Ever since “Freaks and Geeks” began airing on IFC last summer, the wife and I have been enjoying living in the past. We watched that show each week, catching a series we had both (mostly) missed when it originally aired over the 1999-2000 season. When that ended, we started watching “Undeclared” each week, despite the fact that A) I had seen the series when it first aired over 2001-2002 season and B) we actually own the entire DVD set, as I bought it in August 2005 right after it came out.
There’s an element of purposeful nostalgia to this. (Nostalgia for the very recent past, I know, I know.) We could have gotten the DVDs for “Freaks and Geeks” at any point and caught up on the series, and we both wanted to watch it, but we simply didn’t bother. Other things came up, life happened, et cetera. We also could have, as one friend we know suggested, gotten the entire series after seeing the first episode (in order to tear through it quickly). We didn’t want to do that. We liked watching it on a weekly basis, getting the feeling of being an audience looking forward to it each week. (We even missed an episode when we moved and were without television for a few days. Just what would happen at the end of the 20th century!)
So we’re doing the same thing with “Undeclared,” even though, again, the entire DVD set is sitting maybe 12 feet away as we watch it. There’s something oddly enjoyable about doing this; we don’t necessarily watch it each week now, as we have it waiting on DVR when we feel like getting around to it. But whenever we do, it’s enjoyable because we know we’re watching something with a very limited shelf life and that offers a sort of conduit to a particular few months and years in the grand history of the medium’s existence, something that had a lot more impact than you’d think but also deserved a lot better treatment than it received (this goes for each show).
Neither lasted more than a year. Both are more well-known now as the launching pad for Judd Apatow, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel (and, to a lesser extent, Linda Cardinelli, Martin Starr, Busy Phillipps and Samm Levine) than for anything they did while on the air. And watching them now, in close succession, having finally seen “Freaks and Geeks” (which I knew by reputation, which is why I watched “Undeclared” in the first place), I can understand why “Freaks” is considered such a great show while “Undeclared” was mostly a fun way to see Seth Rogen be Seth Rogen Before He Was Famous. Both are very good shows, though, and considerably better than most of their peers at the time or since. (“Undeclared,” in particular, seemed a little ahead of its time, as shows like “Arrested Development,” “30 Rock” and “The Office” have shown.)
Anyway, the whole reason I am saying all of this is that IFC is loading up on more classic-but-gone shows. In early January, they will start airing three more great shows I wanted to see, have constantly heard praised but never actually watched: “The Larry Sanders Show,” “The Ben Stiller Show” and “Mr. Show.” And late in 2011, the network will also add “Action,” which I actually watched while it aired on Fox in 1999 (I will have to see how I view it now, as compared to when I was a teenager, but at the time I thought it was funnier than hell).
They have an obvious and admitted strategy here — go after guys in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who either watched these shows and miss them, never saw them and heard their praises or just know the people involved — but it goes hand in hand with their airing of “Arrested Development.” They seem to be putting on as much of the great, underwatched recent comedies as they can. I might be in their target group, and I might be predisposed to watching any and all of these shows already, but I personally love this strategy because it’s delivering these shows right to me, with no effort, with no thought process, and showing them surrounded by worthy peers and other greats.