In a happier universe, Unsupervised aired its final three episodes along with its first ten. Just as season one came together, hour-mate Archer came to an end (the “Heart Of Archess” trilogy aired alone the previous fall), and FX benched the unusual animated high-school comedy. At least one report from upfronts announced a renewal for Unsupervised, but now it sounds like FX is burning off the final three before winter and calling it quits. The point is “The Great Traveler’s Road” could have benefited from the season’s momentum. It’s hard to get excited about a lame duck.
On the bright side, “The Great Traveler’s Road” doesn’t feature anything on the order of a glass bottle taking some kid’s eye out, although my beloved Principal Stark is responsible for a shop owner becoming mangled in a crash. Unsupervised is a gloriously trashy show, in the literal sense of trash, and this episode revels in the filth as a local dump hosts a turf war. It starts with Gary and Joel at the Five Points Mart at a new intersection, fantasizing about the new cultures they will meet thanks to this new road. Turns out they just meet the snobby prep school kids of St. Milt’s who drink mixed fountain sodas and the frightening vocational school vokies who drink motor oil. Meanwhile Megan starts seeing a St. Milt’s boy who is just like her, Russ does all the grunt work, and Darius tries to make himself relevant with a non-story about being denied admittance to St. Milt’s. The plotting branches out and comes together like a caduceus, and the pacing keeps the episode exciting.
But it isn’t very funny. Unsupervised has never been the most joke-intensive show, mostly because it isn’t trying to be a stand-up set. It’s a character piece where most of the comedy comes from behavior, which has to be established and provoked and observed. In that respect, “The Great Traveler’s Road” doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about anyone. Gary and Joel are civic-minded, Russ is disgusting, Megan has the worst luck imaginable. There’s some potent comedy there, especially in the sudden revelation that Megan’s been dating a sixth-grader. But mostly this plays like a season première, a recapitulation of the old premises in a particularly absurd context. Darius is so lazy that his subplot, an inquiry into why he got rejected from prep school, doesn’t even go anywhere. What’s more, dude is so un-self-aware he says of Rihanna, “If you grow up eating mangoes, you can’t consider yourself part of the struggle.”
Throughout are these time-honored lessons filtered through the prose of Maynord’s English department, like the mantra, “Dicks are a threat to peace.” There’s a lot going on, from flag-burning to the civil-rights struggle, but basically this is an episode about a class war gone literal. Class charges a lot of great shows right now, but few have room for realistic cynicism. Joel believes, “Two rational groups of people should be able to share a piece of land without killing each other,” but that’s because he’s on the losing end. The wealthy prep-school dicks don’t have to share because they can win through force. When push comes to shove, Principal Stark negotiates a terrible truce, telling her students, “You can use the mart to buy gas if you eat trash for the amusement of the prep school students.” After the battle, wherein Principal Stark inadvertently causes the destruction of the mart, the prep school students move on to the Maynord dump. The dump isn’t even remotely appealing, but it’s what the Maynord-ites cherish, so it’s what the prepsters take. Joel tries to put a cheery spin on scorched earth, but the mood is decidedly downbeat. As Principal Stark says, they’re going to have disappointing lives. So I guess David Simon’s consulting on Unsupervised now.
The best joke comes at the climax. The vokies, who are really just environmentalists who reuse motor oil containers as water bottles, ally with the Maynord-ites in a standoff with the prepsters. The two sides are lined up, cheating outward in that classic arrangement, and suddenly a big vokie bursts into “Ave Maria” with angelic grace. Surreal flourishes like that set comedies apart. “The Great Traveler’s Road” is truly solid Unsupervised. It’s just that solid doesn’t exactly promote the impassioned defenses this show could use.
- Joel has something to say to the asshole rich kids after they mock him. “Yo, do me a favor: Have a great frickin’ day.”
- Another delightful absurdity: The St. Milt’s kids wear shirts emblazoned with their fire-breathing stallion mascot that whinnies at the click of a button.
- The final lesson of “The Great Traveler’s Road” is another good one. Pornography: “That’s one custom everyone shares.”