For many young people in the United States, college is a rite of passage, only a few short months after living at home with their parents and going to high school they are thrust into college and residing in a dorm.
Away from parental authority these fledgling adults must find out how to balance classes with the daily routine their parents used to do for them. One series managed to revisit these times with a well written, greatly acted and directed television series.
Naturally, since this show exhibited such incredible quality the studios pulled the plug on it after only one, mismanaged season. Undeclared was first aired late in 2001 to critical acclaim only to be killed in much the same way as it predecessor, ‘Freaks and Geeks’.
First of all, Undeclared: The Complete Series was aired out of order completely destroying any hope of the audience following the multi-episode plot lines and character development. Fortunately Shout Factory has said its mea culpa with this DVD release.
All the episodes of Undeclared, including two that never made it to broadcast, are presented in order. More about the presentation later let’s get to the show.
Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) was a geek in high school. He looks at his start in college as a fresh life opening before him, a way to redefine himself. Once there he finds himself rooming with several guys.
There are the handsome Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam) and party animals Marshall (Timm Sharp) and Ron (Seth Rogen). The pilot episode accurately depicts the initial reaction of new dorm dwellers; they plan a party, inviting any girl on the floor willing to attend.
One of the girls, Lizzie (Carla Gallo) is upset about dorm life. She misses her back home boyfriend, Eric (Jason Segel). She is intent on having fun anyway and comes across an overwhelmed Steven. Lizzie comforts Steven suggesting that sex might make them both feel better.
Needless to say Steven agrees but awakens to the hairy foot of Hal. As so often happens in real life with dorm living the best plans to get close to the opposite sex rarely work out.
Many of the situations this band of roomies finds themselves in will invoke a lot of memories with most of the audience. While many of my own dorm life memories have receded over the years as I watched Undeclared: The Complete Series I found many déjà vu moments surfacing. Even if some of these things never happened to you personally you will know someone that went through them.
In one episode Rachel (Monica Keena), Steven and Lizzie get into the easy way, cheating only to find out there is a down side.
When Marshall feels ill there is a trip to the campus health clinic, something just about everyone encounters at some point in his or her college careers. There are even little touches of dorm life like the signal item of clothing left on the doorknob to indicate the other roommates should find somewhere else to bunk that night.
In another episode the reality of finding a part time job when Steve is forced by finances to work in the school cafeteria. Meanwhile, Marshall must join him when his tuition check bounces. The boys and girls find themselves in an almost sibling relationship that is challenged by the boys when they offer up a game of truth or dare.
There is beer and pizza as the two major food groups, going to see some star at the campus theater and of course, pledge week for the fraternities.
While somewhat updated for the MTV generation the comedy and drama depicted here is timeless. Undeclared: The Complete Series cut across the generation gap showing both parents and their kids that some things never change.
The cast assembled here is a wonderfully energetic group of young actors. They form an ensemble cast that is rarely seen on television.
Jay Baruchel is perfect as the much lamented Steven. He has a natural, every guy quality that works extremely well here. It is easy for the audience to quickly identify with him and his many plights.
He plays Steven with funny yet realistic quirks common to a college freshman. He wants not only an education but to learn something about dealing with real life on his own. There are some great scenes between him and Loudon Wainwright who plays his father.
As you watch Wainwright’s performance you will see levels you never would have imagined in a format like this. Undeclared: The Complete Series will certainly bring back a lot of memories for most out there.
Everyone has known someone like Marshall who is brilliantly played by Timm Sharp. He is used to getting by on his looks but know being the alpha male is almost more than he can handle. He is the best possible choice to play counterpoint to Baruchel.
On the feminine side of the cast the producers could not have made a better selection. Many will recognize Carla Gallo from her role on the recently cancelled Carnivale. Gallo has a natural wit and sense of comic timing that carries every scene she is in. She balances the various emotions that a young woman must face away from home for the first time.
Monica Keena adds a lot to Undeclared: The Complete Series. She is bright and great in her role. She delivers in every episode the best possible performance.
Judd Apatow created Undeclared: The Complete Series with the able help of his partner Paul Feig. They had a critical success with their previous work, the late lamented ‘Freaks and Greeks’.
For those that are not familiar with this series do your self a favor and get the DVD of it and watch it before Undeclared, they are the perfect companion piece for each other. Together they represent two of the greatest tragedies on television.
For a network to show a series out of order and not give it a chance to find an audience is a travesty. Undeclared: The Complete Series had some of the best production values I have ever seen in my decades of watching and enjoying television.
The sets are generic college, but then aren’t all real colleges like that? The writing was intelligent, witty and far about the usual sitcom pabulum most networks foster. Even their choices for directors were not the pack.
There was Greg Mottola, writer and director of Daytrippers, John Hamburg, the writer of Meet the Parents and Jay Chandrasekhar, member of the comedy troupe Broken Lizards.
Undeclared: The Complete Series had a collection of talent on both sides of the camera, too good for television.
Fortunately, Shout Factory gave the same stellar DVD presentation to Undeclared as they did for Freaks and Geeks. The managed to get permission for most of the original music, something more and more studios fail to do.
All the episodes are shown in order including the unaired ones. There is a plethora of commentary tracks to amuse the audience through many viewings of Undeclared: The Complete Series, eighteen in all.
They have some deleted scenes, bloopers, auditions, table reads and behind the scenes features to make Undeclared: The Complete Series one of the best DVD releases I have ever seen. They even have a 24-page booklet to add to the enjoyment of Undeclared: The Complete Series.
While studios may cancel excellent series like Undeclared: The Complete Series at least we can have them forever in our DVD collections.
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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