There are just so many reasons why now is the perfect time to review your Judd Apatow history. Here are a few to jog your memory: because you didn’t see “Funny People” and have been wracked with guilt ever since, because dealing with that physics test on Thursday just isn’t an option yet, because the decade that made it OK to be a pot-smoking man-child is coming to a close, because having Jason Segel’s visage tattooed onto your pillowcase doesn’t quite compare to seeing him move around like a real boy.
Now that you’ve been utterly convinced, please direct your attention to either “Freaks and Geeks” or “Undeclared.” They’re among the best shows to last only one season, and, more importantly, they’re both on YouTube. If you’re a true champion, you could even finish both in about 24 hours. But for those of you with sleep schedules and/or social lives, here’s a quick way to decide where to start.
“Freaks and Geeks”
Smile, it’s picture day! Be sure to crank out a half smile before the camera flashes and whisks you away. And, yes, that is Joan Jett yelling, and no, she doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation, and neither does James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, or any of the Apatow club members who first appear in this high school masterpiece. It stars the lovely Linda Cardellini as Lindsay Weir, the goody-two-shoes mathlete who dons an army jacket and tries to position herself as one of the freaks. They smoke behind dumpsters, talking about Jimmy Page while air-drumming to Rush, and ooze nostalgia for the late ’70s that even someone barely born in the ’80s can succumb to.
As Lindsay descends into the land of the underachievers, bucking the advice of her balding ex-hippie guidance counselor, the earnestness of her plot becomes sidetracked by the geeks. Lindsay’s brother Sam and his cripplingly uncool friends tackle freshman year, evading mandatory post-gym showers, and discovering and then being scarred by first encounters with pornography and other hopefully semi-autobiographical misadventures that echo both the humor and the heart of “The 40 Year Old Virgin.”
Best part: Lindsay’s stuck-in-the-mud dad trying to be scary. “You know, I had a friend who used to smoke. You know what he’s doing now? He’s dead!…Let’s go dig him up now and see how cool he looks.”
And then, seconds later: “There was a girl in our school who experimented in premarital sex. You know what she did on graduation day? Died!”
So maybe “Freaks and Geeks” lays it on too heavy for you—you have your own problems; you can’t cringe at every misgiving that comes to screen, after all. So you might try “Undeclared,” an earnest college comedy that is, perhaps, the most accurate representation of your college experience. It follows Steven Karp, his suitemates and a rotating cast of other floormates as they explore the proclivities of freshman year, with the added terror of Steven’s recently divorced dad consistently stopping by unannounced—the sort of thing that makes you glad Washington University is 1,000 miles away from home.
Together, they make the same mistakes that all of us have, tracing over familiar plotlines (parents weekend, work-study, pledging) with the same crises of immaturity that, according to Apatow’s movies, don’t actually go away until you’ve impregnated someone, or been diagnosed with cancer, or anything else that’s caused you to stop being nice and start getting real.
Steven’s suitemates consist of Seth Rogen (actually of college age at the time); Lloyd, his sexiling British roommate; and Marshall, a goofy slob who, even after two months here, already seems too familiar. Through a wonderful balance of tenderly designed characters and college-necessitated absurdity, “Undeclared” makes Animal House-ian antics seem within reach, enabled by absurd cameos: Jason Segel plays an obsessive boyfriend who manages a Kinko’s-type copy store, Adam Sandler plays himself touring a college circuit, and Will Ferrell plays a ghostwriter with a speed problem.
Best part: A prank war with an RA leads to a hallway slip-and-slide. It’ll only take you a couple of minutes to realize how feasible this actually is…and how much more everyone would like you if you actually did this. I mean, really, all you need is tarp and laundry detergent.