Ever spent some time in a college dorm? As an almost entirely clueless incoming freshman? With no friends and no idea where to find some? Well, I sure as hell have, and I can tell you this: before Undeclared, no television series had even come close to recapturing what it feels like: the awkwardness of meeting new friends, the novelty of freedom, and the allure of the opposite sex; the parties, the all-night chat sessions, and the dank, cramped, little rooms full of notebooks, photographs, post-it notes, and corkboards...
The real stuff, basically, and not the wildly unrealistic silliness that's found in most college-set movies and TV shows. Undeclared absolutely reeks of the true "college experience," and it brings those years back to life in a way that's quietly hilarious, endearingly honest, and almost uncomfortably familiar.
Not surprisingly, Undeclared has a lot in common with the also-brilliant Freaks and Geeks: they're both amazingly funny, and I mean funny in the "Oh jeez, I've had conversations EXACTLY like this!" sort of way -- and not the "Oh, he just fell into a toilet!" way. Both series boast an ensemble cast of young actors who, quite simply, could not be better suited to work with one another. As incoming freshman and central schnook Steven, Jay Baruchel is nothing short of perfect. A walking ball of normal-kid tics, questions, and insecurities, Baruchel creates a character you'll adore from the word go.
As Steven's trio of very different new roommates, Charlie Hunnam, Seth Rogen, and Timm Sharp combine to form one exceedingly entertaining crew. Sometimes goofy, sometimes tough, and always very loyal, these guys are precisely like the old college pals you used to know and love. As the lovely ladies from across the hall, Carla Gallo and Monica Keena bring a sort of sweet and realistic femininity that you very rarely see on TV these days -- and as Steven's somewhat clueless but always adoring father, Loudon Wainwright is an absolute revelation. Known mainly for his impressive career in music, Wainwright creates a character who, on the surface, seems broad and goofy –- but there's some real heart and emotion underneath, which means he fits into the ensemble just perfectly.
Populating the background is a brilliant bunch of recurring characters: Christina Payano, as Tina, has an appearance-to-laugh ratio of about .955; as the clueless R.A. Lucien, Kevin Rankin is lots of fun; there's Jarrett Grode as the hysterically glib know-it-all Perry; and then there's Jason Segel, as Lizzie's ex-boyfriend Eric, who is drop-dead hilarious on every single visit.
Leave it to the co-producer of one of the finest "high school shows" ever made (again, that'd be Freaks and Geeks, and yes, you should be taking notes) to deliver one of the finest glimpses of college ever brought to the small screen. Frankly, Judd Apatow's creations are simply too damn good for network television, which might explain why both series were canceled before they reached their 19th episodes. This might come as bittersweet praise to Mr. Apatow, but deep down he knows it's true: Judd, your shows are simply too smart, too sweet, and too heart-wrenchingly familiar for the average Joe Sixpack to enjoy.
But thank the lord Jeebus for the advent of DVD, because now a series like Undeclared can be discovered and re-discovered by the kinds of people who adore whip-smart writing, poignant and warm recollections, and great, young actors who work together like a fine-tuned orchestra. To say that Undeclared is unfit for the Fox network is like saying that champagne is unfit for McDonald's.
But enough with the Fox-bashing. Frankly we owe the network a debt of thanks for greenlighting the show in the first place ... even if they did act like blithering infants once it came to promoting and supporting the series. So while you sit back to enjoy this fantastic 4-disc set, you should shake your symbolic fist at the Fox folks for canceling the show so stupidly –- while also silently thanking them for the production money in the first place.
And there's one final thing I noticed while doing my research and enjoying the holy hell out of the Undeclared DVDs: the episode directors! The seven directors who worked on the 17 episodes of Undeclared are as follows:
Judd Apatow – producer of Freaks and Geeks and the Will Ferrell flicks Anchorman and Kicking & Screaming, and writer of the upcoming comedies The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Fun with Dick and Jane
Jay Chandrasekhar – member of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, writer/director of Super Troopers, Club Dread, and the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard
Jon Favreau – well-admired character actor, writer of Swingers and Made, director of Made, Elf, and the upcoming Zathura
Paul Feig – creator of Freaks and Geeks, writer/director of I Am David
John Hamburg – writer of Meet the Parents, Zoolander, Along Came Polly & Meet the Fockers
Jake Kasdan – writer/director of Zero Effect, director of Orange County
Greg Mottola – writer/director of he Daytrippers (which is a movie you need to rent)
(Also interesting to note that several of these directors also did some work on Arrested Development, which, The Simpsons notwithstanding, is basically the only bastion of great, grown-up humor still left on the Fox network.)
