Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Time of the Season: S1 of Undeclared (’01-’02)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 7, 2007

“Sleep don’t drink no beer.”

Truth of the matter is, it’s insanely difficult to make a quasi-realistic and yet still compelling show or movie about college life. And that’s because by their nature, college students really are not likeable people–the typical college student, at least as they are popularly perceived, tends to be lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed, without even the excuse of youth or inexperience to fall back on (and believe me, I do not think of myself as an exception to this). That’s why whereas even the jockiest high school movies tend to at least have semi-serious coming-of-age elements, the overwhelming majority of college movies tend to forgo any attempts at legitimate story or character development, in favor of PARTY PARTY PARTY pro-bro propoganda.

It’s especially hard to do a TV show about college, because basic college life doesn’t necessarily revolve around the same set of people and problems every week (unlike, say, in high school, where you very likely do the same things with the same people most of the time), so to make it as soap-ish as a high school show is a little harder to buy. And to do one on network TV is virtually impossible, since without copious amounts of cursing, sex, drugs, alcohol and porn, there’s barely anything left of college to portray.

All of this is really just an elaborate way of saying that even though I admired its efforts, I didn’t like Undeclared that much. A lot of it is due to my own prejudices, since the college life I lead/led is so different than those of the freshmen here, and since unlike show creator Judd Apatow (who claims that college is “the reward for surviving high school) I actually had a great time in high school, and have yet to really find the same happiness in college. There’s a little bit in Undeclared that makes sense to me, but really I’d be just as well off watching Van Wilder or something. Needless to say, I can’t imagine what a college show that did speak to me would look and feel like, but it’s definitely one that wouldn’t last even as long as Undeclared‘s scant 17 episodes, and it’s definitely not this.

I don’t want to let Apatow completely off the hook here, though, because I don’t feel like he really brought his A-game either. Mostly, it has to do with the characters–the cast of Freaks & Geeks wasn’t always totally on point either, but it least had a couple great characters. There is no such greatness coming from the cast of Undeclared–pretty boy Charlie Hunnam, loser Timm Sharp (what is it with Apatow casts and superfluous M’s?) and protagonist Jay Baruchel constantly alternate from endearing to grating, sometimes in the course of the same scene. Of the Undeclared guys, only Seth Rogen is consistently funny, and that’s because he’s just playing Seth Rogen.

But the two girls–Carla Gallo and Dawson’s Creek alum Rachel Lindquist–are basically Undeclared‘s black hole. I’ve heard accusations of sexism levied at Apatow before, but this is the only thing he’s done where I feel actually reflects it. The girls just don’t do anything, except to get manipulated by the boys, whose pathetic and yet somehow successful attempt to trick them into a racy game of truth or dare (in the episode of the same name) is particularly demeaning. This wouldn’t be quite so bad (or at least, quite so detrimental to the show) if the amount of screen time the girls got reflected their position in their universe’s hierarchy, but their lame problems take up almost as much of the show as the guys’ lame problems. Lame.

Maybe a year or two’s experience, some character development and some much-needed cast turnover would’ve helped the show deserve its cult status. Or an eventual re-imagining on a premium channel that didn’t hold so much of college back, that might not be such a bad idea. Maybe setting it in 1982 or something and having an awesome period soundtrack could’ve sold me on it a little more. As it is, though, I thought Undeclared looked boring and mediocre when I saw previews for it a half-decade ago, and it looks like my intiial assessment was mostly right on. Here’s to anticipating Apatow’s inevitable show about post-grad single life.

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One Response to “Time of the Season: S1 of Undeclared (’01-’02)”

  1. David said

    I just started watching this recently having finished watching Freaks & Geeks. While I wouldn’t claim it’s nearly as good as F&G, I find it enjoyable and Rogen is great as always.

    Great quote by the way.

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