Photo: CBS

Before we talk about “The First Step,” it’s important we discuss what’s clearly the viewing public’s chief concern concerning Me, Myself & I: The Moynihan/Larroquette paradox. How, pray tell, could the gentle, bumbling, soft-edged Bobby Moynihan in just 25 years come to look, talk, and conduct one’s self in the manner of the sharp, silver-tongued silver fox that is John Larroquette? Some in the comments of last week’s review theorized that the show’s 2042 exists in the aftermath of some Trumpian catastrophe, one which resulted in a non-lethal nuclear calamity that nevertheless warped our physical appearances. If that’s the case, however, sign me up; I’d swallow a piece of plutonium if it meant I could look like Larroquette.

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While it’s fun to weigh the peculiarities of this particular casting choice, it’s also kinda silly in the parlance of a high-concept sitcom. I mean, are we really all that concerned about age continuity in a show starring Jaleel White? What “The First Step” helped confirm, after all, is that if there’s one thing Me, Myself & I got right it’s the casting. Moynihan may not be the most chameleonic actor, but his natural ability to mine laughs from a place of tender earnestness makes him both breezily likable and a strong anchor for two characters who convey prickly eccentricities so specific to their age groups (14 and 65, respectively). On either side, Jack Dylan Grazer and Larroquette deftly embody anxieties that manifest in totally different, yet contextually appropriate ways. If you look at the full arc of Alex as it currently exists, awkwardness gives way to insecurity which gives way to a kind of optimistic desperation. None of the actors seem like they’re mimicking another actor’s interpretation of the character; rather, they’re each leaning into what’s specific to their timeline. So, ya know, who gives a shit if Moynihan doesn’t look like Larroquette?

Photo: CBS

Here, Larroquette’s anxieties result in his Alex becoming dangerously enamored with Nori (Sharon Lawrence), who he reconnected with in last week’s pilot. What he perceives to be a date she reads as a casual catch-up session, though her reveal that she has a boyfriend prompts him to swing for the rafters, telling her she deserves a man who will commit himself to her unconditionally. Of course, this is a callback to a similar speech that young Alex made to her after hearing her complain about a neglectful boyfriend. The episode’s most affecting bit of business is that this speech has different results in both timelines: For young Alex, it results in Nori (Reylynn Caster) dumping her dud yet ignoring his own advances; for old Alex, it results in Nori taking him seriously but getting engaged in the process. Acknowledging the ways in which time and age alters similar events is one of the specific strengths Me, Myself & I has to offer.

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Moynihan’s modern-day Alex is also embroiled in a romantic plot, with Darryl (White) tricking him into spending a night out on the town. “I only found this place by looking up ‘how to get laid in Los Angeles’,” Darryl admits after the pair find themselves at what looks to be a cozy Japanese bar, which makes one wonder what search engine he’s using. After retreating to local diner Corky’s, Alex meets cute with divorcee Lauren (Kat Foster), who he enjoys a pleasant date with before chickening out when she asks him back to her place.

Last week I theorized that we would probably wouldn’t see young Nori again after Alex botched things with her at the school dance. As this episode shows, I was wrong both on that front and in that this show would operate on a more episodic basis. It’s not building a mythology or anything, but I’m surprised by the fact that Me, Myself & I seems to be emphasizing serial storytelling and character continuity over traditional adventure-of-the-week shenanigans. And, truth be told, this approach works better when you have such limited time in which tell complete stories with your characters.

Instead of waiting to see what situation the elder Alex finds himself in next week, I’m actually invested in seeing how he responds to Nori’s engagement. I’m also hoping to see whether or not modern-day Alex reconnects with Lauren. And young Alex’s story showed us the origin of his friendship with Darryl, not to mention his bonding with “The Table of No Return,” which is filled with characters like Nose Puke, Shart, and Waldo (“He wore a red-and-white-striped shirt once,” they explain). Here, it fills as if we’re witnessing the progression of a story rather than the refinement of a template, which tends to be the model of sustainability for most sitcoms.

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Photo: CBS

That said, the reality that this structure just can’t let its storylines stretch their legs is even more apparent here. The show’s brisk pace and connective tissue—here, waffles play a big role in this aspect—is on point, but it still feels like we’re missing at least a few scenes in each character’s story. “The First Step” would’ve really benefitted from a deeper look into modern-day Alex’s relationship anxieties, or the status of young Alex and young Nori’s relationship, or the plans elder Alex had for his date with Nori.

And, as such, the laughs are still in short supply, if only because the story has to be streamlined in ways that just doesn’t allow for extended gags or exhalations of character-based comedy.

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Me, Myself & I has likable characters, resonant stories, and a strong grasp of structure and arc. And it’s not like it doesn’t have laughs; it’s just that they’re all the polite kind when it needs are the belly kind.


Stray observations

  • What’s going on with the timeline in this show? In the micro sense, not the macro. The opening scene made it seem like young Alex’s story was unfolding immediately after the events of the pilot, but then it’s revealed that Nori’s in a relationship (and far enough along that she’s got pictures of her dude in her locker, which was the “Facebook official” of the ‘90s).
  • Bless this show for understanding that it’s the cafeteria—not the gym or the playground—that ignites the most anxiety in the socially awkward. It’s easy to bail on dodgeball; it’s a lot less easy to eat in the corner by yourself.
  • Also, there’s something inspired about a lunch lady that only gives the good food to the cool kids. How hilariously cruel.
  • Darryl gets a little more meat this episode. His comment about living vicariously through modern-day Alex’s singledom is a character wrinkle that, if they make it consistent, could result in both big laughs and a bit of pathos for the long-married character.
  • The inanity of nicknames like Waldo’s is real. I know a girl who’s been going by “Boots” for 15 years. Ask her why and she’ll respond, “I wore boots once.”
  • This episode in 2042: A self-driving feature in cars and the ability to play music by snapping one’s fingers, both of which already kinda-sorta exist, yeah? This seems like a good approach to building a believable future: Take things we’re currently piloting and make them part of the fabric of future society.
  • Speaking of music, that use of Billie Holiday’s “Me, Myself And I” was a bit on the nose, eh? Good song, though.
  • With the concept established, the talking heads and narration needs to go. All it’s doing is rehashing the themes, which nobody wants. Less heads, more gags.
  • What was your nickname in school? Mine was Hi-C.

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