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.Some other thoughts on "End of an Eros":
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.
-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?