Bonus Points: DVD Reviews

Head Back to School With 'Undeclared'

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By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 16, 2005; 12:00 AM

"Undeclared: The Complete Series" (List price: $49.98)

Released:
August 16

Every fall, the new television season introduces a few quirky, quality series that usually end up getting canceled because of poor ratings. Before most viewers find their remotes, these little gems disappear, leaving devoted fans wondering why their favorite show died while "According to Jim" remains on the air.

A recent case in point: Producer Judd Apatow's "Undeclared," the smart, often hilarious sitcom about college life that debuted on Fox during the 2001-2002 season. Numerous critics praised the program (The Post's Tom Shales called it "shrewdly observant and richly detailed"), but even that didn't prevent its demise, a fate that also befell Apatow's and Paul Feig's "Freaks and Geeks" a couple of years prior.

Fortunately the memorable characters of "Undeclared" have landed on DVD. Shout! Factory, the same company that issued last year's brilliant "Freaks and Geeks" collection, has given "Undeclared" similarly top-notch treatment, releasing it in a bonus-filled four-disc set.

It may take a while to get to the extras since the 17 episodes (including one that never aired) provide hours of worthwhile campus-centric entertainment. Even though it lasted only a season, "Undeclared" captures all the issues and idiosyncracies of the college freshman experience -- jealous long-distance boyfriends, the pressures of fraternity rush week, suitemates who blast the same song on their stereos over and over again -- in a way that's funny and refreshingly real. The cast of main characters, including Jay Baruchel (Danger from "Million Dollar Baby"), Charlie Hunnam ("Cold Mountain"), singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright and Monica Keena ("Entourage"), are appealing across the board, and the guest stars -- Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Amy Poehler, Kyle Gass, Fred Willard and numerous alumni from "Freaks and Geeks" -- crank up the comedic volume even higher.

The bountiful extras include an alternate version of the second episode featuring an on-campus lecture by rocker Ted Nugent; numerous deleted and extended scenes; commentaries on every episode; cast auditions; rehearsal footage; a Q&A with cast and crew at the Museum of Television & Radio, and live musical performances by Wainwright. Among these, the only weak links are the commentaries, which are often less than scintillating. Otherwise, almost everything is worth watching, whether you're a longtime fan or just showing up for the keg party.

Like a laptop and a dry-erase board on the dorm room door, "Undeclared" is an essential for any college student, as well as a happy reminder that even TV shows that die too soon can be resuscitated on DVD.

Biggest Bonus Point Mistake: Fox had a habit of airing "Undeclared" episodes out of sequence. Apparently the network did it so often that the makers of the DVD got confused and put them in the wrong order for this collection. To print out a copy of the proper timeline, go to http://www.undeclaredonline.com/.

Best Deleted Bonus Points: The unaired footage includes numerous amusing performances, but few are as loopy as Will Ferrell's extended riff playing video games while high on speed (see the episode "Addicts") and professor Fred Willard's five-minute reenactment of major events from John F. Kennedy's presidency. Never has the Bay of Pigs seemed so confusing or laugh-out-loud funny.

Most Hilarious Bonus Point: I'm not usually a fan of text-based material on DVDs. But the script for "Lloyd's Rage," a never-filmed episode of "Undeclared" located on the fourth disc, is a great read and a prime example of how strong the show's writing was. The main story line -- about Hunnam's conflict with a pompous member of his acting class -- is funny, but the subplot, in which Timm Sharp's character is dubbed "Puke Dude" after vomiting in an Irish pub on St. Patrick's Day, will bring tears of mirth to your eyes.

Also New on DVD This Week: "The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season" and "Frank Miller's Sin City," which, regrettably, comes with just one behind-the-scenes featurette. Something tells me a special edition will hit the streets just in time for the theatrical release of "Sin City 2."

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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