Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "The Linguist"

Spoilers for the second episode of "Cupid" coming up just as soon as I take the car to the bar...

Before there was Andy Stitzer, 40-year-old virgin, there was Jennings Crawford of the 35-year-old variety.

After premiering with one of the least-inspired Couples of the entire run, "Cupid" comes back with "The Linguist," featuring one of the best: Tim DeKay as the aforementioned Jennings, a virginal scholar whose upper-crust accent and bearing aren't exactly what they seem; and Jessica Lundy as Kate, a blue collar cafeteria cook who aspires to so much more than her Superfans accent would seem to allow.

We meet Jennings at a dinner party that's a regular thing for Claire and her equally pretentious grad school buddies. (Thomas' script has the good sense to not make them total cliches; immediately after all of them denounce the vacuous state of network television, they begin discussing the latest episode of fictional cop show "Sunset and Vaughn.") Jennings wows Claire with his best party trick, where he listens to her describe the story of "Red Riding Hood" and uses that to correctly identify most of her biographical details. Claire, seeing an opportunity to get to the bottom of Trevor's identity, invites Jennings to her singles group to try the stunt on her favorite patient -- only Jennings surprises her and everyone else by announcing his virginhood to the entire room.

I've long been a fan of DeKay. He and Ally Walker were pretty much the only reason I stuck with "Tell Me You Love Me" (yet another series where DeKay played a guy who wasn't getting any), and he does a bang-up job as the repressed, lonely Jennings. His cultured affect seems a put-on at times, but that turns out to be the point, as he reveals to Kate that he comes from south Boston and developed the accent and mannerisms to fit in better when he went to Harvard.

I can't speak to how well DeKay does the Southie accent, nor Lundy the Chicago one -- most of my friends from both cities don't have anything close to the stereotypical regional dialect -- but it adds a nice twist to the "Pygmalion" riff. (Thomas doesn't even try to deny the source material, having Jennings and Kate's dialect lessons conclude with a "The grain in Champaign falls mainly on the plain" joke.) This isn't a snooty blue blood trying to raise some poor urchin up to his level; it's one changeling teaching his trick to a kindred spirit.

The faculty cocktail party scene, where Jennings drops all his affectations to tell Kate that she's "wicked awesome" with "a hot bod" and Kate in turn sticks with the speech patterns he taught her, is one of my favorite of the series. What sells it, I think, isn't just Jennings risking the ridicule of his peers by ditching his camouflage, but the moment where Kate herself gives in to his wooing and asks, "Are we goin' somewheres?" in her own normal speaking voice. It's not always easy to play "melting" as an emotion, but Lundy really does it right there. (Jennings' gratuitous Springsteen shout-out helps, though the Boss was no doubt prohibitively expensive, so we get Chrissie Hynde on the soundtrack, instead. More on that below.)

Because our Couple are so well-drawn, and because the regulars were strongly established in the pilot, they're able to take more of a back seat in this one. Claire's still trying to find out who Trevor really is, and Trevor has his usual assortment of snappy one-liners -- my favorite is when he tells Kate and her friends that he and Jennings both got thrown out of the Pet Shop Boys -- but this is one of the more strictly anthological episodes. I wouldn't want this every week -- the Piven/Marshall repartee is the show's best hook -- but when the guest roles are this strong (in writing and casting), I've got no problem with it. Just as the Greek gods allegedly sent Trevor down from Mt. Olympus to learn the value or true love again, this is an optimistic show that was produced in a very cynical time; how can we learn about the purity of love if we don't get extended glimpses of it?

Some other thoughts on "The Linguist":

-The opening title sequence, set to a version of The Pretenders' "Human" (albeit not the version that's on the "Viva El Amore" album), makes its first appearance, and of course, Hynde and company pop up again when "I'll Stand By You" plays over the "wicked awesome" love declaration.

-I have to say, I remember Claire as being much more of a pill than she's thus far been as I've rewatched. When Jennings makes his shameful confession, for instance, Claire (temporarily, at least) loses all interest in her reason for bringing him to the group and tries to help him out. And while she fixes him up with the snotty Glenn Miller fan, she doesn't realize at the time that she's messing with his thing with Kate. (Trevor had just told Claire that he had failed in his own fix-up attempt.)

-Not that it should be a surprise, since this is a show about a guy whose mission is to fix people up, but this episode features the first of many scenes where Trevor somehow manages to hit on a woman (in this case, a cute co-ed) and then immediately turn her over to his pet project. Jennings panics and blows it, but the girl seemed genuinely willing to transfer her attraction from Trevor to his friend.