A few random notes before we get to the disc inventories:
1. Yes, there are some songs missing from the episodes. From the mouth of Judd Apatow himself: "We were able to clear 96 percent of the music, and the songs we couldn't get, about ten, were not important songs. So we did really well there. There were some people like Jay Z and Outkast that weren't huge when we used there music and now they wanted too much money or just said no." A slight disappointment, but in no way a big deal.
2. Fans of the Freaks and Geeks "Ultimate Yearbook Edition" DVD will want to know that this 4-disc Undeclared set is the ONLY one being released. So if you're waiting for the slightly swankier and more expensive Undeclared set ... you just saved twenty bucks. Feel free to pre-order right now.
3. Once again, and for no good reason, Fox decided to air a series completely out of production order, which certainly doesn't help when you're talking about minor things like character development and the gradual evolution of the kids' relationships. The DVD places the episodes in their original production order*, but I've included each episode's original airdate, just so you can see the pointlessly random way in which Fox (mis)handled the series. I'll also include each episode's most enjoyable cameo appearances, as there are several.
Episode 101 – "Prototype" (Original Airdate: 9-25-01)
Clueless, dorky, and entirely lovable college freshman Steven Karp arrives at his new dorm and meets up with roommates Lloyd, Ron & Marshall, as well as the two adorable co-eds from across the hall: Lizzie & Rachel. A floor party leads to a night of potential carnality for the youthful virgin, but Steven's sad-sack papa Hal shows up, whining about his impending divorce. (Hey, look it's: Tom Welling!)
--Unaired Footage: "Going Away," "Long Distance Relationship," "Ron's Party Advice," "Come to Our Party," "Bible Party," "Straight East Coast Thug Hip Hop Meets Brit Pop," and "Desperate Partygoers"
--Audio Commentary with series creator Judd Apatow and episode director Jake Kasdan
Episode 102A – "Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend?" (1-8-02)
Steven feels deservedly proud of losing his virginity to the lovely Lizzie, but Lloyd tells him he has to get busy a second time for it to "mean" anything long-term. Steven and Lizzie go on a date to see American Pie, but her annoying old boyfriend, Eric, ruins the moment. (Hey, look it's: Amy Poehler! And Fred Willard!)
--Unaired Footage: "History Comes Alive! Full Take," "Lizzie Takes Eric's Call," and "Steven Takes Eric's Call"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow and actor Jay ("Steven") Baruchel
Episode 102B – "Full Bluntal Nugety" (unaired)
This is the original version of episode 102A, with the same "main plot" – only this time Steven and Lizzie's date takes them to a Ted Nugent lecture. The explanation as to why this episode was later re-shot is best left to the professionals, so be sure to check out the commentary track. (Hey, look it's: Ted Nugent! and Fred Willard again!)
--Unaired Footage: "Smooth Move, Steve" and "Rachel's Deleted Nuge Connection"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow, actor Fred ("Professor Duggan") Willard, and writer/producer Kristofor Brown (note: this commentary runs a good four minutes longer than the actual episode, so listen in for extra goodness!)
Episode 103 – "Eric Visits" (10-2-01)
Lizzie's boyfriend Eric stops by for an eventful visit; Lloyd and Ron sit down (drunk) to enjoy "You've Got Mail," and Rachel convinces Marshall that "wearing" a pet will help him become a campus stud. (Hey, look it's: Mike White!)
--Unaired Footage: "Ron's Favorite Film" and "Pet Store"
--Audio Commentary with episode director John Hamburg, Carla ("Lizzie") Gallo, and Timm ("Marshall") Sharp
Episode 104 – "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" (1-15-02)
Tuition troubles dictate that Steven get a job at the dorm cafeteria; meanwhile, Rachel starts dating an acting major who has the annoying habit of perpetual impersonation. After incurring the wrath of cafeteria manager Mr. Birundi, Steven tires of the gig, but reconsiders when his father becomes a waiter to help pay the college bills. (Special praise due to: Geoffrey Arend as Jimmy, a young actor who does a great Pacino and a near-flawless Walken! And watch out for Gerry Bednob as the hilariously apoplectic Mr. Birundi!)
