“Truth Or Dare.” S1 / E13
- A- Community Grade
With all the winning digressions and character moments that came before, it can be hard to forget that everything that precedes “Truth Or Dare” has been building to the episode’s final moments: Steven and Lizzie, reunited. Making the two characters hook-up in the pilot episode removed some of the “will they, won’t they?” tension from Steven and Lizzie’s relationship, but it didn’t deflate that overdone convention entirely. Instead, it made room for the viewers' investment in the separate, but similar, question of “Will they do it again?” It’s unclear at the end of “Truth Or Dare,” but the episode’s climactic kiss is poised to answer in the affirmative.
To get to that kiss, Steven has faced a ludicrous gauntlet: confrontations with Eric; torture at the hands of Books and the brothers of Theta Delta Zeta; the temptations of Christianity. Throughout these trials, Lloyd has acted as his most trusted advisor. Perhaps he’s too blinded by love to notice, but right around the time of “Truth Or Dare” is the point where Steven should realize Lloyd’s advice is generally terrible. But he’s acting from a place of friendship, and that English accent makes him sound so damned worldly, so Steven—along with Marshall, Ron, and, to a lesser extent, Perry—gives in to Lloyd’s most potentially disastrous plan yet: a game of Truth Or Dare?, engineered to make the guys look admirable and sexually desirable to the girls down the hall.
The game is another element borrowed from far hackier sitcoms, and as such, it’s destined for failure. However, there are real emotional stakes here, and the inevitable failure of Lloyd’s gamble is so rich in irony that the plot falls squarely into the Undeclared sensibility. And it provides the episode with a nice focal point, as all the other developing stories—Lizzie’s equally frantic plays at Steven, Ron’s thing for Kelly the tour guide (an on-point Busy Philips), Marshall and Lloyd’s rivalry over Rachel, and Steven’s burgeoning friendship with Perry—feed into and have outcomes dependent on the game.
The greatest irony of all is reflected in the game’s de facto “winner”: Perry. It’s completely creepy that he uses a sob story about being a virgin to score a make-out session with Rachel, but the rest of the episode goes a long way toward humanizing Jarrett Grode’s character—all the while proving his ultimate canniness. As we see from his dorm room, Perry’s idols are all rags-to-riches hustlers—I spotted images of Eminem, Notorious B.I.G., and the Wu-Tang Clan—and Perry’s own street smarts have enabled him to get a discounted room, free pop, and easier access to climate control. But he’s also a big dork at heart, so while he might be using Steven for his Ron’s peanut butter and jelly, he’s also more on the Total Recall-quoting level with Steven than Lloyd, Marshall, or Ron. And he’s obviously a lonely dude—a master con artist like Perry grounds his cons in some truth, even if the end goal is locking lips with an attractive female. In previous viewings of the series, I’d never thought of Perry as more than a joke-delivery device, but I’m starting to favor him to some of the other periphery characters this time around.
“Truth Or Dare” is also a showcase for Ron, who steps to the fore after lingering in the background of the fraternity two-parter. Little wonder there: Seth Rogen wrote the teleplay for the episode, earning the deserved, yet playful, chiding of his castmates for penning an episode where he gets to make out on camera. In another instance of Undeclared foreshadowing the careers of its cast members, “Truth Or Dare” prefaces the type of pervy, yet lovable, sensibility Rogen would eventually ride to box-office gold. After all, the episode opens with the female leads bounding around in bras and pajama bottoms, only to end with two tender, honest glimpses of romance in bloom. You can almost hear Rogen’s own concerns about that give-and-take in Ron’s frets about the hilariously over-thought dialogue in the Truth Or Dare? “script.” It’s a funny bit of meta-comedy that barely calls attention to itself: A character, worrying about the negative implications of a partially scripted game of Truth Or Dare?, played by the actor/writer who wrote that queasy-making scenario into a partially scripted episode of television titled “Truth Or Dare”? (Of course, he’s been ostensibly stalking Kelly, so there’s that, too.) Ron would likely pat himself on the back for orchestrating a Truth Or Dare? outcome that involves Rachel kissing Perry, Steven kissing Lizzie, and his own end-of-game departure with Kelly—though, sometimes, you can write conclusions that earned and satisfying.
With regard to Lizzie’s increasingly desperate and unclothed advances toward Steven, even those have roots in an authentic yearning—which masks their air of horn-dog writers’ room fantasy. “Truth Or Dare” holds back on revealing Lizzie’s motivation until the very end, though it’s evident in her reaction to Steven’s laundry-room freak-out that her frustration with his mixed signals is building. Once again, I’m moved to highlight Carla Gallo’s performance in this episode (in almost the exact same place as last week’s review), if only to eat my words about her work in previous episodes. At this point in production, she’d started to come into the character and knew when to hit the doe-eyed beats and when to play Lizzie like an actual human being. Her excited, “I’ve got a secret” approach to Ron in the early parts of the episode show skill with the former (and lead to a great Ron one-liner: “What, did you see a kitty or find a sticker on the ground or something?”), while her exchange with Steven at the end speaks to the latter. It’s a good thing that she becomes a much less annoying presence: It removes a sense of dread from her eventual reunion with Steven and makes the two of them a much easier couple to root for.
- To be a little more fair to Ron (and by extension, Rogen), he’s been surrounded by roommates who’ve suffered broken teeth and a near-fatal bout with the flu to get closer to the girls they like. Maybe it’s not that disturbing that he’d want to keep Kelly at a distance.
- Lloyd’s attraction to Rachel disappears as suddenly as it’s introduced, but at least it gives a renewed urgency to Marshall’s pursuit.
- Steven has so much trouble dealing with pants-less Lizzie that he throws a red sweater in with a load of white laundry. We’ll never know if this led to his being locked-up in an asylum with a hulk who thinks he’s Michael Jackson.
- Good on director Greg Mottola for capturing the fumbling nervousness of the Steven-Lizzie kiss. They’d obviously be too overcome with excitement to look suave and collected in that situation.
- Oh, hey—Lloyd and Marshall are playing chess when they talk with Ron about the script. VISUAL METAPHOR!
- “I never actually, uh, spoken to her, you know. But I know everything I need to. Look, she’s cute, she’s enthusiastic, she has a good sense of location of the landmarks, you know.”
- “If we’re writing a script, I’m writing it. You guys are both stupid idiots. You’re fools.”
- “Kelly—excellent choice. Nice fingers.”
- “It’s a funny movie, and I like to laugh.”
- “And that—is the most I’ve ever puked.”
- “Hey Joel and Ethan Coen—loved your take on Truth Or Dare? last night.”