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

Unsupervised: “Youngbloods”

Illustration for article titled Unsupervised: “Youngbloods”

There are a lot of moving parts on Unsupervised—like its tangled ball of themes or its setting, which is the geographic equivalent of used JNCO shorts—but when it comes down to it, the show is just plain funny. It satisfies on the most basic level of television, wringing a bunch of laughs out of a half-hour of diverting entertainment. “Youngbloods” is a particularly assured episode, packed yet relaxed and not afraid to show you its weird side, compounding the usual gags and banter with some serious absurdity. Megan starts hanging out with drug dealers, Coach Durham’s still living in his car, Darius doesn’t (know how to?) brush his own teeth. And we get plenty of Principal Stark, who used to be “young and boisterous and… alive” and now falls asleep in the middle of conversations. What more could you want?

There is more, of course, as four subplots weave in and out of each other with expert timing. The kids are after fake IDs this week, because Gary and Joel want to give blood but they’re too young and Darius wants to buy condoms so he can sleep with his babysitter. Yes, somehow the smart one doesn’t know he can buy condoms at any age or that they distribute them free outside Principal Stark’s office; it’s part of a theme this week that mines comedy from the holes in Darius’ common sense. Meanwhile Megan, tagging along purely as part of the buddy system, discovers that Dirt (her one-time date), fake ID entrepreneur Jojo (her inexplicable crush), and their friend Donny (perpetually dancing on ecstasy in the corner), are actually nice guys underneath the grody behavior and Dirt’s ’90s-boy-band face, voice, and haircut. Naturally, she starts hanging out with them. While this is happening, Principal Stark begins a nightmarish scheme concocted by Coach Durham to emancipate Gary and Joel so Ms. Petters the science teacher can transfuse the young students’ blood into the old teachers’ bodies, rejuvenating their decaying corpses. Naturally, Ms. Petters is only in it for the company. It all builds to this glorious climactic melee at Dirt’s when the cops show up, but only the legal adults get arrested. The minors, sans Danielle for some reason, end up in Principal Stark’s office, where she makes a very generous offer to excuse their punishment in exchange for blood donations. Gary and Joel are, as always, more than happy to comply, but at last Ms. Petters has a crisis of conscience, restoring everything to the status quo like a good, little comedy.

“Youngbloods” is a great example of what I mean when I say Unsupervised is a well-established character comedy. Megan’s story isn’t that funny on its own, but because of what we know about her—specifically that she’s a type-A, goodie-goodie misfortune magnet with a crush on bad boy Jojo—it’s delightful to see her get to know Dirt and extra funny in a Book of Job kind of way when a pet monkey pees on her back at a place she only visits grudgingly. The same goes for Darius with the good grades and the uptight parents. Finding out that he has a babysitter and that she brushes his teeth is a good joke on its own, but it’s enriched by—and enriches—our understanding of Darius’ character and home life. Even the less-developed characters like Danielle and Jojo and Russ are so pitch-perfect now that they need no introduction, and “Youngbloods” helps reveal how much of a pose Danielle’s been putting on this year, as her boobs have launched her into a social group with which she’s not as comfortable as she seems. Principal Stark still has the highest batting average for me, and I’m still chuckling about how conflicted she is over Rusty’s blood before passing on it. Plots this strange thrive in animation, and because Unsupervised is a grounded show that nevertheless has time for Christina’s five-string bikini and Sid’s Australian back-story, this subplot augments the harmony instead of destroying it, like adding a special sauce to a burger that was perfectly good already. I haven’t even mentioned Gary and Joel, righteously incensed that they’re too young to save lives via blood donation. I especially loved Joel’s running, wrong-headed list of things that minors aren’t allowed to do, like dancing.

As always, I’m most impressed by the show’s ongoing examination of its title. This week we get a new perspective on the concept of these kids being unsupervised through Dirt’s emancipation. He never finished school and now runs a black market out of his house, so he may not be the best role model for our heroes. But it’s hard to imagine legal emancipation would change much for Gary and Joel, who are prone to bizarre flights but who are also capable of both fending for themselves and latching onto civic institutions like their lives depend on it. It’s also pleasantly surprising to see legal documents binding Gary to Carol after all, considering she’s not biologically related to him and she doesn’t seem to like him nearly as much as he likes her. It illuminates something that’s been present but undefined for me for a while: It’s not just the kids that are unsupervised—the adults are failing them, by which I mean nobody is double-checking that Carol is parenting or Principal Stark is running a safe, satisfactory educational institution. Unsupervised definitely has the capacity to go dark, so it’s hard to know how much of the welfare-check excuse is purely comedic, but I’ll never complain about learning more about the parental situations on the show. Speaking of which, Darius is a freshman and his parents don’t think he’s up to babysitting his siblings, and Russ longs for the tender embrace of a parental figure. No word on what Megan’s mom thinks about her daughter’s desire to attend a rave, but I think we all know she’d release Megan from any curfew and strongly hint that experimentation is a natural part of youth.

Stray observations:

  • Unsupervised is doing so much so well it’s definitely operating in the A-range. What a grower.
  • I don’t think I’ve mentioned how much I love the character designs before, but I do. Joel is adorable with his baby face and puffy cheeks, and Gary looks like puberty incarnate. (I can smell the B.O. from here.) And Russ! I know I’ve mentioned his preternatural dirtiness before, but what a perfectly drawn character.
  • As sight gags go, Rose pouring that gigantic box of condoms into the bowl is pretty good. So is Donny’s dancing. And the look on Jojo’s face after inhaling all that computer cleaner.
  • Gary’s pitch gets off to a great start: “Carol, I never asked you for much. Only to raise a boy who wasn’t yours from a man who left you to live under a porch.”