|Undeclared: The Complete Series (2001)
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Carla Gallo, Charlie Hunnam, Monica Keena, Christina Payano, Seth Rogen, Timm Sharp, and Loudon Wainwright III
ALSO! Click here to read Will's interview with series creator Judd Apatow.
When NBC cancelled “Freaks and Geeks” – despite the fact that all the cool kids loved it and told all of their friends about it – Judd Apatow, a director, producer, and writer for the show, no doubt saw the glass as half-full, having visions of building on the foundation he and “F&G” creator, Paul Feig, had established. After all, with the American viewing public possessing the gift of hindsight, surely the mere phrase “from the people who brought you ‘Freaks and Geeks’” would be enough to ensure a hit for Apatow’s next show, whatever it might be.
Wrong. In fact, the show, “Undeclared,” only lasted 16 episodes...one less than “Freaks and Geeks.”
“Undeclared” was Apatow’s way of solving the quandary, “How can I possibly keep working with as many of the same people as possible?” “Freaks and Geeks” was a show about high school, so, since a few years had passed, the next obvious step was to do a show about college.
Steven Karp – played by Jay Baruchel (“Million Dollar Baby”) – is starting college and determined to recreate himself. No more “X-Files,” no more geekdom. He figures that no one at this school knows him, so he can be whoever he wants to be. Of course, that’s easier said than done...particularly given that, as he’s trying to be a new man, his father (Loudon Wainwright III) is getting a divorce and coming to terms with being a bachelor for the first time in two decades, a transition which finds him visiting Steven at school far more than Steven had either hoped or anticipated. Steven’s roommates – expatriate Brit Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam), the decidedly eccentric Marshall (Timm Sharp), and the living embodiment of sarcasm, Ron (Seth Rogen, formerly Ken on “Freaks and Geeks”) – don’t fall for it for a minute, of course, but in their own way, they’re all outcasts, too, so they bond pretty quickly. And since college isn’t college without budding romance, Steven crushes hard on Lizzie (Carla Gallo, from “Carnivale”)...a love seemingly doomed to failure, as she’s in the midst of a long-distance romance.
The plots of “Undeclared” will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time at all in college: getting a job on campus, pledging into a fraternity, dealing with prank battles and, perhaps worst of all, returning to your room to find that your roommate has put out the international symbol for “find somewhere else to sleep tonight”: a scrunchie on the doorknob. There’s also a great episode where Adam Sandler performs a concert on the campus, then is brought up to the dorm to hang out; anyone who’s ever met a celebrity and felt intimidated or said the wrong thing will cringe right along with the characters.
Just as “Undeclared” was beginning to hit its stride, Fox proceeded to cancel it. It probably didn’t help that the network showed the episodes in a different order than they were intended, resulting in confusion for the viewers as various plot developments weren’t playing out properly. Also, one has to figure that Fox just wasn’t even trying to promote the show; with guest stars like Sandler, Fred Willard, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Kyle Gass from Tenacious D, and most of the cast of “Freaks and Geeks,” this show was clearly somewhere that comedians were willing to visit without much in the way of cajoling.
Ensemble comedies are a tricky business, but Apatow has a way with them. The cast of “Undeclared” bonded from the get-go, and, when the time came to record commentary for the DVD, every one of them gladly came back to participate. Like the “Freaks and Geeks” set – also by Shout! Factory – the commentaries themselves are almost worth the price of admission. The camaraderie that must’ve existed on the set shines through as the cast and crew discuss their experiences on the show. There are also tons and tons of unaired footage included on the set, audition tapes, a Q&A panel from the Museum of TV and Radio (where Apatow, otherwise known as the Nostradamus of television, prophesizes correctly that, “now that you’re paying tribute to us, we should be cancelled within the week!”), and a half-hour concert by Wainwright, which, for music fans, may well prove to be the highlight of this set.
Add this to the list of shows that were cancelled before their time, but which will live on via DVD. Anyone who wants to relive their college days without all those damned classes and grades getting in the way, consider auditing “Undeclared.” You won’t be disappointed.