He Lives: True Detective Season Two, Episode Three

I had a sad realization this week. Covering True Detective has forced me to pay closer attention to it than anything I’m actually enjoying on TV right now. Like Elise, it’s rare that I watch TV without multitasking. I spend most of UnREAL browsing Hinge despite the fact that I’m truly invested in what’s happening onscreen. But because I have to take effing notes on this trainwreck, I can tell you more details about Colin Farrell’s mustache than names of contestants in So You Think You Can Dance’s Top Twenty. You’re all welcome.

Anyway. Let’s say what up to our buddies.

Detective Ray Velcoro

Yup, not dead. DOI EVERYONE. Of course he’s alive. If this season of True D has proved anything, it’s that the long shadow of season one has made it scary for the show to take risks.

Besides being alive, Velcoro is sort of boring this week. He has daddy issues, and he refers to weed as “grass,” which, no. If the character was black, Pizzolatto would probably have him call it a “jazz cigarette,” while playing the trumpet.

Sidenote: Has Farrell been wearing a bolo tie this whole time? (A quick image search says: “Yes.”)

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Frank Semyon

“It’s unnatural. Don’t feel right,” Semyon says upon failing to pop a boner in the IVF sample-collecting room. (Sorry, Red. You can take your v generous bj and scram.) Vaughn even sounds stilted dropping the subjects from his sentences. Please. For the love of McConaughey. Stop giving him these ridiculous lines. He cannot do them. He is doing a bad job.

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“I want to sex it up, but I’m so, so sad.”

One of Semyon’s toadies describes someone as “half anaconda, half great white” without irony. What?!? That sounds like exactly zero humans that exist.

Frank is impotent all over the map in this episode. He can’t get it up at the doctor’s, and he doesn’t have any pull with his old buddies from the underworld. Actually, the latter dynamic piqued my interest. He’s lost his cache from trying to go legit. When he needs his #squad, no one’s having it, and in his frustration, we see more of the Old Scary Frank. He certainly seems more at home threatening people, or pulling their teeth out, as it were. If his desperation leads to more of his inner thug shining through, then I’m all for it.

Detective Ani Bezzerides

Maybe it’s my unmitigated love of Rachel McAdams, but I’m coming around on her just a little. She’s a capable cop, perhaps the most capable of our motley crew. She and Velcoro are forming an unlikely bond, too. It’s unclear how genuine it is, but even a fake connection between the two is a relief.

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She has a touch of “Be Like a Man to Be an Interesting Woman” Syndrome, but that might be the best we can hope for in a female on this show. She dumps Motocrossed without ceremony, and he’s the one that has a stereotypically-feminine meltdown. “You started this!” he exclaims incredulously after she tells him it’s done. Oh, buddy. You’ll learn in time to play it cool. And instead to express such sentiments to your closest fourteen friends via text.

Officer Paul Woodrugh

I KNEW HE WAS GAY, I KNEW IT I KNEW IT. And the gay hustler at the end is my favorite character in the entire season so far. Oh, look! A smile! And the heavens parted, and God said, “it was good.”

In case you haven’t heard, Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams are reportedly dating, combining two of the greatest Canadians exports into a hockey-playing, Drake-listening supercouple. When they’re driving together to the mayor’s gaudy mansion, all I can think is “THEY ARE FALLING IN LOVE RN, AND WE ARE WATCHING.” She backhandedly compliments his looks, and he smiles, and PROBABLY TAKES IT PERSONALLY AND CONTINUES ON THIS ROLLER COASTER JOURNEY OF HAPPINESS.

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[Insert heart-eyed cat emoji here.]

And if that’s the only good thing to come out of True Detective this season, I’ll take it.

—Alison

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We Get the World We Deserve: True Detective Season Two, Episode Two

Episode three of True Detective‘s season two airs tonight, so let’s catch up with our characters, shall we?

Frank Semyon

Episode two opens on Semyon philosophizing in the middle of the night to his wife. (So many redheads this season!) “It’s like everything is papier mache,” he pontificates to two water stains on the ceiling. Turns out his father left him locked in the basement with rats, and he’s bad with money! Coolcoolcool. I ask again, how did this guy get so powerful?