-We already knew that Jennings had put together a file on Trevor, but that final shot of him sticking it in the back of his file cabinet can be looked at one of two ways: something that the show could have returned to down the road when Thomas and company decided to confront the matter of Trevor's identity; or a very low-budget homage to the final shot of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

-Speaking of Trevor's identity, the closest thing we get to a clue this time out is Jennings admiring the pile of unhealthy food on Trevor's plate, and Trevor explaining that he can eat whatever he wants without suffering the effects. Didn't Bill Murray say something similar about being a god when he was stuffing his face midway through "Groundhog Day"?

-Vis a vis the early scene where Claire comes to group late to discover that Trevor has turned it into a Dionysian revel, do you think Piven tries to get it written into the contracts for his various roles that he gets to show off his biceps at least once?

-Champ would become a more useful member of the cast in episodes to come. Here, though, he's still a third limb, and so we have to spend time introducing the concept of "Sunset and Vaughn," which is filmed in Chicago, so that Trevor can almost ruin, then greatly enhance, Champ's chance at getting a part on it. None of that is nearly as entertaining as the revelation that Champ nicknamed himself after his first dog, and that his real name is Albert. (Explaining the change, he says, "You obviously didn't grow up black and overweight in America.")

-As he did in the pilot, Trevor sticks Claire with a meal check. I don't remember that as a running gag; I'm going to have to keep an eye out for that in future episodes.

Coming up on Friday: "Heaven, He's In Heaven," featuring a Piven family connection and a whole lotta dancing. You can see it here, here, here, here and here.

What did everybody else think?


afoglia said...

I liked it, but not as much as you. I thought the main couple was a weak take of "Pygmalion". The accents seemed too over-the-top to me. But it was still well-written and very enjoyable. I just think I prefer the more unique/original couples in the future episodes (he says only remembering two other couples).

The next episode was the one that got me hooked on the series, so I hope I still enjoy it.

daveawayfromhome said...

I enjoyed it also, but the accents were laid on a bit too thick, especially DeKay's southie.

Cinemania said...

Sticking Claire with the food tab IS a running gag. Wait 'n see, and you can credit me later.

I'm not much of an accent expert, but wasn't Jenning's southern Bawston drawl just a bit broad? Lundy, on the other hand, sounded pretty good to me.

Cinemania said...

Hey, I guess I should read others' comments before making my own, eh?

Bobman said...

As a Bostonian whose accent tends to come and go based on his company and level of inebriation... I can say almost all manufactured Boston accents are painful, and DeKay, however much I like him, was no exception.

But it got the point across. Fun episode, I'm really enjoying this series (which I had never heard of before the great and powerful blog told me about it).

Nicole said...

I liked this episode too, but I too wondered how real the Boston accent was. I have no point of reference except maybe what was used in Gone Baby Gone, so while it did jar a bit, I guess that might have been the point.

While it is not my favourite episode, it is definitely in the top five, especially with regard to the couple storyline in it.

olucy said...

Random observations:

I’m a Tim DeKay fan, too, and this show was my introduction. Every time he was a H!ITG sighting subsequently, I’d remember him from Cupid.

I don’t know if this counts as identity “hints”, but I did get a laugh out of the fact that Trevor screwed up Champ’s audition because he wrote down the time in Roman numerals and Champ thought II was 11. Also, in the bar, Jennings throws out the beginning of a Latin phrase and Trevor finishes it without blinking. Nice touches.

And yeah, the accents were pretty over-the-top. It didn’t even occur to me at the time that Kate was supposed to have a thick Chicago South Side accent. I thought maybe she was a transplant from New York. But that’s okay.

The theme song sequence to this show is one of my favorites of all time and one of my favorite Pretenders songs.

Some funny stuff this ep: "You obviously didn't grow up black and overweight in America." “You don’t know that.” And just about every conversation that Claire and Tevor have (including his knowing that she’s coming up behind him before he ever sees her.)

And yes, I believe Trevor sticking Claire with the check is a running gag. In fact, I think it’s another clue that he’s a god. Between the over-confident ego, never paying for a meal, and getting a client-almost losing a client-and saving a client at the 11th hour, I’m almost sure that a decade later Trevor came back to earth as House.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite episodes, in spite of the overly-broad Southie accent (and I live in MA and have heard some doozies).

Loved how both Claire and Trevor were right -- Claire thought Jennings just needed to find someone he had things in common with and Trevor saw the crush Jennings had on Kate.

olucy said...

I did think it was unbelieveable, though, that Kate was surprised that Jennings recognized her from sitting in on his class. It sounds like she had been doing it for awhile, and she always sat alone, which only draws more attention to her. Did she think he was blind?

