At Paley Festival panel Saturday, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and their gang of misfits gather to reflect on their cult-favorite series
For a pair of short-lived series that chronicled the lives of societal outcasts, "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" yielded a bumper crop of talents who went on to make a big impact on mainstream culture.
Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel, to name a few, moved on from the lamentably brief but fiercely cherished shows to widespread recognition.
With the exception of Franco — who appeared via pre-taped message — all of the above, and most of the series' casts, were on hand for the "Freaks and Geeks"/"Undeclared" reunion panel held at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Saturday, as part of PaleyFest 2011, presented by the Paley Center for Media.
The reunion delivered more than two hours of reminiscing and wise-cracking from Apatow and company. A prominent topic of the evening was the ill-fated nature of both series, with Apatow recalling how tensions with NBC brass set the tone early for "Freaks and Geeks."
"We thought, 'Oh, we're gonna get canceled really fast, it's not gonna last long, so let's use all the really good ideas that we had for six years and compress them into the one season," Apatow recalled. "And that, I think, is why the show worked so well — because we weren't saving anything."
That intuition, of course, proved accurate, with the series being yanked after a mere 12 episodes. The abruptness of the cancellation was punctuated by an anecdote Apatow shared about breaking the bad news to "Freaks" female lead Linda Cardellini.
"I had to call Linda and tell her they pulled the plug on the show, and she was in New York, about to walk on stage on 'Letterman' [to promote the show]," Apatow noted.
"I was," Cardellini concurred, "and I was like, 'Letterman's canceled?'"
"Undeclared," which fared slightly better than its predecessor with 17 episodes, was similarly jinxed, though largely due to reasons beyond the cast and crew's control.
As Apatow and crew recalled at the reunion, the series was held up for a year between shooting and airing, but it finally received its premiere — two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"It was a weird moment in America at the time for comedy," Apatow recalled. "It really threw us, because it was right at the moment when we had to kiss ass to the world to watch. But then you didn't want to act like it was important, because it wasn't at the time."
Added Rogen, "We felt embarrassed to even be making this stupid-ass show."
Apatow and "Freaks and Geeks" creator Paul Feig also reflected on their concerns about working with such a young cast ("Freaks" male lead John Francis Daley, for instance, was 13 when he was cast for the role of geeky Sam Weir). "I remember right before we started the show and saying to Judd, 'Are we going to ruin these kids' lives?'"
But, as Segel added, "Judd has taken incredible care of us, and I think it's because we were all kids."
Segel, who in addition to "Freaks" and "Undeclared," also appeared in the Apatow movie "Knocked Up," went on to crack, "A lot of us got no higher education because of you."
Not that it hasn't worked out for the best. Even Jarrett Grode, who played college student deejay Perry Madison on "Undeclared," noted that he's gone on to bigger and better things.
"I work in Seth Rogen's medical marijuana dispensary," Grode joked.
Added Rogen, "I see Jarrett more than anyone else on this panel."