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“Undeclared” Ep. 1 and 2, “Prototype” / “Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend?”

“Undeclared” Ep. 1 and 2, “Prototype” / “Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend?” (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 1
Written by Judd Apatow
Directed by Jake Kasdan

Episode 2
“Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend?”
Written by Kristofor Brown
Directed by Paul Feig

“When I’m lecturing, I expect you to listen. This is not high school.” — Professor Duggan

No, it’s certainly not. And Judd Apatow’s short-lived college series “Undeclared” wasn’t his short-lived high-school series “Freaks and Geeks,” either. It was made for a different network (Fox instead of NBC), a contemporary story instead of a period piece, and just a half-hour each week instead of “Freaks”‘s full hour. Maybe most importantly, with that change of format came a change in tone: “Undeclared” is a single camera sitcom while “Freaks and Geeks” was always more of a drama with comedic elements. Though they were equally spurned by audiences during their initial runs, “Freaks and Geeks” has definitely evolved into the bigger cult hit on DVD. The general consensus is that “Undeclared” is good, but not as good. So is the general consensus right?

So far, yes. But let’s be fair here. Despite the fact that Apatow was a major creative force on both shows, “Undeclared” really is a very different animal than “Freaks and Geeks.” I don’t think it’s unfair to say it was aiming lower than its predecessor; after the bitter struggles Apatow endured keeping the iconoclastic “Freaks” on the air, that was almost certainly by design. And through the first two episodes “Undeclared” hits its admittedly easier target, namely awkward observational humor about life in a college dorm, early and often.

11052010_undeclared1b.jpgThe setting is a nondescript California university in the fall of 2001. I was a college junior at the time, and while I attended school on the east coast, I recognize a lot about this place from the tacky dorm furniture to the Dandy Warhols theme song that was a particular favorite that year at our college radio station. Our hero is Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel), a dweeby Jewish kid who’s bought into one of the big myths of college: the chance to completely reinvent yourself in an environment where no one knew you in high school (a myth that was explored on “Freaks and Geeks,” in the episode “Noshing and Moshing”). The “A” story of these first two episodes involve his budding relationship with his neighbor Lizzie (Carla Gallo), who sleeps with him after an intense fight with her long distance boyfriend Eric (“Freaks and Geeks” MVP Jason Segel, doing outstandingly creepy work as a disembodied voice on the other end of a telephone).

Through two episodes, the early theme in “Undeclared” is about how women play games and act crazy. Lizzie impulsively sleeps with Steven in Episode 1 but she doesn’t even tell Steven that she has a boyfriend until Episode 2, where she invites him to a pseudodate that ends with a long kiss on the lips. Meanwhile, Steven’s father Hal (Loudon Wainwright III) tells his son that after decades of marriage, Steven’s mother wants a divorce. Though Hal’s a goofball (and as he notes in one hilarious scene, has the hairy beer gut of an 18-year-old), there’s no indication so far that he’s a bad husband or a bad provider. His side of the story — the only side of the story we get — is that Steven’s mom is breaking his heart for no good reason. We’ll have to see how this theme develops through the series but it already marks a big difference from “Freaks and Geeks” where the roles for women were a bit more diverse and nuanced.

As for the world of “Undeclared,” it’s kind of remarkable how a show designed to reflect the modern college experience already looks like more of a period piece than “Freaks and Geeks” after less than ten years. From the “X-Files” posters to the “American Pie” screening on the quad, to Lizzie’s clunky cellphone and “Waaazzup?” greeting with Eric, “Prototype” and “Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend” play in 2010 like an unintended parody of turn of the century pop culture. Alison, you were in college at this time too: how do you react to seeing dorm life circa-2001 today? Were you chuckling with recognition at the sight of the “Snood” t-shirts too? Or were you lucky enough to escape that dorktastic obsession?

Alison: “Snood”? I scoff at your “Snood” addiction! Okay, I was actually of the cult of the basically identical (though it did come first!) “Bust-A-Move,” which provided mindless solace whenever it was two in the morning and I had a paper due in a few hours. But yes, the music, the set dressing, the pop culture references are all very of their moment, and that moment is almost a decade gone, and while “Freaks and Geeks” careful recreation of the cultural detritus of its age made it a great period piece, “Undeclared”‘s dead-on capturing of then-current college life means that it does now seem noticeably dated.

Like a lot of sitcoms, “Undeclared” takes a little while to find its feet, establish its characters as more than quick sketches and set up the interpersonal relationships that provide forward momentum for the storylines. What’s interesting about the pilot, “Prototype,” is its mixture of more formula establishing elements — the most obvious being Monica Keena’s Rachel Lindquist, whose only given quality in this first episode is one of anxiety — with the kind of warm but unflinching honesty we’ve come to know and love from “Freaks and Geeks.” Take the conversation between Hal, Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam) and Ron (Seth Rogen) leading out of that beer belly comparison, in which Hal sighs that “the women, they don’t appreciate you” and Lloyd counters that surely Hal’s wife also put in time and work into their relationship, and that its failure can’t only be blamed on her. Hal doesn’t want to hear it, but Ron’s won over by the reasoning.

11052010_undeclared1c.jpgStanding out also is the scene in which Lizzie and Steven try to will themselves into believing that college really will provide the escape and the freedom they’d hoped, despite the fact that they’ve each just been given harsh reminders of how close the burdens of home are — a quick car ride or phone call away. Obvious obstacles aside, the two are a good match in their powers of rationalization alone. Steven’s constantly striving to believe in own reinvention and possible coolness, while Lizzie’s doing everything she can to tell herself she’s happy in a relationship that’s clearly awful and making her miserable.

In terms of “Freaks and Geeks” alums, there’s the aforementioned Segel as the so far disembodied voice of Lizzie’s oppressive, insecure boyfriend from hell, and Rogen as Ron, playing a character not that far removed from Ken Miller, with a shorter haircut, glasses, and a Canadian background to match the actor’s sometimes accent. But what about the newcomers? Baruchel’s Steven could absolutely be Sam Weir, post-growth spurt (and skipped ahead 20 years) and ready to set aside geeky things for the promise of partying, girls and semi-adulthood. Gallo’s Lizzie bobbles between charming and irritating in her enthusiasm and her inability to put her foot down when it comes to Eric, and neither Rachel nor Timm Sharp’s Marshall have gotten much definition yet, though Sharp does bring some nice bits of physical comedy to the well-trodden joke of a lecture being boring enough to put you to sleep.

Then there’s Lloyd. The UK-born Hunnam is currently kicking ass and taking names as the very plausibly American Jax Teller on “Sons of Anarchy,” but in this series, he plays a sort of magical Brit (the first we see him, he’s actually wearing a Union Jack t-shirt) who displays immense ease with the ladies and immense shamelessness in using his vague exoticism to help that along. Matt, Lloyd seems to me as both the most sitcommy character (at least at the outset) in “Undeclared,” but also the most fun. Do you agree? And does Hunnam’s accent ever strike you as weirdly uneven for a guy who’s actually English?

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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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