Attendees at the William S. Paley Festival scored a daily double on Saturday (March 12) night.
A typical PaleyFest event is scheduled for 7:00 and by the time the preliminary videos and introductions are over, it’s close to 7:30. You show an episode of a drama series and that’s 44 minutes. The moderator introduces the panel and each person associated with the series basks in the adulatory glow. Since the panels then end between 9 and 9:15, you’re lucky if you get 45 minutes for questions from the moderator and from the audience combined.
Saturday’s event was listed as “Freaks and Geeks”/ “Undeclared” Reunion, but what fans actually got was an “Undeclared” reunion, complete with an aired episode and a 45-minute Q&A, followed by a break and then a “Freaks & Geeks” reunion, complete with an aired episode and an hour Q&A. Instead of walking out at 9:10, the audience rolled out at 10:35. Other than those with dinner reservations or plans to meet family arriving this evening from out-of-town, it’s doubtful that there will be any complaints.
Moderated by Judd Apatow, both panels featured nearly every imaginable cast member from their respective shows and stars who couldn’t attend sent video messages. Anybody who has dug into the respective DVD sets for these two classics already knew what happens when you put a group of them in a room together. There were jokes, anecdotes and mockery aplenty.
That also means that many of the best parts of both panels came as asides and casual exchanges, the sort of moments best dealt with in highlight bullet-points, rather than in some grand recap of the two panels together, where I try to fabricate a thesis that goes deeper than, “Here are two of the best shows in TV history. Neither one lasted a full season. Everybody loves them now.”
So click through for the highlights from the “Undeclared” panel, followed by “Freaks & Geeks” highlights in a second post…
The evening began with Iris Apatow, Judd Apatow’s scene-stealing daughter — you remember her from “Knocked Up” and “Funny People” — nervously taking the stage and declaring, “Good evening nerds… Are you ready to rock?”
There was something marvelously and appropriately inappropriate about bringing out a small child to introduce two panels featuring some of the most unapologetically vulgar comic stars currently working. As Apatow put it when Jarrett Grode began working blue, “The F-word paid for her private school.” [Side note: Somebody please employ Jarrett Grode. Watch a couple episodes of “Undeclared,” casting directors. This is a guy whose dead-pan comic-timing is far, far too perfect for him not to be a key piece of a good sitcom.]
Of course, “Undeclared” tanked on FOX and “Freaks & Geeks” tanked on NBC, two networks rarely known for their tolerance of four-letter words beginning with “s” or “f” or several other obscenity-launching letters. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t find the audiences that have flocked to Apatow’s gleefully R-rated movies?
Or maybe the timing was off? One of the most popular and oft-repeated theories about the disappointing ratings for “Undeclared” is that it premiered soon after 9/11 and the nation wasn’t ready to laugh.
“We were not people’s highest priority at that point,” observed Seth Rogen.
Added Apatow, “We felt embarrassed to even be making some stupid-ass show.”
Or maybe the problem was just that “Undeclared” was trying to do something different and viewers weren’t ready for it.
“At that moment, we were really trying to figure out how funny we could make one of these half-hours,” Apatow said. “There weren’t any single-camera TV shows at the time. Other than ‘The Wonder Years,’ it was really weird to have a single camera comedy, so they had very little to put it with on the schedule. There was no other show like it on TV. It felt weird as a sitcom. So we trying to make new ground in trying to make this thing work.”
[We’ll politely ignore that FOX had a single camera sitcom that had premiered nearly two years earlier. It was called “Malcolm in the Middle” and it was a fairly major hit at the time.]
But I promised this wasn’t going to be a grand thesis recap.
Here are some highlights of the “Undeclared” PaleyFest panel:
*** Co-star Loudon Wainwright III couldn’t attend and sent a video in which he performed several verses of “Baby, I’m a Man.” It appeared to have been recorded via and in-camera webcam. “Sons of Anarchy” star Charlie Hunnam, Lloyd on “Undeclared,” sent a video he’d recorded from Montreal (which he mistakenly identified as the birthplace of Jay Baruchel [Baruchel was born in Ottawa and raised in Montreal]). “Judd, you gave me my first job in Hollywood on ‘Undeclared,'” Hunnam mused. “If it wasn’t for you, I may have gone home and gotten a real job and found some happiness in my life. But instead I’m still here in Hollywood… So thanks… For that… It’s pretty awesome.”
