Thursday, July 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Undeclared (2001-2002) ***½

TV-14, 17 22-min. episodes
Creator: Judd Apatow

Directors: Jake Kasdan, John Hamburg, Greg Mottola, Judd Apatow, Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Feig, Jon Favreau

Writers: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Jennifer Konner, Alexandra Rushfield, Seth Rogen, Nicholas Stoller, Kristofor Brown, Joel Madison, Brent Forrester

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Carla Gallo, Charlie Hunnam, Monica Keena, Seth Rogen, Tim Sharp, Loudon Wainwright

Guest starring: Jason Segel, Christina Payano, Kevin Rankin, Jarrett Grode, P.B. Smiley, Simon Helberg, Jenna Fischer, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Katherine Towne, Elisa Bocanegra, Leroy Adams, Greg Mottola, Adam Sandler, Allen Covert, Jonathan Loughran, Kyle Gass, David Krumholtz, Sarah Hagan, Sam Levine, Steve Bannos, Lacey Beeman, Jake Hoffman, Jeremy Howard, Matt McKane, Seth St. Laurent, Felicia Day, Fred Willard, Ted Nugent, Geoffrey Arend, Adam Alexi-Malle, Gerry Bednob, Joanne Cho, Kevin Hart, Cathy Lind Hayes, Joel McKinnon Miller, Mary Kay Place, Kimberly Stewart, Amy Wright, Clement Blake, Busy Phillips, Blake Shields, Alexa Davalos, Bhavana Kundanmal, Erica Hubbard, Kelly Karbacz, Sarah Carter, Martin Starr, Youki Kudoh, Alex Breckenridge, Jim Brooks, Kim Fifield, Sarah Ann Morris, Ben Stiller

It was fortuitous that I should finally get around to watching this cult favorite, typically canceled, Judd Aapatow-created sitcom in the same month that Seth Rogen released his feature film “This Is the End”. Otherwise, I might not have realized just how he and Jay Baruchel were connected. Baruchel is technically the lead in the ensemble college-based comedy that gets just about everything about being a campus college student correct. How could this series not have succeeded?

Well, I suppose when you consider the canned state of American network television, it isn’t that surprising that this sort of Seinfeldian comedy that is really about nothing wasn’t universally loved. It’s that lack of goals that is really one of the things the series gets so right about college life. Obviously the goal of college is higher education, but it also involves this unique-unto-itself social climate that is all about finding something to do in a place that is designed to provide nothing to do but learn. Learning is rarely the primary focus of those who are college-aged, however.

Other than Rogen and Baruchel, the series had a pretty impressive slate of stars that ran through it, although most had yet to achieve their big name status. Charlie Hunnam, Jason Segel, Will Farrell, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer, David Krumholtz, Kevin Hart, Busy Phillips and Alexa Davalos would all go on to bigger and grander things, and here they are making their initial marks. Many of the guests were holdovers from Apatow’s previously prematurely canceled (and even better) “Freaks and Geeks”. There were even a couple of already established names that popped up, like Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler, who played none other than Adam Sandler.

As with many of Apatow’s projects, it’s easy to see that this one was based on things really experienced by him and his staff of directors and writers. Rogen was able to kick-start his own screenwriting career here by penning several episodes. This personal experience approach works well for the cast, who all have a very natural feel to their performances, rather than a typical sitcom approach where it is obvious that these are a bunch of characters designed to make an audience laugh. I did laugh at “Undeclared”, which would probably have fared better in today’s television market than it did at the beginning of the aughts.

No comments: