It was bound to happen: in the wake of the American Pie and Road Trip “naughty co-ed” movie genre, a syndicated series shooting for the same explosive mix of post-pubescent wit and wackiness was sure to appear.
Leave it up to Fox, the channel that brought you Freaks and Geeks and That 70’s Show, to take the first stab.
When I sat down to watch the Tuesday premiere of Fox Network’s Undeclared, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the irony of my situation. There I was, a college freshman, about to watch a show asking me to poke fun at my own circumstances. Would the humor be biting? Would it all hit too close to home? Or, as was the case with Dawson’s Creek in high school, would it be comfortably distant from my real life?
Undeclared turned out to be more or less a cynical sketch of the 18-year-old set. Its core cast caricatures six quirky college-types rather than purporting to represent what it is to be in college.
Steven Karp (Jay Bucheral) is the David Schwimmer-esque, lovable loser who holds the spotlight as Undeclared’s– well– undeclared protagonist; his roommates are even further pigeon-holed into potentially one-dimensional roles. Seth (Ron Garner) is the beerbellied frat boy-wannabe; Marshall (Timm Sharp) the unwashed, tousle-haired “slacker” who seems stuck in an eternal hangover; and Lloyd (Charlie Hunman) the room’s “too cool” British ladies’ man.
Of course, the show is not without its contingent of college females. Down the hall live the ever-overwhelmed Rachel (Monica Keena) and her chipper roommate Lizzie.
The six are each neatly stereotyped outcasts in their own way. It’s the inversion of last decade’s teenage hero-worship a la 90210. We watch the show confident that we act cooler than they do. We laugh because we pity them, and because their challenges are heavy-handed versions of feelings we know too well.
Amid a slew of predictable freshmen aspirations and antics (to name a few: “re-invention”, floor parties, one night stands, homesickness and the creepy RA — a typical freshman word bank), Undeclared manages a few clever surprises in its half-hour time slot. No, it offers no fresh or shocking look at campus life in 2001; it lacks the daring and innovation of a big hit.
What it is, though, is a pleasant diversion from the comparatively less dramatic Collegiate life. If you loved Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared is the next wave in pseudo-realistic — more truthfully, caricaturistic — prime-time programming.