“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?



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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