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

Unsupervised: “The Magic Of Science”

Illustration for article titled Unsupervised: “The Magic Of Science”

Walton Goggins! Not to be purely fanboyish or anything, but I like this late FX synergy. If the man behind Boyd Crowder couldn’t play Ray’s brother on Archer’s Justified tribute, at least he gets to guest star here as Bruce Lindsay, goddamn psychic. “The Magic Of Science” is a low-key affair—only Megan has much at stake, and the show doesn’t really make much of the topical science/magic debate—and Goggins is weirdly perfect for it. In his live-action roles on The Shield or Justified, he may be coiled, but you know he can explode, and even in his quiet moments he’s making damn sure you’re seeing him sweat. Here in animated form, though, Goggins plays it as straight as possible. Bruce Lindsay isn’t a psychic hero who swoops in to save Gary and Joel. He’s a low-rent scammer who’s probably sleeping with Gary’s stepmom who shows up to defend his business and because he doesn’t have much else going on. He also has a big heart, which makes him right at home on Unsupervised.

For a show that started out all over the map, cheerfully going from a neighborhood house party to the school’s baseball team to some arson misadventure and back again, the last two episodes are remarkably consistent. They’re both built around school sitcom standards (the school dance and the science fair), they both sidestep the wackiness of Gary’s neighborhood, and they both maintain a consistency with the pilot via Danielle. If I didn’t know better, I’d be looking forward to the school play they all sign up for next week.

Despite Gary and Joel having no power and not much else, Russ angling for more ridiculously self-destructive attention, and Darius suffering the pangs of an overattentive (from his perspective—we’re certainly not qualified to judge that yet) mother, “The Magic Of Science” is really only tough on Megan. First best friend Danielle resumes friendship with Amy, an ex-best friend she had been fighting with, then Megan discovers the word “Firecrotch” written on her locker, and then Danielle and Amy laugh at her. Naturally, Megan goes on the warpath, and I had visions of Veronica Mars in my head watching Kristen Bell interrogate her classmates. When Megan punches Joel, saying, “I’m gonna find out who did this, and then I’m gonna go apeshit, so watch out,” I could not have been more excited, not only for the homage but for the new side of Megan. I highlighted Kristen Bell’s vocal performance way back in the pilot, and now we’re starting to see her stretch her legs. She lashes out, she goes Ahab-focused, she gets called out, she has a reconciliation. The funniest part is everyone else’s reaction, from the guys agreeing they’re afraid of her to Bruce saying she has a cold essence (Gary and Joel: “Nailed it”). I’m not moved, exactly, by Megan and Danielle discussing who said what and how to go forward, but it’s a well-done subplot. Megan brings this on herself, calling Danielle “Lilypad Nipples” behind her back. “I said it as a compliment!” she claims, but both girls seem relieved that their battle is both in the open and basically resolved.

Meanwhile Gary and Joel are playing sitcom parents to the unruly teen that is Gary’s stepmom Carol, and speaking of killer vocal performances, Kaitlin Olson is a ninja popping up here and there (“I don’t gotta ask you shit. Your class sucks dick and you’re boring”). The ending doesn’t even bother hiding the obvious parental reversal going on, as Joel talks about how mad Carol will be when she finds out they sold her video game system to pay the power bill. “Well, maybe she’ll finally learn about responsibility,” says Gary. And David Hornsby draws out the closer beautifully for this low-key episode: “Yeah, she is a mess.” Right, there’s some stuff about joining the science fair to win the prize and recruiting psychic Walton Goggins to help, but that’s just a joke hanger, and you can see all that funny for yourself. Really the story comes down to this balance, how Gary and Joel play parents to the people that should be parenting them. Like last week, it’s not exactly a novel insight, but it is something I hadn’t noticed before, and it’s the latest support that Unsupervised isn’t just playing around down here but genuinely charting this territory. Unsupervised works more or less as pure hangout fun, but there’s also more to it, which makes even the less funny episodes time well spent.

Stray observations:

  • Russ is barely here this week, but he’s very funny. After the Megan kerfuffle we get back-to-back sight gags of Bruce trying to squeeze out the window after pretending to vanish via flash powder and Russ lying on the floor swollen from his allergy and covered in peanut butter. Joel asks if he ate the whole jar. “Yup, I’m sick as hell. Did I win?” That snippet is all you need to know about Russ’ character.
  • Another great line reading from Kristen Bell, after Megan gets mocked for asking Danielle to go to the doctor’s with her: “Uh, I want us not to get cervical cancer is what I want.” Megan and Joel have totally different approaches to life, but they’re both comically good at following the rules.
  • We do get to see Gary drawn with weird hair this week, but I miss the bigger stylistic quirks, like Megan’s pot hallucinations or Principal Stark getting lost in her fantasy. I hope Unsupervised takes more advantage of being animated before the season’s up.
  • My favorite detail from Bruce’s place: the nunchuks on the couch.
  • Joel thinks “Vitruvian Man” is called “Naked Guy On A Pentagram.”
  • I loved how shaken Principal Stark is after Bruce pretends to sum up her life: “Sometimes you brush up against a lamppost just to feel a touch.”
  • The science teacher Ms. Petters barely makes an impression, which is the whole point, but at least she recognizes the value of a miniature model city of the future with working plumbing. And though it’s an old joke, I still laughed at her near-monotone delivery of “Now let’s talk about endocytosis. That’s when things get pretty exciting.”
  • I leave you with the line of the night, courtesy of Bruce Lindsay: “I see a lot of myself in you two, and I’d like to punch your teacher hard in the mouth for what she said to you.”