Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Hung Jury"

Hey, they can't always be winners. Brief spoilers for the "Hung Jury" episode of "Cupid" coming up just as soon as I get some clean towels...

Once upon a time, there was a play called "12 Angry Men," which then became a TV movie, then a theatrical movie, and then the inspiration for episodes of dozens (if not hundreds) of TV shows of every format and tone. There's a reason you see the "12 Angry Men" riff so often: it's cheap and easy to pull off, as it often requires only a single set. In fact, before I get to discussing the episode proper, I'm going to go straight to Rob Remembers, where Rob Thomas, "Cupid" creator (past and, hopefully, future) offers some behind the scenes insight into each episode. Rob's description of how "Hung Jury" came to be doesn't sound too dissimilar to the origins of all the other "12 Angry Men" homages:
"Hung Jury" and the upcoming "Bachelorette Party" were the lowlights of the season. Both were the indirect result of the network removing the showrunners who had been brought in to oversee CUPID. We had, in essence, split the episodes in half. Ron and Jeff were spearheading some of the episodes, and I was handling the others. Both of these episodes were supposed to be Ron and Jeff's, but once they were removed, they landed on my plate with very little time to whip them into shape.

Hung Jury was written from scratch. We needed a bottle episode -- an episode that shoots primarily in one location. Bottle shows save time and money, and the show had been growing increasingly into the red. It was broken and written in a couple of days with each writer that remained on the staff taking one act. It's the fastest way, but generally not the best way, to write an episode.

Of some note, the guest star, Brian Baker, was the reader working in the casting office in Chicago who would run lines with auditioning actors. We ended up liking him so much, we cast him as the romantic lead. He later came into much greater fame as the hangdog SPRINT spokesperson.

I remained convinced that I could handle a 12 Angry Men-style bottle episode, but I ultimately proved myself wrong by attempting it on Veronica Mars and failing once again. I am unilaterally banning myself from any more attempts at a bottle episode in a jury room.
And the thing is, I didn't need Rob to explain this to me, because the slapped-together nature of "Hung Jury" is so obvious. There are some decent one-liners here and there, and some nice guest work by the aforementioned Brian Baker and Kim "Tootie" Fields, but there's no there there. I was bored -- so bored that I'm going to move straight to the bullet points, cleanse the palate, and get ready to write about the much more interesting "A Great Personality" later in the week. So, some other thoughts on "Hung Jury":
  • This is yet another instance of Claire sometimes being smarter about relationships than Trevor. He sees Teresa the artist and Shawn the guitarist flirting (and, no doubt, notices they're the only black people on the jury) and assumes they could be one of his matches. He's so pro-emotion and anti-intellect that he can't see how Teresa and Clark's bickering over grammar and linguistics marks them as the more promising duo, but Claire sees it.
    (That also raises the question of whether Trevor gets credit for this match. While he technicaly enabled it by dragging out the jury deliberations, this was largely Claire's match. There's a discussion in the next episode of how many matches Trevor's made already; I'll have to go back and do the math.)
  • In an episode full of rushed elements, Champ's sidewalk Santa story is especially pointless, though there's a nice "Gift of the Magi" moment at the very end where Trevor gives him a Gameboy cartridge for Christmas, not realizing that Champ gave his Gameboy to the homeless kid who kicked the cans.
  • I did enjoy all the comedy about the sleeping arrangements, particularly the odd, helium-inflected voice Trevor used to wake up Clark. On the other hand, Trevor and Claire's debate about sleeping head to toe comes three years after "Seinfeld" did the same joke.
  • So the albino comic book geek really was ripping off those kids with the platinum cards, yet was somehow overcome with the Christmas spirit enough to give it all away to charity? Huh.
Up next: "A Great Personality," with Marcia Brady lookalike (and Mrs. Ben Stiller) Christine Taylor trying to find a guy who will love her for her mind. You can see it here, here, here, here and here.

What did everybody else think?

10 comments:

mjryan said...

Yeah, this one didn't do it for me. It could be because I recently saw 12 Angry Men with Fonda and it's tough to beat that.

Don't ask me why, but the entire episode I thought the jury foreman was Steven Culp.

Michael said...

I didn't hate the episode, but it was by no means that great.

I feel like the albino's plan all along was to steal from the rich (the platinum cards) and give to the poor kids.

Was this before Credit Cards would cover you for fraud? Or wouldn't this just end up scamming the banks instead?

R.A. Porter said...

Not a great episode by any notion. Though I do like that Rob reused the rich man on jury duty archetype in his Veronica Mars as well. They were both tools, but the later tool was more refined.

I guess Trevor gets credit for the match if he's the one who wrote the phone number, but I think it was Claire. It looked like the ballot with the number on it was written on the same paper as the giftwrap she used on Trevor's present, leading me to think she did it, but I couldn't be sure on the YouTube video.

The episode definitely needed another pass or two to smooth the transitions between writers/acts. The shifts in tone were a bit jarring.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I guess Trevor gets credit for the match if he's the one who wrote the phone number, but I think it was Claire. It looked like the ballot with the number on it was written on the same paper as the giftwrap she used on Trevor's present, leading me to think she did it, but I couldn't be sure on the YouTube video.

