Credit Where Credit’s Due

[Article by Jeremy Grayson]

[Introduction]

I love theme songs.

What better way to get excited over an episode of a great show than by starting it off with a catchy song? Especially when it’s interspersed with shots of all the characters we’re about to see? Theme songs are a fun way to get you in the mood of the show you’re about to watch.

They’re also a great constant. Shows may change their characters and settings as they move from season to season, but the opening music usually stays the same. I thrill to the electric guitar that opens each Buffy, the blasting trumpets that begin each West Wing, and the haunting keyboard that kicks off each X-Files.

Unfortunately, opening themes seem to be a dying breed. Too many shows nowadays dispense with intro music, instead choosing to flash a title card across the screen and display the actors’ names during the episodes themselves. This technique, we can assume, is done to squeeze more commercials into the hour-long timeslot. This practice has only grown more common with time. (The Simpsons is a notable casualty, its once-minute-and-a-half intro now chopped down to a mere 20 seconds.)

So I’m going to take the opportunity to champion theme songs – and one theme song in particular. Freaks and Geeks may not have the most stylish opening sequence of a TV show, but it’s a nice representation of what can be done with just 60 seconds and a Joan Jett single. Most shows would simply be content with showing various clips from the series as the actors’ names flash across the screen, but Freaks and Geeks decides to use the opportunity to tell us a little nugget of information about each character.

So please, join me as I have a little fun analyzing the theme song to Freaks and Geeks.


[The Music]

The music for the show’s opening theme is “Bad Reputation”, sung by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The song juggles heady themes of rebellion, feminism, and independence. Check out the lyrics and notice how they reflect the series at large:

I don’t give a damn about my reputation.

You’re living in the past; it’s a new generation.

A girl can do what she wants to do,

And that’s what I’m gonna do.

And I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation.

(No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Not me, me, me, me, me, me.

Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Not me, me, me, me, me, me.)

I don’t give a damn about my reputation.

I’ve never been afraid of any deviation.

And I don’t really care if you think I’m strange;

I ain’t gonna change.

And I’m never gonna care about my bad reputation…

NOT ME!

It’s a catchy theme, but more importantly, it’s a relevant theme. It clues you in on the type of girl Lindsay is trying (and often failing) to be. Lindsay isn’t especially headstrong or abrasive, but watching her develop throughout the series, I can’t help but get the feeling that she’s on the path to vocalizing these lyrics.

It’s also not sweet or treacly, forgoing visions of blissful fantasy for a gritty slice of real life – just like the show itself. While the song isn’t by nature one of my all-time favorites, I can’t help but be impressed by how well it fits in with the show. This is especially notable seeing how it was recorded twenty years before the show premiered.


[Picture Day]

School photos are rarely representative of the students they depict. Why? Because they’re always shows smiling. What their faces look like when the camera flashes is simply dictated to them by the photographer. More interesting, though, are the facial expressions they wear immediately before and after the picture is taken. And on Picture Day at McKinley High, some of these expressions – before, after, and even during – are quite interesting indeed. Let’s watch as they go by.

First in line is Lindsay Weir. She’s modestly dressed, but without her Army jacket. (Perhaps the school doesn’t allow coats to be worn during photos.) She seems a bit reluctant about having her picture taken. I assume Lindsay, who’s trying to break away from the high school mold, can’t stomach the idea of turning into “just another smiling face”. The photographer straightens her hair and tells her to have a seat. She manages a slight smile. Flash! The camera goes off. The photographer tells her she’s done. And only now does Lindsay’s smile broaden.

Now comes Lindsay’s brother Sam. Unlike her, he’s dressed up for the occasion, decked out in suit and tie. It seems like he’s ready for his close-up. Unfortunately, he also seems a little nervous. This is his first high school photo, and he doesn’t want to mess it up. His head keeps darting this way and that. Look at the camera, Sam! No, look at the cam – ah, screw it. Flash!

Now it’s Daniel Desario’s turn. He’s the picture of unkempt, in his creased blue jacket and that mop-top head. The photographer wants to fix his hair (What’s with this guy and hair?), but Daniel won’t have any of that. Instead, he fixes up his own ‘do, and sits calmly, waiting for the flashbulb. Aaaand… he smiles. Not a nationwide grin, but it’ll do. Flash!

Here comes Neal Schweiber. Like Sam, he’s dressed up for the picture. He gets comfortable, and then deals out a big, wide, hammy smile. (And yes, I know Samm Levine’s name is caught in his teeth. Sorry about that.) Oh, Neal. Always the life of the party, aren’t you? Flash!

Next up is Ken Miller. He sits down, hands in his pockets, and… that’s pretty much it. Ken isn’t the most expressive guy, you know. Oh, well. He sort of gives a smile. Flash!

And now for Nick Andopolis. Boy, does he look excited. Highly excited. With emphasis on the “high”. On the plus side, he gives the biggest smile of all. Flash! He continues to sit there for a few more seconds, still as grinning and excited than ever. The photographer needs to inform him that the moment has passed.

And finally, we arrive at Bill Haverchuck. His is probably my favorite. He walks over to the stool on his usual wobbly legs, has a seat, and shows off a wide, toothy smile. Hey, it looks like he’s real pleased about getting his picture taken. Flash! And Bill’s smile disappears. If told to smile for the camera, he will smile for the camera, but he’ll walk off wondering what the point of it all was. Kind of an iconic high school thought, that.

Note: Kim Kelly was unavailable for pictures that day, since she was busy cruising around town in her Aunt Kathy’s Gremlin. Also, only losers take photos.


[Conclusion]

Personally, I feel the opening theme is nearly as integral to this series as the episodes themselves. The song gets me in the perfect freaky and geeky mood to enjoy the story ahead, and it’s a joy watching all these characters twist their faces into odd and charming expressions. Your own thoughts on the subject may differ, of course, but I’ll gladly refrain from hitting the fast-forward button.


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