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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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