In all my years of exchanging rainbow discs
through the mail, the one White Whale I thought I'd never
encounter was a recording of Freaks and Geeks from NBC.
Regarded as one of the best television programs of both the 20th
and 21st centuries (spanning 1999 to 2000), practically everyone
involved went on to have a robust and fruitful career. Judd
Apatow dominated 2000s comedies, James Franco got to attack Toby
Maguire's Spider-Man with a glider, Busy Philipps has her own
talk show (correction: had), Linda Cardellini is now
Hawkeye's vaporized wife, Seth Rogen lives in a giant mansion
filled with weed smoke, and Samm Levine....wait a minute, where
the hell is Samm Levine??
With all that being said, tapes of the show
aren't easy to find. I've always wanted to see what the original
airings looked like, as I wasn't watching when they were new. But
the problem is....NO ONE was watching when they were new.
Therefore, no one was devoted enough to set the timer for it. The
general populace only got hooked once the series started airing
on ABC Family and Shout put out the DVD set. I figured I would
never actually see Freaks and Geeks in its natural
state...until today, when I somehow got my hands on a VHS
recording of "Tests and Breasts," the fifth episode,
aired November 6, 1999.
It was worth the wait. Just having the episode
would've been satisfying on its own, but the ads....oh, the ads!
Almost EVERY advertisement in this recording is pure gold. If you
were looking to bottle the essence of the late 90s in video form,
you couldn't do better than this tape if you tried. This is one
of the best Full Experiences I've ever found, and lucky YOU gets
to experience it with me.
This is just a taste of what
you're in for: The VERY FIRST AD is about a man
who's preparing for the societal collapse brought
on by the oncoming Millennium Computer Bug by
stocking his bomb shelter with McDonalds French
Fries. It ends with the tagline
"FRY-2K." Ohh yes.
Next up: this
"family" movie about a kid who's father
dies and is reincarnated as a snowman, whence
wackiness ensues. The film had actually come out
the winter before, and this was a promo for the
few years were going to be interesting for
Blockbuster. At the same time, another film --
also called Jack Frost and also about a snowman
-- was out, but the latter one was a horror
slasher movie. Since there aren't many ways to
design a snowman, the two characters looked very
similar, and the movies would often swap places
on the rental racks.
Don't strain your brain trying
to figure out how this is all working. A
cardboard man knocked out a guard and stole a
car. His next stop is the gun store, then a few
bank robberies on his way to Vegas.
I had to watch this Sprint ad
about five times to figure out what kind of
message they were trying to send. There's this
guy, and his wife is like really really
speedy, and it has something to do with cell
phones? Did the radiation of these 90s models
I think the
intended punchline is that she's hyperactive
because she has to cut her phone conversations
short, because her bill is too high, but that
only affects one minor aspect of her life, so it
wouldn't result in having to do everything
quicker. I dunno. This is a weird ad.
Colonel Harlan Sanders has
gone through a lot of permutations over the
decades of KFC's advertising. These days they
dress a different comedian up in a beard each
month. Around this time he was a cartoon
character. And he's selling a sandwich for two
bucks, which would be a nice deal today.
Yes, it's Pets.com. The poster
sock for the dot-com bubble made a
perfectly-timed appearance during this Freaks and
history have been like if most of these
businesses were smart enough to plan ahead for
the crash? Would Amazon be the e-shopping
monolith it is today? Let's remember that, around
this time, they were strictly a site for buying
paper books. Diversifying was the smartest
decision they ever made, and it saved their bacon
from Pets.com's fate.
Ads for collect call numbers
started appearing around this time, and they
would only get worse than this as we entered the
2000s. The general assumption was that if you
were the type to call collect, you were already
an obnoxious idiot, so the ads targeting you
should follow suit. "Mr. ATT Man" would
soon be replaced by Carrot Top, and the competing
companies would respond by hiring Mr. T and ALF.
