This one's just plain fun.
There are episodes of "Cupid" that are more insightful about relationships, or have magical moments, or emotionally powerful ones. "Meat Market" has some sprinkles of all that, but mostly what it's about is a balls-out, raunchy, joke-filled drunken good time. Seems about right for a Halloween episode, no?
So it is, in fact, Halloween, which Claire declares the worst day of the year to be single after New Year's Eve. (You would think Valentine's Day would come up, especially with its Cupidian elements, but whatever.) The members of Claire's singles group, all feeling demoralized from their lack of success (every person who finds someone doesn't come back, after all), don't want to go out on the night, but Trevor goads them into it in typical fashion, with a speech that's sort of like Henry V's St. Crispin's Day address if Henry happened to throw in a line like "Hey, hey, hey, you wouldn't know a good time if it gave you a reacharound." (For more on how that line, plus a few other all-time dirtiest "Cupid" zingers made it past the censors, look below to Rob Remembers.)
Trevor and Champ team up with three guys from the group -- guitar-playing sports fan Mike, oily lounge guy Nick and diminutive Laurence -- to dress up as a half-assed version of the Village People to attend a meat market at a warehouse called, appropriately, Gomorrah's. (As a reminder of who the regulars on the show are and who are the day players, Trevor gets to be the cop and Champ gets to be the construction worker, while the other three look dorky as the cowboy, the Indian and... a milkman. More on that below.) None of the guys save Trevor wants to be there, and to keep them from playing wallflower or, worse, leaving, he throws some reverse psychology at them, enlisting them in a game to see who can collect the most rejections. As any good relationship guru knows, the hardest part about finding love is just putting yourself out there, and by creating a scenario where the guys not only don't fear rejection, but embrace it, Trevor puts all four of them in situations where they at least have a chance of getting lucky, even though they don't realize that's what he's doing.
The guys' respective methods of getting rejected are all funny -- Mike's spastic dance makes me laugh no matter how many times I see it -- and provides a good showcase for some of the less-utilized members of the show's extended family. Champ, because he looks the way he does, has the hardest time getting actual rejections (though I like the moment where he games the other guys by asking a girl if she can explain Stansilavski to him), and eventually winds up in a situation where he has to choose between his libido and his artistic standards. (A woman who thinks Quentin Tarantino's an underrated actor? Really? The horror!) Laurence, the most reluctant meat marketer, gets a case of dance fever with a woman in a cat lady costume who, in the light of day, turns out to be fellow singles grouper Tina, who had been taunting him at the previous meeting. (Maybe she needs to buy some eggs to throw at him.) Mike's the only one who actually has sex, but in a situation that's eerily, creepily prescient for the character Paul Adelstein now plays on "Private Practice." (Does the guy just bring his own handcuffs to the set at this point in his career?)
The one somewhat sad story -- and, from our 2008 standpoint, the most interesting -- has Nick's array of cliched pick-up lines turn out to amuse a woman in a bumblebee costume named Heidi, who happens to be played by Adelstein's future co-star Kate Walsh, almost unrecognizable as a bohemian blonde instead of the carefully-coiffed redhead she is today. Even if I couldn't identify her by the voice, though, I think I would have figured it out in the moment where Heidi tries to encourage a sheepish Nick to dance, as Walsh uses the exact same gesture (fists together, eyebrows raised, grin enormous) that I've seen her use a few times as Addison Montgomery. (In particular, there's an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" where she gets the chief to dance that's like a mirror image.)
While the other guys' connections turn out to be as tawdry as you'd expect at a place like Gomorrah's, Nick seems to be really bonding with Heidi. He tells her the story of being left at the altar and how that made him more guarded around other women (and also led him to tune up the Camaro that she hated), and later she tells him a similar story about being dumped by the guy she thought she might marry after a pregnancy scare. After finishing the story, Heidi gives Nick the green light to kiss her, but he can't do it, instead kissing her hand and looking very unhappy with himself -- because, as we learn when the guys all reunite at Taggerty's to swap war stories, the Camaro story is completely made-up, a line he uses on women all the time to make himself seem more vulnerable (and desirable). Confronted by a nice girl who has a genuine version of his made-up story, all he could do was slink away and feel sorry for himself. (Rob Thomas confirms that the Camaro story was purely BS; more below in Rob Remembers.)
As convenience/contrivance would have it, Claire's also at Gomorrah's, as a "celebrity judge" for the costume contest (does anyone from Chicago know if the other judges are local celebs I didn't recognize, or just extras?) and inadvertently baits Trevor into fixing her up with her first significant love interest of the series: newspaper boss-turned-colleage Alex DeMouy.
Any amateur psychologist, let alone a well-credentialed professional like Claire, should be able to see that Trevor, even though he doesn't realize it, is falling madly in love with Claire, and sends Alex at Claire to prove a point. If she's such a killjoy that she can't have fun at a bacchanalia like this, if she's a relationship expert who preaches about finding good on paper matches but then can't click with a guy who seems so ideal for her (which is what Trevor assumes will happen), then maybe it's time for her to start questioning some of her fundamental assumptions. Assumptions like, "Is my favorite patient crazy, or is he really a love god?" or "Does Trevor annoy me, or do I want to tear all his clothes off and make crazy crazy love with him?" Trevor, because he's in denial, is only going for the first of those two, but the look on his face when he shows up outside her apartment the next morning and sees that she and Alex hit it off makes it pretty clear that deep down, he wishes for the animal love, too.
