“How do you wanna do this?” asks Linda Cardellini to James Franco in Episode 5 of Judd Apatow’s pitch-perfect representation of high-school life – Freaks and Geeks. “I don’t know… I’ve never done this before” is the reply from Franco’s character, Daniel Desario. Despite what you might be thinking, they are talking about maths revision, but that is where the genius of Freaks and Geeks lies – in its identification with the teenage awkwardness of being uncomfortable in your own skin and wishing to be different.
Daniel yearns to do well in math for fear of being held back and labelled stupid just as Lindsay agrees to help him through her desire to abandon her good-girl persona and become part of the more hedonistic “freaks” clique after a secular epiphany she experiences at the deathbed of her grandmother. She has also been harbouring a crush on Daniel which brings me to the second conflict of the episode, that being her brother Sam’s lack of sexual knowledge, which becomes embarrassingly public in one of his sex-ed classes, monotonously delivered from a textbook by the school P.E. teacher Coach Fredericks.
The mortified Sam, or “Dr. Love” as he is sarcastically named by Fredericks, desperately begins researching the topic in anatomy books before helpfully being handed a small film reel by Daniel which turns out to be a porno. The ensuing screening of the porno is something that will take anyone back to their first porn viewing with reactions varying from shock and disgust to wonder and awe with the diminutive Neal Schweiber exclaiming “Wow, that guy’s got the best job in the world” before adding with textbook insecurity “Do you think there are any short porn stars?”.
The episode ends in two climaxes, one of which is Sam’s disturbing comments in the sex-ed questions box leading to Coach Fredericks giving him a more down-to-earth explanation of sexuality in a beautiful scene of banterous bonding between the two before they quickly resume their roles of differing authority. The other is the famous scene of Lindsay’s maniacal laughing fit, tired of Daniel’s bullshit, with real saliva and everything.
This is an episode which perfectly encapsulates the confusion, terror and anxiety of adolescence in which everyone can identify with the hellish naivety and wonderful discovery of teenage years.