From its title on down, it’s obvious “The Day After” was intended to start a new chapter of Undeclared. The plot that drove much of the previous 13 episodes reached its end with Steven and Lizzie’s kiss in “Truth Or Dare,” and while “The Day After” doesn’t pick up directly after that moment, its A-story is concerned with how that kiss (and the sex to which it eventually led) affects the Steven-Lizzie relationship—primarily the question “Are Steven and Lizzie in a relationship?” This is a transitional episode, to be sure—though not much has changed by the end of its 22 minutes. Steven and Lizzie take a step forward, then almost take a step back, but ultimately end up in standing (somewhat firmer) in the same place. It’s not a seismic shift, but it's enough to push the series through its final three episodes.
Perhaps “The Day After” seems slight in the grand scheme of things because that second chapter of Undeclared ended up being so short. We’re getting to the point in the series where it’s increasingly difficult to not play constant games of “What if?,” and it’s entirely possible “The Day After” would seem more momentous if Steven and Lizzie’s relationship had been given more time to grow. As it stands, we only get to see these very beginning moments, which don’t build upon or change the dynamic of the series much beyond adding more shots of Lizzie moving furtively from dorm to dorm.
There’s also a moment, later in the episode, that I like to think would have had some bigger payoff in the hypothetical second season: After plying Steven with advice about moving forward with Lizzie all episode, Lloyd interrupts a mid-party snog to discuss with Steven the prospect that every girl on campus could be the perfect girl. “And you won’t know until you sleep with them,” he whispers to Steven. We pull away too soon to know if Lloyd’s current “perfect girl” heard what he said, but if she did, she and “The Angel” we’ll meet in the next episode could’ve served as the catalysts for major development in Lloyd’s character. A second-season Lloyd could’ve struggled (hilariously, no doubt) between his base, polyamorous instincts and the less apparent characteristic that drives him toward monogamy, but like the final outcome of the Ron-Kelly relationship, cancellation robbed us of an answer.
Even if it doesn’t lead to much, Steven’s realization that he’s attractive to girls other than Lizzie is the biggest bit of character development in “The Day After.” Too bad it’s so opposed to the major thrust to the episode—not to mention all the episodes that came before it. It doesn’t make sense that he’d so willingly act on Lloyd’s advice to treat Lizzie with a cool indifference—until you factor in his inexperience with girls and his desire to stay with Lizzie. He’s waited long enough to be with her again, and he’ll try anything to maintain the relationship—even if it means making goo-goo eyes at another across the house party. The lines and character moments that come out of the indifference make it hard to complain about, though. I can handle some inconsistencies in characterization, so long as they lead to the awkward humor of Steven’s feigned disinterest. (“That’s a pretty girl.”) He’s no good at hiding his feelings, which is why he ends up bolting from the party to meet up with Lizzie in his dorm. (See, they end up in the exact same spot.)
There are so many smaller things about “The Day After” that I actually enjoy that it makes finding fault with the episode sound like so much nitpicking. Why complain about Steven or the grating euphemism “crotch block” when you can enjoy Steven’s nerd reverie over his mussed-up bed sheets (“Like in Basic Instinct”) or Ron’s flirtatious offer to serve Kelly a breakfast of “Ronffles”? Because the episode promises change and just barely delivers. It’s great that Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen's script integrates the official coupling of Steven and Lizzie without rocking the series’ boat, but the little ripples it does cause make for merely good television. And, unlike in other, non-stellar episodes like “The Assistant” or “Jobs Jobs Jobs,” the core strengths of Undeclared—its talented cast, deft writing staff, warm tone, and low-key humor—are overshadowed by the episode’s “merely good” status. Marshall’s attempts to insert himself into conversations and Rachel’s slow descent to blotto are still funnier than entire episodes of Two And A Half Men. (Now that’s winning!)
Nonetheless, there’s an exchange between Ron and Kelly near the end of the party scenes that sums up the problems I’m having with “The Day After” this go-round: After Marshall begs for the end of Kelly’s brutal campaign of cock-blocking (Take that, Fox Broadcast Standards and Practices), Ron acquiesces. He then approaches Kelly, brings her up to speed on the situation, and asks her to stop torturing Marshall. She agrees—only to have Ron tell her it’s still okay to prevent Marshall from getting any lip and tongue action. Saying one thing, then saying another, then taking it all back—it’s emblematic of the episode’s sputtering momentum. Coincidentally, it’s like being cock-blocked by the show.
- I’m a sucker for comedic lists, so I wish the sequence of drunk Rachel ordering nonexistent cocktails at the bar went on for a few more beats. I’d also like the Rob Reiner to be an actual drink. It’d start out tart and kind of bitter, but there’d be a bunch of ice in it so that by the time you get to the bottom of the glass, all the flavor is gone, and it makes you wonder why you liked the drink so much in the first place.
- Also a big fan of fake names, of which “Carmen Smithly,” the name of Steven’s fictional ex, is a prime example. Like Liz Lemon’s imaginary boyfriend “Astronaut Mike Dexter,” it finds the proper balance between mystique and innocuousness.
- How long has that Tenacious D poster been on the door of Steven and Lloyd’s room? That must be weird for Kyle Gass’ Eugene.
- It reeks of a male writer guessing at a woman’s reaction, but there’s something very Lizzie about revenge by water bra.
- “Did you see that? I just got to call her baby to her face this time.”
- “This stuff darkens your stool.”
- “She’s either looking at you or—that guy. No, it’s you, yeah.”
- “We can hold her hair together.”