Let's imagine a world where Undeclared was never canceled: In this theoretical realm, a continuing Undeclared would mean that Judd Apatow wouldn't have received the kick-in-the-pants which inspired him to switch his full attention to movie production. Apatow the showrunner leads to no Apatow the screenwriter, producer, or director, leaving a void where Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin would be. No 40-Year-Old Virgin would mean no second-season renewal for the U.S. Office, without which NBC would have no desire to re-establish its comedy bloc on Thursday nights. You get more Undeclared, you lose 30 Rock, Parks And Recreation, and Community.
Meanwhile, in the in the ostensibly happy world of the Undeclared that lasted past "Eric's POV," the regulars on the show have become moderately successful stars of television, and therefore have no desire to branch out to film. With the exception of Seth Rogen, of course, whose backlog of screenplays would eventually burn a hole through his seat in the writers' room, spurring him to pursue screenwriting ventures without the Apatow stamp of approval. Superbad would still end up being made, only as an independent film, with one of the stars of the wildly successful Arrested Development, Michael Cera, eventually taking a chance on this scrappy little project.
After the proposed-though in this world-finished episode of Undeclared where Steven and Lizzie attend Eric's birthday party, friendship with the creative core would be the only thing keeping Jason Segel around, and he'd probably kick off in time to still land his role on How I Met Your Mother. But that wouldn't give him enough clout to receive a greenlight for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, nor would he book one of the leads in I Love You, Man. That film, conceived in part and directed by regular Undeclared director John Hamburg would still see the light of day-as would Greg Mottola's Adventureland, because the series' directors could come and go as they please and continue to work on their own projects. His connection with Rogen could put him in the chair to helm Superbad, but it wouldn't end up being the springboard to big productions like Paul.
But getting that far into this speculative timeline assumes that Undeclared lasts longer than four seasons-which it shouldn't, lest the writers become stuck churning out ridiculous excuse after ridiculous excuse to keep the main cast from graduating. And God help this Earth-2 where all of the characters are allowed to graduate from UNEC, inspiring a jarring reboot in the fifth season where Steven and co. go through similar motions as those seen in the first season, once again finding themselves in a new chapter of life-one where the writers have been forced to find even more implausible reasons to keep the characters together.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: In some ways, it's a good thing Undeclared was canceled after "Eric's POV." That small loss for the show's fans eventually turned into a major boon for the worlds of film and television comedy. Keeping Undeclared alive is almost the comedy nerd's equivalent to saving Joan Collins' life in Star Trek's "The City On The Edge Of Forever"-only with a lack of great movies and shows instead of a world ruled by the Nazis. But isn't a world without the Anchorman news-team rumble, Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Dracula puppet opera, and Lil' Sebastian just like an Earth ruled by the Nazis?
Of course, the feelings of loss toward Undeclared are only exacerbated by the fact that the series wasn't brought to a satisfying conclusion. In comparison to the other 16 episodes, "Eric's POV" is an above-average episode. It has big laughs, Jon Favreau does a lot of things few of the other Undeclared directors did, and it's audaciously centered on characters who mean little to the story of Steven Karp and his freshman-year adventures. As such, it gets an 8. But in terms of saying "Farewell" to beloved characters, "Eric's POV" is hardly Mary Tyler Moore turning the lights out on the WJM newsroom. Transposing a back-door pilot for the Kopy Town guys over the series finale is a brilliant "f*** you" to the network bigwigs who didn't believe in the show-but that kiss-off hits those who care, too. One of my favorite visual gags in the entire series is the giant, droopy loaf of bread that the girls bring back from the warehouse store in "Eric's POV"-but seeing it this time around just made me think of how, when it comes to series finales, the episode is kind of a big, flaccid bread penis.
In its own weird, contradictory way, "Eric's POV" does function well as season finale, however, as it brings Steven fully out of his boyish shell, making him stand by Lizzie in a moment of minor crisis. The writers present this development in the most painfully obvious manner, positioning Lizzie's hair dilemma as a distraction in an afternoon Steven planned to spend bingeing on junk food and Girls Gone Wild. This is the final stand for Steven's adolescence: Is he a boy, or is he a boyfriend? It's a conflict that's square in Jay Baruchel's wheelhouse, and the anxious tug-of-war between wanting to support Lizzie, but also wanting to watch crazy coeds strip for plastic tchotchkes, is both funny and cringe-inducing. Nothing else in Undeclared matches the emotional investment in the Steven-Lizzie relationship, and this episode is its ultimate payoff. It takes a backseat to the Eric story, but the way it ends and the way the A- and B-stories collide are the most rewarding aspects of the episode. For the fourth time, an episode ends in a Steven-Lizzie lip-lock, but this is the one that counts the most. Meanwhile, spending time in Eric's world proves a fun exercise, but it's not a place I'd want to hang out every week. As main characters, Eric and Steven aren't too dissimilar: They're both extremely vulnerable, have a degree of growing up to do, surround themselves with surrogate families, and take dubious advice from father figures. Also, neither can get over Lizzie. But Eric's world is intrinsically sadder than Steven's.
From the glimpses we get in "Eric's POV," a Kopy Town show would do best in the misanthropic vein of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia or Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the humor is largely derived from unlikable people behaving badly. It's a world populated by burn-outs and underemployed women who live to party, which makes Eric stick out. He's the type of guy who doesn't mind kissing a young lady who knows her tongue stud "does the trick," but he still freaks out when it's revealed he's not the first dude to swallow it. Greg and Eugene are fun, but even in their own back-door pilot, there's not much to hang a story on-Greg's a pushover, and Eugene's a sexually desperate fat guy. Done. Ben Stiller is great as Eric's oft-alluded-to ex-stepfather Rex, but even then, he's playing a variation on one of the few characters types that helped him coast through the mid-'00s, a lunkhead hiding his ignorance under a coat of macho posturing à la White Goodman or Derek Zoolander.
And it's that note which we end Undeclared on, which is incredibly frustrating after spending 17 weeks with Steven, Lizzie, Lloyd, Marshall, Rachel, and Ron. Hell, we barely see the guys at all in "Eric's POV." But those who mourn the end of Undeclared can take heart in the fact that, for example, there's a little bit of Ron in almost every character Seth Rogen has played since. And besides, being upset about the early end of the series goes against one of its main themes: There's no use dwelling in the past. Sure, the past is a good source of humorous neuroses, stories about eating so much grass that you puked, or regretful romantic decisions, but Undeclared is all about what comes next. It's unfortunate that we never got to see Eric's birthday party, or Lloyd's inter-departmental battle with Topher Grace, but I'll gladly take the birth scene in Knocked Up and the "Catalina Wine Mixer" exchange from Step Brothers in their place.
I'll gladly visit and revisit the UNEC campus-but unlike Eric, I don't mind that I can't stay permanently.