Short-lived series picks up where equally short-lived Freaks and Geeks left off
In 2000 Judd Apatow, executive producer of one of the most beloved and short-lived series in recent memory, pitched a new show by evoking the title of his late show: “I want to make Freaks and Geeks,” he told Fox execs, “only funny.” Which was not to disparage Freaks and Geeks—a distillation of creator Paul Feig’s worst high-school memories—but to conjure warm feelings for the show that lived only a single semester on NBC, who eternally suspended the freaks and geeks before they had a chance to learn how to draw an audience. The result was a series just as short-lived: Undeclared, which moved from high school’s hallways into a college dorm and likewise ran for just one season on Fox before graduating to oblivion. It debuted to critical acclaim in September 2001 and was already in trouble by the following February, when Apatow sent out a note to TV critics that ended with the line, “Pray for us.”
Given how poorly Fox treated the show, perhaps we should’ve known Undeclared never stood a chance. Like Freaks and Geeks, it was too real for an audience suckered in by reality TV—painfully real, in fact, like a glimpse at old yearbooks in which we were horribly awkward, misguidedly arrogant and defiantly rebellious without having anything to rebel against. Its storylines were timeless (the blush of first love, or at least first sex; the schemes and scams of young adults too young to know better; being accountable for your actions without understanding the meaning of responsibility), and its characters were so familiar they looked like our own reflection. The audience not only related to Jay Baruchel’s Steven Karp or Carla Gallo’s Lizzie Exley, but knew them as though they were kin; and we’d all had roommates like handsome Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam) or resident assistants like creepy Lucien (Kevin Rankin). What we didn’t have were the guest stars: Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Kyle Gass, Amy Poehler, Fred Willard and, more or less, the cast of Freaks and Geeks.
Like the Freaks and Geeks boxed set, the four-disc Undeclared collection is wonderful, essential and cram-packed with extras—an especially nice bonus for a show that didn’t even appear in reruns. You get the unaired “God Visits” episode Fox thought too heretical (which is actually a rather subtle meditation on faith); an alternate version of an episode featuring Ted Nugent as a campus lecturer; the standard outtakes and deleted scenes; a Museum of Television & Radio appearance featuring cast and creator; and a concert from Loudon Wainwright, who played Steven’s divorced dad. Alas, so much still doesn’t feel like enough: You’ll spend just enough time with the freshman class to want to graduate with them, only to discover they were expelled by a network that flunked.