--Unaired Footage: "Answering Machine Impressionist," "Campus Employment," "Birundi's Tirade," and "Cafeteria Food"
--Audio Commentary with Jay Baruchel, Seth ("Ron") Rogen, and Gerry ("Mr. Birundi") Bednob
Episode 105 – "Sick in the Head" (10-16-01)
Marshall's suffering from an awful fever, and he decides to subject himself to Rachel's herbal remedies. And down the hall in the dorm rec room, the non-sex-having coeds congregate nightly to gripe about their rutting roommates. (Hey, look it's: (the very beautiful) Katharine Towne! (a.k.a. the ex-Mrs. Charlie Hunnam!))
--Unaired Footage: "Late Night Argument" and "Life Imitates Art Imitates Life"
--Audio Commentary with episode director Greg Mottola, Seth Rogen, Timm Sharp, and Monica ("Rachel") Keena
Episode 106 – "The Assistant" (11-13-01) Geek chaos erupts when Adam Sandler comes to the campus for a concert, but things get even more insane when the famous funnyman stops by the dorm for a visit –- and takes Lizzie back to his hotel. (Hey, look it's: Adam Sandler and his frequent partners-in-crime Allen Covert & John Loughran!)
--Unaired Footage: "Tina's Fridge," "Rice Cake," "Pre-Game Speech," and "The Morgue"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen
Episode 107 – "Truth or Dare" (1-29-02)
Desperately afraid that they've slipped entirely into the "friend zone" with their girlfriends from across the hall, the boys concoct an elaborate game of Truth or Dare to spice up the romantic angle. (Hey, look it's: Freaks and Geeks alumnus Busy Philipps!)
--Unaired Footage: "She Just Gets Me," "Ron Pink Undie Riffs," "Lloyd's Special Cocktail," and "Size Comparison"
--Audio Commentary with Greg Mottola, Jarrett ("Perry") Grode, Busy ("Kelly") Philipps, Monica Keena, and Seth Rogen
Episode 108 – "Addicts" (10-9-01)
The gang get their very first credit cards, and things get a little wacky: Ron and Lloyd become addicted to the online stock market, Marshall discovers the power of "the wad," and Steven, Lizzie, and Rachel use their newfound bankroll to buy some essays from a speed-freak townie guy. (Hey, look it's: Will Ferrell as the speed-freak townie guy!)
--Unaired Footage: "Acting Exercises," "Throwing Quarters at Lloyd," "Video Games and Speed," and "Coming Down off Video Games and Speed"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow, Jay Baruchel, and writers Jennifer Konner & Alexandra Rushfield
Episode 109 – "Eric Visits Again" (11-20-01)
Rachel accidentally lets Eric know that Lizzie and Steven have done "the deed," so the loopy copy-shop manager races to the dorm in a rage. Lloyd and Steven pay homage to Fight Club to prepare for the inevitable altercation. (Hey, look it's: David Krumholtz and Tenacious D's Kyle Gass as Eric's copy-shop posse!)
--Unaired Footage: "Take 'em Down," "Vending Machine XXX," "Fight Practice Long Take," "Bird's-Eye Breakdance," "Kopy Talk," "Kopy Guys Drive to Kick Ass," and "Deleted Safety Walk"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow, Charlie ("Lloyd") Hunnam, Jason ("Eric") Segel, and writer Nicholas Stoller
Episode 110 – "God Visits" (unaired)
Steven discovers the beauty of religion at the same time that Lloyd embraces the angst-laden mindset of existentialism. Lizzie & Rachel turn their newly vacant room into a swingin' party pad. (Hey, look it's: the hilarious Kevin Hart as a bible-lovin' college boy – in an episode that never made it to the airwaves!)
--Unaired Footage: "Other Girls," "Holy Baseball," "Tina's Favorite Program," and "Nude Scenes from Cable (Medley)"
--Audio Commentary with Jay Baruchel, Kevin ("Luke") Hart, Charlie Hunnam, Seth Rogen, and writer/producer Rodney Rothman – with a surprise guest appearance by Judd Apatow in full-on promotional mode.
Episode 111 – "Parent's Weekend" (1-22-02)
Various family members hit the dorm: Steven's estranged parents make things weird; Rachel's suspicious mama finds a cache of illicit goods; and Ron falls in love with Lloyd's adorable sister. (Hey, look it's: Mary Kay Place as Rachel's worry-wart of a mother! and Kimberly (daughter of Rod) Stewart as Lloyd's ultra-smokin' sibling!)
