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James Franco Web series about raunchy high-jinks rankles USC

January 27, 2012 |  8:35 am

Students smooch in a scene
"Undergrads," a USC-centered Web reality series, focuses on a bacchanal a la "The Hangover": Amorous, good-looking young people hook up amid wild parties, run-ins with the law and booze. Lots and lots of it.

These scenes could be captured on any Friday night at almost any university. But for many students and administrators at the University of Southern California, the show that debuted Thursday was a real buzz kill.

"I can't help but laugh and be disgusted at the same time," said Travis Newhouse, 29, a junior cinematic arts major. "It's irresponsible."

The Web series was produced by actor and perennial student James Franco and follows a wolf pack of USC students through the travails of off-campus life. The show depicts a "senior year bucket list" that includes a young woman painting her body in Trojan colors and going to a football game, and young men chasing after women and, in one scene, chugging vodka from a bottle.

It also includes grainy, night-vision shots of police shutting down parties. This is all happening at a school that for years has attempted to move away from a perception of being the so-called "University of Spoiled Children" — a culture centered around a hard-partying Greek system where wealthy young people lead a pampered existence.

By many measures, the school has undergone a notable shift, with an investment to attract stronger faculty, more research dollars and an increasingly diverse student body, higher education experts say.

So a show centered on coed high jinks has rankled some on campus.

Ellie Newcomer Smith, a junior film major, found the idea of the show irritating and potentially detrimental to the reputation of the school and, in turn, her degree.

"It so undermines the strides the school has made academically," said Smith, 26. "It's not the school it was in the '80s, when your dad could buy you in."


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-- Angel Jennings at USC and Rick Rojas

Photos: Students smooch in a scene from "Undergrads." Credit: jamesfrancotv.com