Life is full of disappointments. Grape-flavored gum tastes nothing like grapes. X-ray glasses offer no forbidden peeks at undergarments. And, for the record, we can believe it’s not butter. But every so often, something comes along and restores our shiny faith in humanity—or at least prime-time television. Chicks and dudes, that something is Undeclared, Fox’s new college comedy that is (a) about things that actually happen in college and (b) funny. Forgoing both the Crest-whitened cast and the dreaded laugh track, Undeclared (airing Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.) operates on the lo-fi tip, tracking a bunch of dorm dwellers (most notably stammering baby-faced Steven, played dorktastically by 19-year-old Jay Baruchel, left) who roll with the pell-mell punches of campus life. Underneath the workaday micro-plotlines—nursing a clumsy crush on the person across the hall, being banished to the rec room while your roomie gets busy—the show brims with enough loopy charm and refreshing realism (who here hasn’t swiped an abandoned keg?) to make you pine for those golden days of slurping ramen noodles from a hot plate. ”There’s the obvious way to do it where you just have good-looking kids prancing around, crying and getting drunk, and having their friends tell them they’re drinking too much,” opines Undeclared scribe Seth Rogen, 19, who also stars as sardonic Ron. ”But it just doesn’t happen like that. The reality of it is a lot lighter and it’s a lot less glamorous, but at the same time, it’s far better to watch.” The man running the show is certainly happy with his view from the ivy tower. ”I’m thrilled that when I decide to do a show about something, I don’t go, ‘Oh, there’s 47 Simpsons episodes about that,”’ notes Undeclared creator-exec producer Judd Apatow, late of Freaks and Geeks. ”Usually there’s one Felicity episode about it—and they did it very differently than I would.”
In coming weeks, he’ll zig and zag the show with typical aplomb: Steven lands his first girlfriend; his newly single dad, Hal (Loudon Wainwright), raises the cringe stakes by dating one of Steven’s RA’s; neurotic Rachel (Monica Keena) gains the freshman 15; and freaky suitemate Marshall becomes quasi-famous when a photo of him puking winds up on the Internet. Whether stories like these will ever graduate Undeclared from Nielsen mediocrity (No. 66) to superhit status seems almost incidental, because the series already represents a class-act victory for underdog spirit. ”I guess a good way to put it is, We’re not trying to be anything else other than what we are,” says cast member Timm Sharp, 22, a.k.a. Marshall. ”Does that make sense?” Absolutely. Now pass the beer bong.