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“Undeclared” Ep. 5 and 6, “Sick in the Head” / “The Assistant”

“Undeclared” Ep. 5 and 6, “Sick in the Head” / “The Assistant” (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 5
Sick in the Head
Written by Seth Rogen
Directed by Greg Mottola

Episode 6
The Assistant
Written by Judd Apatow & Seth Rogen & Nicholas Stoller
Directed by Judd Apatow

“He’s Adam Sandler! Why would you become Adam Sandler? So you could not have sex with Lizzie?” — Ron

We’ve been having trouble separating “Undeclared” from Judd Apatow’s later work in this column and this week is no exception. Apatow’s last movie, “Funny People,” was, amongst other things, about the relationship between a cold movie star (Adam Sandler) and a young kid who idolized him (Seth Rogen). And that’s basically the plot of our second episode this week, “The Assistant,” which features Sandler and Rogen both assuming the roles they would play some eight years later in “Funny People.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this guy, either “Adam Sandler” in “Undeclared” or George Simmons in “Funny People,” is a work of Sandler biography on the part of Apatow. But it is interesting to see the sort of part he likes casting him as: the curdled megastar turned cold by his fame who has difficulty relating to everyone except hot, young co-eds, who he hooks up with frequently.

Frequent hookup are something of a theme this week on “Undeclared.” Episode five, “Sick in the Head,” is mostly about the revolving door on Lloyd’s dorm room, and the awkward position that puts his roommate Steven in night after night. But while Lloyd has girls dying to sleep with him, Marshall is almost literally dying to spend more time with Rachel. After he catches a flu, she warns him to skip the campus medical center for more holistic remedies. Unfortunately, Rachel’s herbal drops (of which 21 is apparently the proper dose) don’t do the trick, and Marshall gets more and more sick. But the sicker he gets, the longer Rachel sticks around to care for him. Pretty soon she’s even sleeping in his room, though it’s not quite the sort of “sleeping with him” Marshall had in mind. Soon it becomes a battle between Marshall’s instincts for survival and reproduction.

11192010_undeclared05c.jpgThis dynamic between Marshall and Rachel — he wants her, she’s oblivious — already played out along similar lines in episode three, “Eric Visits.” In that case, Rachel thinks Marshall will look cool if he does something “different” and Marshall, wanting to please her, buys an exotic bird to keep perched on his shoulder as he saunters around the quad. Things didn’t work out so well in that case for Marshall, and they don’t go much more smoothly here (though he doesn’t die which, in this case, is kind of a win for the character). So a pattern is forming: Rachel gives terrible advice, and Marshall takes it and suffers for it.

One could argue this relationship makes Rachel, and to some degree women in general on “Undeclared,” look bad. But really the person who comes off looking worse here is Marshall, and to a large degree men in general. Marshall should have already gotten the hint that Rachel wasn’t interested. But just as Steven keeps moping around Lizzie, Marshall can’t let Rachel go. That’s not to say Rachel doesn’t have her share of flaws: she’s dated a guy to prove she’s not shallow, then lied to the same guy to break up with him to prove she’s not shallow, then almost killed a friend just to prove to another guy that she’s not stupid. But I don’t think this is Apatow being mean to women. I think it’s Apatow playing fair, and bringing a warts-and-all approach to “Undeclared”‘s depiction of both genders.

Back to Lloyd, then. A lot of “Sick in the Head” is based around the fact that his rapport with women is effortless; he doesn’t need to speak to them to sleep with them and, in fact, his talking can sometimes hurt his scoring chances. So first question, Alison: do you buy Charlie Hunnam’s sex appeal with the ladies of UNEC? And second, does the fact that the girl Lloyd does settle down with, however briefly, to prove his monogamous potential to Steven is played by Katharine Towne, Hunnam’s real-life wife at the time — and the fact that Hunnam and Towne got divorced about a year after this episode aired — make her analogies about doomed Hollywood couple Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt just a wee bit creepy?

