Looking back on the genius of 'The Simpsons,' 'Arrested Development' & more
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9. "Undeclared" (2001-02)
A year after his brilliant high school dramedy "Freaks and Geeks" suffered a bumpy, abbreviated first season on NBC, Judd Apatow returned to network TV with a series that seemed designed to avoid most of the pitfalls that seemed to kill what he and Paul Feig worked so hard on at NBC: No period setting. Minimal heartbreak. Embarrassing moments played to maximize laughs, not discomfort. A nerdy hero who got more than his fair share of victories (including having sex with the pretty girl across the hall at the end of the first episode). Working with a terrific cast including Jay Baruchel, Charlie Hunnam and "Freaks" alum Seth Rogen (who doubled as an "Undeclared" writer), the results were very close in terms of quality; though "Undeclared" was lighter than its predecessor, it shared a generosity of spirit and understanding of its characters, and a wicked sense of humor. (I still laugh just thinking of Steven moaning "Tie it to WHAT?!?" as his fraternity pledgemaster hands him a brick with a string around it and orders him to "Tie it and throw it!") Unfortunately, the results were nearly identical in terms of commercial success, too: the ratings were never there, FOX played around with the air order, and ultimately the show produced one episode less than "Freaks and Geeks" had.