Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Attack of the Apatow

Between the impending release of "Knocked Up," the fascinating New York Times Magazine profile (registration required), and then this brilliant (but NSFW) fake FunnyOrDie clip of Michael "George Michael Bluth" Cera getting fired from the lead role of "Knocked Up," I've had Judd Apatow on the brain the last few days.

Of course, I've often felt like Judd had me -- or someone just like me -- on the brain, as so much of the humor in "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" felt painfully true to my own life. After the Adam Sandler episode of "Undeclared" -- where Ron's attempts to make Sandler want to be friends with them reminded me of my some of my own inept early celebrity encounters -- I even sent Judd an e-mail complaining that he had built some kind of mind-reading machine and was using it on me. Not surprisingly, a restraining order soon followed, along with him getting a new e-mail address.

So since I'm no longer allowed within a thousand yards of the man (Judd, you know I love you! Call me!), I have to show my love in other ways, like a quick run through YouTube for some of Apatow's greatest hits. You really oughta start with the Cera thing, which is brilliant whether or not you've seen the infamous David O. Russell/Lily Tomlin "I Heart Huckabee's" screaming match that inspired it. But here are some other fine moments of genius from Apatow and his associates -- or, at least, the best that I could find on the YouTubes:


Unknown said...

Ben Stiller apologized for the Yakov Smirnoff sketch? How/when?

Lisa said...

I love how in the NYT article they keep mentioning the self-help books Garry Shandling has given to him over the years.

Have you seen "The TV Set" yet?

Alan Sepinwall said...

It was on a marathon of the whole series on either FX or Comedy Central a while back. Stiller basically said that another sketch for the pilot fell through at the last minute, they put this together, and it didn't occur to him until afterwards just how mean it was. (Most of the other parodies they did were more affectionate.)

Haven't seen "The TV Set." It's in the Saved portion of my Netflix queue.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think any discussion on the "brilliance" of Judd Apatow is complete without a copy of the exchange between him and Mark Brazil:

Personally, I agree with Mike White who is quoted in the Times article. A lot of Apatow's stuff is funny, but too much of it relies on misogyny and homophobia. Shouldn't we aim just a little higher?

Anonymous said...

Apparently there is a whole series of scenes like the one with Cera, where Judd keeps firing the lead till he eventually finds Seth Rogen. Other actors include James Franco, David Krumholtz, Justin Long, Allen Covert and Orlando Bloom.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I've blocked out the offending portions of Apatow's oeuvre, but I don't remember his work as being particularly homophobic or misogynistic. In the "40 Year Old Virgin", Catherine Keener had one of the more sympathetic female characters in modern mainstream comedies, and the misogynistic tendencies of Carrell's colleagues seemed to be presented to the audience in a way that showed how pathetic that behavior can be.

Though I haven't seen them in years, I remember "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" being a reasonably realistic depiction of certain high school/college behavior and can't remember anything that came particularly close to homophobic or misogynistic characterizations.

Of course, just because I don't remember/didn't spot the homophobia and misogyny doesn't mean it wasn't there. I'd appreciate it, Anonymous, if you could point out a few examples.

Also, would you mind pointing out the Mike White quote in the article, I wasn't able to find it.

Anonymous said...

Well, you're right. Mike White wasn't quoted in that article. He was quoted in this article:

I didn't realize the NYT had done more than one article on him. Which begs the question: why are they doing multiple articles on Judd Apatow?

As for my other comments, I guess I'm just not as much of an Apatow fanboy as others. I loved F&G and Undeclared, but there have been accusations lobbed at Apatow for years that he's been taking credit for other people's work and has very little to do with the things his named is attached to. And even though he comes off better in the email exchange, it's obvious Apatow doesn't have a great reputation in Hollywood. Even reading the emails it seems like at a certain point Apatow got his writers together to help him craft some particularly witty zingers.

As for the misogyny and homophobia, I'll agree that Catherine Keener comes off well in The 40 Year Old Virgin, but I guess I'm just not a fan of the fratboy humor that seems to be so popular right. "You know how I know you're gay? Because you're gay!" doesn't strike me as clever and, even if not blatantly homophobic, only adds to the idea that it's okay to put someone down for that reason.

Unknown said...

I know this is old but can you post your thoughts on the Grey's Anatomy Season finale? Thanks

Unknown said...

Wow! A quadruple helping of Sepinwall! Talk about an embarassment of riches.
The Yakov Smirnoff thing was hilarious, and if anything, he should apologize to Lenny Bruce for cribbing his "Vaughn Meader is screwed" bit.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Trisha, as I've said in other threads, I didn't watch the Grey's finale. (Well, technically, I watched 10 minutes, was bored, went to do something else, and was later told by enough sources not to bother with the rest that I didn't.)

Re: Apatow and misogyny/homophobia, I don't see the first tag sticking at all. Every one of his major works has been defined in some way by empathy for its female characters. Others have mentioned Keener in Virgin, but there was also Linda Cardellini as the most sympathetic, three-dimensional character on Freaks and Geeks, the girls on Undeclared (who were broad and silly, but no moreso than the guys), Christina Applegate in Anchorman (a rare heroine in a guys' comedy who's allowed to be both right and funny), Will Ferrell's mom in Talladega Nights, etc., etc.

I don't really see the homophobia charge, either. "You know how I know you're gay," for instance, was so funny in part because of how non-mean-spirited it was.

Bret LaGree said...

