Unsupervised: “My Brother Brian”
B+

Unsupervised: “My Brother Brian”

B+

Unsupervised

“My Brother Brian”

Season 1, Episode 8

When do I start proselytizing? Probably several weeks ago, but at least I’m here now. I’m going to be sad to see Unsupervised wind up next to Terriers in the television graveyard, forgotten and then reluctantly disinterred for online streaming only. From the get-go Unsupervised has refused to settle for what’s easy, to its commercial detriment. Sure it’s had some plots that just end and some obvious jokes, but it’s easy to overlook how ambitious (and largely successful) it is, because it calls so little attention to itself. The comedy is largely character-based, built on cumulative portraits of an expanding cast. The camera, as it were, confronts issues it’s easier to look away from, though in recent weeks it’s strayed from its poverty focus to a more general lack of institutional support. The animation is so detailed you can smell the mildew on the walls. And where ABC Family would overplay its emotions and South Park, say, would subvert them, Unsupervised proudly waves its positive coming-of-age inspiration while still making time for two guys doing it doggie-style behind a dumpster. It’s a filthy, reasonable, sweet after-school special, and “My Brother Brian” is a good example of it.

The opening scene is some impressive sleight of hand. It introduces Joel’s brother Brian, a 40-year-old burnout version of Joel, and David Hornsby has fun finding a voice for Brian that’s like a divergent evolution of Joel’s, the same basic speech patterns gunked up by years of cigarettes, drugs, and grouting (callback!). They’re fighting over a bike, and Joel basically tells his brother to grow up, tying him to the larger premise of the series, and already we anticipate the central thrust of the episode: Joel and Brian are going to hate each other in these cramped quarters until they learn to appreciate one another, and eventually Brian will move out, at least, out of Joel’s bed. Along the way there will be kick-fights, one instance of unpredictable debasement, and an inspirational speech. All of which happens, but that’s really the background of the episode. Meanwhile, “My Brother Brian” is busy planting seeds. There’s a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly here and a “What are you, black now?” there, and if you’re really on top of things, maybe you pick up on Brian’s blow-off line: “Ugh, I’m going to get smokes. You two can be alone and rub your dicks together.” Because the central thrust of “My Brother Brian” is diversity.

Just look at how many angles it explores. Gary and Joel discover Brian’s ashamed of getting banged in alleys, and of course they go to eleven in their support of gay people, which leads to an amusing Craigslist adventure at the Internet café from “Fires & Liars.” Ever the bureaucrat, Principal Stark is walking on eggshells (and explaining the two-months late assembly): “I’m sure Martin King’s spirit is smiling down upon us right now, and he knows that the bomb threat that cancelled the original assembly was not racially motivated.” In secret she’s actually pretty prejudiced, which we learn in a hilariously oversharing one-on-one with Darius. Clint and Lisa perform an absurd master-slave stage piece, which chuffs Darius, who sits there complaining about the lack of actual black faces performing, not that he could be bothered to volunteer himself. Eventually he does make a stand, but first Megan gets her first kiss from an annoying lesbian named Audrey (played by the always welcome Judy Greer [Correction: the equally welcome Maria Bamford]), whose Martin Luther King, Jr. Day speech is just a string of racial slurs culminating in “Chocolate monster!” as she points at Darius and an unsurprising confession of her sexuality. Megan gets sent to a tolerance workshop for repeatedly being seen to harass Audrey, but she’s not a homophobe. Audrey’s just annoying. Clint and Lisa are insufferable. And Darius finally puts his foot down. “I didn’t heckle her for being gay. I heckled her for being obnoxious. Can’t I just hate someone for being themselves?” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this sends Principal Stark into a reverie, reminiscing about back when you could hate someone for the color of their skin—Sally Kellerman continues to be my favorite—but mainly I want to point out how much “My Brother Brian” packs in, as it were. There’s a positive take on minority cultures, a satirical bent on PC policing, a totally reasonable stance on obnoxious minorities that counteracts Michael Patrick King’s “But I’m gay” defense of 2 Broke Girls’ stereotype comedy, and it’s all peppered with little slices of real life, like Principal Stark’s casual prejudice and the funny social misunderstandings in a world where gay people have to operate on the down-low. All that and Andy Rooney, er, the expected subplot about Brian and Joel coming to appreciate each other, and Brian making positive life changes.

By “positive life changes,” I mean Brian isn’t gay but rather a junkie with no money, and Joel’s support inspires him to call in a bomb threat to the school so he can be arrested (and presumably get help). I’m not sure I agree anyone’s better off in jail, but for Gary and Joel, the prison system is an institutional authority and therefore mythically righteous, so it makes for a nice, non sequitur-esque closing line. And I suppose that’s the last of Brian? I’m not eager to see more of his old routine with Joel—you’ve seen one kick-fight, you’ve seen ‘em all—but I wouldn’t be opposed to a prison visit.

The animation of Unsupervised is particularly creative this week, whether selling us the dilapidated setting—and seriously, every building is a good bump away from crumbling—or introducing a sight gag. The Peace Wall is a highlight, Principal Stark’s diversity project featuring Martin Luther King, Jr. and Shirley Temple jumping rope between Abraham Lincoln and toothpick-thin Gandhi, filtered through the haze of memory. But let’s not forget the dumpster sex, a reminder that Unsupervised comes from three of the writers from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia who also wrote this episode, and the chalkboard declaration “Zero Tolerance” at the tolerance workshop. It’s safe to say Unsupervised found its voice. Now to spread the word.

Stray observations:

  • Fred Armisen returns, still working for the masturbating Internet café guy. I’m starting to worry about Sid, though.
  • Russ gets maced after offering to show his vagina to the assembly, and later Jojo just crushes him in one fell kick. Poor guy is having a bad year.
  • Gary and Joel: “Man, if Martin Luther King were here right now, he’d spit in our face.” “And he’d have every right to!”