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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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