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Pizzolatto is clearly trying to lay his metaphor-laden language on Vaughn this season, but the actor can’t quite carry it off like McConaughey did. It was a novel part of Rust Cohle’s characterization, but now in season two, it’s a tool we’ve seen employed before (and more effectively, at that).

Officer Paul Woodrugh

OMG IS HE GOING TO FUCK HIS MOM? (Cool cold sore, lady.) She is v into it. They’re like the Darmodys of the SoCal trailer park world. Hopefully, it will remain subtext, unlike Boardwalk Empire BLECH.

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Is he going to turn out to be gay? I hope so, if only to semi-justify his offhand story of a “fag” at the bank. (Cool homophobia, bro.) But between that and his moody gay-prostitute-spying at the end of the episode, it also feels a little…obvious.

Detective Ray Velcoro

Update: he’s still working for the bad side, which now includes the shamelessly hammered mayor.

We meet his ex-wife, whom we’ve seen before as “Big Hair on Legs” in Rectify and Burning Love. She meets him in front of Buffalo Wild Wings (gimme that Asian Zing!) and demands that his visits with their son now be supervised because of his violent and inappropriate behavior. He is, somehow, shocked. America, on the other hand, is not.

In the car, he tries to joke around with Bezzerides about feminism, but since it’s the first humor we’ve seen all season, it doesn’t quite play.

He ends up back at Sad Bar USA with the scar-faced waitress. We will almost certainly see her naked before the end of the season.

Then someone in a bird mask shoots him at close range in a sex safehouse. It looks like this is also the place where Caspere (season two’s resident dead guy) got his dick shot off. It’s all very David Lynch. But there’s no way Colin Farrell dead, right? Structurally, we’ll lose all direct connection with Semyon, and he’ll die an almost irredeemable character. I’m not buying it.

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Detective Ani Bezzerides

Despite her pretentious High Horsing with her sex worker sister in the first episode, she’s very absorbed by her internet porn research for the case.

I do appreciate that she calls Velcoro out for being crooked in the same episode she receives the information. His silence, deciding whether or not to be honest with her, is much more interesting than her sitting on that knowledge until midway through the season.

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Nice e-cig, gf.

Let’s see what they get up to tonight!

Alison

Hard Pass: True Detective Season Two, Episode One

The further I get from Sunday night’s second season premiere of True Detective, the more my fog of confusion is burned off by “WTF?!?!” rage. The tone of the season two opener was grim, and it’s hard to see how the show will be able to escape the dreary world it’s built. The episode introduced us to four disparate main characters with little to no relationship to one another—so it’s fitting to present a character rundown in much the same way:

Detective Ray Velcoro

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Colin Farrell gives us his best Difficult Man, but instead of delivering the character in shades of gray, he’s a complete garbage person. Our friend the flashback teaches us that he was once a noble sheriff, but then his wife was beaten, raped, and impregnated with a ginger son of questionable paternity. Then, they got divorced. These days Velcoro spends his time getting lit with Vince Vaughn and beating the shit out of reporters while wearing a ski mask (a desperate callback to the meth-cooking masked man from season one, crying out “Remember last year? Remember how much you loved us? Let’s do that again.”).

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This script actively alienates us from Velcoro. He threatens to spank his chubby, victimized son in front of the kid’s classmates and stepfather. He uses brass knuckles to beat the crap out of a suburban dad and tells that guy’s kid to cut the bullying or else he’ll “come back and buttfuck [his] father with [his] mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.” He drinks himself into oblivion in the saddest bar in America, but then, Jimmy McNulty-style, miraculously drives himself to the crime scene where the episode ends. Frankly, this episode tried to buttfuck us all.

Detective Ani Bezzerides

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She has a couple things going for her. First of all, flawless haircut. If I had Rachel McAdams’ jawline, I’d go get it right now. She also does some kinky sex stuff (seemingly backdoor-related) with the guy from Motocrossed, fulfilling the dreams of early 2000s pre-teens everywhere.

