Now, there’s that sweaty stage kid we all fell in like with. After an assured episode with the whole cast, Trophy Wife regresses as young shows often do. “The Tryst”—even the title is off-putting—is full of would-be comedic scenes that are so desperate that the whole thing deflates. Granted, Pete is apparently pretty old around computers, despite being a lawyer, but even he would be able to hear Diane’s voice coming out of a speaker, not echoing around the house. Warren, in particular, ought to be able to tell the difference, or maybe a partial deafness plot is in the pipeline. Either way, when Diane says she’s outside and he doesn’t even turn around, we’re well past suspension of disbelief. (It doesn’t help that the tag on The Goldbergs airing right before Trophy Wife featured a similar gag, with the kids taking their dad on a wild goose chase by playing a Casio recording of their mother calling him and scampering around the house. The characters, the progression, the time—the hilarious ‘80s!—well, it’s more convincing than the great and powerful Skype head of Diane.) Then there’s Mrs. Steinberg, Phyllis from The Office, tasked with working so hard for her successive humiliations that she barely reads as a Kramer, much less a human. Even Michaela Watkins is stuck overplaying an awkward dating video, the cringe factor more in line with goofy props than David Brent.
The premise of the episode is that Pete can’t keep from bending to Diane’s whims. So to dramatize this, Pete’s forced to cancel plans for a romantic evening with Kate to help chaperone or something a social function that Diane apparently doesn’t need him for—not really—considering he spends the episode locked in a janitor’s closet. The trope is predictable but not frustrating on its face. In fact, it’s kind of funny that the reason he and Kate get locked in the closet is because there’s no internal door handle. Way to hang a lantern. What’s frustrating is that nothing really happens. Yes, Pete and Kate have sex during a commercial break, but after that, it’s more big antics than seriously digging into Pete’s Diane problem. Kate needing to pee is a pretty weak time-bomb, especially considering the setting (got to be a bucket somewhere, right?). Pete bangs on the pipes like she’s in labor. And they get out thanks to some janitor checking on the circuit breakers. Maybe it’s realistic that Diane wouldn’t investigate herself, but what a shrug of a resolution. To the physical problem, that is. The emotional problem is solved in another unbelievable scene where Pete just repeats the word, “No,” at Diane. Like a really broad cartoon.
Compare that to Kate and Meg in “The Breakup,” and it’s like two different shows. Diane is a real problem for Kate and Pete (and herself and her kids), and if Pete is genuinely incapable of standing up to her (about which I’m dubious based on previous episodes but I’m drawing a blank right now), he needs to deal with that for the good of the whole family. He doesn’t have to change overnight—Meg certainly didn’t—but it’s a serious issue. Serious enough to build an episode out of, anyway. Pete’s characterization in particular feels like it’s drawn in pencil, and the narrative in “The Tryst” doesn’t add any ink.
Meg’s absent, too, but the writers already have a knack for splitting the cast into two groups. Jackie’s always in her own plot, away from the adult cast, I mean, and her plots are always something new, a testament to her flightiness and/or flakiness. As Trophy Wife continues that trend, though, there’s this sense of tidiness that doesn’t really reflect the lives of the characters, with obvious exceptions like the pilot and “The Breakup.” And then there are moments like Pete walking in on Kate eating chips on the bathroom floor (“What are we doing?”) and Trophy Wife feels like it knows exactly what it’s doing, and “The Tryst” is just the natural growing pains of a young TV show.
For instance, the kids are shining, and they have been from the beginning. Maybe they have an easier job just firing jokes instead of driving the story, but nevertheless, that moment when Warren and Hillary react to Jackie’s Foghorn Leghorn impression, gradually smiling together after a beat of stunned speechlessness, is beautiful. The episode actually becomes pretty funny once they start bouncing off of Watkins. And their characterizations are illuminating, too. It makes perfect sense that Diane’s kids would be able to run circles around Jackie. Bert even lands some serious emotion, not that Trophy Wife is going for the heartstrings. How fitting for the most (lovably) obnoxious character to stand out in an episode of strained wackiness.
- As a Halloween episode, “The Tryst” is unusual. It nods at the holiday without exactly embracing it. For instance, Pete and Kate getting concerned that the call is coming from inside the house. It’s not an actually scary scene, but they play it like a thriller parody. Then there’s the best joke Mrs. Steinberg gets, when she’s sitting on the toilet and the lights keep switching on and off. “Hello? Someone’s in here,” she cries as the camera jumps, ultimately looking down on her from an oblique angle like she’s the killer’s next victim. Or would be if there were a killer.
- It’s also strange to see a cutaway gag on Trophy Wife, but they were both pretty funny. I loved Pete saying that someone will notice the lights eventually and the cut to the aquarium in the empty principal’s office.
- Then consider the costumes. Pete’s Billy Idol and Kate’s Working Girl. As for Diane, Kate guesses, “Spock! Blanche from The Golden Girls?” She’s Pat Benatar. But the reason I bring this up is because Jackie puts on a costume, too. “The Tryst” almost plays like a stealth Halloween episode. Maybe the producers weren’t sure if this would air in fall or spring?
- Ah, Pete-Kate banter. “How much does she charge?” “Half of everything I own.” That I could get used to.
- I hope someone’s collecting Jackie’s parenting advice: “Sweetie, you’re such a planner. Will you promise me that you won’t forget to let yourself fail?” I laugh about “You can do anything you want to do, even fly” daily.
- Jackie’s dating profile has me dying to see Diane’s. Why aren’t we seeing her on a date and Pete somehow wrapped around Jackie’s finger?
- Hillary’s taking Jackie through Kate’s wardrobe, and Jackie finally spots something. “This looks nice.” “That’s the bedspread.” “So? See this?” she says about what she’s wearing. “This was a tablecloth once.”