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“Undeclared” Ep. 11 and 12, “Rush and Pledge” / “Hell Week”

“Undeclared” Ep. 11 and 12, “Rush and Pledge” / “Hell Week” (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 11
Rush and Pledge
Written by Kristofor Brown
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

Episode 12
Hell Week
Written by Joel Madison & Seth Rogen
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

“All you ever do is worship these guys. It’s so silly.” — Lizzie

We’ve got an “Undeclared” two-parter this week, as Steven and Lizzie wade into the pickle juice soaked waters of Greek life on campus. Steven pledges Theta Delta Zeta, where Hal’s a legacy member and something of a local legend (he’s even got his own cutesy frat nickname: The Halcoholic). Lizzie joins the Theta Delta Zeta sisters, which is not quite a sorority and more like a collection of Theta groupies, decorating their rooms and performing skits for their amusement. It seems like a weird made-up group, but I wouldn’t know for sure since fraternities are definitely not my area of expertise. In my four year undergraduate experience I had almost no contact with frats: I never rushed, never pledged, and attended maybe one frat party in four years. So I can’t speak to the authenticity of “Undeclared”‘s depiction of this world.

That said, “Rush and Pledge” does feature a storyline that hits me right in the gut, a subplot that I could have written because I lived it myself, and that’s Tina’s maddening obsession for OMC’s “How Bizzare.” When I was a freshman in college, my roommate — a perfect guy to live with in just about every other way — had a similar problem. He owned about 30 CDs but he only ever played three of them: Goo Goo Dolls’ “Dizzy Up the Girl,” Third Eye Blind’s eponymous debut, and — and I swear I’m not making this up — Rockapella’s “Don’t Tell Me You Do.”

He didn’t listen to them in a cycle either, he’d listen to one over and over for weeks on end. To this day, I know every word to every song on that Goo Goo Dolls album and I have never willingly listened to it in my entire life. So I feel Rachel’s pain as Tina plays “How Bizarre” over and over, though I acknowledge that the storyline’s conclusion — Rachel and Tina get into a bad music battle, trying to one-up each other with obnoxious pop songs until they discover common ground in the form of Enrique Iglesias — is pretty contrived.

Rachel and Tina’s imbroglio highlights the other major theme of this two-parter besides fraternity craziness, and that’s the problems inherent in randomly assigned roommates. Steven only joins the frat because of how poorly Lloyd, Ron and Marshall have been treating him, calling him names and picking on him as the designated punching bag of the suite. And in “Hell Week,” a second tiff erupts in the girls’ room, as Lizzie and Tina try to confront Rachel about her overeating and weight gain, which prompts a massive name-calling dust-up. Theta ringleader Books (Samm Levine, cast against “Freaks and Geeks” type as a BMOC) may be a power-mad douche, but he makes a damn good point during his sales pitch: as freshmen, we don’t pick a lot of our friends at college as much as colleges pick them for us. That was definitely the case with me: most of the guys on my floor were boring drunks and I spent the majority of my first semester alone in my room.

But enough about my pathetic excuse for a life at 17; I want to hear about your pathetic excuse for a life, Alison. Actually, even though we’ve been co-workers for more than five years, I don’t even know the answer to this question: were you in a sorority in college? For all I know you were a Theta sister, living a life of debauchery and popularity. Do you have any experiences that make these episodes ring particularly true or false? And did you know what a “GDI,” the insult Books slings at Lloyd, is? I had to look it up.

Alison: GDI = God Damn Independent, aka a non-fraternity or sorority affiliated student, though I’ve never heard anyone actually use the term. The Greek scene was pretty minimal at Yale, despite G. W. Bush being a proud member of DKE in his undergrad era, during which he reportedly branded incoming pledges with a heated coat hanger. (And Steven thought pickles were bad!) Frats actually died out entirely in the mid ’70s, and the ones that eventually grew back were low key and based out of the same crumbling rented houses most of us who moved off campus shared.

If you really felt like your life would be improved by weird rituals and promises of eternal brother or sisterhood, you held out for a secret society senior year, a grittily realistic portrait of membership in which can of course be found in the 2000 film “The Skulls,” starring Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker as a legacy kid whose name is, no kidding, Caleb Mandrake. To make these episodes closer to my freshman year college experience, they would have to involve kids around the dorm getting tapped for a cappella singing groups, which have always been a big thing on the ol’ campus. Singing! So much singing! I get hives just thinking about it.

12102010_undeclared11b.jpgSo no, I was never in a sorority or a fraternity auxiliary group, which apparently are (or at least were) real things. Did you notice Cindy Sanders herself, Natasha Melnick, appropriately cast as the leader of the Little Sisters? They’re basically portrayed as cheerleaders for the frat, sneaking into Steven’s dorm and decorating it like Cindy decorated Todd Schellinger’s locker before a game in “Freaks and Geeks,” and kept around to date or hook up with one of the frat boys whenever the opportunity comes up. It seems repellent, but as you point out, Matt, these episodes emphasize the underlying arbitrariness of college connections. Lloyd, Marshall and Ron seem justified in wanting to rescue Steven from TDZ, but what more do they have in common with him than the frat boys? They all just happened to be housed in the same suite, and they put him through their own version of hazing. It’s proximity and time spent together at least as much things in common that determines friendships in this environment — or romantic relationships, for that matter. Would Lizzie and Steven have ever hooked up if they weren’t living on the same flood?

While we’re reminiscing about our college days, I feel the need to point out that while I fully understand stress eating and witnessed many a fellow student “catch,” as Tina puts it, the freshman 15, I actually spent my first semester away eating only cheese and tomato sandwiches, returning home skinny and anemic enough to make my mom cry. If only I’d had a George Foreman grill, that great dorm room cooking equipment staple on which the boys cook bacon in order to store up enough grease to throw at Books, I wouldn’t have fared so badly (I remember someone telling me about how they would grill cookie dough on theirs). Matt, what’d you live on in college? And do you believe in the frat’s embrace of brotherhood through shared humiliation?

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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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