“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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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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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