By Susan Brown

Freaks and Geeks Lite

Looking back on my freshman year at the University of Virginia, I remember surprisingly little. Most of my time was spent pining for my high school boyfriend Stan, who was busy pledging Theta Mu Whatever at a college in a different time zone. But for all my romantic preoccupation, I can recall a number of the benchmarks of my education. The poster on the bathroom door, which documented every time someone from our hall prayed to the porcelain god. My 16-year-old overachieving and aspiring dentist roommate, spraying her bangs into place. The relief I felt boarding the bus for home on breaks and holidays. In short, while common cultural myths would have us believe these are “the best years of our lives,” it was clear to me that they were the best years of someone else’s life.

Fortunately, Judd Apatow, the creator of Fox’s new sitcom Undeclared, remembers that college is riddled with such minutiae, and is full of non-moments that seem crucial to one’s success in life. It blasts the common myths of higher education as mere youthful liberation and intellectual rigor, and instead focuses on the absurdity of the college experience: the depth of pop music lyrics; the moral imperative of killing an entire keg, no matter how sick it made you later, these are the imperatives of Undeclared‘s collegians. Like Apatow’s dearly departed Freaks and Geeks (one of the smartest and least pretentious depictions of high school angst on recent prime time televsions), Undeclared captures the exquisite awfulness of college with memorable characters, authentic details, and snappy dialogue.

Consider the pilot episode, where freshmen Steven (Jay Baruchel) and Lizzie (Carla Gallo) hide out from their first dorm party. Disillusioned, they assess the primary advantages of college life—staying up to 11, eating candy all day, and the freedom to pierce anything. Depressed by such meager benefits, they do what any frightened freshmen away from home for the first time would do: they put the do not disturb scrunchie on the door handle and have spontaneous sex. It’s a rather amusing scene, and nicely encapsulates what could be the show’s real contribution to representing college-aged youth—that it examines some of the anxieties of college life in all its uncomfortable detail. Of course, the scene also demonstrates the show’s possible shortcomings, that it merely replicates some of the same old youth stereotypes, as, for instance, college as a time for sexual experimentation and liberation.

These seeming contradictions are just a few of the reasons to love Undeclared, a show with a wealth of characters who manage to seem real individuals and category types at the same time. Many fans will want to know if Undeclared is as good as its beloved predecessor. Even if Freaks and Geeks was too insightful for its target audience of teens and tweens, it was at least a glorious failure.

This time out, however, Apatow aims a bit higher, or at least for an older demographic, and which might contribute to the show’s success. While the younger viewers of Freaks and Geeks might not have been ready to view their own lives with the sense of bittersweet irony promoted by the show, hopefully older students and adults alike will embrace Undeclared, which is both funny enough for those currently mired in dorm life and smart enough for those with a sense of objective distance on their college days. Undeclared has already achieved the impossible in the first episode: it made me nostalgic for a time in my life that I truly loathed.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/undeclared/