DID YOU READ

“Undeclared” Ep. 17, “Eric’s POV”

“Undeclared” Ep. 17, “Eric’s POV”  (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 two more episodes.

Episode 17
Eric’s POV
Written by Judd Apatow & Nicholas Stoller
Directed by Jon Favreau

“I’ll tell you something, buddy — there is nothing as good as the love of a good woman. Except ecstasy. Wanna do some ecstasy?” — Rex

Alison: As you pointed out last week, Matt, around this time in its life cycle “Freaks and Geeks” was busy wrapping up loose ends and providing a little closure for the characters of which we’d become so fond. By contrast, the last episode of “Undeclared” spends half its runtime with Eric (Jason Segel) who isn’t even a main cast member, and the other half on a plot that even by the undemanding standards set by the series is pretty slender. But looked at another way, “Eric’s POV” could be considered “Undeclared”‘s way of doing what “Freaks and Geeks” did in its last installment, which is to crowd in a bunch of good ideas that hadn’t yet had a chance to be put to use. And I’m sure we can both agree that Eric is a very good idea.

In fact, Eric may be the most memorable aspect of “Undeclared” — our half-dozen primary undergrads are different degrees of likable, but he really looms larger than any of them. Some of this is due to Segel’s performance, which is divinely funny/repellent/touching, and never more so than in this episode, in which he taunts his Kopy Town coworkers Greg (David Krumholtz) and Eugene (Kyle Gass) over Lizzie’s call (“And that’s from a group Evite, bitch!”), plausibly charms a new girl into making out with him, reprises the angry hip hop drive to campus from “Eric Visits Again” and finally spirals into delayed heartbreak over his ex.

Judd Apatow described college to the LA Times as “the reward for surviving high school,” and that sentiment has come through plenty of times in the gleeful silliness of the dorm antics in this series. But if there’s a larger lesson to “Undeclared,” I’d say it’s that the ripest tragicomedy is found outside the bubble of uncaring undergraduate life, with the sadder, struggling characters like Eric and Loudon Wainwright’s Hal. Watching this episode, I certainly found myself wanting to spend more time with Eric and his soberish ex-stepdad Rex (Ben Stiller) than in the halls of UNEC housing, gulping down bulk cookie dough and singing along to Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.”

Incidentally, in this episode we also learn that Eric is turning 27, which makes his relationship with Lizzie extra statutory rapey. Ew! Ew! Though the home movies he watches of the two of them were actually pretty sweet, in their established terribly lovey-dovey way. Steven, on the other hand, is still trying to learn what it’s like to be a boyfriend — he wants to go watch “Girls Gone Wild” tapes with the guys and gorge on junk food, but Lizzie wants him by her side, comforting her as everyone frantically tries to fix her hair. Relationships can’t all be comfort and convenient sex — you have to also put work in, and countering Lizzie’s increasing bad mood requires more effort than Steven seems able to summon. In the end, he misses all the televised drunken toplessness, but does realize what she wanted, which is for him to reassure her that he still finds her beautiful, no matter what the state of her highlights are.

Matt, this episode features a major special guest, Stiller, and a not-yet-major director, Jon Favreau, who’d helmed his first feature, “Made,” but not yet finished his more successful 2003 comedy “Elf.” What do you think of their work here?

Matt: Stiller is great as Rex, and delivers several of the episode’s funniest lines, including the one you quoted at the top of our column and my personal favorite — doubly good for delivering exposition efficiently and humorously: “I didn’t have to let you live here after your mama kicked me out!” And Favreau, still in the very early days of his directorial career, acquits himself quite nicely as well. He nails the series’ complex tone, manages a very overstuffed ensemble, and even squeezes in time for one very memorable shot: Segel, freaking out over Lizzie and a possible Kopy Town staff mutiny at the La Brea Tar Pits, in a extreme low angle where his frazzled head looks like it’s about to be eaten by a looming T-Rex.

Speaking of Eric, I’m with you 100% about Segel and his performance, Alison. If it wasn’t clear before “Eric’s POV,” this episode proves that Eric was “Undeclared”‘s most interesting and most important character, regardless of the fact that he wasn’t a main character and appeared on less than half of the show’s episodes. Jay Baruchel’s Steven was a likably geeky leading man, Seth Rogen’s Ron a reliable joke machine and scene stealer, but Segel’s Eric was the show’s only total package character: sympathetic and repulsive and charming and funny and oh-so-vulnerable. It’s all summed up in one incredible scene this week, when Eric, still wrestling with his feelings for Lizzie, watches a video he made of the two of them back when they were still together. The video itself — and the fact that Eric’s still watching it weeks or months after the break-up — is kind of creepy, with ominous hints that the whole thing may have devolved into a sex tape after Favreau cuts away. But then we see Segel’s face, and see how deeply in love Eric was (and still is) with Lizzie — and we hear her promising to love him forever — and we can’t help but empathize. And, of course, the sight of Segel in women’s underwear, declaring himself a pirate on the search for booty, is always good for a laugh.

“Eric’s POV” isn’t quite the sitcom equivalent of “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” but it’s close; Eric and the Kopy Town gang get as much or more screentime on this, “Undeclared”‘s final episode, than most of the main cast. Lloyd, Ron and Marshall have maybe five lines between them. Hal shows up for what is essentially a curtain call. But Eric gets a final extended moment in the sun (and a final hilarious humiliation as well).

As you point out, Alison, the “Undeclared” regulars spend most of their own final episode just sitting around: the boys watching “Girls Gone Wild” and eating bulk junk food, the girls fretting about Lizzie’s botched dye job. These aren’t very dynamic storylines for a series finale. But they are very truthful to the college experience, at least as I knew it. We talked at length in this column about the way “Undeclared” systematically downplayed its stakes and underplayed its resolutions: when the kids overspend their credit cards they manage to win their money back instead of losing their furniture. When they cheated on tests, they never got caught. Though there were moments of tension, most of “Undeclared,” like most of college, is life in that blissful bubble you described. Which, when you think about it, is not exactly the most fruitful subject for drama.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons “Undeclared” failed. Certainly, its run was fairly typical for college-set television series. Other than ” A Different World” and “Felicity” (and maybe the current series “Community,” though its future seems very much in doubt) they’ve all died a quick death. Alison, do you agree that “Undeclared”‘s setting, and its relative lack of stakes, is a big part of its failure? And if not, why did the show die as quickly as “Freaks and Geeks?”

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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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