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Laughter Pulls Down a Solid A

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Fox unveils a series about college kids tonight that is one of the cum laude comedies of the new season, majoring in laughs.

“Undeclared” is a sneaky, funny hoot with endearingly offbeat characters, its huggable protagonist striding confidently into his freshman year at Northeastern Carolina U. after growing 7 inches during the summer.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 27, 2001 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 27, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
TV review--The review in Tuesday’s Calendar of the new Fox comedy “Undeclared” misspelled the last name of actor Seth Rogen and misstated the location of the series, which is set at the fictitious University of North Eastern California.

Goodbye, Mr. Nerd; hello, Mr. Cool.

Oh, sure. All hair, lips and elbows, Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) remains a zit about to pop. He not only looks like a young Don Knotts, but discovers that shooting up to a gangly 6-foot-1 doesn’t necessarily give him stature with the coeds.

Having that distinction is his magnetic British roommate, Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam), a theater major whose academic agenda includes using their dorm digs to bed down girls. So he devises a way to signal Steven and their two other roommates, Marshall (Timm Sharp) and Ron (Seth Rogan), to alert them when not to enter. Like ... all the time?

Across the hall, meanwhile, live Rachel (Monica Keena), Tina (Christina Payano) and Lizzie (Carla Gallo), the girl Steven has his eye on.

Created by Judd Apatow (“Freaks and Geeks”), “Undeclared” deals primarily with the haves and have-nots of campus social whirls, and a coming episode will draw this Maginot line hilariously. None of “Undeclared” feels forced, and it helps enormously that the cast looks like it belongs, the actors fitting their environment perfectly.

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Baruchel is just about remarkable as Steven, full of wonder and awe in his new surroundings, rising above adolescent angst and geek-dom and looking around at this alien world as if he were a chick emerging tortuously from an egg.

All but stealing the premiere, though, is Steven’s dad, Hal (Loudon Wainwright), the nightmare of all bummers when invading the dorm during a bash Steven and his freshman pals are throwing like big shots on their first day on campus.

“Hey, party man,” Hal calls above the din to his horrified son. “Didn’t I just see you at breakfast?”

You’ll find nothing funnier this season than Hal settling down with Steven’s friends after chug-a-lugging from a keg of beer and getting somber advice from Lloyd on his crumbling marriage: “It’s never too late to make a new beginning.”

Tonight’s “Undeclared” is no new beginning, just the start of something pretty terrific.

*

“Undeclared” premieres tonight at 8:30 on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG-S (may be unsuitable for young children with a special advisory for sexual content).


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