Personally, I agree with Mike White who is quoted in the Times article. A lot of Apatow's stuff is funny, but too much of it relies on misogyny and homophobia. Shouldn't we aim just a little higher?

I don't disagree with your final question at all, but I would argue that the man who wrote both the Sarah Silverman role and that of the lispy boy who designed the band's costume in School of Rock might could be a little less quick to offer specifically vague yet pointed criticism about aiming for easy laughs at the expense of women or homosexuals.

Anonymous said...

but there have been accusations lobbed at Apatow for years that he's been taking credit for other people's work and has very little to do with the things his named is attached to.

Source? His thorniness as a director is covered in the NYT magazine article Alan linked to, and I can imagine that he's hard to manage as a result, but how could he work with such a regular stable of actors and writers (like Seth Rogen if he took credit for other people's work? Do you have an example or a specific rumor in mind?

And, like Alan, I don't really see the sympathy for homophobia in that 40 Year Old Virgin scene. That doesn't mean White's wrong about Knocked Up, which I haven't seen yet. But at the very least, these two men, both credited (along with Jake Kasdan) with writing the The Little Things episode of Freaks and Geeks, probably (hopefully) have more nuanced opinions about each other's work than those expressed in a short NYT


Anonymous said...

Mike White accusing Judd Apatow of misogyny? What the fuck? That's like Warren Ellis accusing people of being too slow in their storytelling. Is this some sort of Andrew Sullivan impersonation contest?

I wouldn't call Apatow misogynistic, just exasperatingly conventional at the end of the day. He's always rested in the good-but-not-that-good file for me.

Stiller apologized profusely for the Yakov Smirnoff sketch on the commentary for the DVD, which struck me as bizarre and cowardly, since he had achieved far more than Smirnoff ever did and it was entirely deserved.

dark tyler said...

Apatow is the finest example of an artist with whom I completely disagree on a lot of things (because, and I think this we can all agree on, he's a total conservative, sex without love = evil, pro-life, etc.) but am able to appreciate how funny and talented he is.

I like it when that happens, it reminds me that art is not about values but rather about how you communicate them. I'll take Apatow over Michael Moore, for example. Or Bono. You get it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I wouldn't call them multiple articles about Judd Apatow. One's a New York Times piece on the movie Knocked Up, directed by Judd Apatow, and one's a New York Times Magazine profile of Judd Apatow.

Anonymous said...

Dark Tyler, you think Judd Apatow is a conservative? The same man who was behind two separate television series that were mostly about the importance of not conforming? The same man who wrote for The Critic, The Ben Stiller Show, and The Larry Sanders Show? The same guy who produced Anchorman and Talladega Nights? These credits may not make him a liberal per se, but the man is not a conservative. Watch (or re-watch) the episode of Freaks and Geeks called "The Little Things" and see if you still think that any of the guys responsible for that story is a conservative. Finally, I'm not sure where you got the pro-life idea from. Is it just because he made a movie about having a baby?

Anonymous said...

I don't think "The Little Things" episode is coming from quite as enlightened a perspective as you seem to think. On the DVD, Apatow says "we thought it'd be funny if we finally gave Ken a girlfriend and she had a penis." Using intersexed people as a punchline doesn't come off as particularly enlightened to me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, writing an intersexed person into a storyline isn't the same thing as using her as a punchline. Yes, there were opportunities for humor--and they were taken, although neither mean-spiritedly nor particularly numerously--but Amy's revelation was used as an opportunity for Ken to do some fairly sensitive introspection. A guy who spent the whole series not letting anyone get too close to him finds himself accepting someone who wasn't entirely who he thought she was. Hardly a punchline.

dark tyler said...

I haven't watched anything Apatow's done for TV, but his movies tell me what I need to know. When I say he's a conservative I don't mean he's a Bill O'Reilly fan, and when I say pro-life I don't mean that he'll be burning down any abortion clinics anytime soon.

It's only natural for people to disagree on certain issues, and Apatow condemning loveless sex or showing how an accidental mother can in the end fall in love with the accidental father are both examples of a conservative worldview. I'm not saying this in either a positive or a negative way, I'm just saying it.

Bottom line, I meant it as a compliment. I disagree with his stuff, but I love watching them. Therefore, he must be very good at what he does.

Daniel said...

Judd Apatow is unquestionably conservative, but as dark_tyler wrote, not in a Ronald Reagan True Conservative sense. He's conservative in that despite the improvisation and despite all of the raunch, he tells very old-fashioned stories that reaffirm very traditional values in the end. The importance of love, marriage, family and personal responsibility ultimately becomes the point of his cinematic stories, at least the films he's made as a writer-director. That, incidentally, isn't an insult. The same is actually true of his TV work, where the characters are admirable as freaks and geeks and nerds and slackers, but the things they want at heart are quite traditional and conventional. Again, not an insult. I liked "Virgin" a good amount and I think that "Knocked Up" is an even funnier film.

On a set visit I did last year to the "Knocked Up" set, this was what Apatow said regarding the messages of his films:

"I look at it as part of my Pat Robertson moral trilogy: The first movie is the anti-sex before marriage. This is the anti-abortion movie. Soon it'll be the anti-Jew movie and then I'll realize I'm Jewish and get all confused. Because I keep making these movies and saying wow they're dirty but they have these really moralistic messages. How's this happening?"

Anyway, just wanted to chime in (Sorry, Alan).


Anonymous said...


Count me in as being a forever fan of Freaks and Geeks. If it's one of your favorite television shows ever then you're right up my alley and on my same page. Here's to ya! :)