Friday, February 01, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "End of an Eros"

We're into the second half of the season now. Spoilers for "End of an Eros," episode 9 of "Cupid," coming up just as soon as I figure out how to spell "cocktail"...

Back in the review for "Heaven... He's in Heaven," Rob Thomas talked about how he and the other writers quickly realized that the show worked best when it was just Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall up on screen, bantering with each other, and how they started writing more and more (and longer) versions of those scenes.

While I'm all in favor of as much Trevor/Claire banter as possible, the one downside to that approach is that it takes time away from our anthological Couple of the Week. That tricky balance is especially obvious in an episode like "End of an Eros," which features one of the funniest -- and easily the longest -- Trevor/Claire scenes so far, but also turns our Couple (especially the female half) into glorified walk-ons.

So this time our boy is Gabe, an Ivy League-educated cosmologist who's a member of the singles group. Gabe has grown so tired of cruel rejections and dates with women who aren't remotely compatible that he's decided to give up on the whole looking for love thing. And, as fate would have it, he announces his intentions at a group meeting attended by Claire's mentor, Dr. Wyatt, who happens to have written a book (which shares the episode's title) that declares romantic love to be "unnecessary." She's so convincing in her argument -- and Claire so unprepared to publicly disagree with her mentor, and Trevor such a poor champion of the concept since he claims to have never been in love himself -- that Gabe decides he's made the right choice, and even blows off "kneejerk Darwinian" Cynthia, a smart, attractive woman who gets turned on hearing him talk about the Big Bang Theory.

It's a nice first date scene, but the bulk of the episode is so devoted to how Trevor and Claire each freak out about the possibility that Dr. Wyatt is right and they're wrong about the value of love -- Claire especially, since Alex has just gotten an offer to leave Chicago to work for the New York Times -- that Gabe and, especially, Cynthia disappear for long stretches. Even after Claire and a very hungover Trevor (more on that brilliance in a moment) team up for the first time to bring a couple together and prove Wyatt wrong, there's so little time left in the episode that The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" has to do most of the heavy lifting in the scene where Gabe realizes he's been an idiot and would like a second chance. Things come together so quickly for those two that, as we watched it, my wife said, "Boy, that was easy."

Still, I wouldn't have wanted to sacrifice one second of the back-to-back scenes late in the episode where Trevor and Claire join forces. The first is one of the best, and gut-bustingly hilarious, visceral depictions of what it's like to have a bad hangover, as director Peter O'Fallon goes to town with the shaky-cam and various sound effects (seagulls, trains) to let us know just how awful Trevor feels after trying to drown his sorrows in many, many, many beers. Is it ironic that a scene in which the main character keeps complaining whenever anyone makes a loud noise provoked such loud whoops of laughter from me every five seconds or so?

The second scene -- one long conversation at Taggerty's as the two brainstorm a plan for bringing Gabe and Cynthia together -- is even better. As I watch these episodes, I often pause or rewind the scene when I want to transcribe a good joke to mention in the review, but this one was so packed with great one-liners for both characters that I gave up somewhere after Claire's "I am not doing anything that involves rewiring, or kidnapping, or night vision goggles" and Trevor's "Scully, are you suddenly believing in aliens?" As Rob says below, writer Michael Green did an amazing job with this scene, one of the most quotable of the entire series.

It's a really strong episode all around for both our leads. Before the hangover scene, Piven gets to play extremely drunk in an extremely funny way (not sure whether I laughed more at the grubby undershirt or the "Professor Toilet" line). Marshall, outside of the scenes with Piven, gets to do some nice emoting, whether it's her crying in the doorway after she kicks out Alex following the Times news, her tearing up again after he gets on the plane, or (my favorite) the look of joy on her face as she takes out the answering machine tape to save his message about not wanting to be outside a 20-mile radius of her. (One of the downsides of modern technology is that setting your voicemail to save a message for 30 days isn't quite as bold a statement.)