Anonymous said...

Terrible Boston accent. Seriously.

Fun episode, otherwise!

Anonymous said...

The Chicago accent was a bit cartoonish, but acceptable. The Southie accent was just terrible though. He hit the key words way too hard, and missed the rest of the time.

This was a huge leap forward for me from the pilot, but not without its problems. Fundamentally, there's a huge one: why on Earth would Claire allow Trevor to keep attending her singles group? From her perspective, it does him no good as a patient, and damages her work with everyone in the group.

For a relationship expert, Claire was awfully oblivious about the attraction between the linguist and the chef. And her own choice for his date was an over-the-top grotesque. There's elitist, and then there's 80s teen comedy elitist.

I liked the Roman numeral gag, but a moment later realized that if he showed up three hours early for an audition, he wouldn't have missed it. Enough promise here for me to stay on-board, but lots of kinks still to be worked out.

Unknown said...

As a University of Chicago alum, this episode just made me so, so happy. I was actually still in college when this must have been filmed, but don't remember it going on...bummer.

Thanks for bringing my attention to this show again; I loved it the first time around, and it's a real treat to watch it again, especially the episodes I had missed.

R.A. Porter said...

Jennings' Springsteen reference wasn't quite gratuitous. It was a callback to Kate's beatdown on the clueless clarinetist.

Oh, in my neighborhood? Football's just an excuse to get drunk and fight. I mean, that's when we're not out cruising the boulevard in our tricked-out GTO singing along to Springsteen songs.

Besides giving the snob the beatdown she deserved, that exchange gave Claire a chance to show she really does get it, when she told the girl it was something she said.

Other things great and small I liked in this episode:

- the MTM reference in the opening, Trevor saying Claire can "turn the world on with her smile"

- Hooch is crazy! Alright, maybe spotting a H!ITG from Scrubs isn't that great, but it made me laugh

- Trevor's line I want to be set up by a woman who uses the word 'common' three times to describe my dream date.

- The fact that Jennings fixed the sink in his story of being a class outcast. I thought that detail made it both funnier, and more touching.

As for on the dole's question about why Claire lets Trevor keep coming to group...I think there are two good reasons. First, she's *got* to write that second book and thinks Trevor is worth studying. That's going to come up more in the series, and doesn't show her in the best light. Secondly, honestly, Trevor is crazy-charming. Claire might not realize it, but his charms are even working on her. She *wants* to be around him.

Anonymous said...

R.A. Porter, I haven't seen beyond this episode to know, but your book reason is intriguing. By letting Trevor stay in the group, she's essentially sabotaging the rest of her patients' well-being. If that career vs. ethics dilemma gets explored, I'm interested. I'll have to take your word that people think Trevor is charming though. Even here, at his most appealing, I still find Piven fairly annoying.

I realize Trevor sitting in on the group is probably a key component of the overall show; I just wish it was a constant back & forth between him being invited and kicked out. Claire should've booted him by the start of this episode, and could've invited him back because she wanted the linguist to do his trick. That's much more plausible to me than him having an open invite. (When Claire first invited him in the pilot, it was because he'd just been released into her care, having admitted in court that he wasn't Cupid after all.)

olucy said...

Not to overthink it, but if I were Claire, Trevor wouldn't strike me as the type of person to honor standing appointments. I think inviting him to the group would be a good way to keep tabs on him, especially knowing that he'd be drawn to a group dynamic, even if for the wrong motivations.

I'd get tired of him always getting booted out and being invited back in. Besides, aren't groups about tolerance and helping people through their stuff? You don't kick someone out every time they act out. I'd think booting someone would be a last resort.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't want to harp on this too much, since it's obviously locked in, but...

You try not to kick someone out of a support group they actually belong to. At the time Claire invited him, she thought Trevor was emotionally scarred by romance gone bad. But immediately afterward, her diagnosis reverted back to him being delusional, and in a way that obviously means he's likely to harm both himself and the rest of the group, while constantly undermining her authority.

There are plausible ways the show could justify his presence in the support group, but so far they've been content to accept his ongoing presence as a matter of course, and that strikes me as kind of ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

do you think Piven tries to get it written into the contracts for his various roles that he gets to show off his biceps at least once?

He probably copied a similar clause from his buddy' John Cusack's contracts that stipulates he's got to stand in the rain at least once per movie.

