Unsupervised: “Fires & Liars”
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Unsupervised: “Fires & Liars”

D+

Unsupervised

“Fires & Liars”

Season 1, Episode 4

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Well, I can see why we only got the first three episodes to preview. I don’t think I laughed once during “Fires And Liars,” despite several jokes about homeless people getting up to their hilarious homeless antics. We visit two new locations, and both are so uneventful you can see the script padding itself. We meet a handful of new people, all uniformly lifeless. And the narrative is so slack that everyone trips over it on their way to the obvious climax. Better shows than this have had weaker early outings, and this is the first real warning sign to me, but I’m officially concerned about Unsupervised.

We open on yet another dingy exterior, one of my favorite stylistic trademarks, as Gary and Joel prepare to light a spray-paint can on fire. It gets out of control, and at first they’re worried about keeping it a secret since the news blamed the incident on the influx of homeless people in the area. But then they find out that the firemen loved the opportunity, so they set out to light an even bigger fire. Guess what happens.

I have a pretty high tolerance for the after-school special, partly out of tradition, partly out of sincerity, partly out of how ripe it is for mockery. I still like Glee, after all, and that show is all about selective continuity to suit whatever issues and lessons it’s addressing this week. So I’m not complaining about Unsupervised joining that illustrious tradition, but if you look close enough, you could see the entire outline of “Fires & Liars” on the wall: The flabby firemen will find motivation in Gary and Joel’s positivity, the homeless will be redeemed by rescuing the kids from a fire, and Gary and Joel will come clean. About the only thing I didn’t see coming is Mr. Llewellyn playing with himself, so there’s that.

But it’s not just that “Fires & Liars” is schematic. A certain amount of moral predestination is built into the after-school format. What compounds the obvious narrative here is that the whole thing is so slight. It’s 15 minutes (if we’re generous) of plot stretched out over a half-hour. Which is also not necessarily a bad thing; for instance, maybe Unsupervised wants to get at the relaxed lifestyle of its heroes. Or maybe it just wants to prove it doesn’t have to introduce a superhero Australian or a wolf-dog in order to spice up its stories. Maybe we’ll look back and think of this episode as a truer model of what Unsupervised wants to be when it grows up than the first few installments. I’m open to that.

However, not only is the episode obvious and thin (or obvious because it’s thin), it served almost no purpose that I could discern, advancing neither the characters, nor the themes, nor any wider plot. It was just there. I suppose we learned for a fact that Gary and Joel respect civic-authority figures as they do every other authority figure. And as far as plot arcs, maybe Martin working at the Internet café is going somewhere juicy (Phrasing!). But for the purposes of evaluating this particular episode in the moment, to me “Fires & Liars” feels like an unfinished draft in need of a bit more sprucing up.

Luckily it still has that core. Joel and Gary remain delightful antidotes to almost every other teen on television: “I don’t like to lie, Darius. It’s dishonest as freakin’ hell.” Which reminds me, we also get a handy rundown of their swear words (frick, piss, dong) and Joel’s phone greeting (“Yo, this is friggin’ Joel”). Romany Malco has some good stuff as Darius, talking to Gary and Joel on his doorstep while lying to his offscreen mother about what they’re doing, kind of like The Big Bang Theory’s Wolowitz—only age-appropriate. And Megan’s now pursuing journalism, naturally, though I like this conceit of Megan never appearing in the same extracurricular activity twice.

The spirit certainly remains, as when the jokes about the homeless become jokes about the treatment of the homeless. Gary and Joel redouble their commitment to honesty. And that closing statement by Martin could not have been more true to Unsupervised: “We will all help each other, and we will get through these depressed times together.” Unfortunately, it comes out of nowhere. Apart from Gary and Joel trying to help the firemen, this episode sees very little community spirit, not with the homeless, not with Darius, certainly not with Martin and Mr. Llewellyn, who are just there as commentators. But at least it reminds me of the show’s promise. Just because “Fires & Liars” didn’t impress me doesn’t mean Unsupervised has lost its way.

Stray observations:

  • Last week we talked about the edgier jokes and finding the purpose behind them. What did y’all make of Russ’ molestation story? That word connotes some heavy stuff, and somehow finding out it was “just” having jumper cables attached to his scrotum doesn’t make it easier for me to take. Maybe that's the point.
  • Megan goes to the Internet café to read up on Abstinence Is Awesome: One Girl’s Struggle From Regret To Redemption.
  • Russ moment of the week: “Oh, well. We gonna die.”
  • Gary: “If you ever lie to me, I’ll punch you in the head.” Joel: “Dude, you should be punching me!”

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