And now it's time for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and, hopefully, future) Rob Thomas offers a behind-the-scenes look at each episode:
These days television works on a six act structure, which, while it serves a network's advertising desires, does not necessarily reflect pure story structure. Back when I was doing Cupid, we wrote a brief cold open, then followed with four acts, roughly of equal length. I mention this because with "The End of an Eros," we attempted a one-scene act -- one act was comprised entirely of a singles group scene. That would be long in today's act structure. It was extraordinarily long ten years ago.

The writer, the very talented Michael Green (Heroes), talked me into this. He was very passionate and convincing that we could pull it off. The network was less convinced, but I went to the mat for my writer. In this particular case, the network was right to be worried. In the initial cut, the scene dragged. It was painful to sit through. (One of the reasons I was convinced to attempt the one-scene act was that I loved the writing, but even with quality words, I just kept wanting to get out of the scene.) Consequently, we cut the hell out of the finished product. It still feels a bit long to me, and it contains some strange lifts that don't entirely work.

All that said, when I show people who've never seen the show ten minutes as a sample, I'll tend to use the scenes in the third act of Trevor hungover and Trevor and Claire hatching the plan. They are the gold of the show, and Michael wrote the hell out of those bits.
Some other thoughts on "End of an Eros":

-Cynthia is played by Jennifer Crystal (aka Billy's daughter), while Gabe is played by Gary Hershberger, who to me will always be Matthew Gilardi from "Six Feet Under" (or, as Nate used to call him, "that greedy little Nazi f--k").

-One thing that doesn't really come up in all the Claire/Alex arguing are the reasons (or lack thereof) Claire would have to stay in Chicago. Yes, her practice is here and her group is here (as is Trevor, her meal ticket), but being a therapist -- and, more importantly, a relationship "expert" and author -- can be a portable job, and she was recently turned down for that prestigious local gig with Jeremy Piven's dad. I'm not saying she should have to uproot her life and career to follow Alex, but it only comes up in passing and is dismissed without discussion.

-Claire telling Trevor to can it with the jokes about Alex reminded me a lot of the Dr. Evil "Zip it!" runner in the second Austin Powers movie.

-Anyone care to guess what 11 things "The Odyssey" got wrong about Trevor's people, as he suggests to Champ?

-Does Trevor's ability to throw strikes at the bowling alley count as a clue to his godhood? It's not like he was doing it backwards, like the darts gag from the pilot.

Coming up on Tuesday: "Hung Jury," the first time -- but not the last -- that Rob Thomas would devote an episode of one of his shows to that old stand-by, the "12 Angry Men" pastiche. You can watch it here, here, here, here and here.

What did everybody else think?

11 comments:

audie said...

I honestly haven't cracked up so hard and for so long at a show in such a long time! I had to keep myself quiet or else i'd wake up my roommate. And I was soo into it that i was waving my hands and mouthing the word "NO!" when Trevor was coming near Claire and when Champ was going near him. I seriously thought he was going to throw up on them. Piven played drunk cupid really damn well. And I love how the bartender said that Cupid wasn't human with the ginormous amount of alcohol that he drank.

Yeah, I wish we spent more time with the couple. But I think the banter between Claire and Trevor was good substitute for it.

I'm just curious is Cynthia the same girl we saw in the library? At first I didn't think so but then she had her hair up.

I also loved the very cute moment when Claire grabbed the tape from her answering machine. I wish we could grab moving voice mail like that off our cellphones.

I wonder if there was something deeper behind Dr. Wyatt's new perspective? Like if there was a second meaning behind her "experience?" Maybe she had a bad divorce or was jilted or something? I think it would have been awesome if Cupid somehow found her true love match. Or perhaps they made an episode like that already?

I really liked her character though and how she challenged Trevor's and Claire's perceptions on love. I hope we see more of her

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm just curious is Cynthia the same girl we saw in the library? At first I didn't think so but then she had her hair up.

I'm pretty sure it was. In my notes, I wrote "JENNIFER CRYSTAL?" when we first got a decent glimpse of the girl in the stacks.

