The show itself is a very earnest look at high school life in the early 1980's, and while I didn't personally didn't get to high school until the late 90's, it seems to be a tale that can really hit home for outsiders, no matter what decade they were in high school.
The series revolves primarily around Lindsay (Linda Cardellini, E.R.) and her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley, Bones) Weir. Lindsay is the smartest student in school, but she seems to be shucking off the brainiac persona for a different one. After deciding not to join the Mathletes, Lindsay has started hanging around with the "Freaks" or burnouts. Theses are the kids that are into drugs and sex and, well, generally aren't doing all that well in school. Her new friends include Daniel (James Franco, 127 Hours), Ken (Seth Rogen, The Night Before), Nick (Jason Segel, I Love You, Man) and Kim (Busy Philipps, Cougar Town).
Sam, on the other hand, is a freshman and continues to hang out with his long-time friends, Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr, Knocked Up, Silicon Valley), and they are among the "Geeks." There are actually a couple of other members of this clique like Gordon (Jerry Messing) and sophomore Harris (Stephen Lea Sheppard), the older geek that is just a bit wiser in the ways of the world than our main geeks.
While this series is only 18 episodes long, all of the kids in the show do a lot of growing up before it's over. Lindsay has to deal with new moral dilemmas she really didn't have to face before. Some of the more major topics she finds herself confronting include both drugs and sex. Interestingly, while these are major themes of the show, the direct references to both are fairly played down in most cases. The few times when they are addressed almost feel like those "very special episodes," and while the show never feels preachy, there is very little moral ambiguity during these scenes. Lindsay's battles with peer pressures aren't the only struggles in the series. We learn of Nick's dream to become a rock drummer, and see him realize that it isn't a very likely career choice for him. We get a look into Kim's broken home and see the struggles she has to deal with on a daily basis, while Daniel has a different set of problems to take on, much to the detriment of his school work, and while the silent Ken doesn't have quite as much extra-curricular baggage, he does end up having to face an unusual situation and come to terms with it.
Meanwhile, Sam's growing crush on Cindy (Natasha Melnick), a freshman cheerleader, makes him more and more anxious as he constantly questions whether or not she likes him. This plus bullying are Sam's major problems for pretty much the entire series, though by the end of the season, he has experienced just enough to shed off a bit of his geekiness. Bill, the awkward tall kid, finds himself constantly being put down and is driven to find ways to be respected, while Neal's overactive self-confidence gets him into trouble more than once. He, too, grows up some when he learns of a family secret that he doesn't want to be true.
While the show's primary cast is filled with talent that has since gone on to do great things, there is also a solid supporting cast for these two groups of high schoolers. Lindsay and Sam's parents are played by Becky Ann Baker and Joe Flaherty, who both do a great job of playing parents trying to do their best as their kids go through their various problems. At school, the kids also have a guidance counselor named Jeff Rosso (Dave "Gruber" Allen), who seems to be trying hard to reach out to the school's students, but his somewhat hippy attitude is often a little off-putting. Also helping on the school front is Coach Fredricks (Tom Wilson, Back to the Future). At first, it looks like Fredricks is your stereotypical jock PE teacher, but it becomes quickly apparent that this isn't just Wilson playing a Biff clone.
Freaks and Geeks also featured a lot of amusing one-off roles by actors who are now much more well known. These include a very young Shia LaBeouf (Fury), an even younger Alexander Gould (Finding Nemo, Weeds), as well as names like Rashida Jones (Angie Tribeca, The Social Network, I Love You, Man), Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death), David Krumholtz (Serenity), Kevin Corrigan (The Departed), Samaire Armstrong (The O.C., Dirty Sexy Money), Matt Czuchry (The Good Wife) and Bianca Kajlich (Rules of Engagement).
I will say that when I saw that the Blu-ray version of this show was coming out, I was a bit surprised and confused as to why it would contain both the original 4x3 and a widescreen format of the series. The book that accompanies Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series - Blu-ray Collector’s Edition not only contains an episode guide, notes from the show's creators and information about all of the special features, but also an answer to this very question. While the Blu-ray Collector's Edition might seem like just a reprint of the previous DVD versions with upscaled video, Shout! Factory went the extra mile by digging up the original masters and getting them re-scanned in 4K and then painstakingly reproducing the original edits to make sure the series matched how it originally aired. Once that was done, show creator Paul Feig got a look at the widescreen scans and realized that the show also looked great in the format it was filmed in and not just the original 4x3 ratio that the rest of the world saw. The only episode that wasn't actually filmed in the 1.78:1 format was the Pilot, and as a result, that episode has been formatted to fit the widescreen ratio (kind of the opposite of what used to happen when widescreen movies were reformatted to fit the 4x3 ratios of TV). So while it might seem odd at first for both the original ratio and the widescreen format to be offered in the same package, it will help both those that want the exact, though HD, replica of the show's original format and those that want to see it in its full awkward glory.
As for the rest of the extras that comes packaged in this collection, each disc comes with commentaries and deleted scenes to accompany the episodes that are on those discs, but there is also a bonus disc that contains several hours of additional extras. While most of these have been previously released in either the Yearbook Edition or the original DVD release, there is a new round table discussion between Feig and the show's Executive Producer, Judd Apatow. This 40+ minute long discussion is moderated by Los Angeles Times Critic Robert Lloyd and the three have a fairly interesting talk about everything from the two men first meeting, to the show's creation and eventual cancellation, and then its fan base growing to give it a huge cult following.
The rest of the disc is filled with a ton of auditions that not only include most main cast members, but also a few of the secondary characters as well. There are even some readings where the actors were trying out some of the roles they didn't get. Also included are three full-episode table reads, and raw footage on everything from the Sober Students improv scene to some of the songs that were sung by the cast. There are also a few behind-the-scenes videos recorded by some of the show's stars, all of the promos from the show's original airing on NBC, a bloopers reel, and some rather odd one-off items like the seven minutes in heaven scene from "Smooching and Mooching" put to some music, as well as a lengthy shot where Ben Stiller goes on and on about the problems of being a Secret Service agent for the Vice President.
Most of these extras are short and aren't of great quality, so be prepared to adjust your volume often, but any fan of the series should enjoy diving into all of these little snippets of life on the set. Those one-off segments, coupled with the table reads, the new conversation between Feig and Apatow, and a lengthy Q&A Session at the Paley Festival in 2000 with the cast adds up to about 6 hours of extra content (and that doesn't include any of the commentaries from the other discs).
For those who want to own the series, but haven't picked it up in one of its other releases, Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series - Blu-ray Collector’s Edition is a great compilation of everything there is about this show. If you did get one of the other versions though, I wouldn't expect a lot of extra bang for your buck in the special features department. That being said, the upgrade to both Blu-ray and widescreen looks fantastic, so that might be what tips you over the fence into buying this version and replacing your DVD release.