John Larroquette (left), Ed Begley Jr. (Photo: Ron P. Jaffe/CBS)

This is the episode I’ve been waiting for. Because here’s the thing: Sitcoms almost never start out funny. For a sitcom, what matters in the early going is that a world is established, a camaraderie is introduced, and a general sense of likability is cultivated. As such, the jokes themselves are often neutered so as not to alienate viewers. It takes time for the writers’ true comic sensibilities to begin emerging; some series never transcend the politeness demanded by a pilot, but, for others, the establishment of routine allows for a greater emphasis on developing a distinctive comedic personality.

This episode of Me, Myself & I felt familiar in terms of its storytelling, but it felt different in that the show’s humor began to exhibit some personality. Here, we saw some delightful bits of randomness—Abby calling popsicles “poop-sicles,” Alex’s awkward ad-lib about seeing his card “bathed in natural light”—and some clever plays on period-specific innovations—the “Smart Jukebox” of the future was especially inspired, and Alex being poured a glass of bubbly by a white-gloved server culled just the right amount of absurdity from “glamping.” Sure, there were some hammy O.J. jokes but I laughed more than I groaned this time around.

Birthdays are the connecting thread this week. Young Alex (Jack Dylan Grazer) receives a signed Michael Jordan rookie card from his stepdad, Ron (Brian Unger), but gives it away to Nori (Reylynn Caster) in a fit of starry-eyed splendor, leading his step-brother, Justin (Christopher Paul Richards), to concoct a plan to retrieve it. Mid-Life Alex (Bobby Moynihan) spends his birthday thinking less about himself than his daughter, Abby, who wants to go glamping with her friends. Unfortunately, he can’t afford it. And Older Alex (John Larroquette) finds himself all alone on his birthday, and then, well, not. Yeah, not much meat to that one, which is becoming a running theme of Older Alex’s role. Here’s hoping that changes.

The episode’s most affecting trick, however, is that it’s not the birthdays that connect the characters so much as it is the card, which comes to serve as a nifty symbol for the emotional baggage that tends to accompany aging. For Young Alex, the gift is everything. When we’re kids, our most prized possessions tend to be objects. As we get older, however, we often have to sacrifice the things we love to make room for the people we love; for Mid-Life Alex, that means sacrificing his “gift” so he can make Abby happy. But when we’re older and age is felt that much more, the birthday can be a lonely holiday; all one can hope for is that the day can bring some reminder that all the years that preceded it weren’t for nothing. That’s why the reveal that Abby bought the card for him is so moving; the object and the emotion have merged and that gift means more to him as an adult than it did as a child.

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“The Card” is marvelously crafted and a pitch-perfect example of how well Me, Myself & I’s structure can work when the narrative is kept both simple and unified. The reverberation of an event—here one’s birthday—resounds and connects these timelines much more effectively when there’s a malleable object—the card—to accompany it.

It is curious, however, to watch how the show’s supporting cast continue to evolve. Darryl remains nothing more than a sounding board for Alex, while Mid-Life Abby is pretty much defined by two things: Her dad and her job with the Bulls. But it’s Justin who remains the series’ most slippery character; sure, his bizarre parental instincts are amusing, but they don’t necessarily lend themselves to action. As such, we here see him take on the role of rabble-rouser, which feels a touch odd since he’s more or less been established as a substandard mentor in previous episodes. Evolving him into a Bobby Budnick type—a silver-tongued troublemaker—might be a good route for the character, whose schtick is already running thin.

That said, the act was much more convincing when played by Ed Begley, Jr., who plays Justin as an adult (and a governor!). Begley, Jr.’s wily, wide-eyed persona was an inspired choice to play Adult Justin, and his performance here in some ways made Young Justin a bit easier to access. There’s strategy behind that dopey smile; I hope we see more of it.

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I also hope we see more of Kyle Mooney, who here plays a burnout employee at the arcade. Here’s hoping we see some more of Moynihan’s former SNL cohorts pop up. Kate McKinnon would work wonders in this world.


Stray observations

  • Other things that made me laugh: Young Alex calling out his mom for complimenting herself while trying to console him; Mid-Life Alex telling Darryl he would take his money if Darryl offered; Mid-Life Alex admitting that he thought “glamping” was just people mispronouncing camping; Kyle Mooney’s character being introduced with the line, “My boy Brandon plays bass; he rips.”
  • As a Chicagoan, I’m happy the writers at least put some effort into their deep dish pizza nod by noting it’s from Lou Malnati’s, one of the better deep dish offerings in the city. Still, deep dish pizza sucks and I dare you to tell me I’m wrong. I can’t even imagine how gross it was considering Ron had the slice flown across the country to them.
  • I know she’s young, but how shitty was it for Nori to take Alex’s signed Michael Jordan rookie card? She didn’t even try to push back or be like, “Hey, are you sure you want to give me, a girl you barely know, this extremely rare, extremely expensive basketball card?” You dodged a bullet, kid.
  • Speaking of, they missed a huge opportunity in not showing what came of the forged Michael Jordan card Justin and Alex swapped out in Nori’s house. I get there’s only so much time, but it would’ve been hilarious for Eleanor to discover, 40-some years later, that the priceless card she and her father coveted was a fake. Here’s hoping it comes up in a later episode.
  • This episode in 2042: Computer screens don’t have borders. Also, the Smart Jukebox—it listens to conversations and plays relevant songs based on them—is another fine example of the writers culling laughs by turning up the dial on technology that’s so close to already existing. Also, it says something that technology in 2042 isn’t even pretending to not be listening to our conversations anymore.
  • God, I hope they address Trump in 2042 at some point.
  • Older Alex is also reading Infinite Jest. Is this like a Lost thing, where every book they show ties into the show’s mythology? Should we start a Reddit thread?
  • “Pungent Stench” is such a lazy name for a bad band. It’s like when Full House had the Tanners get addicted to a video game filled with magical keys, enchanted kayaks, and giant wombats; just as that’s some grandpa’s idea of what video games are, Pungent Stench is what the olds probably think punk bands call themselves. You want bad band names? We’ve got ‘em.
  • The funniest part of the episode? That, other than lazily greying his hair, there was no effort made to age Kyle Mooney.

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