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Attention parents: Are you packing your child off to college sometime in the next couple of weeks? Or rather, attention prospective college students: Are you being packed off to college sometime in the next couple of weeks? Steeling yourself for the inevitable separation anxiety? Thrilled to be out of the house?
First, I recommend loading up on the following: A poster of John Coltrane (for men); a poster of two French people kissing (for women); "Steve Miller Band: Greatest Hits"; a cheap microwave oven (hot pots are passe); a good pair of walking shoes; a baseball hat (for 8 a.m. classes); plastic crates (for instant bookshelves); a laptop; food you like; decoy food you don't mind being stolen, to throw thieves off the trail of food you actually want.
You know, universal stuff.
To this list, I suggest a wise investment: Judd Apatow's Undeclared: The Complete Series (Shout, $49.98), finally on DVD.
If only I had this before I went off to college. I would have at least been familiar with a handful of college truisms that Apatow gets spot on: Never enter a room that has a sock or scrunchy stuffed in the door frame; your roommate will play the same song and over and over (and over); fraternities and sororities are more or less pathetic; you meet many of your best friends the first day; beer is not your friend (even when it insists it is); and bring your own salad dressing to the cafeteria. In a sense, it's like the best educational hygiene film ever made.
Apatow was co-creator of Freaks and Geeks, one of the most moving pieces ever made for television or film about being young. He's since become a go-to guy for the Frat Pack: Apatow's written and produced films for Will Ferrell, as well as directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin with Steve Carell (which opens tomorrow). His style is so casual and accessible, you'd think television networks would have patience with this guy. But Undeclared, which aired on Fox during the 2001-02 season, ran for 16 episodes - one fewer shows than NBC ran of Freaks and Geeks.
And that's a shame.
Undeclared, which is slightly more conventional than Freaks and Geeks but nearly as charming, gets college as accurately as Freaks got high school. On one of the extras, it's no surprise when Apatow says he cast the show before he wrote the pilot: It exudes the kind of charm you only get from people who know each other's quirks because they have to live with each other.
The show is set at a fictitious California school, mostly on a single dormitory floor and centered around a handful of friends of roommates and neighbors (a few of them from Freaks and Geeks, none a major star).
Though for sheer number of cameos, Undeclared should have been given a reprieve: Apatow casts Ferrell as a loser alum who writes term papers for money, Ben Stiller with a nine-alarm mullet, Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler as a resident hall assistant, Ted Nugent as his own bad self, and singer Loudon Wainwright III (father of Rufus, for you younger readers) as the lonely dad of the show's central character, Steven (Jay Baruchel), a delicate, painfully frail kid who develops a believable spine - his triumphs are minor, his screw-ups are huge.
"Excuse," he asks a woman, "we're having, like, a party tonight. Do you want to come?"
"Oh, I'm a senior."
"Cool. That's cool."
"No, sweetie, that means I'm not coming to your party."
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: email@example.com