A little background on Undeclared‘s second episode; after the first six, originally pitched episodes of Undeclared were filmed, FOX went back and gave Judd Apatow and company another $1 million for reshoots, specifically targeting the titular sequence of this episode, a Ted Nugent speech on the UNE campus. However, Kristofer Brown (and director Paul Feig) weren’t satisfied just removing the Ted Nugent annoyance from the episode, replacing it instead with a different, equally awkward sequence that helped better define its protagonist and female counterpart, taking the opportunity to build their relationship, rather than shame their goofy, awkward main character.
It makes for a much more fully-formed episode around the central conceit of “Oh, So You Have A Boyfriend?”, which uses Steven as a vehicle for two important examinations of college culture. The first is really Lizzie’s story; anyone who went to college away from their significant other of the time know the difficulties of trying to stay loyal in college; surrounded by this culture of “exploration” (and the thin-headed notion that true love conquers all), Lizzie’s older boyfriend Eric is quickly becoming a tether to a life she doesn’t want to live anymore.
Her relationship with Eric is really well-developed, even though it’s the butt of many jokes in the first two episodes: Eric’s insecurity informs a paranoia any young male lacking in confidence would have, requiring nurturing that Lizzie just isn’t willing to give anymore. Though Eric is older, Lizzie is by far the more mature person – and as she struggles with two immature men trying to stake their claim, “Oh, So You Have A Boyfriend?” informs her character and relationship more fully than the pilot, which saw her in full reactionary mode after a big fight. It’s in the little details; Eric begging for her to talk to dirty to him on the phone while she’s clearly out with friends, his face plastered all over her room… like most college freshman in their first semester, Lizzie is struggling to bridge the gap between who she was and who she wants to become, something “Boyfriend” captures really well.
Of course, “Boyfriend” defines Steven’s journey of discovery more explicitly; and it’s here where the differences between the two episodes take hold, and elevate “Boyfriend” way above “Nugety.” In “Nugety,” Lizzie and Steven end up at a Ted Nugent speech, with Steven making faces while Lizzie’s on the phone with an unheard Eric, eventually being ridiculed by Nugent during some rant about liberals turning the US into Singapore (seriously: the Nugent material is almost as painful as the Adam Sandler material coming in a few episodes). In this version of the scene, Eric is but a petty child, acting on instructions given to him by Rachel (in the episode’s other deleted scene). Not only does it remove the agency from Steven’s actions, but initially ridicules him for not knowing how to handle it.
“Boyfriend” takes a different approach, instead putting Steven’s actions in his own hands (and by hands, I literally mean his hand on Lizzie’s leg, which is awkward in a whole different way in “Boyfriend”) and removing a bit of the criticism placed on his behavior. Even doing a silly French accent on the phone with Eric is better than the childish faces he makes at Lizzie; it makes his character more empathetic, less a child in over his head, and more a young man trying to make the best of a situation he was blindsided by, to awkward results.
Plus, it makes the resolution so much better; Steven’s explanation to Lizzie is more informed by his decisions in the previous scene, which makes her realization of how adorable and goofy he is (conveyed wonderfully without words by Carla Gallo) a fantastic climatic moment for the episode. Navigating the romantic waters early in college is a weird thing; with old relationships and new feelings getting intertwined with hormones, stress, and the conflict between freedom and responsibility, understanding one’s feelings (and actions that come along with that) is a monumental task that often leads to awkward, enlightening moments. It’s a balance Undeclared will capture better in future episodes, but the framing of the story in “Boyfriend” does a great job informing a familiar journey in a unique, all-encompassing way.
The side plots of the episode are more comedic than anything else; with the presence of Fred Willard as Marshall’s history professor and a young Amy Poehler as the crazy R.A. on the 10th floor (“We like it on top!”), what else does there need to be? If anything, “Boyfriend” allows Undeclared to continue developing the rhythms of its secondary characters, while providing a fun look into the future of American television with Hunnam and Poehler sharing screen time (and making out, briefly) together in the episode. The plots themselves are inherently lacking in meaningful material, but it speaks to how well Undeclared understood its characters (even if it was still struggling to portray them; Ron is again nothing but a blob with glasses in this episode) early on that these plots are entertaining enough to keep the background behind Lizzie and Steven moving (as well as giving Rachel something to do besides panic, a welcome change from the pilot).
With “Boyfriend,” Undeclared still feels like its finding its comedic rhythm; however, when it doubles down and focuses on the emotional journey of its main character, it becomes a much more rewarding episode than it should be (American Pie is being shown on campus; that’s literally the dramatic crux of “Boyfriend” that catalyzes the main story), for a half hour still clearly trying to get every piece to fit neatly. Good thing FOX allowed for those re-shoots; without them, “Full Bluntal Nugety” would’ve been a much less promising (and inviting, given Nuget’s controversial personality and views) second episode.
– Hal: “I decorated my apartment in two hours; I went to that Swedish place and Beyond the Bathroom.”
– Steve’s joke about Tara Reid “not being his type” is a wonderful encapsulation of his character’s anxiety in the moment.
– Lloyd’s attempts to rebuke Hillary’s advances are hilarious. Lloyd: “I have herpes!” Hillary: “Me too! Everyone does!”
– Eric’s face makes for a nightmare-inducing screen saver.
– Love the name of Fred Willard’s history professor: Doc Duggan.
– Eric, frustrated: “I guess Sabrina, The Teenage Witch will just have to do!”
– Cameo Shoutout: Amy Poehler, duh!
– I once had a politics professor who turned me into Marshall; no matter how much I wanted to learn, I would show up to her 1pm class, and promptly fall asleep halfway through. How I ended up with a B+ is beyond me.
[Photo via FOX]