“Hoarders” S1 / E8
- B- Community Grade
“Hoarders” is claustrophobic, and not just because the majority of the episode takes place inside Janice’s hoarding house—where it’s impossible to even find a seat. Pretty much every episode of Legit takes place in only one or two locations, likely due to practical reasons, but I was growing tired of hanging around Steve and Jim’s apartment. That is 90 percent of what they do, but it wasn’t making for the most compelling television. So they leave, and head over to Janice and Walter’s place, to find things as they usually are: Janice has free reign over the house, full of boxes and old newspapers. Walter (Cheers’ John Ratzenberger) is living out of a tent in the back yard, having been pushed away from his marital bed by a few too many teddy bears and now afforded a meager six pack of Heisler beer a week. Janice is a hoarder, and nobody but Jim realizes this.
The episode’s claustrophobia stems from two things: The characters don’t leave this second location, and a whole mess of character details are thrown out in quick conversational jabs, made unexpectedly brisk by director Rick Cleveland. Billy and Steve have a sister, Eunice. She’s a fiery redhead. She doesn’t talk to the family anymore. Janice is upset because she doesn’t see her daughter anymore, and because Billy is going to die soon and she is afraid of not remembering him. To the credit of the show, Janice’s hoarding takes on a human form, and the easy joke of, “Look how much stuff is here!” doesn’t get played out too much. Instead, it takes a backseat so Janice can truly process the end of her hoarding days. There’s a lot going on here.
I guess I don’t really know what to say about “Hoarders.” Other than the aforementioned cursory plot details, little is surprising. Ratzenberger is given extremely little to do; he is by far the simplest of all the characters, content with his lifestyle and sticking up for Janice at every turn. With everybody else so fired up, his energy reads as disinterested. The boys toss some stuff in a dumpster, clean up Janice’s house so Steve’s daughter won’t be afraid to visit anymore, and they drive off into the sunset with the vague notion that Steve has taken the hoarding mentality along with him. After such a promising start, every successive episode of Legit leaves me with a shrug.
There were a lot of comparisons between Legit and Louie when the show first came on, here included. But the longer Legit goes on, the more I’m seeing similarities to another FX comedy, Wilfred (beyond the titling pattern). Both shows are about how basic emotional needs can significantly alter the dynamics of a friendship or relationship, and rely on us watching characters wrestle with these seismic internal shifts. As you might imagine, not much “happens” on episodes of Wilfred, because most of the drama is relegated to the mind. There are occasional mishaps with Wilfred himself running around wreaking havoc, but mostly it’s Ryan wrestling with himself. Plus, there’s an overarching mystery/question in Wilfred: What is Wilfred?!
There just isn’t one in Legit. While I applaud the show’s ability to subvert its original premise, there’s not much left. I’m not looking for a weird CSI-style hook, but pretty much every one of these eight episodes can be reduced to, “nice people doing kind of unpleasant things and feeling okay about it.” Occasionally, Jim will perform stand-up to a room full of people not expecting stand-up, and that stuff, out of its original context, feels so shoehorned it fails to land. The episodes shouldn’t be the setup to his punchlines, nor should they be background noise to letting Jim say whatever he wants. There are interesting and novel ways to tell jokes, and Legit isn’t using all the tools television affords it. It’s like John Ratzenberger, sitting in that tent outside, politely saying, “Yes, dear” when all I want is for him to snap.