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“Undeclared” Ep. 3 and 4, “Eric Visits” / “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”

“Undeclared” Ep. 3 and 4, “Eric Visits” / “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” (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 that night’s episode.

Episode 3
“Eric Visits”
Written by Judd Apatow & Rodney Rothman
Directed by John Hamburg

Episode 4
“Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”
Written by Joel Madison
Directed by Greg Mottola

“Why would you even want to be on that show? I mean, it hasn’t been funny in, like, forever.” — Rachel

“Undeclared” really kicks into gear with “Eric Visits” and “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” the first of which gets a big boost from guest Jason Segel as Lizzie’s so far unseen but much heard boyfriend Eric, and the second of which has a surprisingly serious center. Let’s deal with Eric first. As Nick on “Freaks and Geeks,” Segel displayed an unparalleled ability to play creepy-charming, a talent in full, magnificent display here. Having just rewatched both “Eric Visits” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” I feel comfortable declaring Segel film and television’s reigning king of creepy-charming. The secret is that his intense neediness never contains the threat of harm to its target — he plays suffocatingly clingy, mushy, vulnerable, but he’s a puppy. There’s more danger of him hurting himself, emotionally or, as his punches his own head in frustration while weeping in the shower, physically.

Eric is a goofier and more pathetic creation than Nick, and, with that patchy beard, scraggly haircut and near-unibrow, just generally… grosser. (When he emerges, post-coital, from Lizzie’s room in his boxers, poor traumatized Steven can barely look at him.) He’s a college dropout who works at a copy shop and is obviously a few years older than Lizzie — she informs Steven that she’s been dating him since tenth grade, which is ever so statutory rapey. All of Eric’s gifts to her take advantage of his copy shop resources, including the ridiculous “Dreaming of you” pillowcase.

And yet… Eric is a nice guy. A likable guy, even, when he’s not being smotheringly lovey-dovey. His interactions with Steven, who he never even considers as a romantic threat, are sincere and open, and after some consolation he’s ready to gracefully accept defeat and move on. It’s Steven who, having seen Eric’s positive side, can’t bring himself to let the guy slink off into the night alone, and while that chocolate box photo collage (the assembling of which includes a nice bit involving Eric cheerily slicing up headshots up perfectly without even needing to look) might be shudder-inducing, at least we now know Lizzie isn’t stuck in a completely insane relationship.

In the second of these episodes, we have another character whose surface loserdom hides a caring heart: Steven’s dad Hal, who after being downsized can’t pay Steven’s tuition, and ends up taking a downwardly mobile (but much more enjoyable) waitstaff position at a posh restaurant. Once again, Steven’s escapist college mellow is harshed by his proximity to the real world and his real parents (or parent). Here, though, that comes with a real rebuke of Steven’s unthinking sense of entitlement — after scolding his father for putting Tivo above his son’s education, Steven’s forced to actually confront the sacrifices the man is making on his behalf, and because of it signs himself back up for that abusive job at the cafeteria alongside Marshall and his weird rash.

Speaking of TiVo, these two episodes are heavily salted with pop culture references, from Ron trying to bond with Lloyd over “You’ve Got Mail” (and Lloyd predicting with hilarious accuracy what happens in the second half of the movie) to Jimmy (Geoffrey Arend) the impressionist’s repertoire. Matt, what’s your opinion on all this specificity, given how little most characters on TV seem to watch TV (or movies) themselves? And what’s your take on Jimmy and his rant about his comedy aspirations and need to practice his skills?

Matt: Jimmy is an interesting character. He’s a fan of a lot of Judd Apatow’s collaborators, and he’s got a poster for at least one Apatow production, “The Cable Guy,” hanging on his dorm room wall. But he’s also portrayed as a fairly awful person: talented maybe, but also completely self-obsessed and incapable of carrying on a normal conversation without breaking out his Jimmy Stewart or Al Pacino impersonations. Though his neuroses seem fairly specific — he wants to be on “SNL” and thinks of his entire life as a long-form audition for the job — his portrayal is also a bit of an indictment of the kind of person who can only communication with others through the filter of pop culture. Which is sort of interesting because, as you point out Alison, most of the characters on “Undeclared” communicate with each other through the filter of pop culture, as Ron and Lloyd do during the “You’ve Got Mail” boondoggle, as Steven and Lizzie did last week at a screening of “American Pie.” I suppose the point here is a cautionary one: we all love pop culture, but be careful not to take that too far.

Alison, you said you felt like “Undeclared” kicked into gear with these third and fourth episodes. Watching them, I felt like I was watching Judd Apatow — or maybe “Judd Apatow” — kick into gear as well. These episodes look and feel more like Apatow’s more famous film work than anything in “Freaks and Geeks.” The “You’ve Got Mail” scenes are a good example. Once Ron gets hammered on the contents of the free keg he’s found, he starts opening up to Lloyd about his taste in movies. He tells people his favorite flick is “Red Dawn” but his real passion is for Nora Ephron. The scene may have been scripted but Rogen’s delivery feels improvised, as if he riffed on different movies for Ron to like until he found the funniest one. Those small moments of truth are the best parts of these episodes, just as moments like Paul Rudd railing against the Michael McDonald music on the sample televisions at the electronics store are the best parts of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

11122010_undeclared03b.jpgI feel like we’re also watching Seth Rogen become “Seth Rogen.” Ron is a classic Apatow creation: the sweet-natured, schlubby party dude with a cockeyed view of the world and of problem solving. One of my favorite moments in either episode this week is the shot panning down all the different improvised cups and mugs Ron found to hold all the beer in the keg he has to return: mouthwash bottles, vases, even ziplock bags. That moment would not feel the least bit out of place in “Virgin” or “Knocked Up.”

Though “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” has a stock sitcom premise — even Steven and Marshall’s white on white cafeteria uniforms seem to harken back to Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory — I like the way Steven and Hal’s simultaneous employment in the food service industry crystalizes the former’s ugly sense of entitlement. The show’s rebuke of his elitism also feels like a sign of things to come for Apatow. All three of his movies have had working class protagonists and ethos; in the case of “Funny People,” Adam Sandler’s character’s extreme wealth is presented as one of the primarly obstacles to his happiness. And as a guy who got mono from a tainted utensil, I wholeheartedly endorse “Undeclared”‘s depiction of a college cafeteria as the most unsanitary and revolting place on earth.

Maybe it’s because I had just listened to his fascinating two-part appearance on the WTF Podcast With Marc Maron, but Apatow himself was obviously on my mind a lot this week. Alison, did I miss any other connections between these two episodes and his later films?

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.