Freaks & Geeks: High School

I’ve been watching Judd Apatow’s series ‘Freaks & Geeks’ over the last two weeks. There aren’t that many episodes so I’m trying to savour it a little bit and not rush through the series as I usually do with delicious Television that is witty, true to itself and extremely entertaining.

The cast has some very familiar faces who were unknowns at the time. James Franco, Busy Phillips, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segal make up part of the main crew of “Freaks” we are interested in, and there have been some amazing Cameo appearances by the likes of Jason Schwartzman (who at quick glance doesn’t even seem to be credited on imdb.com) and David Koechner to name a couple.

The series is set in 1980, and the fashion, posters, and music are flawlessly selected. The acting is natural and the production values are great. All around, I love this show so far. But the High School experience these kids are suffering through is not the one I had to deal with.

I started High School in January 2001 – a full 20 years after Freaks and Geeks was set (We called it High School even though it was Year 7 and we started in January because I was living in Australia then.) I attended a private school in one of Sydney’s nice wealthy areas. My year group was probably 120 people, with 7 classes. We learned German, Latin, French and Japanese and at the end of that year had to choose three electives (one of which had to be a language.) It was a pretty nice school with teachers that cared deeply about us, and with more after school activities than you would ever need. If you loved something, you were nurtured in it, and you were encouraged constantly. I left Sydney at the end of year 8 and moved to Hong Kong where I attended an International School. When I graduated in 2006, I was part of a year group that number 40 students.

To say I always attended educational institutions that had involved teachers would be a HUGE understatement. It was hard to fall through the cracks basically.

And that’s not to say that there wasn’t bullying or that there were times when we struggled, of course there were. But the teacher to student ratio was always good. And although we thought our teachers were pretty uncool (except for the cool ones…obviously) we did respect them. We were taught to stand when our teachers entered the room. I wore a uniform every single day of my lower, middle and high school education, and I wore it with VERY strict rules attached to it. I always had a blazer, my top button always had to be done up, no rolled up sleeves, no piercings, hair at shoulder length or longer had to be tied back.

What a contrast to the world of Freaks and Geeks. And, as it turns out to my boyfriends experience.

As we watched some episodes together, the Canuck BF kept saying “it’s so real. It’s so true” as the bullying, the slamming into lockers, the awkwardness and the disparity between the Jocks/Cheerleaders and the Geeks and Nerds lengthened. No school I ever attended had cheerleaders, we had girls sports teams. And sure we had the “cool kids” but they weren’t all untouchable.

Is it a North American thing then?

I recently watched the re-make of 21 Jump Street with Channing Tatum (YUUUUM) and Jonah Hill (have half jewish-babies with meeee!) and one of my favourite lines from the movie came from an early scene where Tatum and Hill stroll through the car park on their first day of “school.” Tatum – built like a 1980’s Jock is pointing out the different groups he identifies, the Jocks, the Goths, the nerds and instructing Hill on how they will become cool. He points at a group of hipsters and metrosexuals and says “I don’t know what those are.”

I think High School has changed (obviously) since 1980, and the High School I left behind 6 years ago, and that the Boyf left behind a decade ago, is different to what it is today. I’m led to believe there are lots of choreographed musical numbers just like in High School Musical. Smartphones, millions of social networking sites, pretty much all learning material migrating online…High School is a different beast.

Being an Expat Brat was a unique experience in itself in High School. I never really smoked pot (why would I when I could go into a 711 and buy alcohol without getting ID’ed), I never wrecked my parents car or had them teach me to drive (in what? We lived on an island compound resort that didn’t have cars…only golf buggies), I had a fake ID at the age of 14 – and we did use it to go out, but the bouncers really didn’t care what the spoilt white kids did, and never looked too closely (my fake ID was a scanned copy of my passport which I had edited in Paint so…).

My tiny International School didn’t really have cliques. There was certainly a divide between the Expatriates and the Hong Kong Chinese kids who attended. I was a Drama Freak, a Girl-Jock, Head Girl of my school (in Year 11), a loser and a rebel (as rebellious as you can be when your parents trust you enough to let you have a boyfriend sleep over, and are too cool themselves that they are home drunk after you.)

I was always a big fish in a small pond, and while I suffered at the hands of bullies (inevitable when you move schools frequently and with teachers who can’t be everywhere at once) I was never pigeonholed by anyone for long.

It’s therefore with voyeuristic¬†fascination that I watch Apatow’s show. Is that what my life would have been like if I had gone to a public school in North America? Or Australia or England? The characters in the show seem to struggle with totally clueless parents and teachers. I definitely felt as though my parents “didn’t get me” but it grew for more of an angst ridden “waaaaaaaaah” feeling, than from actually thinking my parents and teachers were totally disconnected. I think the adults in my life were pretty with it considering they were a generation that didn’t have cell phones or internet growing up.

