It’s always nice to see a freshman show come together. I’m not sure Unsupervised can sustain the unity of “Stupid Idiots” just by virtue of its scattered nature—though as I say every week, the series has a sturdy skeleton under even the flabbier episodes—but “Nits” establishes a perfectly solid baseline. All five of the kids—and I guess it’s five now, because I just can’t bring myself to exclude Russ any more—have subplots this week, each revolving around the school dance with the expected coming-of-age moments. We see or don’t see some of the parents for a pointed contrast, although “Nits” doesn’t have much to do with class or community. The jokes land with a respectable frequency. And Principal Stark is back. I’m starting to love just hanging out at Maynard.
At the same time, Unsupervised could stand to be more novel than “Nits” permits. With these characters in this place, doing the school-dance episode is a waste of potential, at least as it plays out. The house party and the baseball game are classic settings for plots done quintessentially Unsupervised, but the dance? You’ve seen all of this before on Freaks And Geeks, The O.C., and other shows—maybe without the nits or the stink bombs or the flautist fellatio, but those are just the grungy decorations. Even the most expressive touches, like the locker shot and Danielle reading her note to Joel are straight out of other shows. “Stupid Idiots” proved Unsupervised doesn’t need to be aggressively edgy to find originality—but if it helps, it should absolutely swim in that cesspool. However much I’m comfortable with Unsupervised sticking in nice, friendly teen-show territory, a series can’t distinguish itself by doing solid takes of sitcom staples. Unsupervised is so unlike every other high-school show that playing on that turf can be distracting.
But enough griping. Like Darius himself, “Nits” has surprising sensitivity, particularly with respect to the different group dynamics. Russ can be completely himself around Joel, but with a potential date, he just babbles about the Army helmet his brother sent him from Iraq and is eventually forced to pop the question. Joel is almost always unfiltered, but there’s a trace of posturing as he asks out Danielle—more continuity!—and Darius is the most nervous of all, considering he’s the one that actually thinks dances are romantic and sweet. Then there’s the way Megan can’t even be herself around the friends she’s trying to impress, but with a drunk Jojo and sidekick, she has no problem letting her authoritarian flag fly. My favorite joke of the episode is when they get pulled over and Megan says, “Thank God.” Even Danielle is an example of how people behave differently when they’re trying to impress someone.
These aren’t monumental insights into adolescence, but they are a testament to how seriously Unsupervised takes its characters. Russ, in particular, has gone from joke-nuisance to damaged kid pretty successfully, now butting heads with Joel only accidentally (as opposed to when he was trying to impress Jojo with his Stone Cold routine). When Russ leaves this week because Gary tells him to go clean up instead of bragging about his prank gone awry as if that were the joke, he lets on about his low self-esteem, and Joel says to the others, “We should probably take more of an interest in him.” It’s a moment so sincere that it really slices through all the relationship nonsense, even though we’re immediately back to laughing thanks to Darius, off to marinate in his thoughts and sing his feelings: “Girl, I wanted to love you / But you sucked another dick.”
Gary and Joel are the ones with the age-old plots about best friends growing up at different speeds and trying and failing to get laid. We know where this is going from the first scene—of the pilot. But I do love the little things in their corner of “Nits,” like Joel appreciating the romance of making out under the stairwell. And they eventually arrive at the expected wisdom: “Friends and boning don’t cancel each other out.”
It’s also nice to see Megan’s mom again, even if this appearance isn’t quite as funny as her last. The lengths she’ll go to, the rules she’ll drop, just to get Megan to socialize with people her own age says it all, and you don’t often see that character on television (although this week’s Suburgatory comes close, and I recall Kirsten Cohen worrying about Seth for, like, three episodes of The O.C.). It would throw off the young, ignorant perspective to focus too heavily on the parents—not to mention negate the title of the series—but I’d love a bit more spotlight on the family lives of Darius, Megan, and Russ. It might throw the empty houses of Gary and Joel into even starker relief.
“Nits” may not be the most inspired episode of Unsupervised, but it feels like an example of the show moving forward. Maynard is a fixed location with characters that have offscreen lives. The kids are one another’s strongest support system—with exception of Darius’ parents—and they’re all starting to grow up with the expected trials and unexpected jokes. We’re seeing whole demographics that largely go unrepresented on television treated with real humanity. And not only is Unsupervised usually pretty funny, but the jokes derive from character, delivering a pleasantly entertaining half-hour while enriching our understanding of these kids more and more each week. I fully expect more experimentation in this first season, but it’s nice to know that Unsupervised can always fall back on an episode like “Nits.”
- Those close-ups on the nits had me scratching my head. I feel like it’s not Unsupervised if I’m not grossed out in some capacity.
- Best frig, frick, or freak: “Why are you getting’ so frigged out about a stupid formal?”