Thursday, July 15, 2010

Discover (or re-discover) on DVD: Undeclared

Undeclared, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, aired on Fox from 2001-2002 and was cancelled after one season. Judd Apatow, the show's creator, previously worked on another brilliant, short-lived show, Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000). Set at the fictional University of Northeastern California, Undeclared follows 18-year-old Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) and his friends as they experience their first year of college. Funny guest stars also appear on the show, and many of the actors, writers, and directors involved with Undeclared have gone on to do work in movies.

Steven's British roommate, the handsome Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam) is a theater major and very popular with the ladies. They share a common area with roommates Marshall (Timm Sharp) and Ron (Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote several episodes). Across the hall are roommates Lizzie (Carla Gallo) and Rachel (Monica Keena). Their first night at college, Steven's dad Hal (Loudon Wainwright) shows up with the news that he and Steven's mother are separating. Hal often pops by campus to visit Steven and his friends; another frequent visitor is Lizzie's older boyfriend, Eric (Jason Segel), who manages a copy shop and either calls or stops by to check up on Lizzie. Both Wainwright and Segel are hilarious scene-stealers who add to the quality of the show.

In addition to Segel, several Freaks and Geeks actors (Busy Philipps, Samm Levine, Martin Starr, Natasha Melnick, David Krumholtz, Steve Bannos) also guest star in small roles. More guest stars include Amy Poehler as the head RA with a crush on Lloyd ("we like it on top"), Fred Willard as a history professor who makes history come alive, Ben Stiller as Eric's ex-stepdad, Kyle Gass as another of the copy shop guys, Adam Sandler as himself, and, my absolute favorite, Will Ferrell as a scary townie who writes students' papers for money ("Doubt me. Doubt me. Just tell me I can't do it. 'Cause nothing's more motivating than to hear those three words: Just doubt me."). Jon Favreau also directs an episode.

I think Undeclared presents a very realistic view of college life (apart from the huge size of the freshmen dorms, anyway). During the show's run on TV, I was actually in the same situation as the characters, as it was my first year in college and I had an "undeclared" major. The episodes feature relatable storylines such as working in the cafeteria ("the worst job on campus"), the excitement of applying for credit cards ("they're giving away free money!"), staying up all night to finish papers, and roommate issues such as being banished to the sofa (or worse, the rec room) because your roommate wants to be alone with someone. Such storylines, in addition to the natural chemistry between the actors, make this show a must-watch if you have never seen an episode (Baruchel refers to the cast as "realistically unusual and uncommonly copacetic" in his letter to Undeclared fans included in the DVD booklet). The DVD set also includes hours of awesome extra features such as commentaries, deleted scenes, and audition footage. The DVD booklet is very interesting to read through and includes background information from the writers of each episode.

Undeclared: Find it in the catalog!
  • 17 episodes (2001-2002)
  • 4 discs, including all the episodes and special features
  • DVD booklet includes photos, episode summaries and guest star lists, and letters to Undeclared fans from creator Judd Apatow and star Jay Baruchel.
By the way, both Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks are now re-airing on the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Click to see what some of the actors/directors/writers on Undeclared have gone on to do since the show ended: