“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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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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