BUT her full name is Antigone (whyyy), so named by her hippie guru father. A tip about a missing girl takes her and her partner to her dad’s “institute,” which is essentially a mansion/commune. It clearly will be relevant to the crime storyline this season, providing Ani with ample opportunity to work out her daddy issues on the clock. How convenient. Even more family problems: she completely slut shames her sister Athena (oy, no, I refuse) after busting the sexy webcam house where Athena works.

It pains me, but Ani is a textbook frigid bitch. Thank you, Nic Pizzolatto. We almost forgot that you’re halfway trying to make up for a whole season of television that used women solely as props for sex and violence. Pro tip: you’re not off to a great start. Oh, and she’s a drunk, too. Le sigh. I wanted so much better for you, Rache.

Officer Paul Woodrugh

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Oh, Taylor Kitsch. You so pretty. I remain unconvinced you’re not Tim Riggins IRL, and the Friday Night Lights people weren’t like “Well, we have to give you a different name in the show,” and you were like, “Ok, but it’s still just me, right?” and they were like, “Yes, just say whatever you want, and we’ll make the show around you.” You’ve got like four faces, and they’re all variations on a theme.

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I’m troubled, you see.

Just substitute Ruddrugh’s war crimes and impotence for Riggins’ daddy issues and alcoholism, and we’re in business. Also, he’s got a death wish: that helmetless motorcycle ride in the pitch-black genuinely scared me.

WWRD? What would Riggins do? Probably tell Paul to stop being a little bitch, but then secretly cry because he’s got a heart of gold. Texas forever.

Sidenote. This seems unfair, IMDB:

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Frank Semyon

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I totally zoned out during all Vince Vaughn’s parts, and I’m not rewatching this episode just to gather little nuggets of comedy gold for you monkeys. This is what I gathered: he’s a (former? attempting to be former?) mob boss. He and his wife are going to try IVF. He’s involved in a high-speed rail land development deal (zzzzzzzzz), but it’s not going well? He’s very insecure about his choice of venue for the big party. Vince, there’s no way you got to the top of the crime food chain or whatever by second guessing yourself. Fake it til you make it, Señor. But whatever. Do what you want. I don’t care about you at all because you were very boring.

Also, he supposedly helped Velcoro track down his ex-wife’s rapist back in the day, which is why the detective is so crooked now. He owes Semyon. But hello, everyone, Vaughn’s character has a weasle-y ginger crony that is 100% definitely rapist material. Calling it now: that guy is the father. YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST. [Note: I could not find a picture of the guy, but…just trust me.]

Welp, that wraps up the rundown. I got through each of the four leads without even mentioning what promises to be the dominant mystery of the season, which speaks volumes for the writing. I want it to get better. I really do. But even keeping in mind my high expectations, season two is like a flat (circle? heh) version of season one. Regardless, 100% I will be hatewatching the rest of the season. I’m nothing if not a masochist.

—Alison

Clear as Day

As a gal with thirteen years of Catholic education under my belt, I strongly believe that the best application of modern religion is that which brings the most good into the world while interfering least in others’ choices. If HBO’s most recent documentary Going Clear is to be believed, Scientology does precisely the opposite.

Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s investigative book of the same name, features interviews with former members of the Church, some of whom left as recently as 2013. The previous practitioners had strong reasons for their entrée into the church. Early levels of Scientology employ techniques similar to psychology, and this pseudo-therapy provided immense relief and support in their time of need. Makes complete sense. But, as individuals progress toward Clear status (Scientology’s equivalent of being “saved”), the Church starts to use members’ confessions as blackmail and introduces a creation myth involving Xenu and disembodied alien spirits, so…

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The survivors detail their gradual disillusionment in the face of negativity, paranoia, and abuse. There are terrible stories from the days of founder L. Ron Hubbard—but the real horrors start with the reign of current Chairman, David Miscavige. The man allegedly beat up on lower and upper level officers of the church—those he supposedly most trusted. He reportedly held members captive in a prison camp of his own design, and then forced them into a twisted game of musical chairs. The prisoners were so far into brainwash territory they willingly played so they could be allowed to stay locked up, rather than leave the Church.

