Undeclared: “Addicts”
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Undeclared: “Addicts”

Note: Beginning with “Addicts,” the TV Club Classic coverage of Undeclared will diverge from the episode order of the series’ DVD set—please see the comments on “Prototype” to know where to go from here.

“Addicts” is an odd duck in Undeclared’s miraculous flock of final episodes. With its story line contributing little to the overall arc of the series, the episode is a more or less a standalone—but not as comically inert as last week’s standalone episode, “The Assistant.” It’s partially plot-driven, but also partially character-driven, with Steven, Rachel, and Lizzie’s academic dilemma steering the A-story, while Ron, Lloyd, and Marshall’s B-story leans heavily on the dynamic between the three characters. Also, the episode transcends a potentially distracting cameo by a pre-megafame Will Ferrell, playing Dave, a townie—sorry, a gentlemen who resides in town—who makes a living helping UNEC’s students slum more than they usually do.

Also, the episode plays with the tropes and tragic arc of drug and mob films, all the while managing to knock out two staples of college-based entertainments—recreational drug use and financial independence—with one well-scripted stone. It’s not the most obvious genre exercise, but that’s what makes it work, as well as what makes “Addicts” one of the best episodes of Undeclared.

The titular addicts are Steven, Lizzie, and Rachel, who get hooked all too quickly to the intoxicating freedoms of not having to do their own school work. Jennifer Konner and Alexandra Rushfield’s script lays the groundwork for this downward spiral in the opening scenes, first exposing the principal cast to one of those “Welcome to a lifetime of financial irresponsibility” booths credit card companies love setting up on college campuses, before having a streetwise pusher—in the guise of Perry—recommend that a stressed Steven shop out his paper on Madame Bovary to Ferrell’s character. Doing so even has some unexpected benefits, as when Dave’s “new Bovary” nets Steven a rare “A.” Once Hal sees the paper hanging in the common area of the guys’ dorm and heaps praise on his son for all his hard work, Steven’s in over his head. (Loudon Wainwright III isn’t given the chance to have an Ellen Burstyn-style breakdown upon discovering the true nature of Steven’s “A.” Probably for the best, though.) It’s only a matter of time before his two female companions are in too deep with him, as Dave (a speed freak and, therefore, the only character in the episode who actually takes any illicit substances) flakes the night before a deadline and nearly karate chops Steven to death in his kitchen.

Marshall floats in the margins of this story line, using a shapeshifting pile of cash affectionately referred to as “the wad” as a symbol of his willpower. “The wad” eventually factors into his scenes with Ron and Lloyd, as it’s the deus ex machina that bails the roommates out of their debts to the assumedly gorilla-like, leg-breaking heavies behind the Guaranteed Freedom Access Card. It didn’t have to be that way, though—at the beginning of the episode, Lloyd the thespian chastises Ron the capitalist for trying to turn the money he doesn’t have into more money through online investing. Being poorly versed in Russian literature, I’m assuming the reference to The Brothers Karamazov later in the episode is a sly nod to the moral and philosophical debate between Ron and Lloyd. Dostoyevsky tomes aside, Ron eventually wins Lloyd over to the dark side through the power of leather suits and $50 cigars. Naturally, the good times are short-lived, and as their fortunes plummet, Lloyd goes from having no need for money to taking the news of Steven’s (fake) death less harshly than the news that Ron’s online stocks have plummeted in price. His morals and bank reserves thus compromised, Lloyd is forced into the degrading position of both asking his grandmother for money and performing Shakespeare in the quad for an audience of Tina.

As much as I enjoyed Community episodes like “Basic Rocket Science” and “Epidemiology,” I’m hoping that still-living sitcom eventually starts playing in other genres’ sandboxes with the subtlety and relatively unstated purpose that “Addicts” does. (Though “Basic Rocket Science” really didn’t have a choice, what with that anus flag and all.) Aside from its title and Steven’s constant “I can quit any time” promises, the episode doesn’t easily betray its unlikely connections to the world of crime films. Fortunately, like those aforementioned episodes of Community, it does so by making no specific references to the films whose conventions it’s tweaking/homaging. It’s parodying the general idea of these films, using their high-stakes conflicts and complications to add a humorous shade to the lower-stakes experiences of academic fraud and first-time debt. At the very least, it’s a more interesting way to approach both the topic of cheating and Ron and Lloyd’s complicated relationship.

Without that edge, this is simply an above-average episode of Undeclared. It’s tightly written, director Greg Mottola gets to fill the screen with a little more action than usual (how weird is it to see the characters running in the cold open?), and the cast is their usual, likable selves. Ferrell is funny, and he manages to make his presence known without making it overbearing, keeping Dave’s “friendly to unsettling” ratio in balance. (He’d recycle a lot of the character’s attitude and mannerisms for his brief part in Wedding Crashers, but, as is often the case with Ferrell, the first taste is the sweetest.) But what makes “Addicts” remarkable is the way it slyly puts one over on its audience, super-sizing the trials of its characters without making them feel too large for life.

Stray observations

  • I can’t think of a television comedy that uses montage as often or as well as Undeclared. There’s two montages in “Addicts,” and in the context of the episode, they take on a heightened cinematic quality—but, above all, Undeclared uses montage as a way to get out a bunch of quick jokes while correcting the pace of an episode. Of the two montages in “Addicts,” the most notable is the paper-writing sequence at the end of the episode, which condenses one horrible night of school work into a few brief seconds. Among the montage’s three threads (Steven’s progression of slack, Rachel’s series of procrastinations, and Lizzie’s experiments in over-caffeination), Lizzie’s really stands out, with Carla Gallo giving her overzealous all to a motormouthed meltdown that ends with her taking a nap with her eyes open. Hilarious—and effective.
  • Trivia from the commentary track: The ninja game Ferrell plays would have a later life as a favorite of the characters in The OC.
  • “The real cards aren’t that big—but they’re good, too”
  • “It’s wrong having some weird guy doing your homework for you”
  • “Is this a bad school?”
  • “It’s like cheating.” “It’s not like cheating—it is cheating.”
  • “Don’t fear the blintz.”
  • “I read like eight or nine books a week—also do a lot of speed. All the time.”
  • “God, Horowitz is so tough.”
  • “Let the blood run through my kitchen!”
  • “Anthony Hopkins is yelling!”
Filed Under: TV, Undeclared

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