There’s something unsettling about an episode in which everyone decides Jill sucks, including Jill, but that edge is part of what makes “How To Be A Baby” so special. This isn’t just the funniest Shay-less outing in ages. It’s weird and passionate and soulful. Is it the lighting? Right from the get-go you can’t help but notice the blinding sparkles of Dallas’ crystal emporium, the windows almost blown out and the faces tattooed with reflections, but the whole episode is lit like it’s the last stand. Under the filtered spotlight of an ET-watt moon, an ethereal Carmen beckons Noah down a misty forest. When they kiss in the shower-rain of the Royce’s bathroom, the first angle (before the cheesy instant replay) is this shadowy, devil-may-care beauty. The stark Apple-Store backlighting on Chef Alan’s tearful close-up makes his ears burn. Tessa types Opus’ review of Jill’s book with most of the room in darkness before the camera reorients. Yes, “How To Be A Baby” is brilliantly made, pun intended.
But it’s not just the lighting. Whether it’s a close-up of Dalia’s mouth dry-crying or a close-up of Noah’s mouth taking a bite out of something other than Carmen, every highlight gets punctuated. The faded memories of Carmen playing peekaboo with Noah and Opus. The wide shot of Mr. Wolfe’s emptying office, lifeless from the brown-and-gold harlequin sweater-vest floor up to the blank beige walls. The silent, sudden reverse shot of Jill “I’m tough but not fair” Werner glaring at Opus for not totally getting the concept of books. The gentle introduction of Greg Laswell’s cover of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” as everyone abandons uptight Jill. Directed by Victor Nelli and shot by Todd A. Dos Reis (whose only other Suburgatory credit on IMDb is “The Wishbone”), it’s an episode full of daring magenta tips.
With the script credited to Brian Chamberlayne, “How To Be A Baby” is also hilarious. Part of why I’m conflicted about the part where the resolution should go is because published author Jill Werner, who is a published author (did I mention she writes?), is just so damn funny. We can spot the almond test a mile off, but it doesn’t make the Hannibal Lecter stare any less entertaining. When she threw the plate of almonds across the room, I could not stop laughing. And the aforementioned glare at baby Opus is a masterpiece. In the other corner is wandering hero Dalia Royce, whose brand of chivalry comes in a monotone so fine-tuned that anything she reads will come out funny: “He needs a new look. One that says, ‘You cheated on me. You’re a cheater. Drop dead, you homosexual cheater.’” At the suggestion of daring magenta tips, she asks, “But do daring magenta tips say, ‘I hope you stop breathing in your sleep?’” (The answer: “No, but they do say, ‘I’m fun. You’re not. I hope you get SARS.’”) Noah’s story has some sappy turns and some predictable lows, but Alan Tudyk tackles the doc like a pro and gives some spectacular deliveries. The way he screams, “I am leaving my wife! For Carmen!” cuts the mood just right. And speaking of Carmen, who must be single after all, Bunnie Rivera throws herself into that melodrama finale with gusto. Despite my hand-wringing and the heavy irony of the soap opera situation, I was kind of rooting for them by the end. That’s how passionate this episode is.
What’s crazy is that Noah, George, and Tessa turning on Jill makes it clear Suburgatory isn’t getting too comfortable, but the subtext is just that. Jill is demanding of Tessa. Dallas tells her she’s a catch the way she is. Caregiver transference, actually, is all around. Even George only stands by Jill out of projection. On her merits, everyone agrees Jill is a pain. She’s certainly a lot more pursed here than she was when she and Noah fought in “Down Time.” So she winds up alone at a bar working on her next chapter in life. Whatever airs Jill puts on, Gillian Vigman laces her final few lines with hurt. “Maybe this one will be worth a damn.” I appreciate the uncomfortable ending, but bringing a shallower version of Jill back and deepening her through pain is frustrating. She was never a teddy bear, but here she’s a monster.
It’s funny that Tessa tells Dallas she’s coming back under her wing specifically in order to learn how to be a good person. “How To Be A Baby” builds two plots toward some public act of emotional harm and Tessa merely laments the bittersweetness of such moments. It’s as if Mr. Wolfe taunting Chef Alan and Noah completely ignoring his wife while loudly declaring love for Carmen are necessary evils, like episodes without Ryan Shay. The fact that neither plot lands on solid ground is actually a comfort. This lesson isn’t over. Maybe there’s hope for Jill yet.
- Noah looks at an inkblot: “Carmen as a butterfly making love to a dragon’s face.”
- Tessa’s been promoted! She’s senior vice president of prismatic affairs at A Crystal Cup Of Crystal.
- “You should have seen the way she polished a knob. She loved it. It wasn’t a chore. She was greedy for it.” I can’t decide if the first-person shot of Carmen polishing that knob is degrading or just good parody fun.
- Jill wrote a guide for babies: How To Be A Baby: You’re Out, Now What? Tessa points out the obvious. Jill responds by tossing her book and Opus and saying, “They’ll never learn if you coddle them, Tessa.”
- Jill brings Tessa to the nursery. “As you can see, I moved my desk in here on the front lines. This allowed me to observe my subject in its natural habitat.”