In recent years, Judd Apatow has built himself a comedy empire, but who’ll go on to be his natural successor?
The scope of Judd Apatow’s influence on modern comedy is so vast, it might actually, in a non-hyperbolic way, be easier to list the successful films that he or someone he made famous didn’t have a hand in than to list the ones that did. What Apatow and co-producer Paul Feig started with Freaks and Geeks has spiralled into, essentially, complete domination. Recently, though, Apatow’s personal production has slowed a considerable amount, and the work that he has directed of late has been a far cry from what audiences were expecting. Quality notwithstanding, both Funny People and This is 40 were far more subtle, serious pieces than the work in Apatow’s back catalogue. Maybe, then, it’s time to examine who might be the next in line to take his crown.
In reality, these things are hardly predictable. Apatow helmed not one, but two network shows that never made it to a second season. Repeating that path is inadvisable for anyone looking to follow in his metaphorical footsteps, so finding someone whose path is similar to Apatow’s is, at best, an exercise in futility. Still, there are at least a handful of players with an edge over the competition.
Mark and Jay Duplass have recently had quite the wave of comedic influence, in particular within the indie filmmaking world
The likeliest to ascend is Mark Duplass. He and his brother, Jay, have recently had quite the wave of influence in the indie filmmaking world, co-writing and co-directing the Jason Reitman-produced Jeff, Who Lives at Home, a soulful comedy with a surprising heart. Mark Duplass’s influence is bolstered by his acting in The League, FX’s fantasy football-centric comedy, and his credit as a producer on a handful of other films. It’s not nearly the type of thing that Judd Apatow went through, but it could certainly lead to a similar kind of dominance.
If a short-lived cult television series is the way to go, Richard Ayoade may fit the shoe best. The oddball star of The IT Crowd made a quiet impact with his 2008 directorial debut, Submarine. Much like Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the film was funny, but not without a great deal of depth. The coming-of-age story was handled delicately and mined for its most powerful qualities, all while allowing the humour of the work to shine through. Those who produce Ayoade’s films have the ability to help push him to the next level: Ben Stiller was a producer on Submarine, and the esteemed Michael Caine is a producer on his next feature, The Double. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, the film has no shortage of star power behind it, and could create a great deal of momentum for the man as director.
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If a stylistic similarity to the early work Apatow produced is a must, then maybe the one most equipped for the job is one of his biggest successes: Seth Rogen. In a lot of ways, Rogen really is Apatow’s apprentice. He acted in Freaks and Greeks, acted in and wrote for Undeclared, and went on to write, star in and produce a handful of Apatow’s most successful productions. Only recently did Rogen try his hand at directing, with last year’s This is the End (co-directed with his frequent writing partner, Evan Goldberg). That film, filled to the brim with Apatow’s people, was tightly directed and hilarious. It balanced a great deal of smart humour with easier, larger gags and, in general, had a fantastic sensibility about itself.
It may be reductive to refer to Lena Dunham as usurping someone else’s throne – her path seems to be entirely her own
Lena Dunham, too, seems as if she’s being groomed for the job. Apatow is an Executive Producer on her incredible and incredibly popular show, Girls, and Tiny Furniture, her debut feature film, won Best Narrative Feature at South by Southwest. Realistically, Dunham’s sensibilities differ from Apatow’s, but what she does appear to have is a similar knack for crafting characters. The listless and often self-destructive characters that populate Girls are not unlike many of the leads in Apatow’s work. In her case, though, it may be reductive to refer to her as usurping someone else’s throne. Her path seems to be entirely her own.
In all likelihood, none of these directors, despite their undeniable talent and keen comic sensibilities, will have a sphere of influence that even remotely compares to the dwarfing, all-consuming bubble that Judd Apatow has created; something like that is maybe once in a generation. Regardless, Duplass, Ayoade, Rogen and Dunham are among the few with the potential chops to make a dent.
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Featured image: Sonia Recchia (via Flickr)
Inset image: 92YTribeca (via Flickr)