Judd Apatow succeeds again with a pilot that hits so many right notes when it comes to depicting the transitional phase between the teen years and adulthood. “Undeclared” starts with the first week of college when fear, hormones and perceived freedom prove uncontrollable for boys and just plain confusing for girls. The ensemble tackles their roles with confidence and the writing is right on target in its appeal to teens and young adults who yearn for those halcyon days. Show will greatly benefit from lead-in “That ’70s Show,” especially the young demo that has helped that show thrive for the last two seasons.
Set on the campus of the University of North Eastern California — wherever that might be, Chico? Weed? — Steven (Jay Baruchel) arrives with the certitude that his growth spurt and new haircut hide the scars of his nerd life. He’s tall, thin and unsure of himself, a contrast to his beer-swilling roomies Ron (Seth Rogen) and Marshall (Timm Sharp), who instantly confound the lad, and Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam), the Brit theater major who’s got dibs on the better bed.
Down the hall, the overly enthusiastic Lizzie (Carla Gallo) and the anxiety ridden Rachel (Monica Keena) are splaying broad personality traits in their dorm room; Lizzie pledges her love and then gets in a tiff with her boyfriend back home and Rachel, for no reason, freaks out. Apatow plays it just right: The guys don’t know what to make of these girls.
Their ambition, seeing as how it is day one of the college years, is to get a party assembled for the night. As they go about finding co-eds — one great scene is inside an elevator when insecurity stymies the four guys, another is when a wannabe deejay explains his craft — they learn that a British accent paves the road to riches. Steven gets the double whammy of surprises: Dad (singer Loudon Wainwright) checks in on him during the party and announces his pending divorce; and Lizzie, on a whim that is somehow a shot at the b.f., is interested in having sex with him.
With small touches and by spreading out the dialogue, Apatow has created a broad tableau for these characters, each of which is putty in their new surroundings. Pilot suggests that they have plenty of room to move even if they don’t grow. Unfortunately, Fox’s promos make it seem like the entire season is about sex.
Jake Kasdan’s direction in the pilot is assured and keeps the show moving as well as any contempo bigscreen college comedy — “Legally Blonde,” for example.
Cast is uniformly sound and sufficiently distinct without forcing oddballs into the mix. Show’s strength in the pilot is its reliance on the ensemble over displaying individual talents but it might well have two secret weapons. One’s Rogen, who plays the cool cat who’s easily tripped up and has to work on regaining his composure; and Keena, who appears to have a good sense of how to play simple emotions convincingly and might well be on to bigger things.