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Those hoping for a deeper dive into Scientology’s celebrities may be disappointed, though both John Travolta and Tom Cruise’s involvement are addressed. Miscavige and Cruise come off as hilariously obsessed with each other.

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Yeah, we’re mugging, but we wish it was cool for us to hold hands.

Producing this film is a risk for HBO—just as publishing the book was a risk for Lawrence Wright.  Scientology has been known to personally attack critics of the institution. Marty Rathbun, a former senior executive of the church, and his now-wife were harassed for years by camera-wielding Scientologists. When the IRS tried to collect a billion dollar back tax from the church, members sued individual employees of the government agency. The IRS was so overwhelmed by the suits, they forgave the debt, and declared Scientology a religion. THEY BULLIED THE FUCKING IRS FOR TAX-EXAMPT STATUS. Honestly, I’m sort of nervous this post will put on some sort of watch list, but we’d probably need more readers for that.

Biggest takeaway from the film? SCIENTOLOGY IS A CRAZY CULT, AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE YOU SHOULD PROBABLY REMOVE FROM YOUR CIRCLE OF ACQUAINTANCES. It’s too bad we’ll never be friends, Tom Cruise. I’d previously read Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman, so I was somewhat familiar a lot of the behind the scenes insanity already. The author attempts an objective view of the church, but it still comes off looking pretty bad for them. Highly recommend, if you’re looking for further reading.

Several celebrities, including national heroes Sarah Silverman and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, have come out in (minor) defense of Scientology, contending it’s no crazier than other religions.

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Catholicism asserts that we drink JESUS’ LITERAL BLOOD at Mass. So, fair enough. And while the more dramatic items of the doctrine never rang true for me in my religious education, I still spent most of my youth and teens buying into a belief system that I can no longer reconcile. I can throw the word “crazy” around all I want in reference to Scientology, but under only slightly different circumstances, I could have been the crazy one.

You can check out Going Clear on HBO or HBOGo.

—Alison

Growing Pains

Watching GIRLS with one’s father is very strange. Particularly if much of the episode deals with the uncomfortable reality of a newly-uncloseted dad, and a twentysomething daughter trying to cope. My dad isn’t gay (I asked him, just to be sure). That’s not awkward. The tough moments are those like the recent restaurant confrontation between Hannah and her father, where she admonishes Tad for his immaturity—and in response, he dares her to produce her wallet as the bill arrives. Yeesh.

I am approaching a birthday that could well mark the end of my mid-twenties. Well, I probably have one year left before I cross into “late”—it’s kind of a judgment call. Regardless—I do not foresee a time in the next year or so when I will bring anything other than my ID (with which to order fancy drinks that I could not usually afford) to dinner with my parents. I can mock them all I want about their insistence upon arguing with Google Maps and their constant need to redecorate. The reality is, they are grown-ups. I am not. Even though the numbers tell a different story.

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This is typical of my generation. Man, do I hate talking about my generation. From what I can tell, nothing good comes of lumping oneself in with all people born within a certain span of years. As the group grows up, it is uniformly resented (I’m looking at you, Baby Boomers), and accused of self-absorption, shortsightedness and laziness. I get it: my job prospects are doomed. My children will be born onto an imploding planet. This is fate: I can’t choose when I was born, and I can’t change my (terrible) circumstances. I’m stuck—but also welcome to the digital age, so I had better move really, really fast anyway.

You’ve heard this kind of thing before. Back to GIRLS.

This past Sunday, the season four finale aired on HBO. It’s been four seasons, you ask? Yes, it has! For casual viewers like my dad, who have only seen snippets of the show (another one of his favorite moments being Hannah’s declaration to her parents, “You said it was cheaper for YOU if I was on the family plan!”), it’s easy to recap each character’s trajectory during a quick commercial break. Because the primary foursome, like myself and Alison and our similarly-aged readers, seem to be frozen in time. Things happen to them, but nothing ever seems to change.

GIRLS takes this the extreme, following four young women so totally and ludicrously immobile that nobody cares what happens to them. They are, however, amusing to watch—as overblown stand-ins for our own paralyzing anxieties.