As I type this,
"Detective Pikachu" is about to hit
theaters nationwide. It's not just a nostalgia
piece for those who saw Pokemon: The First Movie
twenty years ago -- it's also meant for the new
generation playing the games today. Pokemon has
joined Lego and Barbie as a timeless rite of
childhood passage, but unlike Barbie it has
plenty of grown-up players too. And to think
scoffers back in the day said it wouldn't last.
I guess you couldn't blame them though
-- it bore all the earmarks of a fad. In the USA,
Pokemon went from nothing to box office
blockbuster in just twelve months. Usually when
something bursts into flame that fast, it
extinguishes just as quickly.
As "trailers" go this
doesn't tell you much. There isn't a non-blurry
clip of the movie in here, yet kids everywhere
were PUMPED by the repetitive "Poke-MON,
MON, MON" medley of M2M (who probably had no
idea what they were singing about). They had to
see this; it was going to be the moment of the
DECADE. Then the film came out. It might've been
better if 4Kids hadn't taken their bluntest,
unsharpened hatchets to it.
And no bundle of late 90s
commercials would be complete without a visit
from the Guy In The Crash Bandicoot Suit. This
time he's not here to promote a specific game,
he's mocking some guy for not eating his Stuffed
Crust Pizza the way everyone else does it in
commercials. Non-conformity isn't cool, bro!
There is no explanation here for why
Crash is in a Pizza Hut ad. I know a pizza chain
gave out free PS1 demos at some point, but I'm
not sure if it was Pizza Hut or if that time was
You may nod your head at the
relatable experience depicted in this Volkswagen
ad, but only if you've lived in a place like NYC.
The cramped streets of big cities offer zero room
to pull errands like moving a mattress, so these
guys have to snarl up traffic while they tie it
to their car's roof. It's a race to get it done
as quickly as possible before the legendary road
rage of New Yorkers reaches its boiling point.
Pretty much every one of these
ads depicts a trend going on at the time. 'Round
99 there was a "big bloated TV miniseries
epics" competition going on between the
networks. For a couple years every Sweeps period
was dominated by expensive early-CG stories about
dragons or wizards. This time, it's leprechauns,
and it quickly becomes apparent just how much
that doesn't work. A small man yells
"RAUUUURGGGHHHHH!!" and charges with a
million other leprechauns into battle. I never
knew this horrible movie existed until now, but
if I say I want to see it, you'll hold me to
reviewing it, so....I choose to stay silent.
The opening ad in the fourth
break describes KB Toys as "the toy store
favored by families for generations"....but
sadly, not much longer. Every mall still had a
KB, but the Internet was starting to eat into
their market share. KB's response is what's in
this ad....their attempt to transition into an
e-business. At the time, there was no such thing
as an e-business that could fail, so you can't
blame these guys for attempting to walk on water.
Oh look, it's those two. If
anything, you have to respect Mary-Kate And
Ashley Inc. for managing to keep the gravy train
rolling way, way past the point where most child
actors get thrown away. "We're
teenagers," they defiantly say in this ad,
as if to point out "Shirley Temple was
waiting tables at our age, HA HA HA HA HA."
They would gradually lose interest in Hollywood
and quietly fade off into their own business
ventures. Presumably they are still rich.
This car ad is only worth
mentioning because they have to bleep out a
swear. It sounds like the word being censored is
"balls," which isn't really that
naughty anymore, now that every redneck has a
pair of disembodied testicles hanging from their
It's William Shatner, the
Priceline Negotiator! Priceline.com was one of
the few specialty dot-coms to survive the crash,
but unlike Amazon, they did it by LIMITING the
services they provided. In this ad Shat says you
can use Priceline to haggle the price of
virtually any product, but today it's mainly used
to save a few bucks on airline tickets.
And...that's it? It shouldn't be, but it is.
There were five breaks in all during this airing, but the
recording stops when the episode fades out, and the last ad break
ran before the credits. In this case, though, four is plenty.
This is a perfect time capsule. You could bury it and 500 years
from now everyone would have everything they need to know about
life in the extremely late 20th century (assuming you buried it
properly and the box wasn't compromised, which happens to 99% of