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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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.