I still like GIRLS—but have noticed recently that Lena Dunham’s world reflects less upon my own. Many friends of mine are ready to move forward. Not toward the Capital F Future (parents still treat, and help us with our taxes), but they are considering real-life career changes, cross-country moves. Graduate school. Marriage.

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So I’m starting to wonder where GIRLS can go, and how much longer I will continue to watch. Even a glimpse into the six-months-from-now future isn’t much of a hook – is a new relationship all it takes to fix the broken people? How much longer can I laugh along with characters who refuse to acknowledge reality, instead of simply being victim to it? It’s getting a little old. You know?

–Elise

“Nobody Tells The Whole Truth”

The first TV series Alison and I binge-watched: Veronica Mars. Then Damages, Six Feet UnderThe West Wing. Now, though we live apart, there isn’t much that at least one of us is not watching, reading about, encouraging or discouraging the other to get into.

So, when I visited Alison in Chicago a few short weeks ago and we found ourselves with a few empty hours, a problem: what to watch while we chatted, drank wine and were generally adorable together in-person? Oh hey, I heard that Andrew Jarecki’s new HBO documentary miniseries The Jinx is pretty good! Cut to the two of us ignoring each other for a full hour, terrified, enthralled and holding hands for comfort.

The Jinx follows the freaky and barely believable story of Robert Durst—wealthy since birth, young witness to his mother’s suicide, twisted and entitled as all get-out. Durst has been a high-profile suspect in three murder cases since the 1980s. As the series unfolds—a series Durst himself suggested be made, and cooperated fully to produce—it becomes clear: Durst totally killed those people, and has totally gotten away with it!

I won’t trouble you with the details of each case. Watch the series. The storytelling and primary storyteller, Robert Durst, are the draw–though he doesn’t appear on-camera until the second episode. Durst is a master manipulator, made powerful because he completely believes he is innocent. The dude is bloody, brilliant, sociopathic and deluded. He blinks constantly on-camera and contorts his arms and torso for emphasis. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He speaks in a monotone, precise and without emotion. He is mesmerizing.

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The miniseries is artful, cutting between real-life footage and interviews (many with Durst himself) and re-imaginings of events as they are described by the probable killer, friends and family of his victims, experts, lawyers and jurors. Shots linger on locations—long, dusky shots of the lake house where first wife Kathy Durst was last seen alive, and the creepy apartment where unfortunate curmudgeon Morris Black was killed and dismembered. Jarecki layers in interviews he himself conducted with the real-life Dexter, where both are beautifully lit, clean and well-dressed. The production design is formal, based in fact but slightly fantastical and always creepy. This is Durst’s world. Here, he controls all of us.

“I felt like he was speaking from the heart,” one juror admits, after she and eleven of her tragically naïve peers acquit Durst of the Black murder in 2003. WHAT HEART?! asked the rest of the world, completely flabbergasted. Sadly, I get it. Durst is almost certainly a huge murderer. But watching him talk about the “love of his life” Kathy and “best friend” Morris is compelling, if not uncomfortably impressive. I truly believe his sheer force of will could will lies into truth.

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The “happy couple,” Robert and Kathy Durst

Alison and I love soap opera-style, crazy serial-killer television in the style of The Fall, Luther, The Killing, etc. The Jinx is REAL LIFE: a troubled, sheltered young man grows into a (alleged!) maniac in need of much therapy who (allegedly!) kills a bunch of people. That’s scary enough—then add the reality of the series itself, which exists as a testament to our willingness to ignore fact because of the merest whisper of doubt.

That’s what Jarecki’s re-enactments do. The closed-door shots of houses and apartments and boats and random limbs call into question our certainty—because we can never really know what we can’t see. The picture is fractured and shadowy and spooky.

In the final minute of the fourth episode, we see a Durst-Jarecki interview break for a few minutes. Durst sips water, his mic still hot. He mumbles to himself, over and over again: “I did not knowingly and purposefully lie. I did not knowingly and purposefully lie. I made…mistakes…”

Then his lawyer walks into the frame and, in effect, tells him to shut up.

