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“Undeclared” Ep. 7 and 8, “Addicts” / “God Visits”

“Undeclared” Ep. 7 and 8, “Addicts” / “God Visits” (photo)

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“Undeclared” is now airing on IFC, and we thought we’d take this opportunity to revisit the show that further cemented broadcast television’s inability to recognize the genius of Judd Apatow. Every week, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore will be offering their thoughts on two more episodes.

Episode 7
Written by Jennifer Konner & Alexandra Rushfield
Directed by Greg Mottola

Episode 8
God Visits
Written by Rodney Rothman
Directed by John Hamburg

“All you had to do was get a few hundred dollars. How hard is that? Didn’t you see ‘Oliver’? That little bugger scammed people all over the place!” — Ron

Alison: “Addicts” and “God Visits” deal with the financial and philosophical vulnerabilities of so many a naïve college student. In the first episode, Steven and crew take advantage of “free money” — i.e., credit cards — and find themselves in trouble after excursions into online trading and meth-addicted townie Dave’s (Will Ferrell) paper-writing service. In the second, Steven and Lloyd find their respective worlds rocked by, respectively, a proselytizing classmate and a nihilism-spouting professor. Both episodes lean on more college-specific plotlines and situations than has been typical of the series so far, with the gang facing minor crises of morality by way of easy access to funds or new ways at looking at existence.

The stories that unfold from the start of “Addicts” take pleasantly unexpected directions — that opening scene, with Ron getting everyone to run out to the application booth like it’s Valhalla, seems to be setting up a cautionary tale about the perils of credit card debt. Instead, that turns out to be an incidental factor, a burden to be confronted later. “Addicts” is about the quirkily, nerdily destructive behavior everyone gets caught up in as soon as they have cash. Ron pulls Lloyd into his online trading scheme, and after minor protestations Lloyd abandons his artistic austerity for a leather suit and lighting a cigar with a dollar bill. Steven, struggling academically, buys a paper from Dave that gets an A, and after that can’t help indulging again, bringing Lizzie and Rachel along with him. (Marshall just likes having a wad of cash to wave around, but isn’t actually interesting in buying anything.)

Naturally, things goes wrong, with these scams and schemes turning out to be unreliable — the stomach-growing company Ron’s invested in flops, and Dave overindulges in drugs and spends the night playing video games instead of writing the papers he was contracted to. There’s no easy path, but it’s Steven who once again has to take the lesson on the chin when his dad Hal appears to congratulate him on his recent good grades (and I don’t know about y’all, but my college sure wasn’t sending report cards home to my parents) and claim all the scrimping and saving for Steven’s outrageous tuition is clearly paying off with his son learning and taking advantage of the education he’s receiving. Oof.

In “God Visits,” the obvious “mind control” stories, with Lloyd embracing meaninglessness (and his duvet) while Steven relishes Christianity, are paralleled with more subversive ones on the side involving the girls. Marshall tries to convince Rachel (with ever more desperation — I love the moment he claims everyone at the party is slow dancing to Dido to lure her back) that they need to preserve the spare room vacated by previously unseen suitemate Sheila (played by Joss Whedon favorite Felicia Day) as a party palace, though she feels increasingly guilty about keeping the room from Tina (Christina Payano), who’s hoping to escape her own obsessive violinist roomie. Meanwhile, Ron goes to work on Lizzie after deciding he can’t stand Eric any longer and that she should be with Steven — he ingeniously convinces her to attempt to reunite with his suitemate, only to run smack into the latter’s newfound piety. Hey, there’s a reason cults recruit off of campuses — undergrads are easy marks.

My question for you, Matt, is how you think the “Addicts” paper plot compares to the cheating storyline in “Freaks and Geeks.” And would you ever trust Will Ferrell with your academic future?

Matt: It depends on the subject. Obviously the man is an expert on human anatomy — anyone who’s seen his rippling dorsimus muscles in “Anchorman” knows that — but his handle on the works of Jackson Pollock is a little less sturdy. As for the cheating storyline in general, the “Freaks and Geeks” episode you’re referring to is “Tests and Breasts,” where freak Daniel convinces math whiz Lindsay to help him pass an exam he’s certain to fail. Daniels’ plight was played as a grand tragedy tinged with notes of dark humor: when Lindsay wants to confess, he sways her back to his side with a lengthy and impassioned monologue about what it’s like to be told from childhood that you’re dumb. Cheating on “Freaks and Geeks” was an act of desperation and revenge.

On “Undeclared” its basically just a platform for a great guest spot from Ferrell as he lazies around in his unmentionables, drops some speed, and hallucinates himself into a ninja video game. The UNEC kids aren’t downtrodden, they’re just lazy teenagers with cash to burn. There are immediate repercussions to their grades when Dave gets too distracted to write their work, but nothing particularly serious: no threats of expulsion or angry lectures from parents. Even with Hal occasionally popping in at the fourth floor, UNEC is still basically an adults-free zone. Everyone who’s ever gone to college will recognize that moment where you discover that the only person you have to answer to in life when you make bad decisions is yourself.

One other connection between the cheating storylines on “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared”: it informs us of the fact that Steven is, by his own admission, not very bright. That’s a continuation of the portrayal of geeks on “Freaks and Geeks,” where Sam and especially Bill were also considered nerds because of their physical awkwardness, not necessarily for their intellectual gifts. Apatow dweebs get all of the afflictions of geekdom — bullying, a lack of athletic ability, nearsightedness — with very few of the upsides. Then again, many of them wind up hooking up with incredibly hot women, so don’t shed too many tears for them.

11262010_undeclared07c.jpgSteven has Lizzie practically throwing herself at him in “God Visits,” but he rejects her because of his sudden interest in “the greatest story ever told.” Though the subject is a perfect one for the show, and results in some of the funniest scenes of the series between Steven, Lizzie, and Ron, one thing always bugs me about this storyline. Apatow established in the pilot that Steven is Jewish; when he meets Lloyd for the first time, he mentions that he once visited England on a Jewish teen tour named “Shalom Europe.” Obviously he’s a pretty casual Jew, but shouldn’t his random conversion to Christianity spark some sort of inner conflict? Or better yet, shouldn’t it prompt a wildly outraged response from Hal? That just feels like a rare missed opportunity to me.

We’ve already discussed the role of the female characters in “Undeclared” several times in this column. In that regard, “Addicts” is something of an important landmark in the series’ history: it’s the first episode written by women (Jennifer Konner and Alexandra Rushfield). Alison, do think it’s at all odd that the first female-penned “Undeclared” is maybe the least female-centric in the entire season?

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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