Although the word is never spoken on-screen, “Sick in the Head” is an Undeclared episode about hormones. Specifically, it’s an episode about how hormones frame our judgments and decisions – or more accurately, how they eliminate the idea of coherent thought in a young adult, and how all it takes is a little D’Angelo or unassuming pillow talk to throw everything into chaos.
That’s really selling the conceit of “Sick in the Head”, which is a decidedly simple script: Steven forces Lloyd to talk to a girl he’s sleeping with, and Marshall gets sick. That’s really all there is story-wise to “Sick in the Head,” with Lizzie reduced to a background character and nothing else of importance taking place on campus. For better or worse, “Sick in the Head” focuses squarely on the dynamics between Steven/Lloyd and Rachel/Marshall, though the two never really come into direct parallel with each other.
It doesn’t mean either of them are any less effective; Marshall’s rejection of common medicine to appease Rachel is a pretty predictable sitcom move, but one that is hilarious nonetheless, thanks to Rachel’s misguided attempts to help him (Lizzie notes that after one of her natural remedies, her common cold went away in about four to five days), and Marshall’s ever-growing crush on her. As I keep mentioning in these reviews, Undeclared is often a master of uncomfortable, awkward comedy – and when that awkwardness is informed by the unrequited crush of a college freshman, leads to drastic and amusing results.
Given how the episode centers on these uncomfortable, sexually-tinged exchanges, it’s no surprise Seth Rogen is credited as writer of the episode; though he doesn’t insert himself into many scenes, the Apatow comedic influence is rampantly apparent. It makes exchanges like Lloyd and Rebecca’s (in her room) so much more entertaining, with our normally-confident Lloyd broken down by a woman he’s literally had one date with (if “date” can also mean “hooking up while your roommate sleeps on a puke-stained couch outside”), in his attempt to take Steve’s advice and get to know a girl.
“Sick in the Head” is both great at establishing conflicts between characters (Ron vs. Rachel, Steve vs. Lloyd), and offering comedic relief in between them, with the escalating sexual tension in Steven’s evening lounge group, where all the roommates who weren’t getting lucky went to hang out and watch No Request Live, Perry Madison’s music show. In fact, that music show is really a rough sketch for the entire episode, even though it barely exists as sound in the background: at one point, we can hear Perry lamenting the fact that he hosts a video show where he has no control (or even knowledge) of the content, which makes it impossible for him to riff on previous or upcoming videos. By definition, he lacks perspective, fighting against a force of opposing ideals he cannot win against – something both Marshall and Lloyd learn about in their pursuit of an emotional connection, which only leads them to the brink of death and loneliness, respectively, thanks to their inability to control the hormones driving these decisions.
While “Sick in the Head” is neither the most poignant or funniest Undeclared episode, the show’s ability to reform college tropes into new, fresh stories is on full display in an episode that tackles the home remedy debate, the (emotional) aftereffects of indulgent one-night stands, and finally, what would happen if all the kids with horny roommates ended up in the same lounge together, watching the “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” video.
– Marshall’s dolphin sounds. That is all.
– Perry, hosting his show: “Coming up next is a generic R&B video. I don’t know who it’s by, but it probably features a shirtless man spinning around in the rain.”
– This episode marks the debut of Tina (Christina Payano), who would be a series regular by mid-season. In this episode, she’s just a girl obsessed with Lloyd.
– Want to make a social gathering seem super lame? Trust fall!
– Cameo watch: Jenna Fischer returns, walking out of Lloyd’s room at the beginning of the episode. Also, Rebecca is played by Hunnam’s then-wife Katharine Towne, who he was married to from 1999-2002.
[Photo via FOX]