Durst’s story has lived in the public eye for many years. He’s still around—soliciting reporters and documentary-makers for the chance to speak his piece. This guy doesn’t care about setting the record straight. He cares about hearing his voice out loud, convincing himself, and making our world into the one he lives in. He could probably do it, too. So I kind of wish this series didn’t exist—but at the same time, can’t. Stop. Watching.

The Jinx airs Sunday nights on HBO, 8pm ET.

–Elise

Happily Ever After?

College flashback.

I’m in my early twenties, with a group of girls late at night, talking about monogamy, marriage and lifelong commitment—all in the context of our very limited experience, and our vague notions of what a real-world relationship (outside the confines of a class schedule and financial dependency) must look like.

Certain absolutes are proposed, adjudicated, adopted, rejected:

I would never stay with a guy who cheated on me.

I would never cheat.

I’m won’t let some guy treat me that way.

I’m definitely getting married.

No way am I getting married.

I’m not having kids.

I cannot sleep with one person for the rest of my life. Why am I even expected to?! That’s anti-feminist!

In my experience, growing up and trying with every ounce of firepower you’ve got to make a home for yourself blows absolutes out of the water. I’ve found myself willing to compromise for men who weren’t worth it, and pinning all my hopes on non-starter guys—perfectly nice boys who promised me nothing, except in my imagination. But my imagination was so vivid! And I’m so great, and it’s not like I want to get married, and why are you so scared of labels, and who really cares if you’re not ready, not ready for WHAT exactly, I don’t have my shit figured out either, okay?

The fantasy of couplehood is wonderfully delicious. It sustains you in those terrible in-between years, when you’re not totally sure what you want, but know what sucks. But finding “the one” will never be the really interesting, complicated story. The good stuff (or, the horrendously painful but often fulfilling stuff) is what comes after all that.

Recently, a great many writers, producers and filmmakers have gone there, exploring the cracks between two people after they’ve come together (which was, in fact, the easy part). Even more surprising, these movies, books and television shows have risen to the top of critic’s lists and Netflix queues alike: Boyhood, Married, Gone Girl—and, of course, Into The Woods.

Also, new from the Duplass brothers, and rounding out HBO’s comedy-centric lineup this season: Togetherness.

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This is marriage (apparently). Beautifully and horrendously intimate, governed by routine (the pilot showcases the Pierson’s Sunday Family Day at the beach), exhausting and kind of dull. Against all of these forces—add also kids, job, mortgage, a best friend who’s falling apart and a sister who’s losing her marbles—how can a relationship survive? Aren’t the odds far worse for these two than for, say, two flighty twentysomethings burdened only with commitment issues?

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What is happening here?!

The pilot lays the groundwork, as most pilots do, by introducing us to our characters of interest: Brett and Michelle Pierson, Tina (Michelle’s sister) and Alex (Brett’s best buddy). That’s it: the universe is small–and it works.

The first thirty minutes of the series is composed of small failures and small victories, negotiated by Brett and Michelle with a few choice glances and headshakes. Everything is quiet, understated, and circumscribed by the very real limitations of a shared life: fewer hours of sleep, fewer words for your significant other, and less time for yourself. All these two want is one date night per week, with the promise of frozen yogurt before falling into bed (and maybe a chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey to get their blood boiling).

We’ve got hints at the conflicts that will guide the season—the Pierson’s inexplicable sexlessness, Tina’s love life, Alex’s uncertain future. In some ways, the still lonely, still confused Tina and Alex represent the pre-commitment, college-type faction: hanging on to unreasonable expectations for themselves and for everyone surrounding them. Their storyline culminates in a pretty awesome scene, in which they TP Tina’s sort-of-not-really boyfriend’s house. Tellingly, the boring marrieds stay in the car, on lookout—and somehow, Michelle and Brett’s quiet looking-on is more fraught and way scarier than the actual crime taking place a few yards away.

These are real people, and they love each other—but that doesn’t fix everything. And I’ll keep watching, if only to figure out what that means. Because that could totally be me, one day.

–Elise