“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.
The Perfect Date
Written by Judd Apatow & Brent Forrester
Directed by Greg Mottola
Hal and Hillary
Written by Kristofor Brown
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
“Intercourse you!” — Kikuki
We’re rapidly approaching the end of “Undeclared,” with just one week and one episode left after this column. As “Freaks and Geeks” neared its premature conclusion it reinvested in narrative, bringing Sam Weir and Cindy Sanders’ storyline to a head and throwing Lindsay into an existential crisis about what she was going to do with her summer and, by extension, her life. “Undeclared,” in contrast, appears to intentionally avoid anything resembling a wrap up. Instead, Judd Apatow and company seem to relish the “Undeclared” characters’ ethos of slacking off, hanging out, and doing not much of anything.
Look in particular at episode 16, “Hal and Hillary.” The primary storyline is sparked by Hal Karp’s sudden relationship with Steven’s head RA Hillary (Amy Poehler, a returning guest star from earlier in the series). Their May-December romance enrages RA Lucien (Kevin Rankin), who takes out all of his frustration on Steven, hounding him for playing music too loud or refusing to clean up a sink that someone else had dirtied. After Steven fights back with some “monkeyshines” (with Lloyd’s help) Lucien announces his intention to kick Steven out of the dorm and out of school.
With the end seemingly near, Steven, Lloyd and Lizzie decide to give a big middle finger to Lucien and UNEC by turning the hallway of floor 4 into one enormous Slip N Slide. Replace the words “Lucien and UNEC” with “Fox” (the channel that originally broadcasted “Undeclared”) and you get the idea: you’re gonna cancel us? Well guess what? In our second to last episode, we’re going to spend five minutes just showing kids Slip N Sliding. As Steven says, if this is his last day at college, he’s going out with a fight.
That sort of eff you attitude is soaked into all these late “Undeclared” episodes. The characters, never particularly kind to begin with, have become downright cruel to each other. In episode 15, “The Perfect Date,” Marshall gets an enormous zit and becomes the butt of Ron and Lloyd’s jokes. Later, Ron and Marshall use Steven’s visiting high school friend Theo (“Freaks and Geeks”‘ Martin Starr) to “crotchblock” Lloyd as he attempts to score with the roommate of a woman he slept with and unceremoniously dumped. And in “Hal and Hillary,” Rachel, who has repeatedly shown little to no interest in Marshall despite his obvious feelings for her, intentionally sabotages his relationship with a Japanese exchange student. And though Ron initially comes to Marshall’s defense when Rachel asks for his help in messing with his new girlfriend, he immediately relents and helps her with her prank.
The case of “Freaks and Geeks” was so lovable. Even seemingly villainous characters like the gym teacher Coach Fredricks and school bully Alan White were revealed to have complex and even sympathetic characterizations. The more we learn about the cast of “Undeclared,” the less I like them. Maybe that was part of Apatow’s plan all along, maybe that was a adversarial reaction to network notes demanding he make the characters more appealing. Either way, as we reach the end of “Undeclared” I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed the ride tremendously (and I think “Hal and Hillary” is one of the series’ most purely pleasurable half hours, with some great physical gags and a couple of terrific punchlines), but I won’t miss any of these characters. Alison, do you agree?
Alison: Very much so. There’s a vaguely “Seinfeld”ian vibe to these two episodes, what with all the kind of awful things these alleged friends do to one another in the name of entertaining themselves or proving a point. Rachel and Ron’s messing with Marshall’s awkwardly sweet relationship with Kikuki (played by Youki Kudoh of “Mystery Train” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”) was genuinely dickish, crossing over the line of playfully given your buddy a hard time and into the just plain mean. It’s softened by the hint that Rachel was motivated by jealousy over Marshall’s relationship (“She’s got the boobs of a six year old,” she cattily observes), but while Marshall’s immediately ready to commit to that and breaks things off with Kikuki in order to go back to trailing after Rachel like a puppy, Ron’s not convinced. Neither am I — it sure looks like Rachel is feeling territorial, but that doesn’t mean she’s about to start dating Marshall, just that she likes having his attention. And what’s Ron’s excuse there?
Lloyd’s lothario ways, which have been played as a joke up until this point, also come under fire here, when he tries to pick up an “angel” (“Shark”‘s Sarah Carter) living on the seventh floor, only to have her call him on his bullshit thanks to her having witnessed what he did to her roommate and leave him cold. Lloyd, who usually acts benevolent toward his less aesthetically gifted friends, responds by acting territorially in his own way (“Nobody liked ‘Freddy Got Fingered,'” he tells Theo, clearly having never read A.O. Scott’s review), refusing to believe someone could ever pay even platonic attention to another male when he’s an option. It’s arrogant and awful, and compounded by Ron and Marshall’s using poor Theo as a way to get back at their friend.
Less dislikable than weird is Steven’s over-the-top date of wine, roses and slow-dancing with Lizzie (intercut for full effect with Theo’s wild time at the “Around the World” party). I don’t know what your college romances were like, but staying up all night talking or being brought a coffee at the library were more in the line of the lovable gestures I’d expect. Something like what Steven plans for Lizzie would have made me feel silly and smothered. Misguided male panic has been a theme of this series — recall Ron’s non-sexual encounter with Lloyd’s sister thanks to fears of inadequacy in “Parents’ Weekend” — and here, once again, we see a guy failing to understand what a girl actually wants and expects and attempting to compensate. Lizzie doesn’t care about Lloyd’s nerdy, celibate past, and she doesn’t need Eric-style gaudy gestures.
Even the Hillary and Lucien shenanigans, after running through some true collegiate rowdiness culminating in Hillary and Steven flopping around on a Slip N Slide mat, Steven yelling “You’re not my stepmother!”, become a bit of a buzzkill thanks to Hillary’s weepy announcement about the judgment-free Muslim Awareness pizza party. But enough of that. Matt, how impressive are those monkeyshines, and don’t a fair amount of them seem plain impossible?