A Sitcom produced by Judd Apatow, coming fresh off his critically-acclaimed but ratings-deprived and executive-meddled Freaks and Geeks. This show was no more successful, with only 17 episodes and equal amounts of Executive Meddling, but was similarly on Time magazine's "Top 10 New Shows." The show was produced in autumn 2000, but didn't air on Fox until autumn 2001.
Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) is a brand-new freshman at North East California University who is excited with his chance to escape his geek status from high school. The title comes from Steven having an "Undeclared" major. Despite feeling overwhelmed by being out on his own for the first time and with roommates who are slightly aloof to him, he trudges forward in an attempt to be less awkward then he really is. One of the bright spots of Steven's first day was striking a friendship with a girl in the dorm across the hall, Lizzie (Carla Gallo). During the first party of the year, his dad shows up and with news that he is getting divorced from his Mom. Steven tries to be his Dad's friend but it ends up overwhelming him and he spends time in his room alone crying.
Lizzie accidentally stumbles into his room and tries to console him and herself, the reason being that her long-distance boyfriend Eric can go from affectionate and loving one minute and then yelling and dumping her the next minute, only to apologize the next day and start the pattern all over again (A male version of a Tsundere). Lizzie, tired of it all, proposes sex with Steven to help them acclimate to the college experience.
The next day Lizzie is surprised and a little ashamed at what she did, expecially when Eric calls and apologizes. Steven, on the other hand, can't get her out of his mind and feels that she is his future girlfriend. And this is all on the first episode.
Subsequent episodes elaborate more on Steven's roommates and Lizzie's roommate Rachel (Monica Keena). While Steven has not quite shed his geek image, his roommates warm up to him. Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam) is a Theatre Major from England and shares the same bedroom with Steven. He is quite popular with the ladies and becomes a sort of mentor to Steven. Ron (Seth Rogen) is a Business Major and for the most part the more sensible one of the group, though he has his own issues with girls and dating. Marshall (Timm Sharp) is a Music Major with a big crush on Rachel and who could be slightly neurotic, trying to pick up on Lloyd's mannerisms.
Steven and Lizzie are the main characters and the entire show is mostly about him trying to get the girl and then keep her. Steven becomes cooler and more confident in himself. He and his roommates grow into a close-knit, protective circle — defending themselves against other groups at the college. An especially troublesome group is the Fraternity that Steven earns the ire of. Rachel is trying to find her own identity and slowly finds herself becoming a bit of a party girl. Steven's recently divorced dad Hal (Loudon Wainwright III) becomes close friends with his roommates.
The show did not use a laugh track and relied heavily on improvisation from the actors. The characters' personalities were actually based on the actors; the first episode was not written until the actors were cast. The series strove to be as true to the college experience as possible on network television; parties, sex and drugs are alluded to but are not explicit. Judd Apatow said that he didn't intend for the show to be as autobiographical as it became. Seth Rogen was one of the writers, which made no end of jokes on his behalf when he wrote the episode where his character makes out with a Love Interest.
The actor playing Lizzie's boyfriend Eric, Jason Segel, was actually the one Apatow wanted to play Steven, but the network wanted more of an underdog or everyman for the role. (Opinions may vary but part of Baruchel's appeal in the show was that he subverted the male Hollywood Homely type, something Segal would not have done.) As a result, Eric made an appearance in nearly every episode, either on the phone or in person as a sort of Take That! to the network. By coincidence the last episode focused more on Eric than the other characters.
Undeclared provides examples of...
- A Date with Rosie Palms: In "Hell Week" when the guys are trying to get Steven to quit his fraternity, the guys share embarrassing secrets with him, Marshall confesses to masturbating when Ron is asleep... only for Ron to reveal he does the same thing, and are accidentally doing it at the same time, horrifying both of them.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Subverted. Steven tries to escape from Eric in the laundry room and the vent collapses.
- Bishōnen: Lloyd.Perry: You're hotter then most chicks! What are you doing in college, anyway? People like you don't even need to know how to read!
- California Doubling: Southern California (specifically, USC) doubling for Northern.
- Celebrity Paradox:
- Will Ferrell is referenced in the fourth episode as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live", which makes it odd that he cameos as a guy named Dave in episode 7, as a dealer in term papers.
- Kyle Gass plays one of Eric's co-workers but there's a Tenacious D poster in one of the dorms. There are also several pieces of This Is Spın̈al Tap memorabilia, despite Fred Willard playing a professor.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Marshall.
