I’m torn. On the one hand Unsupervised is cohering nicely, its physical, stylistic, and comedic universes starting to feel tangible, like you can get your fingers around them—if you can tolerate the stickiness—and get a feel for how the show works and what it wants to be when it grows up. On the other hand, “Field Of Dreams . . . And Dogs” is the most obvious restatement of the show’s principles yet. The episode is practically a mission statement scrawled half-legibly on a composition notebook covered in skulls. It’s dressed up in fart jokes and dog-rape—and those aren’t even the most off-putting moments of the week—but we’re well past Apatow levels of sincerity and into something more Disney Channel, at least as far as tone: This is a show about having no role models and doing the right thing anyway. Freshman shows tend to restate their pilots early and often in their first seasons, and the premise is pretty durable considering it spawned a house party, a backyard barbecue, and a baseball game, but boy, does “Tell ‘em what you told ‘em you told ‘em you told ‘em” discourage weekly viewing.
Also discouraging? The grossness. Sometimes I love it, as during Russ’s tearful confession/uncontrollable fart scene (“I don’t wanna do bad smells no more”). Sometimes I simply get it, which at least counterbalances any negative response in my overall analysis, as in the general sadness of the visuals which I wouldn’t change for anything. But sometimes it’s just overbearing, and One-Eyed Donnie getting his second eye taken out by a random beer bottle felt like too much for the sake of a shock-joke. The thing is, you could argue it violates the cheerful spirit of Unsupervised as easily as you argue it bolsters its scrappy optimism. Do we dare discuss the repeated use of the term “dog-rape,” or the ironic “something good came out of it after all” ending? This show was edgy before. The last thing it needs to worry about is its street cred.
But we’ll see how long the formula repeats and how far the edge of the envelope is pushed in the future. For now we have a solid episode that underscores, bolds, italicizes, enlarges, and sings how young and full of hope its heroes are despite being part of a demographic that, say, Mitt Romney is not concerned about. The four main kids and fifth wheel Russ are worried about their futures this week—well, Russ is just worried about getting noticed by the cool kids, but it fits. Gary and Joel are so full of school spirit that they cheer like jackasses (complete with Sam Wainwright’s “Hee haw!”) for the Maynard mules’ batting practice and wind up as co-managers whose responsibilities include carrying water and dealing with a stray dog-wolf with a penchant for attacking players. Russ, meanwhile, puts his energies into destruction, trying to go by the street name “Stone Cold” in the hopes of ingratiating himself with the kids who beat him up, which inevitably results in punishment for Gary and Joel by association. But speaking of overbearing hard-to-watch-ness, Russ isn’t just a willfully self-destructive kid drawn with evocative smudginess and a total wannabe. He’s also on medication for some mental illness(es?), and maybe that was obvious from the get-go, but it stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s hard to think of him as completely annoying any more, which is no small feat in spite of the show’s dogged humanism.
Back to Gary and Joel, our heroes take their excommunication from the baseball team heavily even though the only thing they did wrong was break into school in order to hang some questionably worded school spirit banners (“Violence isn’t the goddamn answer!” is a personal favorite). Joel joins a grout crew, destined to follow in the disabled footsteps of his absent father, and Gary is similarly resigned, draping himself in a tarp and sleeping on the porch in lieu of an overpass. It’s all very cartoonish, but there’s a core truth to the cycle of poverty that Unsupervised refuses to shy away from—like that’s even the tenth worst thing it’s looked at today—and that’s as promising a sign as that awesome Dutch angle zoom on Russ with the skull.
Even better, Joel and Gary resolve their situations completely on their own. All it takes for Joel to snap out of his depression is for a Rockland High graduate to make fun of Maynard, and all it takes for Gary to follow suit is some encouragement from Joel. It’s hard to think of anyone on TV as optimistic in the face of misfortune—maybe if Sue Heck were hand-drawn—but these guys are great together, especially when they say, “Frick.”
Yet somehow there are two further extremes than the dynamic duo and Russ in Megan and Darius. Megan’s even more ambitious than Gary and Joel, padding her resume with activity after activity and seeming to handle it all fairly well because that girl is motivated. Darius, meanwhile, is worried about his future in the sense that he’s upset about being eternally benched on the baseball team but not so much that he’s willing to put in any actual effort into his performance. He’s still mostly a punchline, but a good one, and that shot of his cleat-less feet at the climax of the big game was perfect.
- I loved Sally Kellerman’s Principal “Skunk” Stark and hope to see her more regularly. I also noticed Pamela Adlon’s name in the credits. Who was she?
- The unofficial Maynard High School song: “Maynard High is the greatest frickin’ school / And we won’t take no shit from nobody / And we won’t ever stop being passionate / Maynard High rules!”