It’s not a surprise that much of the dialogue and story arcs in Best Friends Forever are rooted in the years of improv experience its actors and creators have, particularly stars Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. The somewhat unorthodox system the two have developed has them recording themselves improvising their way through barebones story beats, only to write story on top of the material that process generates. Whether one cares for improvisation or not, the show’s dedication to showcasing one of the form’s hallmarks—comedy through specificity—can’t be ignored.
That kind of specificity doesn’t simply mean randomness for the sake of randomness, either. It means that the show knows its humor lies in making its characters real people. And in real life, people might use Jessica and Lennon's ridiculously charming phrase “get your body worked” instead of “have sex.”
The need for a good body working ends up being the driving force of the episode, in fact. It's twofold in this case: Joe and Lennon are deprived of it because of Jess staying in their apartment. Meanwhile, Lennon spots pics online of her ex frolicking on the beach with a new lady, whom they repeatedly refer to as “Short Bangs.” Jess decides it’s time to get back on the market in a jiffy and immediately has a date set up with an old college crush named Keith Kazakian, played by the lovely Ryan Hansen of Party Down. Before she’s even arrived at the date, we learn that Keith has several, very memorable traits: his “meaty calves, soccer sandals and the Umbros.”
The date goes awry before Jess even has a moment to get her bearings as a newbie in the dating scene when she learns Keith intends to use their rekindling as a way to cheat on his wife behind her back. When Jess storms back into the apartment after the awful encounter—interrupting Joe and Lennon’s brief window they thought they’d be able to get busy—she flails around in a flurry of anger and notes that she “went out and bought a mid-sized clutch” just for the occasion.
But the real turn happens on a night out to their pal Rav’s bar, where Jessica can’t seem to keep the attention of any man she tries talking to. A pep talk from Rav inspires her to go with the flow when a handsome, young fellow hits on her and invites her to a countryside party. Her free-spirited foray back into singledom is quickly dashed again when she realizes the party is actually something called a “Cougar Ball” where young frat boys scoop up older women to bring back for a night of cougar-based competition, crowning one older maven the terrifying title of Queen Cougar. It’s a crushing moment for Jess, so much so that it sends Joe and Lennon flying out the door of their Brooklyn apartment to find a car to go save her.
It’s then that Rav’s words of advice kick in and seem to remind Jessica that the whole cougar debacle fits squarely into his mantra to “get out there and let it get weird.” After accepting an apology from the wimpy college boy who admits he only brought her to win favor with the frat, Jess decides to click back into party mode and enjoy it all for what it is: a crazy story to tell later. Even when Rav, Joe, and Lennon come barging in with fists swinging, furious over the degradation of their friend, they’re turned around by Jess’ c’est la vie attitude. It’s then that Jess reminds Lennon, not to drop everything—including a rare moment to get sexified with her dude—in order to make sure she’s okay.
While the show treads on familiar territory concerning the continued overlap of best friend and boyfriend for Lennon, it’s nice to see a focus on laughs built more out of unexpected plot twists than the need to showcase the rapid-fire, look-at-how-close-they-are exchanges between the two leads. There’s been something delightful in learning the cadence of their friendship (especially because it so clearly mirrors the real life best friendship between the two), but it has begun to grow a bit weary, given Jessica’s situational self-centeredness and Lennon’s need to please.
Best Friends Forever is showing it has the ability to flex its comedic muscle, now that it’s set up its main characters and over-arching story. Take, for example when Jessica absentmindedly notes she should’ve known her former crush was married given the fact he had a “woven belt” or Lennon’s wildly excited charge into the Cougar Ball, where she screams out, “These ‘cougars,’ as you boys call them, are women! Women, hear them roar!” They’re quick snippets but enough to make you sit up and laugh, because it feels the way good, improvised scene work should always feel: rooted enough in reality to earn the right to explore wildly. In fact, go as far out there as a Cougar Ball in the New Jersey "country" where a character known only as "Danielle from Short Hills" reigns supreme.
- The whole gyro sideplot felt a bit too far removed from everything else, though it was great to see Joe snatch the stranger’s on his way out the restaurant.
- I liked Joe calling out Jessica’s “hot cashew breath” on his neck and then being outed for googling “toilet rats."
- Jessica might not be the most Facebook savvy, unless “single and loving it” is a new status we’re not clued into?
- Lennon kills with her pep talk to Jess: “Go put on that red dress that makes you look like Sharon Stone and close the deal.”
- Please let’s hope that Jessica’s pulled pork from the first episode continues being mentioned casually in every subsequent episode.