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“Undeclared” Ep. 9 and 10, “Parents’ Weekend” / “Eric Visits Again”

“Undeclared” Ep. 9 and 10, “Parents’ Weekend” / “Eric Visits Again” (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 9
Parents Weekend
Written by Rodney Rothman
Directed by John Hamburg

Episode 10
Eric Visits Again
Written by Nicholas Stoller
Directed by Greg Mottola

“Bring the ruckus!” –Eric

Alison: In “Parents’ Weekend,” we at last get to meet Steven’s errant mother (played by Amy Wright), along with Marshall’s Midwestern family (Cathy Lind Hayes and Joel McKinnon Miller), Rachel’s rehab-happy single mom and Lloyd’s hot-to-trot sister Amanda (Kimberly Stewart). Having previously existed as a villainous unseen phantom busy frittering away Steven’s college savings on a few months of self-exploration in Eastern Europe, Debra Karp turns out to be nothing so demonic in person. She’s just a mom who’s very happy to catch up with her son and not happy at all to have to also catch up with the husband from which she’s trying to separate.

I actually wish Debra got a more screen time in this episode, which is a little overstuffed with three other plotlines running — Ron deciding whether or not to sleep with Amanda, Marshall working up to telling his parents that he’s become a music major and Rachel’s mother finding her contraband and being led to believe it belongs to Lizzie — because it’s another, more nuanced example of the disconnect between the genders in this show. Debra is the one who left Hal, and here Hal tries to make it work, claiming his time spent watching “Oprah” (since he’s working nights at the restaurant, he must be home during the day) has improved his skills as a listener.

And Debra’s the one who makes the break final at the end of the episode, and though we’re given inklings of how Hal might not have been the ideal husband, we don’t get to her side of the story beyond that glimpse of how his presence instantly flattens her. Despite having to bear excruciating auditory witness to his parents first fighting and then hooking up in his dorm room, Steven doesn’t get to see the two get back together to try again.

Also not getting back together? Lizzie and Eric (Jason Segel), who in “Eric Visits Again” break up for good after the latter finds out about the former’s dalliance with Steven back in “Prototype.” This episode, directed by “Superbad”‘s Greg Mottola and written by “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”‘s Nicholas Stoller (how’s that for Team Apatow?), is probably my favorite of the series. It rises to a glorious point of absurdity in the middle that has Eric chasing Steven through campus to The Immortals’ “Techno Syndrome,” aka “that Mortal Kombat song,” leaping over a drum circle and speeding along on swiped Razor scooters, Steven in his boxers and bathrobe the whole time. The joke of the episode is that for all his menace, Eric’s really a big softie who is totally unsuited to fighting, and Lloyd actually gets more licks in when he’s instructing Steven, “Fight Club”-style, in the fine art of fighting, playing Brad Pitt to Baruchel’s Edward Norton. Much fun.

Matt, not to always steer these toward dissections of Apatow’s treatment of female characters, but what’s your take on the Amanda storyline in “Parents’ Weekend,” in which Ron gets an ideal no strings attached offer of sex from a pretty girl (and even gets Lloyd’s blessing), but is too insecure to go through with it?

Matt: I think it’s a classic Apatow and Rogen storyline: an inexperienced and socially awkward man’s fear of a beautiful woman. It reminds me of the Sam and Cindy storyline from “Freaks and Geeks”: Sam pines for ten episodes for the unobtainable dream girl but when she becomes obtainable he runs for the hills. “I’m scared!” he whines to his buddies when they ask him what’s wrong (and remember that line, folks; Steven’s going to use it on Lizzie in a few weeks).

Ron and Amanda play out exactly the same way: he talks a good game over the phone when she’s a continent away and impossible to touch, but when she’s available and interested suddenly he’s literally hiding from her to avoid having sex. Though Apatow gets a lot of guff about his portrayal of women, including from us on occasion, here the negative slant leans towards the men, who are insecure to the point of self-sabotage. Plus if you’re looking for further Apatogen connections (yes, I just combined their names into a new name, just go with it), don’t forget that a virginity panic angle — Ron, once again the center of a juicy storyline, can’t handle the pressure of deflowering Amanda, partly because he would also be deflowering himself — was all over Rogen’s first (Apatow produced) screenplay, “Superbad.”

12032010_undeclared09b.jpgI’m completely with you on “Eric Visits Again” as the comedic high point of the series. It’s basically a perfect episode; the only knock you can make is that there’s just too much good stuff for 22 minutes. I wish they’d made this a two or even three-parter, if only to get a few more minutes in Eric’s copy shop, which is staffed by a Murderer’s Row of sitcom guest stars: Segel, David Krumholtz, and Kyle Gass from Tenacious D.

We don’t get a ton of interplay between them — the funniest stuff is actually their improvisations over the closing credits, where the cameras were clearly left running as the trio riffed on stuff to say on their ride over to kill Steven — but if ever an “Undeclared” episode could have served as a backdoor pilot for another series, this should have been it. With Eric and Lizzie finally broken up for good, he could ride off into the sunset and onto his own show. Even though he’s just an occasional guest star, there’s no doubt in my mind that Eric is “Undeclared”‘s best character. He’s the ultimate Apatow man: super-needy, kind of creepy, sort of a screw-up, a bit of a wuss, and casually and accidentally hilarious. He certainly gets the best lines; his withering breakup diss to Lizzie — “You’re not my girlfriend! You’re my girl enemy!” — maybe the single funniest moment in seventeen episodes.

We discussed the diffusion of conflict in this column last week, but it bears repeating since it keeps happening: every storyline on “Undeclared” ends with in a payoff that undercuts the expected outcome. On “Parents’ Weekend,” Marshall frets all episode about his parents discovering his passion for music (a recent discovery, I guess, since it hasn’t come up on the show before) but at the end of the episode the issue isn’t resolved, merely tabled. Ron’s got his own worries — is Lloyd going to kill him if he finds out he de-virgined his sister — and his own understated payoff — Lloyd doesn’t care and happily gives his blessing. And on “Eric Visits Again,” despite a chipped tooth, the hotly anticipated Eric-Steven throwdown is far less violent than the Lloyd-Steven mock brawl a few scenes before.

Maybe this is just the nature of sitcoms, where you keep the stakes low to keep the laughs high. But maybe Apatow is willfully subverting our expectations. High school is all about drama; college tends to be more about hanging around and getting drunk with your buddies. I think the show’s lackadaisical approach to resolutions reflects that. Or maybe, as you pointed out Alison, the show was just too overstuffed for grand dramatic endings. I loved Mary Kay Place as Rachel’s intensely overbearing mother, but she doesn’t get much of a send-off here either. Plus, her systematic sweep of the girls’ room for contraband raises an interesting continuity question. After Rachel’s mother finds the stash of assorted debauchery accessories, Lizzie falls on her sword and accepts responsibility for the whole kit and caboodle. But if, as Rachel claims as she’s rattling off the items, the stash includes fake IDs, how the heck does Lizzie explain why she’d have a driver’s license with Rachel’s face on it?

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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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