I wonder what High School will be like when my kids go through.

Plot twist – Oh but of course

In a surprising turn of events that isn’t really, in any way, a shock – because my life sometimes reads like a bad D grade Screenplay, it turns out there is a mistake on my Visa.

Is it really a big deal that the legal document that allows me to work and live in the great white north has a mistake on it, made by some moron at the Border over a year ago when I arrived? Yes. I’d say my answer to that would be yes.

It’s not really a long story, but I’ll speed it up for you anyways. As an Aussie in Canada under the age of 30, I am eligible for what is called a “Working Holiday Program Visa”, which allows (if I meet the criteria – which I do) for me to work for any company in any field in any part of Canada (pretty sweet I know…but now you know why almost the entire population of Whistler is from Down-Unda. Add to this amazing visa the fact that you can renew it again and again while you still meet the criteria…and…well… now we know why there is such a love affair between our two great nations.

Imagine my surprise then when yesterday afternoon working my retail job (which – let’s be honest, I hate) I was busily unpacking a box of HEINOUS new button up shirts and was told I would have to leave immediately.

My first reaction was confusion, the Manager that approached me was not being a bitch and told me that it wasn’t personal, but that head office had called after checking my visa and that I wasn’t eligible to work there anymore. My second reaction was fear, I instantly started sweating, HAD I somehow done something wrong when I entered the country? But i’d been working just fine for the same Summer Camp company with no drama’s. My third reaction was panic (naturally) I left work and sat for what felt like 3 hours on the train trying to get back to my apartment to check my documentation and work it all out.

I always thought I was quite good under pressure. Nope, turns out I am a hyperventilating, snivelling, cry baby. Thank god for level-headed friends like Kate who came over with her own Aussie Passport and her calm nature. We called all the right people and figured out that this is what happened:

The guy who entered all my information into my visa fucked up.

Where my visa should say “Employer: Open” this douche-bag (who I remember so clearly by the way – even though I had been awake for 36 hours and was all alone in a foreign country – I knew this guy seemed so disinterested and pissed off) typed the name of the company I was planning on working for the summer (AND he spelt it wrong. Ass-hat).

So the people in Ottawa have to fix it now. All the paper-work has been sent off, but of course I cannot work until the visa is fixed and back in my passport. I cried and cried to the call centre with the information, but the only help they could give me was a form and a suggestion to write URGENT on the front. Good stuff guys. Great work.

No one is able to write me a letter to say “Hey um…we messed up…lol…sorry, she can work” to show my employer, so I am effectively terminated from retail until further notice.

Hum.

The timing of this is immaculate. I may have to steal this episode from my own life and implant it into a screenplay somewhere. Girl: 23 turning 24 in one week, hates job, wants to change life, is giving a week-a month (yep that’s what the time period is here…AHHHH!) of time where she can’t work. Watch how she changes her life and realizes what she was looking for was in front of her the entire time!

It is genius. Thanks Universe, you deserve a medal.

So here is a list of things I could do in a week-a month where I am unable to fold clothes and put minimum wage in my bank account:

LIST OF THINGS TO DO WHILE YOU’RE WAITING AROUND FOR IDIOTS TO MOVE THEIR ASS:

  • Finish the Screenplay I started in a fever last month and which I haven’t started since
  • Get my Youtube channel up and running, I have an idea for a comedy thing, (not sure how it will be received as it just involves me ranting at the camera and maybe puking)
  • Study for and ACTUALLY BOOK to sit the written drivers test in this country. OH GOD I’m going to be another year older and still drivers license-less
  • Apply for more jobs I don’t hate
  • Do all the menial boring jobs around the house I’ve been putting off, like donate that huge bag of unwanted clothes in our living room
  • Do my tax return that was meant to be done in May
  • Maybe do my Australian Tax return just to let them know I don’t live there any more (due..?!?)
  • Do some exercise and stop eating Pringles for breakfast
  • Go to the cheap Rainbow Theatre’s cinemas and see all the movies that are out that I want to see
  • Watch the entire first season of Deadwood
  • Finally go to the doctor and get my hormone levels checked so we can figure out this neck beard thing
  • Visit some friends in another part of Canada (leaving the country is out at this stage unfortunately…)
  • Throw myself into my internship and get more experience
  • Start day drinking
  • Read all the books I took from a free book giveaway a year ago that just sit on my shelves
  • Wander around the city and take in more sites (possibly shoeless and smelly, just to get the true homeless person experience – because that’s what I feel like I am right now)
  • Cat sit my friends new kitten
  • Learn to cook something that doesn’t suck

WOW! Look at all the things I could do!

