prostitution: film producing. The saucer-eyed Douglas will win over audiences with her sincere smile and matter-of-fact attitude.

Buddy Hackett returns to television in one of the final roles of his career. As Uncle Lonnie, Hackett is both lovable and disgusting. His gruff, New York attitude is perfect for the role of Dragon’s bodyguard.

Jarrad Paul is a blast to watch as Adam Rafkin, Dragon’s scriptwriter and personal punching bag.

On top of that, Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Scott Wolf and more of Hollywood’s biggest names make hilarious celebrity cameos that put them in slightly degrading situations.

The real stars of Action, though, are the show’s writers. Every episode is jam-packed with so many inside jokes, audiences will have no doubt they are being given a behind-the-scenes peak into the real underbelly of Hollywood. Directors, actors and blue-collar workers alike find themselves the target of satiric observations and defamation.

Stand out Episode: In “Twelfth Step to Hell,” Dragon learns he may have cancer. In an attempt to make good before he dies, he seeks to become a better person — along the way demanding a bigger bribe before marketing cigarettes to preteens, taking a junkie actor out of rehab in order to cast his movie and insulting Judaism.

Every episode runs into the next, giving audience a complete story throughout the series’ run. Characters come and go as needed, each bringing with them new problems for Dragon. From turning to pimps and drug lords for production money to combating the rumor that he had a frog removed from his anus, Dragon’s life is always interesting and never polite.

You can watch “Twelfth Step to Hell” here.

Available: All 13 episodes were released from Sony Productions as a two-disc set with a surprisingly honest look at the show’s origin and cancellation. It’s refreshing to see a show creator blame the show’s failure on his own greed.

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Freaks and Geeks — The Complete Series

Air dates: September 25, 1999 – July 8, 2000

Synopsis: Focusing on two distinct groups of early 1980s high school students, Freaks and Geeks managed to squeeze a generation’s worth of pain, humiliation and, ultimately, hope into 18 hour-long episodes.

Originally aired on NBC, the show presented an honest portrayal of teenage life that managed to transcend its setting and time period to present a universal depiction of raw adolescent emotions.

The show centered on Sam and Lindsay Weir. Sam, a freshman, finds himself often overwhelmed by his teenage hormones and adolescent gawkiness. Desperately seeking a higher rung on the school social ladder but unwilling to let go of his “geeky” friends, Sam serves as the show’s moral compass.

Lindsay, a sophomore torn between her parents’ dream of her going to college and her own insecurities, drifts through the show unsure of her future but willing to make it up as she goes along. A network of friends, each with their own fully realized fears and anxieties, surround the siblings. From the unrequited love of a cheerleader, to the pressures of living up to society’s standards and the need to express oneself any way possible, the show covered a wide spectrum of high school mainstay dilemmas with a tender touch that never betrayed the audience’s intelligence.

Cast: While most network television high schools often appear to be populated with middle-aged adults, Freaks and Geeks excelled at casting young, talented actors in the main roles.

Linda Cardellini brings a wonderful innocence to the role of Lindsay Weir. Without a trace of the glamour she now exudes, Cardellini guided Lindsay through a series of discoveries — allowing audiences to see the character’s growth in her performance as the show progressed.

John Francis Daley’s portrayal of Sam Weir is a masterful display of tense twittering and stuttering. Daley delivers his lines with such awkward nervousness, audiences will have no problem believing in the realism of his performance.

Other standouts among the supporting cast include James Franco as high school burnout Daniel Desario, Seth Rogen as sarcastic slacker Ken Miller, Busy Philipps as the complex troubled kid Kim Kelly and Martin Starr’s brutally honest performance as uber-geek Bill Haverchuck.

Stand out Episode: In “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers,” Lindsay and Sam take a relative backseat as Bill Haverchuck and Lindsay’s childhood friend, Millie (Sarah Hagan) takes center stage in an exploration of childhood innocence. Starr’s performance as Bill is never as painful to watch as in this episode. An agonizing reminder of all the kids we either bullied or were bullied along with, Bill is a heap of skin, bones and allergies peering out behind a bad haircut and thick coke-bottle glasses.

Bill doesn’t mind the fact that he’s not the epitome of cool, though, because he’s content to live in his sheltered bubble. That bubble is shattered when his single mother begins dating his gym teacher.

Confronted by a home invasion courtesy of a man who has become a representative of every jock and bully that ever teased him, Bill acts out in bitter defiance — struggling to bring voice to his feelings of betrayal.

Straight-laced Millie, on the other hand, must deal with the death of her childhood dog. What she doesn’t know, though, is that Lindsay and Kim were behind the wheel of the car that ran over her dog. Faced with the thought of mortality, Millie begins to embrace the same burnout crowd Lindsay has now become a part of — experimenting with a disruption of her status quo.

Both stories are weaved together with the usage of music from The Who. Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers stands as a stark reminder of the futility one feels in high school, but, like all great stories, offers a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Available: Freaks and Geeks is available in a six-disc DVD series set and an eight-disc collector’s set in the shape of a high school yearbook.

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Fans of the show are also recommended to read Superstud or Kick Me, the highly entertaining and extremely revealing memoirs of series co-creator Paul Feig.

Robert Saucedo is also a stark reminder of the futility on feels in high school. And that’s the way it’s going to stay. Visit him on the web at www.robsaucedo.com.

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