The Unicorn introduced itself with great humor and compassion in its pilot, which it carried through its 18-episode first season, becoming one of the best new shows of 2019. So it’s no surprise that the series would make a great second impression in the season-two premiere, “There’s Something About Whoever-She-Was.” The episode, which was written by series co-creator Bill Martin and directed by Zoolander (and 2oolander) co-scribe John Hamburg, is breezy yet poignant—a wonderful bit of escapism. You’d never know it was filmed seven months after COVID lockdown orders and production shutdowns began (filming on season two kicked off in mid-October.)
When we last saw Wade Felton (Walton Goggins), he had just met an incredible woman and been sprayed by a skunk (a small price to pay for meeting Natalie Zea, surely.) Their chemistry was palpable, but the surest sign that Wade was truly ready to open himself up to a romantic relationship again was in his own words. Meeting the woman was just promise on top of a promise. Wade spent most of season one acclimating to life as a single dad and a widower, but despite his great loss, he refused to be defined solely by those terms. Series co-creators Gary Cooper, Bill Martin, and Mike Schiff also refused to let their show be boxed into any one subgenre of sitcom: The Unicorn is as much a hangout comedy as it is the story of an unconventional family. Wade’s relationships with his daughters, Grace (Ruby Jay) and Natalie (Makenzie Moss), are just as developed as his friendships with married couples Delia (Michaela Watkins) and Forrest (Rob Corddry), and Michelle (Maya Lynne Robinson) and Ben (Omar Miller.) And Delia et. al are involved in Grace and Natalie’s lives, too, making this one big, happy, extended family.
At the start of the season-two opener, though, Wade is a bit more single-minded than usual. He’s searching for the mysterious woman from the cemetery, which leads him to visit five different veterinarians’ offices. When this strategy fails him, Wade decides to move on to finding Skunk-Rescuing Woman (don’t worry, we’ll have her name soon) by her car, an older, baby blue Volvo. As usual, the votes are split among his friends. Michelle is initially charmed by the pursuit: “Well I think it’s sweet. It’s like a rom-com. Must Love Skunks.” Delia, on the other hand, says it’s “a little more like a stalker movie.” Neither is really wrong. Depending on your tolerance for such things, having someone try to track you down after a single encounter could play as romantic or creepy. Meanwhile, Ben thinks Wade’s made a good go of it, and should now let go of it. Forrest doesn’t really know what he thinks, but he is captivated by Wade’s optimism and energy. The word “obsessed” gets thrown around more than once.
“There’s Something About Whoever-She-Was” gets a lot out of the chase, as Wade and Shannon—that’s the woman he hit it off with—have a close encounter at a restaurant, but don’t meet again until over a month after they first got skunked. Wade doodles the design on the bumper sticker of the woman’s car, thinking that might help him find her. But times marches on, and his plan to go to hundreds of mechanics to find her falls through. Autumn arrives, and with it, soccer season. Natalie has pierced ears (she re-stained the backyard fence to get them), Grace is no longer infatuated with Adam, and Michelle is waiting to hear from her number-one college pick after being accepted into three other schools.
Despite not finding the mystery woman, Wade’s life remains full, active. Bill Martin asks us to once again empathize with Wade, but there’s nothing pathetic about his singlehood. Yet, when he and Shannon do finally properly meet—he tracks her to an elementary school, but she ends up on his doorstep after a simple Google search—it’s electric. Michelle, Delia, Ben, and Forrest are also taken with Shannon, a chef who stands by her salmon in miso glaze. In the final moments of the premiere, the air is charged with promise again. We don’t know where this will go, and neither does Wade. But it’s enough that he’s out there, even after experiencing disappointment (however brief it was.)
Obviously, the A story could have taken up this entire review, but watching “There’s Something About Whoever-She-Was,” I’m struck by just how complementary the storytelling is on The Unicorn. The secondary and tertiary storylines often serve as tributaries to the main plot. Here, Michelle’s search for the right college mirrors Wade’s search for Shannon. She gives her friend the old “plenty of fish in the sea” line when she seems him falling into the deep end; later, as she wonders why Piedmont is leaving her to languish on the waitlist, Wade essentially repeats her advice back to her. Later, after Wade has connected with Shannon and Piedmont has officially accepted her, Michelle decides to go to Sanderson anyway because it’s what’s right for her and her family. It’s not a matter of settling, but of realizing that there’s more than one “the one,” whether we’re talking about schools or romantic interests. It sounds anti-romantic, but it really isn’t—it’s reassuring. The truth is that, however wonderful Wade and Jill’s marriage was, there’s potentially someone else out there with whom he could share something equally as meaningful. The Unicorn isn’t racing to get Wade there, though. But Shannon sure looks promising.
- Natalie Zea is such a versatile performer, even beyond her last collaboration with Walton Goggins. She was great on The Detour, and I can’t wait to see what she brings to The Unicorn.
- The four-way calls among the marrieds are always so seamless, and much more dynamic in their rendering than a group text would be.
- I really like Delia and Forrest’s marriage. On the surface, they look like the typical “hypercompetent woman and doofus man” pairings of sitcoms past. But they’re much more complicated. In season one, Forrest admitted that Delia sometimes puts down the things he’s passionate about. Tonight, when she joined him in standing because he was just so damn enthusiastic about it, it was obvious she’d taken his words to heart.
- On a more personal note, one of the reasons I love this show so much is because I’ve watched my own widower dad rebuild his life. There’s so much pride in watching someone try new things again, and even fall in love again. But you can also feel a tiny bit resentful about them moving on, because, well, they’re moving on past your mom. I wonder if we’ll see any of that this season among Grace and Natalie.
- Finally, welcome back to The Unicorn coverage! I’m planning to pop in throughout the season, but if folks really are dropping by every week for coverage, then I’ll try to set a more consistent schedule.