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What is wrong with television executives? Especially in the States. These guys are supposed to be trained in business, marketing and a little bit in the entertainment business. And yet a great many shows have been hobbled by poor programming and promotion – only to be cancelled because there was no apparent audience according to the “ratings.”

Have these guys just never actually looked at the possibility that showing a programme inconsistently and out of order could be at fault, and not the show itself?

Think I’m talking about Firefly? No. I’m talking about Judd Apatow’s follow-up series from Freaks and Geeks – Undeclared.

Hampered by many of the same clumsy and unprofessional mistakes caused by programming, Undeclared – like it’s spiritual predecessor, Freaks and Geeks – made TIME’s top ten television shows of 2001. It was universally acclaimed and hit a chord with its audience.

That is, when they were able to catch it. The show was shown at odd occasions, and often out of sequence. A pivotal episode never screened, and generally everything was done to ensure that it would die in ratings limbo.

Which is a shame. Because it is a DAMN good series. Thanks to my brother providing me with the complete DVD set for Christmas, I have had the chance to once again see why Judd Apatow and his friends are some of the funniest and coolest people in America.

Undeclared takes place in a modern day campus where freshman Steven Karp has started his life at College. (Or as we in the Antipodes like to call them, University.)

Finding himself sharing a dorm suite with a sarcastic business type, a flaky music major and a suave British acting major – ex-geek Steven sets about befriending his room mates in the hopes of a new start.

And that’s pretty much the initial set-up for this comedy. Much like Freaks and Geeks, the series is about the characters. Each episode follows from the last, but focuses more on the people and how they related to each other.

Unlike Freaks, Undeclared is a half-hour format and is purely a comedy. This means that the jokes often come hard and fast. But in true Apatow fashion, each character has layers to their personality – even the most comical ones.

The result is a remarkably honest and familiar telling of life in University. Even though it is set in America, I found several episodes mirrored my own University experiences – the excitement, nervousness and horror. The characters are hilarious, while managing to be likeable. Even the arch-nemesis figures are painted with depth and believability. They are not simple people to hate, there is a likable side to them.

Featuring many Freaks and Geeks alumni, the show proves how Apatow has the wisdom and eye for picking people who he isn’t afraid to let loose. Like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared’s true genius comes from the rare synchronicty of all the people working on the project – not just one man.

A great crew, talented and eager cast who never seem to try to upstage each other – but rather give everyone room to shine… it was a delight to watch this show. And a shame to know that it never got continued.

I’ve studied how polling works, and you simply cannot rely so heavily on ratings alone. Fox’s exec should have been asking why the ratings were low. If no programming gaffs had been made, then they may have had a case. But any idiot should know that a series being shown out of sequence loses its audience. Most choosing to wait for re-runs, by which point the series is usually canned.

I do wonder how Undeclared would have done if it had been allowed to run in sequence as intended…

If you haven’t seen it yet – GET IT! This is pure gold. And if you loved Freaks, you ought to love Undeclared too.

Conan

Currently Reading:
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun
Mood: Buzzing from lots of Undeclared!

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If you ever thought that Firefly was an example of poor programme planning on the part of a network, you then have missed out on an even better series – Freaks and Geeks – which managed to garner the title of one of TIME magazine’s best television series ever, and yet was cancelled after eighteen episodes.

Part of the problem lies in the series being slot into the lost zone of late evening/night screening. Why? Who knows. But due to perceived low interest in the series it was canned. Which is probably a good thing, because without that happening Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan might never had made the brilliant 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up (which remains the funniest film of 2007 in my humble opinion.)

What makes Freaks and Geeks so cool? Well, much the same elements that make Knocked Up so brilliant a film. Judd Apatow is the rare producer/director/writer who knows that a quality show is not made by one man, but by a whole group of talented people with a passion for the series. Rather than cast big names in the series, he pushed to get unknowns who actually fitted the roles. He got writers, directors and crew who were professional and creative.

This and his talent for finding the humour in everyday life guarantees that this is a consistently funny show. Freaks and Geeks doesn’t try to win you over with its humour, the gags come fast and out of the blue – letting you either get it or miss it. Humour lies in realistic set ups, nothing is implausible – even when dealing with the more eccentric characters of the world.

Stand-out performances from every cast member along with wry editing and shot construction make the whole series just one memorable moment after the next.

Set in the early eighties, it tells the story of two groups of friends as seen through the eyes of Lindsay and her younger brother, Sam. Lindsay has grown tired of her academic lifestyle, and following her grandmother’s death she tries to strike out and make her own way in life rather than follow the path laid out for her by her family. In doing so she befriends the “Freaks” of the school. The dope-heads and drop-outs. Despite her intelligence and success at school, she finds a common bond with them.

Sam, on the other hand, finds himself labelled a Geek along with his two friends Neal and Bill (two of the geekiest guys you could ever meet…) However he is madly in love with one of the school cheerleaders, Cindy.

Each episode gently follows from the last, cleverly setting up jokes that sometimes pay-off only two or three episodes down the track – while having a sympathetic and real approach to each character. Despite the initial stereotypical characters, we soon learn that they have a lot of depth to them. As Henley, my brother, pointed out – each episode looks at cliches of the high-school milieu and then takes it somewhere you didn’t expect it to go.

Brilliant. Watch it. Love it.

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Sidereals
Currently Playing: Nothing
Mood: Loving the geeks…

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