Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Underemployed: "The Roommate"

Illustration for article titled Underemployed: "The Roommate"

I’m honestly surprised at how solid this episode of Underemployed was. The show has got a lot of flaws, but a charming honesty and tenderness came out of this week’s episode, “The Roommate.” I think this episode managed to hit notes of both emotional and professional development for all the characters, and so managed to transcend the frustrating self-absorption of earlier episodes.

Fundamentally what makes Underemployed interesting is that it isn’t trying to be too universal. It hits on some universal themes, sure. But when Underemployed strikes that balance between the universal and a personal, it’s a much more interesting show to watch. “The Roommate” surprised me repeatedly with its attention to the individual relationships between the characters, relationships that make improbable situations strangely plausible.

Chief among these in tonight’s episode is Sophia’s decision to “check” if she’s a “really” a “lesbian” by attempting to have sex with her friend Miles. Nothing about this makes any sense on paper. But given Sophia’s naivete and anxieties, and given Miles’ apparent desire to have sex with everything on the planet, it kind of makes sense. What’s stranger still is that Miles somehow manages to be a really nice guy about it, even though he’s obviously kind of an idiot. The conclusion—which is that Sophia has no interest in having sex with a dude—is sweet, not awkward, and Miles’ affection for Sophia as a friend remains unchanged, which is really kind of beautiful (if it is also unlikely).

Sophia’s personal journey is also well-grounded in the personal, enough so that the bigger questions have enough space to breathe. She started dating a woman in the last episode; in this one, she’s coming off of a seven-day sex bender, but isn’t quite sure if she’s ready to call herself a lesbian. The terms, the definitions, and the realities of her week of choices scare her. So she spends a little bit of time thinking about them… and then avoids them at all costs. What interests her most is gaining the approval and recognition she needs from her group of friends, and her adventures in this episode are her way of establishing that she’s within their limits. Her tentative steps in self-exploration are bolstered by the conventional wisdom of her friends.

Indeed, the primary focus of Underemployed is not, as the title suggests, the work or employment of these characters. It is, instead, the group, of course. That scattered array of exes, roommates, and old college friends tend to be the basis for the post-grad urban family, when life is really big and really hard. As naïve and self-absorbed as the characters in Underemployed sometimes are, they are also very real, making big, sloppy mistakes that we’ve all made.

So the primary drama of the episode isn’t that Daphne is having trouble at work; it’s how she introduces that into everyone else’s lives. The drama isn’t that Sophia has a girlfriend; it’s how Sophia brings it into the group. And it’s not that Miles is having loud sex; it’s that Miles is upsetting his old friend Lou. Unlike so many other ensemble casts on television, the relationships between the characters in Underemployed feel earned. On top of that, their external adventures are interesting, and I think, even valuable, especially to MTV’s target audience. (Daphne’s storyline, in which her idea for an advertising campaign is co-opted by her boss so she can’t get the credit, is surprisingly relevant to millennial intern-culture.)


There are aspects of the series that are cringingly juvenile, of course—Miles’ penis is named The Duke, and every reference to it involves a pointed reference to the aristocracy. Lou and Miles trade barbs about their respective partners’ nip-slips. It’s never going to be A-material; it’s not even trying to be. But it’s surprisingly aware of the misadventures of the immediately post-graduate—the attempts to try on new roles, whether that be ambitious career woman or dedicated father. The attempts at humor are a little bit too desperate for its primarily teenage audience, but for a younger demographic, there’s a lot to enjoy.

Stray observations:

  • Rosemary is one happy baby.
  • Lou and Ravira are a huge disaster waiting to happen, aren’t they?
  • Sophia’s girlfriend is as beautiful as her doughnut hat is ludicrously ugly.
  • Farirah, Underemployed’s normal reviewer, has been caught up in hurricane drama, so I’m pinch-hitting. Absent another natural disaster, she should be back next week, just in time for Miles and Daphne to move in together.