I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
In 2008, during the third season of 30 Rock, it was announced that Tracy Morgan would become a prince. A Nigerian prince, to be exact, and in the context of a comedy film. The Paramount Pictures movie Freshman Roommates focuses on a college kid (T.J. Miller, then billed as the dude from Cloverfield) who “drunk-replies to an e-mail from a Nigerian prince.” The twist is that the Prince is real — the “spoiled son of a deposed African dictator” — and he winds up at the kid’s dorm, searching for his money. And then, I’m sure, comedy ensues!
The movie’s plot plays on the common “Nigerian prince” (or “419” scam), in which a scammer pretends to be a prince and needs help transferring millions of dollars. If you give him a small amount, he claims, he’ll soon repay you with a much-larger sum. Freshman Roommates promised that if we paid a paltry movie-theater ticket fee, it would repay us with Tracy Morgan as a Nigerian prince. In the end, it scammed us all; Freshman Roommates never got made, and I’ve been thinking about it for almost ten years.
To be fair, I’m no stranger to falling into obsessive loops surrounding elements of pop culture — I’m sure a shiver goes down my friends’ spines when I announce I’m binge-watching a ’90s sitcom that certainly doesn’t hold up, because I will talk about nothing else. I routinely become hyperfocused on some canceled series (like ABC’s Dinosaurs); I rewatch the same movie for weeks at a time, often multiple times a day (my record is Freddy Got Fingered, seven times in a row); or even just random news stories that won’t leave my head. Someone will innocently ask, “How are you?” and I’ll reply, “Honestly, can you believe that Stephen Rannazzisi lied about 9/11?” It doesn’t just stop at existing culture: I have a screener for the canceled-before-it-aired Dane Cook sitcom Next Caller Please that I saved on multiple external hard drives, just in case one dies. If I had a nickel for every time I wondered about the two unaired episodes of The Paul Reiser Show, I’d have enough money to pay Paul Reiser to act them out for me.
With Freshman Roommates, I just need to know why it didn’t happen. On paper, it’s so good. Morgan, who has always been an absurdly talented and hilarious actor, was rising so quickly with the success of 30 Rock, and Miller, at the time, was primed to blow up, then eventually did.
But here’s the craziest part: Freshman Roommates was written by John Mulaney and Nick Kroll. Mulaney, of Saturday Night Live, Documentary Now, and fantastic stand-up comedy specials! Kroll, of The League, Kroll Show, and no, seriously, go watch all of Kroll Show right now! They’re great individually, they’re almost even greater combined in Oh, Hello. Freshman Roommates had a good cast (Mulaney and Kroll even wrote it specifically for Morgan!) and solid writers — so what happened?
And maybe that’s why I’m forever fixated on this mythical movie: there isn’t a sense of closure, for lack of a better word. I’ve routinely asked friends about it and am mostly met with blank stares — in a recent poll only one person recalled ever hearing about it. I’ve scoured the internet but there’s nothing, really, save for maybe five Twitter mentions, an empty Rotten Tomatoes page, and Movie Insider saying it’s in development as of December 16, 2008. So, where’s my potentially-favorite movie?
The biggest clue comes from a 2011 interview with John Mulaney on the A.V. Club: “They’re not going to make it. It’s not a bad thing. It was cool to write a movie and work with Nick and pitch a movie with Tracy. It was fun to see that side of things,” followed by vague statements about how slow it takes movies to get made.
So really, all I have is to obsess over is … nothing, which therefore becomes the obsession in itself, the lack of information. What could it have been? How off the rails would Morgan’s performance be? What lessons would a college student learn from a Nigerian Prince? How awkward would the race stuff have been (because it almost certainly would not have been good)? Who would have co-starred? Would the main romance be between the Prince and a curious but stern college history professor? We’ll never know, but I’ll never stop guessing.