I wonder if there was something deeper behind Dr. Wyatt's new perspective? Like if there was a second meaning behind her "experience?" Maybe she had a bad divorce or was jilted or something

Not remembering much about this episode, I wondered if the episode was going to go there, and was glad it didn't. Blaming her theories on a bad break-up turns the character into a strawman villain, someone whose beliefs aren't rational but based on an intensely personal, singular experience. I like that the script let Dr. Wyatt forcefully argue her case; it made the moment when Trevor and Claire proved her wrong seem much sweeter.

R.A. Porter said...

I think Trevor's perfect game is another of those ambiguous hints to his godhood. What I really like about them, is that if his psychosis is deep enough, he might be able to do all those things simply because he believes he can.

I also got a bit giddy when Claire pulled the tape from her answering machine. It sucks that we don't use dilithium crystals or those things Bowie brought down to earth for data storage. No more cute moments like that.

I'm going to go ahead and show my age: when I was 13-years-old, Foreigner "4" was a great record. Damn it. Of course, unlike Foreigner, early Police continues to rock. I don't think there's anything wrong with basing the sum of one's romantic notions on Gordon Sumner's early output. Back when he used to be cool.

The couple of the week definitely got short shrift. I almost think they'd have been better off cutting Cynthia out entirely and giving more time to Gabe. That way they'd still have the high banter quotient. Instead of him finding magic at the planetarium, Claire and Trevor could just have put him back on the path to romance. No hookup, but it might have felt a little less rushed. Then again, really...Police.

And speaking of th planetarium, do we think that was Daran Norris or Jeremy's dad doing the narration at the start of the light show? Sounded a bit more like pops to me.

Jennifer said...

Man, I wasn't remotely interested in Couple of the Week. What interested me (and was never explained, really) was WHY Claire's mentor suddenly changed her mind. I can't help but think there had to be more behind it than just getting fed up with marriage counseling. That could have been interesting to play out for a few episodes.

What would have been a cool twist (and I actually thought this was going to happen at first) was if the mentor and Gabe the Star Guy had become a couple. Call me crazy, but that could have been more interesting. We barely even MEET Cynthia, I don't care if Gabe dates her.

Rand said...

I really liked this episode a lot, and it did show some immense humor. The Professor Toilet part was just awesome. The overall concept seemed a little cliche, but it also seemed like something that had to be done in this show, sooner or later.

I really would have liked to see more of the couple of the week though. The guy interested me and there was a hint that he was very into his work so I'd like to see a hint of balancing a new-found energy for work vs. looking for romance. The girl just seemed more or less like a blank slate to me.

But then again, Cupid as a show always tends to get rushed squishing together a lot of storylines, so I'm giving the show a lot of leeway in this regard.

Anthony Foglia said...

Good episode. I agree there wasn't enough time spent on the couple. I don't know where to take the time from though. Perhaps, the long singles group scene in the beginning. It didn't feel long, but if time needed to come from somewhere. Otherwise, it would have to be some of drunk/hungover/hatching-a-plan-with-Claire trilogy of scenes. All very entertaining, but again, if time needed to come from somewhere, cut it from the unnecessary stuff.

BTW, Alan, Gabe was a cosmogonist, not a cosmologist. (I first thought Rob Thomas had it wrong.) Gabe describes it as more of a philosophy/multicultural discipline studying creation stories (both mythical and scientific), but I'm not 100% sure that's the case. I've never heard a physicist use that term to describe themselves.

JKNOLA said...

Strike Survival Suggestion: I was pondering my disappointment at FNL this year and an idea popped into my head - why not do a recap of the greatest high school sports show ever, The White Shadow? The first two seasons are on DVD and the third never happened, as far as most fans are concerned. Not only would the recaps run concurrent with basketball season, but the show holds up shockingly well twenty years down the road...

filmcricket said...

Blaming her theories on a bad break-up turns the character into a strawman villain, someone whose beliefs aren't rational but based on an intensely personal, singular experience.

True, and I wish Claire's "professional" judgments were a little less obviously based on her own experience, too. Dr. Wyatt talks about the two of them looking at data and reaching a conclusion, but we've seen little evidence of that so far.