Alison: Well, Charlie Hunnam’s indisputable pretty boy hotness aside, let’s not forget how far novelty can get you in college. Rachel’s suggestion that Marshall get a pet to carry around may not have worked out well for him, but it was a solid plan. Off the top of my head, I can recall in my freshman dorm a guy who used to walk around playing a ukelele, a suite that had Prohibition-themed parties in which everyone would pour cocktails out of teapots and another that put together a room filled with purple pillows and a black light. My friend had a huge crush on these identical twins who lived in a dorm agency, which turned out to be very forward thinkingly “Social Network” of her. As a Brit in a primarily Californian campus, and an acting student to boot, Lloyd would of course be irresistible — that he’s relatively smooth and sophisticated only increases his heartbreaker capabilities.

Is it weird that Towne (who is, incidentally, the daughter of “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne) is cast as the subject of Lloyd’s disastrous attempt at a relationship, given their personal history? A bit (but it’s weird to me to think of the pair, who must have barely been in their 20s, being married in the first place). I winced when their relationship started to go wrong, because it seemed like such an easy twist — of course the first girl Lloyd tries to actually spend non-fornicating time with turns out to be crazy and demanding and compares them to a famous married couple. The episode turns it around into a decent joke, with Lloyd as the one getting dumped after he’s judged inadequate when sex isn’t involved. But I think the storyline foreshadows the type of female character that frequently turns up in recent bromantic comedies — a killjoy wielding complaints and tallying up unfairnesses (like whose room they’re spending the night in) their guy is (justifiably) bewildered by.

I also had a different take on the show’s characterizations of Sandler and Rachel, the latter of which I think you’re being a little generous with. Rachel’s not shown as lacking in confidence when it comes to her looks — she for instance, chooses Jimmy to date in “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” and not the other way around, and he’s grateful for it. And it’s implied that she’s perfectly aware of Marshall’s crush on her — she doesn’t blink when Ron tells her that he’s the one who advised Marshall to follow her advice because “he liked you and he wanted a reason to talk to you.”

11192010_undeclared06a.jpgThat makes her manipulation of him a little more calculated and self-centered — sure, she takes care of him, but she also want to prove to Ron that she’s right, and smarter than he is, to the detriment of Marshall’s health. I’d agree that this isn’t a case of “Apatow being mean to women,” but after the nuanced portrayal of Lindsay in “Freaks and Geeks,” one of the best-drawn female characters I can think of on TV, it’s disappointing to me to see this show come so much from the perspective of its male protagonists, to whom women are mysterious, erratic, sometimes irrational creatures.

On the other hand, I was really impressed by the complexity of “Adam Sandler,” who didn’t seem to me so much a “curdled megastar turned cold by his fame” as someone struggling to interact with people now totally unable to treat him normally — despite his game efforts to hang out, he’s hardly having a good time sitting around the common room while everyone gapes at and acts their own degree of weird toward him, from Marshall’s telling him his post-“Billy Madison” work sucked to Ron claiming to “get him” to Hal’s “Wedding Singer”esque song about his ex-wife. It’s not necessarily admirable that he uses his fame to boink impressionable coeds, but it’s not an unheard-of activity for a star. And I thought his interactions with Jonathan Loughran, Sandler’s real-life assistant and costar, also playing a variation on himself, were weirdly sweet, speaking to a long and complicated history of traveling together, power dynamics, resentment, fame and genuine affection. This is obviously not the first freak-out Loughran has had, and Sandler both rags him about it and gently woos him back in a way that can only come from genuine understanding of someone. Plus, he remembered Ron’s name!

Just how bad Hal might actually be doing is an undercurrent of “The Assistant,” and an intriguing twist on the older character who wants to hang out with the kids and relive his youth. Steven might find his dad’s presence at the dorm excruciating, but here he’s confronted with how much Hal might need the company. Matt, what’s you take on Steven’s realization, and can you imagine your own dad ever partying with your own college days?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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