Judd Apatow returns to the directing chair with This Is 40 this Valentine’s Day and while the director and producer may be more famous for his slacker-comedies on the big screen, it's in this writer's opinion that his best work might have actually come about in the world of TV.
Don’t get us wrong, we’ve got a real soft spot for Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad, but Apatow’s voice was the clearest it’s ever been during his earlier TV exploits.
After spending time on comedy shows The Ben Stiller Show, The Critic and The Larry Sanders Show, he finally decided to create something completely on his own. This led to the creation of Freaks and Geeks, a show that we’ve talked about at some length on this site for good reason.
This short lived series was a genre breaking one, breaking down the barriers between comedy and drama is a way that very few shows had in the late nineties. Sure, Joss Whedon was infusing supernatural drama Buffy The Vampire Slayer full of laughs, but that always had a more anarchic tone than Freaks did.
The show gave us the story of two different groups of kids going through high school, one a group of younger geeky guys, the other a group of slacker stoners. This is where Apatow perfected the characters he would become so known for, as these two clans were absolutely brilliantly balanced characters.
The show is still listed on countless Top Ten lists and is still a massive influence to shows coming out today. It also helped launch the career of not only Apatow, but also of cast members James Franco, Seth Rogan and Jason Segel.
The show was tragically short-lived though, with NBC only broadcasting twelve episodes of the show, only showing the remaining six after a fan protest years later. Fans have been crying out for a second series ever since, but unfortunately are set to be eternally disappointed.
He did however give his fans a spiritual successor in the form of Undeclared, a show that might have erred more on the side of pure sitcom, but was still clearly from the same creative team as Freaks and Geeks. Showing the exploits of a group in contemporary university this time, yet again the show was fantastically funny throughout its similarly curtailed lifespan, with it lasting a measly seventeen episodes. Which each only being half an hour this time; it led to a whole lot less Judd.
Despite these two shows being extremely short lived, they were utterly exceptional, with Freaks and Geeks in particular a brilliant show that is still utterly captivating and endearing despite its age, with time being extremely kind on the show.
When the big screen came calling and the hits came coming, it looked like he may never come back to the world of TV. That was until he decided to use the good will he’d built against his name for something productive and give his backing to the exciting prospect that is Lena Dunham and her show Girls.
The success of Girls has been incredible, and in part we have Apatow to thanks for that. Following his cinematic successes, his name being attached to Lena Dunham’s TV show turned heads and made some who may not have given it the time of day before tune in to see what he’s gotten involved with. It may be Dunham’s baby, but Apatow was the midwife.
Apatow might be hitting the big screen again with This Is 40 this Valentine’s Day, but for me it’s still those two series that ring as the greatest gifts he ever gave the world of entertainment.