In between setting up the guys to succeed through failure and making a match he doesn't really want to make between Claire and Alex, Trevor helps lovestruck runaway teen Jill, played by Anna Chlumsky in between her Vada Sultenfuss and Liz Lemler days. The story doesn't feel all that necessary to this episode, either thematically (though Halloween is the reason they meet in the first place, and the reason he's able to save her from getting slashed by the neighborhood mohel) or as filler (there was no doubt lots more material to be mined in the rejection contest) but Piven proves he can trade barbs with a much younger, non-romantic female opponent just as well as he can with Paula Marshall.
And, once again, it's time for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator Rob Thomas (who, before the strike began, was working on a remake for ABC, and hopefully will continue to whenever the strike ends) offers a behind the scenes look at each episode:
I got a couple things in this episode past the censors. Certainly the "You guys wouldn't know a good time if it gave you a reach-around" was one that surprised me. The other one was a bit more clever. Later, Trevor is trying to convince the guys not to head home and drown their sorrows with Cinemax.Some other thoughts on "Meat Market":
The line was, "How about tonight we try for some flesh-and-bone women."
Jeremy and I discussed the line, and with a bit of a pause in the delivery, it became, "How about tonight we try for some flesh. And bone women."
When we were preparing for the episode, the director wanted so many changes in the script that I began to think he simply "didn't get it." I actually flew to Chicago for the production of this episode, because I didn't trust him with the material. Once we got in the same room, I discovered we really were on the same page. The director, Michael Fields, ended up doing a bunch of Veronica Mars for me including some of our best episodes. It was an extremely expensive episode. We shot for three nights with 100 extras in full costumes, but it ended up working out.
The episode also featured Anna Clumsky of MY GIRL fame. She was fantastic. I was so pleased this year when I saw her pop up on an episode of 30 Rock.
At the end of the episode, Nick is feeling terrible about the "big lie" he told the Kate Walsh character. When he says he won't go out with her because she's not his type, he's suggesting she's a sweet and honest -- a "nice"girl. He won't go out with her again, because he's not the type who does well with "nice girls."
Jeremy and I both wanted to get more work for the group guys. I think Jeremy was exhausted from memorizing seven pages of very wordy material each day, and he wanted the load shared a bit more. I also liked the scenes with the singles group guys. I just thought they generally played well. I love Paul Edelstein's rejection dance.
The Rejection Game was a game that my buddies and I would play in our college days. Go to dance club and see who could get shot down the most. You'd intentionally tap a girl on a shoulder who was making out with a guy on a couch and ask her to dance. These are the things we found funny in those days. Naturally, this involved a high intake of alcohol, but you'd frequently find someone who found you charming.
Another funny note about the episode. That English-accented voice coming out of the closet "Sorry, Luv" in the scene where Paul Edelstein takes his "date" home is Daran Norris -- Cliff McCormack on Veronica Mars, Spotswood in Team America.
-I have checked and checked on line and can find no evidence supporting Mike's theory that the original Village People lineup included a milkman. Anyone with a better memory of the '70s care to confirm or deny?
-I know bartenders and bouncers don't work every single night of the week, but every now and then I wonder how Trevor and Champ are able to be off on various nocturnal adventures when you'd expect them to be at Taggerty's -- especially on a big party night like Halloween. Or would a hopping urban bar like Taggerty's close down on Halloween? The place was sure deserted when Trevor brought Jill there for some food.
-Those of you who read the script excerpt from the pilot episode's opening scenes will recognize the discussion at the start of the singles group meeting where Nick complains about how hard it is to ask a woman to dance. That happens all the time in episodic TV, especially on a formula-driven show like this; if a line or scene gets cut for time in one episode, it can always be refashioned down the road.
-I love how thoroughly dumb they make Champ's woman. Not only does she love Tarantino, thespian, but when Champ explains that he did an audience response commercial for "Sphere," she asks what Sam Jackson was like.
-I haven't done a Lines of the Week feature the way I do for "The Wire," but this episode in particular was so damn quotable that I'm gonna throw out a few of my favorites:
"Oh, you thought this is where the Saul Bellow book signing is. That's a common mistake." -TrevorComing up on Friday: One of the series' lightest episodes is followed by one of its darkest, "Pick-Up Schticks," which you can watch here, here, here, here and here.
"Check the album covers! In the early days, one of them was a milkman!" -Mike
"I want you to get out there and party like it's 1999." -Trevor
"Party like it's two months from now?" -Mike
"I am the Chocolate Lover from Planet Funktron. You will be my mistress of dance." -Champ
"Okie-dokie." -smitten woman
"You're a dead ringer for my mom. Wanna boogie?" -Mike
"Do you think the Counting Crows are derivative neo-hippie self-indulgent hacks, providing a lifetstyle soundtrack for annoying, self-aware yuppies in training?" -Trevor seeing if Alex is a good match for Claire
"You played that reckless rookie who got shot because of his disrespect for protocol!" -woman discussing Champ's "Sunset & Vaughn" guest spot (from "The Linguist")
"I don't know about the rest of them guys, but the cowboy was a straight shooter!" -Nick on The Village People
What did everybody else think?