Still am not thrilled with the show based on the first two episodes, but I've watched ahead a bit and it gets better. I found the accents pretty over-the-top (was that Dr. Fleischman's fiancee Elaine as the cook?) and I agree it's odd that Claire would keep letting Trevor back into her group therapy session when that's not the kind of help he "needs" from her. (I'd forgotten about the book, though, which provides at least some kind of motivation for this.)

But most of all, and I think it was BigTed who pointed this out in the pilot thread, I am so off-the-charts tired of stories that have the buttoned-down professional woman being told to loosen up by the wild and crazy guy. Of shows that imply that because a woman focuses on her career, there's something missing in her life. God knows there are plenty of examples of those roles being reversed - dating back to Bringing Up Baby, if not before - but it became such a familiar trope from the mid-80s onward it really made one think there was something to Susan Faludi's theories after all.

Anonymous said...

This was the episode that I always remember and I was so happy to see it again. loved this show but didnt get to see all the episodes so this is fun.

and can i just mention that ABC.com has 2 episodes of my so called life up for viewing? maybe they are having a sstrike survival tv club too?

Mapeel said...

I wondered if the extended "Little Red Riding Hood" thing at the beginning was going to have any more meaning or payoff.

Also, do we ever learn what Cupid did to piss the gods off so much that led to his banishment?

afoglia said...

filmcricket said, "was that Dr. Fleischman's fiancee Elaine as the cook?"

Yes, it was. That was Jessica Lundy, who did a lot of stuff in the '90's, most promimently starring as Gloria in "Hope & Gloria." She's done less stuff recently, but just appeared in "Pushing Daisies" looking very different.

I was the first to complain about the accents, but Lundy definitely had the better of the two. Exaggerated, but not over-the-top like the linguist's.

M.A.Peel said, "Also, do we ever learn what Cupid did to piss the gods off so much that led to his banishment?"

I thought it was for insulting Zeus, but I could be wrong. In the first episode, Trevor said the other gods thought he was doing a bad job and forced him to live among the mortals and learn about love again.

daveawayfromhome said...

While I'd certainly agree that Trevor's presence undermines Claire's authority, I dont think she finds his input to be terribly detrimental. He makes good points, and he also provides her with a platform to make her counterpoints, so that she's persuading rather than preaching. I really dont think she considers his input to be particularly dangerous, either.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit to having had a big crush on Jessica Lundy back in the '90s, so I liked this episode a lot.

At the same time, the plot tries to have things both ways: It rails against the stereotyping of "working-class" people, but I thought it went way too far in depicting virtually all well-educated university types as snooty, elitist jerks. (It was especially mean toward the musician, who was picked up out of nowhere and was nice enough to go on a date with a stranger despite the fact that she had no idea of the situation she was getting into.)

The accents really were over-the-top... if the linguist was as good as we were supposed to believe, he'd have realized that his adopted manner of speaking was less like a Boston Brahmin than the sort of inbred, giant-lower-lipped "Harvard man" who gets satirized on "Family Guy." But I think that was probably just an issue of actors who only had a week or so to prepare for their roles.

On the plus side, the scene where the couple finally gets together was touching, and the two had genuine chemistry together. Once again, Piven was pretty much spot-on -- he really does come off as the sort of fun-loving guy women would flock to, minus the skeevy arrogance of Ari Gold (or, as the tabloids would have us think, the actor himself).

Filmcricket, you mentioned my comment about the overuse of the buttoned-down-woman vs. wild-and-crazy-guy archetype -- I do think there's one current show that does the whole thing really well (which I just started watching this year): "Bones." Because the lead pair has such a genuine camaraderie and respect for one another, and the woman isn't constantly told that she needs to "loosen up" -- the fact that she's clearly a genius helps -- it's really enjoyable to watch them together.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the ID of the actress playing Kate...I knew she looked familiar.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode. I had forgotten how much this show had its own style - maybe from being filmed on location, maybe from the dual-possibility aspect (is Trevor Cupid? or just Crazy) that is played in a very balanced way.

The story, and the charisma of the leads, supporting actors, and guest cast allowed me to breeze right over clunky story bits like the 1st audition time (as someone mentioned, if Champ had shown up 3 hours *early* he wouldn't have missed the audition) and the 2nd audition time. Saturday night? Really? Is that a common audition time for network cop shows?
The chemistry was not enough, however, to distract me from the Boston/Southie accent. Love the actor, but here in Massachusetts, I don't believe I've ever heard anyone speak like that. Note to directors/actors: if you want to learn a real Massachusetts accent, try watching a couple of hours of City/Town council meetings from the area. Then you'll have some idea what folks from Bawston, Reev-e-ah, Chimsford, Mefor(d) really sound like.