Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Why Haven't I Seen That?: UNDECLARED


Welcome to a new installment of WHY HAVEN'T I SEEN THAT?, where we talk about a must-see or iconic movie (or in this case, TV series) that we have never seen...until now. This week we take a look at Judd Apatow's 2001 comedy...UNDECLARED.  Enjoy.

After watching Freaks and Geeks and falling deeply in love with it I had to fill the void it had left so I did some research and found out about Undeclared. As I said in my Freaks and Geeks review, I worship at the altar of Rogen and Apatow, they are writers and filmmakers whom I look up every single time I think or discuss film and story, to whom I relate almost everything I see, they inspire me in many different ways, they often move me on an emotional level and, best of all, they are truly and constantly hilarious and always get a laugh out of me.

Undeclared is a show created by Judd Apatow in 2001 starring Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, a very young Charlie Hunnam, Monica Keena, Carla Gallo, Timm Sharp, Loudon Wainwright amongst a slew of guest actor including Jason Segel, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrel and Amy Poehler just to name a few. We follow the main cast, who are freshmen dorm-mates, in their lives in college through seventeen 22-minutes-long episodes which each offer a new and different adventure for the characters whilst still maintaing an arc through the whole series.

Once again Apatow and his usual team of writers and directors deliver excellent content which as always starts from and honest and poignant place and develops from there comedy that is both hilarious and touching. These people feel real and well rounded, they all have a complex dynamic in them and you get behind each and everyone of them, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles, their joys and all in between whilst at the same time laughing really hard at what goes on in their lives without ever feeling as if we are poking fun at these people.


I have written so extensively in the past about why these writers work is so brilliant, I feel like I have exhausted the words to explain it. Their tone is so endearing without ever being melodramatic and their comedy is always genuine and edgy rarely ever being on the nose. As I always say: we laugh with these people, not at them. It seems banal, but looking at all the garbage comedy that we have to endure every year it bears repeating and it is even more important because I feel like we should champion these little gems that got a little lost in the mix.


This show is unfortunately slave of its 22-minute format, it could easily be an hour-long show for me, so there is not that deep or insightful of a character development you can get into, yet what they manage to do with the time they have is surprising. Look it would be so easy for a show like this, as we see with so many others, to fall into stereotypical characters and story beats, clich├ęd resolutions and boring developments, with the people represented being turned into one dimensional beings. But the writers are better than this, they give everyone, even the smallest characters, a three dimensional dynamic and thrust them into situations that ring true and develop in ways that are there to say something interesting. Some of the same themes from Freaks and Geeks are back and explored in new ways whilst new themes emerge: sexual behavior, finding a place in the world, figuring out affection and love and most of all social dynamics are all explored. From them emerges naturally comedy to the point where it so ingrained in the narrative and organic to the flow of the dialogue you don't even think of it. This is how comedy works and how to do it right.


The cast is brilliantly in place and all deliver personal characterizations with excellent comedic timing that is fundamental in keeping the tone coherent. Jay Baruchel excels at being so likable without ever loosing the vulnerability his character bears. Charlie Hunnam is surprisingly funny, Seth Rogen is really inspired casting in the role of the grumpy guy, Timm Sharp needs only to appear on screen for the laughs to starts flowing and both Gallo and Keena strike a perfect balance between humanity and comedy.

As I said before the show is slave of its time format and it is unfortunately what brings it down many times. There are a couple of episodes in the middle that don't really add up to anything special because they don't get to explore the story beats they are putting forward. Moreover, there is just so much left unexplored it sometimes gets really frustrating, at times there is a really fascinating development going on and the show has to move on to the next beat in order to arrive at a conclusion in each episode and so the story isn't given enough time to breathe.

Still, the overall arch of themes and comedy is too good and contagious to be overcome by these problems and we end up with another great piece of storytelling and laughter by Apatow. I suggest checking this out, it takes a very short time to binge watch and it can be enjoyed by everyone.

James's Score: 8/10


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