Claire was so clingy she drove the man of her dreams away, so she became the emotionally closed off rationalist she is today. That man's death upset her so much she lost a job because she couldn't keep her feelings out of her conversation with a patient. At the beginning of this episode, when everything's going great with Alex, she tells Dr. Wyatt that heartbreak is an acceptable risk compared to the wonderfulness of falling in love, but when Alex might be leaving, she gives Gabe the worst advice possible, which boils down to "If you never put yourself out there, you'll never get hurt."

And then, after she gets both some personal and professional validation, she decides she was wrong and wants to get Gabe and Cynthia together. (I can't remember if she goes to see Trevor before or after Alex leaves the message on her machine, but it's definitely after the woman in the park thanks Claire for saving her marriage.)

I will say, however, that aside from Piven's usual brilliance with the comedic stuff, the scene where Alex tells Claire about the job is exceptionally well-written and acted. I really believed in Claire's credentials while she was dissecting Alex's motives.

tracey said...

I have to say, when I'm picking an episode or two of Cupid to show friends, to give a feel for the show, this one isn't exactly at the top of my list. There are definitely some very good things in here -- Trevor drunk, Trevor with a hangover, the lengthy scene with Trevor and Claire working together to try to get Gabe and Cynthia together... but overall, it's really not one of the best.

I think Claire's mentor makes a very effective argument against romantic love, and I get that Claire and Trevor were blindsided by it and weren't able to refute her when it first came up, but I would have liked to see it more effectively refuted by the end. Claire makes a very good point near the end -- that we have these feelings, and a therapist's job is to help people deal with the feelings we have, not tell people to ignore them or repress them -- but I still feel like we're missing a justification for love here. I say that as a 40-year-old woman, single and happy and not looking, who watches my friends put themselves through hell trying to find love. Just yesterday I got a call from a friend who drove 30 miles across town to meet a guy at a restaurant, only to have him "need to use the restroom" and ditch her. And it's not the first time se and my friends have been through nonsense like that trying to find love. I would have liked to see some level of justification for that.

FilmCricket writes:
...when Alex might be leaving, she gives Gabe the worst advice possible, which boils down to "If you never put yourself out there, you'll never get hurt."

That's not quite how I read that line. My impression was that Claire was caught between her mentor, who is making a very effective argument that love is overrated, and a singles group member, who has already expressed the opinion that he has had dates that are worse than not dating, and she supports their opinion with as little enthusiasm as possible: "not trying is the only way to guarantee you won't get hurt."

There is a very interesting and subtle line in this one that I really liked on second viewing: at the beginning of the episode, Alex puts a temporary tattoo on Claire, and it stays on her through most of the episode. When Claire meets up with the woman with the baby, not long after she finds out Alex will be leaving town, the woman comments that Claire doesn't look like the sort of person that would have a tattoo. "Is it permanent?" the woman asks, and Claire sighs and says quietly, "no, it's not," and you could tell she was talking about her relationship with Alex at least as much as she was talking about the tattoo.

Anthony Foglia said...

jknola wrote, "I was pondering my disappointment at FNL this year and an idea popped into my head - why not do a recap of the greatest high school sports show ever, The White Shadow? The first two seasons are on DVD and the third never happened, as far as most fans are concerned. Not only would the recaps run concurrent with basketball season, but the show holds up shockingly well twenty years down the road."

YES (the Yankees Network) is showing "The White Shadow" very often. I haven't bothered to figure out the schedule, or where in the run they are, but that means a good number of NYers wouldn't even have to struggle to find it.

I've only caught a few minutes of it, but I might start watching it.

M.A.Peel said...

Gabe was a cosmogonist, not a cosmologist. Gabe describes it as more of a philosophy/multicultural discipline studying creation stories (both mythical and scientific), but I'm not 100% sure that's the case. I've never heard a physicist use that term to describe themselves.

Anthony, cosmogonist is correct. I once found myself on a plane next to a postdoc of Brian Greene, the string theorist guy at Columbia. He called himself a cosmogonist.