It was Claire. Not only was it part of the giftwrap (and Trevor's present was missing a square, which Claire had used for her ballot), but you can see Claire flip the ballot over and scribble something on the underside before putting it in the box. Trevor had absolutely no idea at any point that Teresa liked Clark and vice versa.

mjryan said...

Also:

While the episode as a whole was weak, I thought that the presents exchanged between Trevor and Claire were a bit revealing. Trevor got her something she admired, she got him the gift you give a man when you don't know what to give them, a generic tie. Despite the fact that Trevor's never even worn a tie.

The gifts bring up a couple of questions: when did Trevor get the present? Before Claire admired it (leading credence to him onmiscience)? If after, when did he have time or the opportunity? Also, did Claire give him the tie because she's not a good gift giver (some people don't have the knack, after all), because she truly didn't know what to get him and panicked, or was the tie a gift given to deliberately highlight the impersonal/professional aspect of their relationship?

An even better question is this: did I put way too much thought into the gifts? Yes, yes I did.

shelbel said...

First of all, let me say that I watched this in January, where I was on-call for jury duty for the whole month. This hit a little close to home... but made me realize how much worse it could have been.

mjryan: No, the tie struck me as being somewhat odd, too. But y'all have gotten me to thinking that Claire's gift was a 2-parter: a tie, a very mundane gift for the non-remarkable mortal that Trevor Hale might be, and the love-match (assuming she can give him "credit" for it), also "wrapped" in the same wrapping paper, for Cupid. So if it's conscious, she's hedging her bets, and if it's unconscious, the dual gifts represent her straddling the fence (as we, the viewers are also expected to) on whether or not she buys the Cupid story.

Jennifer said...

I do have to give one point to Rob: "One Angry Veronica" actually worked pretty well on that show. It's so dramatically out of place here (not to mention how often you can't help but think of the implausibility of being PLUCKED OFF THE STREET for immediate jury duty/sequestering), plus led to the stupid Champ storyline so he had something to do on camera that week.

That said, about the only redeeming thing on this one was the verbal sparring between Tootie and the foreman.

M.A.Peel said...

I was sequestered once, and believe me there was no one like Trevor to liven things up.

I didn't understand the legal side. What were the actual chargers against the guy? How is he not guilty of defrauding these people, just because he wasn't going to leave the country.

Re, the tie: any way it was meant for Alex?

Bobman said...

not to mention how often you can't help but think of the implausibility of being PLUCKED OFF THE STREET for immediate jury duty/sequestering

There was actually a recent case of this type of emergency jury duty. Story here.

Of course, it wasn't the day before Christmas, and they weren't sequestered (that I know of), but it's not completely out of the realm of possibilities :)

The video quality was so crappy I could barely even tell what Claire got for Trevor, and I desperately tried to see what the number was written on so I could see who wrote it (thank God for the blog).

How did we ever live before HD or at least good picture quality?

tracey said...

The "plucked off the street" part may be legally possible, but all of the nonsense that goes on in this ep would certainly be grounds for reversal of a conviction on appeal. Plucking people off the street a day or two before Christmas, bunking them in a disgusting hotel, turning off the heat to speed up the proceedings... that would definitely draw the validity of the verdict into question. And don't even get me started on the jury relying on evidence that was not presented at trial -- specifically, his lack of passport. But I try not to think too much about the validity of the law I see on TV, just like I tell my friend the biologist not to think too much about the science on Star Trek.

Not the strongest episode, but there were things in here I liked. Love Shawn's little riffs on Christmas carols.

Like Michael, I assumed the albino's plan was to rob from the rich and give to the poor. Didn't they even call him the Christmas Robin Hood at the beginning? There was something in the jury room about his deprived upbringing -- he may very well have been the sort of person who benefitted from charities like this one.

But I have to scratch my head and wonder what was going on with the albino here. He was picked up at the airport with a one-way ticket to the islands, no passport, no sunscreen. Was he deliberately trying to get caught in circumstances that would create questions, so he would get acquitted and be untouchable? If so, he did a crappy job of it, because he would have been convicted quickly if not for Trevor's ulterior motive.

Another thing that grated a plausibility nerve: department store Santas pay very well, but not charity kettle Santas like Champ. I know someone who did a department store Santa gig this year, and when members of the synagogue criticized him for it, he said, "Hey, it paid $35 an hour!" The rabbi joked, "for $35 an hour, I'd be Santa." But those people with the kettles are volunteers, not paid, or if paid it is a tiny amount.

Re the tie gift: did you notice the crestfallen look on Trevor's face when he got it? Nice work from Piven there.

Re Trevor hooking up the two black people on the jury: I must admit, the first time I saw this, I kind of rolled my eyes. It reminded me of the way, on Star Trek, they had to invent black Bajorans and aliens if they wanted Sisko and son to date. Interracial dating was taboo on TV until quite recently, and it was rather impressive in its time that they went that way. Of course, interracial dating is now getting to the point where it's almost a cliche (though it's usually black man / white woman), but at the time this first aired, it wasn't common.

FYI: I'm watching these from my tapes of the original airing. This was the last first-run episode that aired in the deadly Saturday night 10PM time slot. There is a big promo right before the credits, advertising a rebroadcast of The Linguist, which will be followed by new episodes on Thursdays at 9PM (admittedly, another deadly timeslot). Also found at the end of that tape: Cupid was followed by the local news, and the big story in the news that night was Clinton's impeachment.