- College Is High School Part 2: For the most part, averted. Although the show's characters seem alarmingly unambitious and carefree for college students.
- Even at the most prestigious universities, you're bound to meet at least one or two people like that. So, to a small extent, this may be Truth in Television.
- Also, the generally mundane lives of most college students probably wouldn't make for very interesting television.
- Nevertheless, the classrooms appear to resemble high school classrooms more often than not (lecture halls, for example are rarely seen), and the professors tend to act like befuddled high school teachers. The subject matter they present is often startlingly lowbrow (even for a freshman 100-level course) and full of silly editorializing. In "God Visits," for example, the Philosophy professor introduces Existentialism by declaring "Existentialists believe that the universe is meaningless, and that human beings have no purpose." Which is not only an absurd oversimplification, but inaccurate. He then proceeds to apologize for going over time and interrupting their lunch (as though all students would be having lunch at the same time) on "Taco Tuesday. Ben Stein's famous "Beuller...Bueller" lecture sounds more like a freshman-level lecture, albeit a (deliberately) boring one.
- Cool Old Guy: Hal is this to Steven's roommates. Much to Steven's chagrin.
- Credit Card Plot
- Cringe Comedy
- Deadpan Snarker: Ron.
- DVD Commentary: The series DVD has one for every episode, but sometimes they throw in about 5 commentators and they go off on tangents not related to the show at all.
- Expy: Jason Segal's character Eric, the overly-devoted boyfriend, is very similar to the his character Nick from Freaks and Geeks.
- Seth Rogen's character Ron also shares similarities with his former character Ken from Freaks and Geeks.
- Fanservice: The opening of one episode has Lizzie and Rachel casually walking into the guys' suite in their bras, as a sign that they consider the guys to be like brothers.
- Genre Savvy: Perry, moreso than any freshman should.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Have you seen Will Ferrell's Bush? Have you seen Ferrell's Bush?"
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Rachel
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Most of the extras in the background had names and occasional larger roles.
- Master of the Mixed Message: Lizzie. In one episode she walks around in her underwear to see if she can get a reaction from Steven, and interprets his averted gaze as a sign of disinterest and not him trying to give her respect.
- Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: In episode 11, Perry does this while trying to help Lloyd read a play - "As your mother, I am very disappointed that you want to kill your brother, she sighs and exits with her luggage".
- Sexiled: Steven given Lloyd's womanizing tendencies. Though Steven got to do this to Lloyd a few times, some just out of spite and a couple of times for real with Lizzie.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Played for laughs. When Eric is chasing Steven all over campus, the Mortal Kombat theme song plays, even though Steven is running for his life and spends the entire episode trying to avoid a fistfight.
- Special Guest: Adam Sandler and Ted Nugent playing themselves. Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Kyle Gass and David Krumholtz played minor characters in certain episodes.
- Spiritual Successor: To Freaks and Geeks, albeit with a lighter tone. Apatow specifically said that after making a rather serious high school drama he figured he would try for a light-hearted college comedy. Unfortunately it suffered the same fate of being Screwed by the Network.
- The Theme Park Version: While the show did depict and address several true to life college issues (The Freshman Fifteen, religious confusion, sex, partying, etc.), it was still a pretty unrealistic depiction of college life, due in no small part to the heavy amounts of Executive Meddling it suffered from.
- Those Two Guys: Ron and Marshall, Greg and Eugene.
- Villain Episode: Sadly the last episode, meaning the main characters were hardly in it.
- Wacky Fratboy Hijinx: Downplayed. Steven and his friends get into some pretty crazy situations with the Theta Delta Zeta fraternity, but most of them are realistically awkward and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: Brits unaware of Charlie Hunnam (Lloyd) would assume he's an American actor as he cannot do a convincing English accent. In reality, Hunnam is English. Maybe he was told to do a posher Received Pronunciation rather than his native North East via Cumbria dialect, but his accent in Queer as Folk wasn't particularly strong. That some producer could tell the finer differences between his normal accent and the Queen's English but not the final catastrophic alternative is particularly bemusing.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Various clues place UNEC in the Sacramento area. Or do they?
- Will They or Won't They?: Partially averted. Considering the first episode was Steven and Lizzie hooking up, it was more a matter of when they'll get back together. There was never really a push for this, but it was always left on the table. For example, Steven and Lizzie tried to be Just Friends for a few episodes but quit after things became too awkward.