PASADENA – “I was hurt and wounded and sad from my television experience,” Judd Apatow said of that strange period a decade ago when he was a fixture at press tour with a pair of shows – “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” – that were beloved by critics and mistreated by their networks.
Things turned out okay for Apatow – and Paul Feig, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and almost everyone else he worked with on those two adored but low-rated series – and he was far more serene and confident when he came back to TCA to discuss “Girls,” the new HBO comedy series he’s producing with writer/director/star Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”) and former “Undeclared” writer Jenni Konner.
In “Girls,” Dunham plays a young woman having a series of professional and sexual misadventures in Brooklyn. The show premieres on HBO on April 15, and I liked the three episodes I’ve seen a lot, in addition to being a longtime fan of Apatow’s work. (“Freaks and Geeks” was the first series I revisited episode-by-episode.) So after that panel ended, I joined in a small scrum to talk to Apatow about coming back to TV 10 years later, about the satisfaction of finding so much success in the movies with very similar material to what failed on television, and also about the reports of difficulty in getting a “Bridesmaids” sequel going as well as that movie’s Oscar chances.
Let’s start with “Bridesmaids,” actually, since Apatow insisted recent reports that a sequel was endangered were premature and/or inaccurate, since “we’re still in the fog of war” of promoting the original film.
He said he, Feig, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and the rest of the gang would all be happy to do another film, but only if they have a good idea for it first.
“It truly is one of those situations where if there is an idea that makes everyone incredibly excited to do it, it could happen,” he said. “If we feel that it’s just a business proposition, it won’t happen. And that’s how it should be. I like sequels. I just made ‘This Is 40,’ which is a kind of spin-off of ‘Knocked Up’ with Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, and ‘Get Him to the Greek’ was a kind of sideways spin-off of ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall.’ I wish we could have done another ‘Superbad,’ so I always wish there could be another one, but it really shouldn’t be done unless the idea is fantastic.”
He called the idea of McCarthy, or anyone associated with the film, getting an Oscar nomination “hilarious and wonderful… I have to admit I voted for us,” and said in terms of Wiig, “I think it’s easy to underestimate how brilliant and complicated that performance is. People tend to reward negative emotions: a lot of crying and pain. But people who can find the truth of a character, but be hilarious and delightful and you also feel for them, it’s a rare talent. It would be amazing for Kristen, for Melissa, for the writing. Anything.
Does he expect major nominations, though?
“I always feel like we’re the 14th-best movie of the year,” he said.
As for his return to TV, Apatow said he would have only done it at HBO, since the only wholly satisfying professional experience of that phase of his career was writing for “The Larry Sanders Show.” Though he hasn’t been back on television long, and is back in the HBO cocoon, I asked if he felt the business had changed in the 10 years since FOX canceled “Undeclared.”