We finally get another second-season episode tonight—looks like whoever came up with the idea of trying to hook some new viewers by baiting that spot with more-polished second-season episodes gave up when the ratings were godawful, or for some other ineffable reason. But this one’s a good one.
Half-hour comedies are tough to grade, because is there anything more subjective than how funny something is? But here’s at least one measure of semi-objectivity: When doing real-time show notes, if a line makes me laugh out loud, I try to jot it down between trenchant observations like “Aw, they’re sitting RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER” and “A GOLDEN SPRING (BOIOIOIOIOING)”. My notes for this episode are about twice as long as they’ve been for the past few weeks, and they’re almost completely lines that made me laugh.
“Dating Games…” is, as one might expect, about dating games. There’s two: The episode starts out with Spring Into May, the show-within-a-show that June and Mark watch together every week (sitting RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER, did I mention) in which the Bachelorette-like star is always hilariously staring slightly off-camera. Then there’s the main one — the bizarre, visionary reality show that’s been stewing in JVDB’s mind since a stint on a subpar Belgian game show, which he decides to actually make after the situation of Chloe and June asking out the same guy presents itself. And so he (with the help of Luther and the lady at Kinko’s) just… makes his dream happen using June, Chloe, Robin (sort of), Poor Daniel, and Poor Daniel’s Sickly Aunt.
So you know how Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic? I enjoy how this show and the character of JVDB sort parallel that with “the day-to-day possibilities of any sufficiently rich person are indistinguishable from those of a cartoon character.” In this universe, JVDB made enough money in his teens that he can hypothetically match the ridiculousness of anything a character on the Simpsons might do — make a reality show, throw a huge Halloween bash with no scary things allowed, brood on a motorcycle in his living room, be constantly waited on by an (openly) gay, black, Southern Mr. Smithers.
I like this because I find it… actually pretty plausible. You know Indecent Proposal? All that fuss was over a million dollars. The people at the upper end of the Forbes 400 could book their schedules solid with such million-dollar proposals—whether indecent or “I’ll pay you a million dollars for one night… where you follow me around pretending to be a duck”—every day for the rest of their lives just off their dividends, assuming a 7% return on investment. JVDB isn’t that level of rich in the show, but what I’m trying to say here is that odds are good that at least one member of the real-life Walton family has a Indoor Motorcycle Brooding room.
But enough about my resentment of the wealthy! (Besides, even show-world JVDB got a little bit of consequence for kidnapping Poor Daniel’s Aunt, as seen in the tag where they’re all being questioned by a very irritated detective.) Let’s talk about some of the details of JVDB’s game—working title: DATE SWAP TRIVIA FORK—which adopts reality-show tropes like the arbitrary trivia contest and the terribly crafted totem thing. The MINDFORK isn’t just entertainingly named and funny looking—as a nice surprise, it actually serves a get-on-with-it narrative purpose.
I was in fact just nodding along with JVDB about how Mark’s ongoing-and-going-and-going crush on June had been going on a little too long, then later JVDB unceremoniously yanks its training wheels off in a traditional reality-TV stir-the-pot move. (Also appreciated: the weird YEAAAAAAAAAH! squeal emitted by nervous June when she has to interact with Mark right after finding out.)
It was good to have an episode with a lot of material for Chloe — after being somewhat sidelined the past few episodes the character was just getting constant funny stuff tonight, from her utter disgust with picnics (and packing whiskey, a raw egg, and a really heavy chair), to her high-five with the guy in the latex Zentai suit on her way out of the dungeon, to Ritter’s delivery of “You know it!” when she’s accused of just wanting Poor Daniel for sexual reasons, to her whole-hearted embrace of the term “mindfork…” there’s really too much stuff to mention without this turning into a giant list of the many, many lines that I hastily typed. Instead, I’ll just say that it’s nice to see this show back on its game.
- “Question: Can we punch Luther?”
- Wunderbar! Diet Dr. Pepper product placement all throughout the episode and in the commercials. If you have to work in a soda brand and you’re not Wayne or Garth, there’s many worse ways to do it than “DDPJVDB.”
- When Chloe enforces her scorched-earth policy, I enjoyed how the guy she’s making out with doesn’t even bother to protest.
- “We are not here to sit at the bar and compare tampons!”
- “She ran out of here holding her mouth and her butt.”
- “That is growth! I’m proud of you, Chloe!” “Hey, thanks, God!”
- Hey, speaking of the apparent existence of a God, did you hear Apartment 23 and Happy Endings are moving out of the late-night Sunday slot? Somebody up there wants Emily to get some sleep! Actually, don’t read too much into the switch, although being replaced by a rerun of Shark Tank admittedly sounds pretty bad. (But not as bad as it sounds if, like me, you assumed that Shark Tank was some sort of shark-related reality show! Which it is not!) The star-cross’d pair of comedies were only scheduled on Sunday nights for the three weeks between one show going prematurely off the air and another premiering. The show is still definitely probably doomed, to be sure, but this isn’t that bad.