*** It’s pretty well-known that Apatow originally wanted Jason Segel to play the lead role of Steven. “People didn’t believe that I couldn’t get laid,” Segel said, explaining why he didn’t get the role. As Apatow clarified, “They really did want somebody who was more of an underdog and couldn’t get the girl.” That meant a long search that included many many actors and, apparently, Colin from “Real World: Hawaii.” As Rogen explained to Baruchel, “You tested against [Colin]. Thank f***ing God you beat him. That would have been a disaster.” To which Segel cracked, “Yeah. The show never would have made it.”
*** The network may not have wanted Segel as Steven, but Apatow cast him as Eric, occasionally psychotic boyfriend of Carla Gallo’s Lizzie. Apatow observed, “Because the network so disliked Jason, part of the fun was seeing how many times we could put Jason on the show.” Segel’s been fairly upfront about the “difficulties” he was having at the time and he said, “You really capitalized on the fact that I was crazy.” Of Segel, Rogen noted, “He looked like a corpse you found after a week… He was bloated in all the wrong places.”
*** Since I’m still talking about Segel, in the audience Q&A portion of things, Apatow was asked if he would do TV again. First he said that he was already producing an HBO show created by Lena Dunham, but Amy Poehler interrupted, “But HBO is not TV.” Apatow responded, “I would go back into TV, but I don’t want to see Jason rejected again.” Segel got the last laugh here, saying truthfully, “I’m super-rich now.”
*** Also of note on the casting front, Timm Sharp was cast as Marshall, but he’d apparently already been cast as Bust-Ass in David Gordon Green’s “All the Real Girls.” He had to bail on that feature and the part became the feature acting debut for one Danny McBride. As Sharp cracked, “I don’t want to take responsibility for Danny McBride’s success.”
*** In the feature world? Ben Stiller’s a big star. On the small screen, though, he failed to give a ratings boost to either “Freaks & Geeks” or “Undeclared” in their waning days. “That’s how you know it’s over,” Apatow said, “Ben starts walking around the set.” Added Rogen, “He’s one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
*** Jarrett Grode may not work much in front of the camera, but he’s still doing stand-up and, he said, “I work at Seth Rogen’s medical marijuana dispensary.” You wouldn’t necessarily think he was being serious, but he clarified it was The Farmacy in West Hollywood. So now you know! “I see Jarrett more than anyone on this panel,” Rogen said. Apatow later asked Grode how he was doing these days and he replied, “I’m a drug dealer. I’m doing great!” And Apatow replied “I think we found the guy to step in on ‘Two and a Half Men.'” But all jokes aside… Cast this guy in something, Hollywood.
*** Baruchel had a few really winning moments on the panel, including reciting the lyrics to “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks and walking over to give Timm a big hug when he realized his co-star had gotten his teeth fixed. But the best moment was the uncontrollable laughter that can when Apatow recalled, “All you talked about for that first few months was how your dream was to do well enough to buy a Ferrari.”
*** Apatow and Gallo discussed the very “particular” way that she’s been used in his films, specifically as a subject of sexual humiliation whenever possible. “It was a little rough when I was auditioning and I’d only done one or two,” Gallo said of her now-obligatory cameos. “They’ve now started to put it together… I’m thinking of putting together a little compilation.”
*** The panel’s last question, from the audience, was a fairly reasonable one, asking the actors where they thought their characters would be now. However, due to the questioner’s… ummm… somewhat funny voice, Rogen, Baruchel and Kyle Gass were so overwhelmed with laughter that nobody answered other than Kevin Rankin, who said that Lucien the RA would still probably be there.
More on the “Freaks & Geeks” side of the panel in a bit…