--Unaired Footage: "Amsterdam," "Man of a Thousand Sound Effects," "Virgin Anxiety," and "Amanda's Secret"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow and Loudon ("Hal") Wainwright
Episode 112 – "Rush and Pledge" (12-11-01)
Lloyd, Ron, and Marshall do everything they can to stop Steven from pledging a fraternity. Lizzie makes things harder by signing up for the "little sister" sorority treatment. Rachel and new roommate Tina have a music war. Note: As an ex-fraternity guy, this episode is absolutely my favorite of the series. Apatow's crew skewers the Greek system like it truly deserves. (Hey, look it's: Freaks and Geeks alumni Samm Levine and Natasha Melnick!)
--Unaired Footage: "Just Delicious," "Lloyd Talks American," "Stereo Wars – Tina," "Stereo Wars – Rachel," and "Samm Levine Poetic Justice" (This last one is drop-dead hilarious, trust me.)
--Audio Commentary with Jay Baruchel, Kristofor Brown, Jarrett Grode, and Seth Rogen
Episode 113 – "Hell Week" (12-18-01)
Steven hates the frat's pledging rituals, so he quits, thereby sparking a war between the dorm boys and the greek goofballs. Across the hall, Lizzie and Tina notice that Rachel's starting to gain that unsightly "freshman 15." (Plus we get a second visit from good ol' Samm Levine, a kid who's always a freakin' hoot.)
--Unaired Footage: "Fraternity Welcome," "Ready to Have Some Fun?," "Fraternity Goodbye," "Binge Studying," "I'm Sorry," "Switch to Decaf," and "Theta Conference Mishap"
--Audio Commentary with episode director Jay Chandrasekhar, Carla Gallo, Samm ("Books") Levine, writer/producer Joel Madison, and Christina ("Tina") Payano
Episode 114 – "The Day After" (2-12-02)
Lloyd coaches Steven on how to become "the man" in his romance with Lizzie; needless to say, Lloyd's advice leads to a lot of angst as the coeds head out for a night on the town. (Hey, look it's: fine French femme Alexa Davalos and our old pal Busy Philipps!)
--Unaired Footage: "Manly Advice," "Luke's Game," and "Luke and Tina Connection"
--Audio Commentary with Jay Baruchel, Kevin Hart, Charlie Hunnam, Christina Payano, and Seth Rogen
Episode 115 – "The Perfect Date" (2-19-02)
Steven tries to plan the perfect evening for him and Lizzie, but dorky high-school pal Theo pops up and threatens to ruin the mood –- before Ron, Lloyd, and Marshall bring him to a swingin' floor party. (Hey, look it's: yet another Freaks and Geeks alumni: Martin Starr!)
--Unaired Footage: "Romantic Food," "Massage Practice," "Massage Offer," "Ron Disses Marshall's Zit," "I'm Popping It," "Canadian Room," and "Drunk Theo"
--Audio Commentary with Jay Baruchel, writer Brent Forrester, and Martin ("Theo") Starr
Episode 116 – "Hal and Hillary" (3-5-02)
Steve's dad and the head resident advisor strike up an unlikely romance, thereby igniting the impotent fury of Lucien, the 4th floor R.A. Also, Marshall finds love with a Japanese girl who speaks no English. (Say hello again to the awesome Amy Poehler, and a round of applause for Kevin Rankin as Lucien, who pops up every few episodes to steal the show.)
--Unaired Footage: "Morning," "Booty Chart," "Hal and Hillary Say Goodbye," "Hal Enrolls," "Steven and Hillary Wrestle," and "Slip N Slip"
--Audio Commentary with Judd Apatow, Timm Sharp, Loudon Wainwright, and Kevin ("Lucien") Rankin
Episode 117 – "Eric's POV" (3-12-02)
A lazy Saturday afternoon of junk food, hairdressing, and pornography is (almost) interrupted by the heartbroken antics of crazy ol' Eric. (Featuring more wacky antics from the Kopy Shop gang of Segal, Krumholtz, and Gass. And hey look, it's: Ben Stiller as Eric's burnout ex-stepfather!)
--Unaired Footage: "Eric and Lizzie's Videotape," "Cardboard Cutout," "Cardboard Cutout Revenge," and "Cardboard Cutout Remorse"
--Audio Commentary with Carla Gallo, Nicholas Stoller, and David ("Greg") Krumholtz
Here's where you'll find a variety of Undeclared special goodness ... as if 18 rather hilarious commentaries and a truckload of deleted scenes aren't enough!
