Maybe it's because I was up for twenty four hours of trainwreckery yesterday and am basically just eyes and the R-brain today, or maybe it's just Stockholm Syndrome finally setting in, but I thought all three of last night's shows took a big jump.
Yes, even Manhattan Love Story.
All three episodes really deserve their own post, but I'm already super late, and as mentioned my mental capacity right now is somewhere between "drunk toddler" and "Courtney Love" ("drunk toddler" is the best case scenario, for those who don't know who Courtney Love is), so here's all three pleasant surprises in as much detail as I can manage.
Don't get me wrong; Manhattan Love Story is still bad. But it's so much less bad! I mean, it's still pretty damn bad, but I actually smiled! Twice! Sure, between this weak fall lineup in general and the war crimes that were Manhattan Love Story's first few episodes specifically, we're grading on a sumo-sized curve here, but still; progress. The character work took the biggest jump, as MLS finally tricked us into relating to and/or caring about its two leads by making them extremely, extremely vulnerable and pathetic. It's an old writing trick, but it almost always works, and it let these two generally self-obsessed cutouts show a little range, depth, and personality. Even with a by-the-books plot line and telegraphed punchlines, that goes a long way towards tolerable.
Even more impressive, for the first time ever MLS got some mileage out of its previously execrable supporting cast in a legitimately (well, borderline legitimately) good B story. Kurt Fuller remains woefully underutilized (he gets all of one line this week), the writing has miles on miles on lightyears to go before it's actually, you know, something I'd watch if I wasn't reviewing it, but none of that takes away from the fact that I didn't contemplate either homicide or suicide once during this week's episode, and for MLS, that's a big time win. Best case scenario, this is the turning point where the show figures itself out and slowly becomes- dare I say it? - good. Worst case, this is just a speed bump on the highway to Hell (apologies to AC/DC). Either way, if you have to watch an episode of MLS for some reason (maybe you lost a bet?), this'd be the one.
Selfie improved by just about as much as MLS did, but since Selfie was starting from "mediocre" instead of "cruel and unusual punishment," that means that this week's episode was the funniest episode so far of any of the eight shows I've been reviewing. Selfie has done something of a tonal about face, steering away from the moralism of the pilot in favor of a very 30 Rock live action cartoon style, but you know what? It works. The joke writing made huge strides this week, and the supporting cast (plus the special guest star your man could smell like) got a lot more to do, and we leave the episode with a better feel for literally every character. Mostly, though, the most growth came in the form of an improved comic sensibility; the show's characters have been strong all along, but now that they have funny things to say and do they're excellent, whether it's Eliza's horrifying list of weekend plans, a crying child's resemblance to Eddie Murphy, or John Cho reluctantly rocking out to K-Pop. Very strong episode, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Finally, Marry Me this week felt a lot more like an episode of Happy Endings than it did like the pilot, and this is all good news. The characters all came into their own, particularly Gemberling's Gil in his quest for buffet residency and Sarah Wright's Denna in her increasingly tragic pursuit of youth. Casey Wilson's plot line felt like it a repurposed Elisha Cuthbert/Alex plot, and it worked just fine as a Happy Endings throwback, but I'm curious to see if the show can survive that kind of anarchic tone long-term. It probably can- the cast is extremely strong- but it's a riskier path than relying on more conventionally human/believable shenanigans.
Overall, three pleasant surprises this week, as both Selfie and Marry Me turned in episodes I can actually recommend watching (and in Selfie's case, strongly recommend) while Manhattan Love Story graduated from being the sitcom equivalent of inoperable brain cancer to the sitcom equivalent of treatable prostate cancer. Hopefully the chemo works, but only time will tell, and it's gonna look pretty goofy in the meantime.