The Bitch is dead.
But I’m here to review the last eight episodes of it, two per week for the next month. Starting, appropriately enough, with an episode in which JVDB's still on Dancing With The Stars, June’s still at the coffeeshop, and Krysten Ritter’s acting is oddly stilted.
I’m not sure whether ABC’s weird scheduling of this show with total disregard for whether the timeline made sense had a causative or correlative relationship with the show never finding an audience and getting cancelled, but starting out with a bizarro leap back into the first season is morbidly appropriate. I’ve done my best to figure out the order in which these last episodes were intended to go, and I’m going to review them in that order; it seems like the least I can do.
So first there’s “The Leak...,” a first-season episode that was intended to follow “It’s Just Sex...” and serves mostly to provide Ray Ford with uncommon words to play with. His voice and line readings mesmerize me in a way that makes everything I’ve heard about ASMR sound extremely relevant— my notes for this episode are filled with tiny, no-context quotes like “fragile plum,” “saltwater taffy,” and “Linnnnda.”
As first-season episodes go, this is a pretty good one— any episode in which Luther gets to be this smug is fine by me, the jokes land, and we finally get to see (at least the hand of) Mark’s terrifying girlfriend! On the downside, there’s a fairly long shameless Kelly Ripa plug alongside the incredibly long shameless DWS arc, the JVDB getting the sweaty yips plot (which felt a bit half-baked, especially the leaked pee-pants photos somehow being a good resolution), and Chloe feeling a little off. I don't know whether Chloe’s dialogue is just harder to say or whether Ritter was hungover, but something felt awkward about a bunch of her lines, like “I hate that broke-down ho” and the bit about Mother’s Day— I just didn’t quite buy it.
And who knows how the context of watching a very cartoonish first-season Chloe immediately beforehand affected my perception of this, but I similarly couldn’t buy the character’s abrupt plunge into unironic feelings at the end of second-season episode “Teddy Talk...” (Which was supposed to follow “Paris...”)
The Camp C.U.T.S. (“It stands for Callous Unemotional Trait Survivors!”) stuff seems to be a fairly straight-up acknowledgement that Chloe is nearly a textbook psychopath, especially as seen in context with off-his-meds Teddy— she’s just much more so in season one than in season two. (Remember that one time they used her killing an old man via neglect as a joke in the pre-credits sequence?) Things like the monotone camp song “We are normal children/ We don’t torture animals/ Respect your therapist/ Take your meds/ Our pain is hopefully finite” and Teddy’s casual inquiry about how many dudes Chloe has in her rotation seemed like nods to the DSM-V definition of antisocial personality disorder and the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.
As far as I’ve heard, though, neither of those conditions are things you can take meds for, like Teddy does, nor can empathy spontaneously be learned via close contact with a cute guy or an upbeat roommate from the Midwest. Teddy’s non sequitur version of the second verse of the Camp C.U.T.S. song—“Let your guard down/ Emotions are good/ People can change (despite what all the research says)”—seems to be an acknowledgement of this.
But despite what all the research says, this episode is about Chloe making a decision to start having feelings, even though they’re shown to be constantly screwing up her brutal efficiency. She’s off her game in comparison to Teddy the entire episode, with the exception of her unstoppable barrage of fat jokes at the expense of her pregnant Connecticut rival (“John Goodman?!”).
Deciding to have emotions isn't really a decision one could make in real life: You either have empathy or you don’t. Maybe that’s why, thinking about it now, I was a little put off by the sudden earnestness of the ending conversation between Ben and Chloe. (Though I did dig seeing Ben brooding on JVDB’s living-room broodicycle.) I bought that a shared love of junkies arguing over mundane things might bring these two people together; I didn’t so much buy Chloe having deep hidden reserves of real-person emotions.
Like, check out her response to Ben mentioning he’d been to fat camp: “Like, for a lot of summer, or just one, or...?” Ritter’s reading of that line was clearly as a normal person making a joke, whereas the Chloe of “The Leak...” would have said it completely straight. The transition from tranq-gun-sociopath cartoon to sarcastic but mostly normal human who giggles and kisses a cute boy to a standard sitcom music cue that sounded like it was recorded by the same woman who did the theme song—ew, gross! Again: Maybe this would have worked better in my mind if I’d watched all the episodes in order. But it felt a little abrupt.
Even so, I did miss this show. It’s too bad that, whether through bad fortune or through ABC viewers not being quite ready for Plan B jokes in primetime, this kind of dada comedy with a solid feminist undercurrent never found a big enough following to keep it alive.
- For the record, the production-code-derived order for the next six episodes will be: “Monday June...” and “The D...” next week, “The Seven Year Bitch...” and “Using People...” on June 5, and finally “Ocupado...” and “Original Bitch...” on June 12.
- But the new episodes stop streaming for free on Hulu June 3 — get ‘em while you can!
- I'm reverting to my first-season gimmick when it comes to grading all these latter-day episode pairs.
- God, I’d forgotten how much I dislike this theme song.
- “Oh, it’s just puppies!” Of course Luther and June became instant friends over their grandmothers’ pies.
- I would like to have “I’ve got cigarettes in the freezer and I live within shouting distance of Linda Ronstadt” as my ringtone, please.
- I’ve got to watch the first season in order at some point; it might be surprising to see what a constant presence Dean Cain must have been intended to be.
- “Ugh, cut — get me Franco!”
- I may or may not have felt a deep empathy for June watching her attempt to use the bathroom while wearing a one-piece bathing suit as underwear.
- What happened to Camp C.U.T.S.? “It closed.” “It burned down.” (Sideways glances.)
- Eli and Teddy’s immediate hatred of each other seemed incredibly natural. Was Eli throwing croutons, or did I just assume that because Chloe mentioned throwing croutons at people for sport in “The Leak...”?
- “We were just, uh, boob-feeling.”