There's a 23-minute collection of cast auditions that features Jay Baruchel, Carla Gallo, Charlie Hunnam, Monica Keena, Timm Sharp, Loudon Wainwright & Amy Wright, Loudon Wainwright & Timm Sharp, Jason Segel & Seth Rogen, and Kevin Rankin
Next up is a 9-minute series of rehearsals entitled Roommate Anxiety, Do Not Disturb, Steven Party Invite, Marshall Party Invite, Perry's Party Pitch, and Salsa
Loudon Wainwright Live features eight concert clips from the rather brilliant songwriter / singer / musician. The playlist is: Bill of Goods, My Biggest Fan, Heaven, When You Leave, The World, Motel Blues, Primrose Hill, and White Wings. All together this fantastic mini-concert runs a full 30 minutes, and there's a text bio offered as well, so you can get to know Mr. Wainwright a little better.
Courtesy of The Museum of Television & Radio comes a very entertaining 71-minute Cast & Crew Q & A session. The panel consists of: series creator Judd Apatow, supervising producer Victor Hsu, director Jake Kasdan, and actors David Krumholtz, Samm Levine, Martin Starr, Jarrett Grode, Loudon Wainwright, Jason Segel, Timm Sharp, Carla Gallo, Charlie Hunnam, Seth Rogen, and Jay Baruchel.
Mr. Apatow gets things rolling in typically self-deprecating form before introducing a pair of episodes for an appreciative audience ("Hillary and Hal" & "Eric's POV"). Once we come back from the break (and wait through a thorough dispersement of microphones), Christina Payano has joined the panel, and now it's question time. Our moderator keeps the info flowing along, and director Greg Mottola joins the panel about halfway through. Then it's time for questions from the audience members, all of which are met with clever answers and good humor.
The final supplement is an episode script called "Lloyd's Rampage," which was meant to be the opening episode of season 2 ... a season that, sadly, never came.
The A/V specifications are pretty much top-drawer. The episodes are presented in their original fullscreen format, and they look just as good as they did back in 2001 and '02**. Audio is presented in your choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 or DD 5.1, and either track should suit your needs quite nicely. I opted for the 5.1 because there's lots of good music to be found sprinkled throughout Undeclared.
All Judd Apatow has to do in order to create an amazingly successful and long-running TV series is this: forget about warmth and wit and chemistry; stick firmly to the established formula, employ a flimsy gimmick, and make sure that every line of dialogue is riddled with predictable jokes, meaningless platitudes, and goofy pratfalls ... oh, and always be sure to hire one actor who can do a rrrrreally silly accent. That's the stuff that sells T-shirts, folks.
It used to be that when a show was canceled real quickly –- it was because the show was usually pretty terrible. Nowadays those tables are turned; the awful shows get to be awful for seven consecutive seasons, while the unique, the weird, the creative, and the sincere get tossed in the trash-pile for the unforgivable sin of not being a "instant mega-smash hit."
Undeclared is an absolute joy of a TV series, full of painful memories, fond nostalgia, a warm-hearted sense of honest humor, and an almost palpable sense of sweetness. This stuff might not be "good enough" for the Fox network, but it's found a very welcome home in my DVD player, and this stellar 4-disc set is absolutely worthy of our highest recommendation: DVD Talk Collector's Series. Rent one disc from Netflix and you'll be planning to buy the whole set in less than 40 minutes. (And a loud round of applause for the fine folks at Shout! Factory for giving this wonderfully enjoyable TV series such a superlative DVD treatment.)
* A note from Mr. Apatow himself:
I hate to say it, but we made a mistake. The episodes are not in the proper order. How does that happen? Well, the network ran them in a random order, so we started shooting them without too much concern for episode order, and then when it was time to make this DVD we got confused. But fear not, below is the the preferred order of episodes for Undeclared for your enjoyment.
But if you like the current crazy order, more power to you.
2A. Oh, So You Have a Boyfriend?
2B. Full Bluntal Nugety
3. Eric Visits
4. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
5. Sick in the Head
6. The Assistant
8. God Visits
9. Parent's Weekend
10. Eric Visits Again
11. Rush and Pledge
12. Hell Week
13. Truth or Dare
14. The Day After
15. The Perfect Date
16. Hal and Hilary
17. Eric's POV
(For a printable insert with this information on it, head on over to the official Undeclared website.)
(**A look at the final product of these discs shows a fairly gritty picture. It's not a huge problem through out the discs but manifests itself as a real blotchy look in some of the darker scenes Example 1 Example 2 -- ed.)