I can’t help thinking about that AWFUL book that I read 6 pages of and then potentially on purpose lost “The Secret” which told me that the Universe listens to the vibes you are putting out (so the people on the Titanic were…what?) and about how much I have been complaining about retail lately………….

Universe? Are you listening? I’d like a writing job on SNL if possible? And an apartment overlooking Central Park in NYC…and a chocolate fountain in my bedroom and Tina Fey for a best friend…are you getting that? Hope so!

 

Paris

Six Feet Under-standing

Today I finished watching the fifth season of a little HBO show they like to call ‘Six Feet Under’. I began watching Season One earlier this year with intelligent and sort of cineophile-ish Canuck boyfriend. When he began explaining the premise of the show (that it is about a family who own, operator and live at the premises of a funeral parlour) I was intrigued but hesitant (the fact that he has not once been wrong in suggesting a film to me is besides the point.)

What began in the early part of this year ended today, and to his credit, Canuck boyfriend watched the entire thing again from start to finish with me, without missing an episode. We would discuss at length this emotional, fantastic show about love and loss and everything in between.

I haven’t watched many shows from start to finish without missing an episode, and especially with the same person in the room for every viewing experience. I think the last time something like this happened I was in Hong Kong for Christmas, and my Mum and I downloaded the first and second season of ‘Archer’ a wickedly funny animated adult-ish show about a spy agency. I was supposed to be heading out later that evening, but Mum and I downloaded them all, started drinking Bailey’s in the afternoon and couldn’t stop. I have never laughed so hard, nor snorted Milk so far across a room before.

But watching ‘Six Feet’ was different. Not only are the characters so real that you miss them and hope for their safety and well-being, but the way the show progresses is in a linear narrative structure, so each episode reveals something new about the characters and deepens their journey. And while I’m sure that each episode has its stand-alone qualities (each episode begins with a death and follows a similar structure, jumping from story lines that ensnare the different characters) after watching 5 series of this show in order…I can’t imagine just flicking on the TV and catching a re-run, or skipping to episodes I think I might like better.

After five series you believe in the struggles of the Fishers (the main family) and their community, and you have also watched them grow and develop, make up and break up, so you feel like you know their past and where they might be headed.

The whole cast and crew of this show can not be commended highly enough. They take you on a roller coaster of emotion, and although I am extremely late to the party on this one (the fifth season ended in 2005) I feel that the messages and struggles within the show are relatable to each of us today.

Whether it is David’s struggle with accepting his sexuality and wanting a family, Nate’s fear of commitment and responsibility, Ruth’s fight for independence and self-image after years of playing the role of wife and Mother, or Claire’s desire to be heard, to not be forgotten about and to be loved, we have all been there, we have all felt at times like a David, a Nate, a Ruth or a Claire. This show reminds us that life is not always pretty. It’s intense and interesting, but it ain’t always sunshine and lollipops.

In a TV and film landscape where producers and film studios are still trying to feed us glittery images of a Utopia that doesn’t exist (well…maybe it does…on the backlots of LA studios) this show is refreshing a sad and unflinching when it comes to dealing with pain.

‘Six Feet Under’ says:

Hey you know what? Sometimes life sucks. But you’ll get over it.

Everyone always said to me that the last episode would stay with me. After the tumultuous five seasons, I couldn’t imagine where the writers could take us after all the hurt we as an audience had endured. But they really took it to the next level and everyone was right. The last episode was amazing.

I would recommend that people commit to the 70 or so hours of viewing, just for the last ten minutes of episode twelve, season five.

I wish sometimes that life was documented like a TV show (I’d definitely want mine to be HBO). Things happen to us in increments sometimes, just little tiny pieces of the days and nights and they add up to make big things, to change lives for the better or for the worse, but always clumping together to form hours and days and months and years. And it’s hard to see them in big picture form. Sure, you’ll remember the big ones, the day she said yes, the day you signed your name on the deeds of the new place, births, deaths, awkward school reunions…

But what about the moments of interaction with a family member – where you learned something unique about them just for a split second, where you saw them in a different light for just a moment? In TV land the character could narrow their eyes and the music could come up, but in real life those moments go undocumented. They just happen and without realizing them, or having the remote control to go back, freeze and re-watch, we are unable to perhaps identify significance – or appreciate that nuance to the extreme.

The underlying message that I took away from this incredible show is that life is short and hard sometimes, but beautiful.

I’ll try to keep that in my heart on the days I wonder what the fuck I’m doing with my life