The first two episodes of Underemployed were so truly terrible it bears mentioning up front that “The Days Of Yore” continues to build on the progress wrought by “The Roommate” last week. Which means some of the characters’ actions are the result of motivations human beings can actually fathom (even while they take place in unbelievably large and well-appointed apartments), and occasionally they have conversations that reference reality. The improvement applies to the depiction of details of post-grad life, like a scene in which the friends discuss itemizing a bill versus splitting evenly, or a bewildered exchange about shopping for home goods (Lou: “What’s a trivet?” Miles: “Part of a gun I think”), but also to larger narrative points.
The best example in this episode, in which Sophia prepares for her parent’s annual Chicago visit to take her and the group to a medieval-themed restaurant, was when Sophia awkwardly explains to Laura that she is not ready to come out yet to her parents yet. Her inability to simply say what she is thinking, waiting for her older, more experienced new love to figure it out and articulate it for her, was perfectly executed in terms of both writing and acting. Laura’s understanding response is a sweet counterpoint to the pushy advice of Sophia’s friends, who, despite the fact that she has only just begun to process her identity, seem to think they know best when it’s time to share her news. (Hostile hippie Raviva rolls her eyes and utters the infuriating line “It’s your freedom.”) Although Sophia’s parents are a bit of a Midwestern caricature, her eventual decision to tell them she is a lesbian—and the emotional and financial consequences of displeasing the conservative, homophobic parents that pay her rent—rang true.
“The Days Of Yore” also provided a revealing peek into how Miles is viewed by the rest of the group: always loyal and often game, but ultimately too unpredictable to be taken seriously. Daphne happily dumps her ridiculous Target shopping list on him while she teeters off to work, but refuses to let him audition for the part of “Tequila Ambassador” for an advertising campaign at her firm. When Sophia needs someone to run to her house and hide her vibrator, who does she call? Miles, of course, who does it with smile and comically misguided advice about what else in the apartment might give away her lesbian status. But rather than being grateful, Sophia co-opts Miles into being her beard, then complains nonstop about what a loose cannon he is. The development of both the character and his relationship to the others is a pleasant surprise considering the show’s limited forays in this direction thus far, and teases a compelling story out of someone who might have just been the pretty boy toy.
While many commenters have been critical of how dramatic these kids can be about their problems of privilege, that is not inherently flawed so much as a matter of taste. Post-collegiate angst is the luxury of those who can afford a college education, but that doesn’t make it any less real or painful for those who face it, and the lack of life experience or perspective is an important factor, regardless of how annoyingly unfamiliar or all-too-familiar it may be to each individual viewer. The real problem is that Underemployed is still tonally inconsistent and logically problematic; any time a relatable scene or funny joke elicits surprise more than anything else, a show is not out of the dog house quite yet.
There is neither self-awareness of the characters’ melodrama (as, love it or hate it, there is on Girls) nor fully realized enough characters to inspire the cringe-inducing empathy for self-centered but relatable characters that a show like Freaks And Geeks might. At one point in this episode there’s a glimpse of a tattoo on Lou’s arm while he is in the shower and I immediately thought, he’s not the kind of guy who would have a tattoo. Then I realized, aside from the most superficial of qualities, I actually have no idea what kind of guy Lou is. He likes fair trade coffee and hates selling out. By episode four, he should be more than just a watered-down Captain Planet; the best the writers could do for him plot-wise was a better-left-forgotten gem about smelling his boss’ shit. While Daphne and Raviva are better developed than Lou, they are also patently unlikeable, and I’m assuming not on purpose.
Most importantly, narrative logic on Underemployed is still wildly unpredictable; most of Sophia and Miles’ actions in “The Days Of Yore” make sense, but this is not necessarily the case for everyone on the show. Daphne’s reasons for not wanting Miles—supposedly one of her best friends and supposedly desperate to make ends meet—to audition for a part he is clearly perfect for sounds like whiny entitled nonsense, yet her girlfriends immediately support her. Lou and Raviva’s conversation about her inability to stick to a budget starts off promising but ends, infuriatingly, with him simply caving to her free-spirited charm (read: unrealistic foolishness) and deciding to spend money that he just said they didn’t have.
Underemployed needs to trim the fat until it is left with a leaner, tastier cut of meat. If the writers were to consider character motivation more thoughtfully more regularly, or even shrink the roles of Daphne, Lou, and Raviva if they find it impossible to reshape them into complex, relatable people, it would make a huge difference. Easing up on the near constant barrage of synth pop and The Hills-style shooting wouldn’t hurt either.
- Kudos for the use of the word “chode,” which I find patently hilarious in any situation, regardless of context—like the way the “Neighbors” episode of New Girl revealed Jess’ unconditional amusement with the Urkel catchphrase “Did I do that?”
- The believably awkward delivery of Raviva’s dialogue when the handsome coffee shop drummer catches her listening to his music made it one of the few scenes in which I found her tolerable. This meeting is a loose end in this episode, but most likely setting up some future plotline; a new love interest, or a performance opportunity, or both.
- It’s oddly disappointing to discover that Sophia is adopted. Unless this fact eventually figures into the narrative in some interesting way, it just feels like an excuse to include fewer minority actors on the show.
- Of course Daphne is a reader of Goop, the insufferable lifestyle newsletter of Gwyneth Paltrow. The writers nailed it on this one.
- Thanks to Kevin Farland and Sonia Saraiya for filling in for me for these last two weeks as I contended first with travel and then with Hurricane Sandy!