Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Meat Market"

Spoilers for the "Cupid" episode "Meat Market" coming up just as soon as I inspect a few tattoos...

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.

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.
Some other thoughts on "Meat Market":

-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." -Trevor

"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
Coming 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.

What did everybody else think?


afoglia said...

It seems for once we're in agreement. I liked it too. Like you said, just a lot of fun.

Two things: I'm surprised the Camaro story was fake. If you didn't get confirmation from Thomas, I wouldn't have believed you.

And, having first seen Kate Walsh on Drew Carey, the redhead version was almost unrecognizable to me at first.

Rob said...


As to why Taggerty's was so deserted when Jill and Trevor ate, wasn't that just before or just after Trevor called Claire at 5am? I always assumed he just let himself in, of course that brings up the question of how/why does the psychotic bartender have a key?

I agree with everything else, this was just fun! As someone who gets accused of not putting himself out there, it was a bit hard to laugh at so much of what was going on in the rejection contest, but man, it was funny.
I do have a question about the Camaro story, I always thought that there were two different stories there, the first being that she dished the Camaro and an entirely different story about him getting stood up at the alter. I'm crushed that me made it all up. I always rooted for Kate Walsh(and wow, I never realized that was her on the Drew Carey Show) to come back sometime, but I now I understand why she never did. I wonder if she ever tried to return that alarm clock(and a 2 minute snooze is unacceptable).

Thanks Alan, I'm really enjoying the Cupid discussion.

Anonymous said...

I came to this site looking for some comments on "The Wire" and was pleasantly surprised to find this feature on one of my all time favorite shows. I have practically worn out the tapes of the few "Cupid" episodes I still have on tape, and it was great to re-live this episode one more time. Please keep it up.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Please keep it up.

Six down, many more (9?) to go.

In case you haven't realized, you can look back at the earlier episode reviews by clicking here.

Anonymous said...

This was a fun episode. I was always surprised when the segment ended I was so engrossed in what was going on. This episode, more than any other, made me thankful that I'm married and not out there in the singles scene.

I did think that this episode was a little off, however. Trevor is all about love matches. He has to have people fall in love to return to Olympus. This ep was all about getting people laid. I understand that this group is so terrified/disfunctional that he has to get them out in the world before he can get them to find love, but still.

Anonymous said...

Trevor is all about love matches. He has to have people fall in love to return to Olympus. This ep was all about getting people laid.

I agree with this, but there is justification for it within the show itself: Trevor's worried about shuffling off his mortal coil before making his quota, and he figures getting a bunch of people knockin' boots is a good way to start.

I'm sorry to learn for certain that the Camaro story was a fake - I liked that it could be ambiguous. It could have been something that really happened to Nick that he still uses to play on women's sympathies. (And I first saw Walsh as a blonde, too, on a Carey Lowell-era Law & Order so when she turned up on Grey's as a redhead I didn't recognize her either.)

Anyway, this episode was enjoyable and hilarious start to finish, even if the "looking after a child is the best way to judge a man" bit was a little heavy-handed. I too wondered why Hallowe'en was worse for singletons than Valentine's Day, and am totally with Champ that you have to have standards - there are some things you just can't agree to, and Tarantino being a good actor is one of them.

And I wish my neighbourhood had a Taggerty's.

daveawayfromhome said...

I enjoyed this one for all of the given reasons, but also because it was another episode where Trevor failed (you knew the Alex thing would never work out, long term). Too much success would ruin the broth.

Anonymous said...

Alan - Don’t think the lack of posts indicate a lack of interest…

The Cupid re-watch has been a lot of fun so far. I’m finding it hard to hold to just one episode at a time, so I keep getting ahead of you, but then have to hold my episode comments until you post. And posting a comment takes a bit of time, since the comments interface on your site requires me to disable my firewall in order view the visual verification code required to post a comment, so I can't just dash off a quick comment after viewing an episode.

The “Meet Market” episode was a lot of fun. It showed a big part of Trevor’s charm/appeal is his ability to get others to relax and have fun. He sets up the situations, and sets people in motion. What happens next is up to them. Interesting that he is able to find Claire’s ‘Mr Right’ (at least for the time being) in a club full of crazy Halloween partiers.

I too was a little confused by the “Halloween’s a horrible night for singles” train of thought, especially with no mention of Valentines Day. My guess is that since Trevor is on a mission, he probably can’t imagine he’ll still be Earthbound come Valentines Day, so he’s going to try to make magic & matches on whatever holiday he’s given.

One other thing that struck me about this episode – maybe it was because there were so many couples, maybe because it was Halloween so things were kept superficial, maybe because we were seeing things from the perspective of the ‘new Village People’ - the women of the episode, though luminous & charming in many cases, weren’t given much depth. Even Kate Walsh only got the chance to smile, laugh and bat her eyelashes in a blond wig. We never got a sense of who they were, and what any of them were looking for. Only the teenage runaway had depth – hopes, dreams, a past and a future.

Keep up the Cupid rewatch…and keep us posted on In Treatment too. I’m looking forward to that one (even if I have to tape it and then catch up when I have time)

Also, thanks for the Rob Thomas insights into Cupid. That’s a great addition to the rewatch. If you get around to Sports Night, and can’t get similar comments from Mr. Sorkin, maybe someone else associated with the show would offer their comments? (Thomas Schlamme? Or someone from the cast, since their shows aren't filming due to the writers’ strike – Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Malina, etc. may have time to offer a few words)

Anonymous said...

Just as Star Trek has a best serious episode (City on the Edge of Forever) and a best funny episode (Trouble with Tribbles or Piece of the Action), so Cupid also had that dichotomy, and yes, Meat Market was the best funny one. I just love this episode.

As for Nick's Camaro story: my spin on it at the time I first saw it was: this was a true story that broke Nick's heart, but he uses that true story callously to pick up girls. He can make his heartbreak seem sincere to his prey because on some level his heartbreak *is* sincere ... but he's just using that heartbreak as a tool, and it's twisting him emotionally. When he finds himself using that true story on someone else who experienced it, he shares a genuine moment with her, a real bond, and he is no longer able to use his pain as a tool.

FYI: I saw your later article, concerned that you weren't getting enough responses to these Cupid posts: I've been following your Cupid posts quite eagerly, but I didn't have much to say! You cover them so well and so thoroughly, I feel like you don't leave much to add! Love the comments from the creator; it's great to have that kind of insight. But then, I'm the kind of geek that buys DVDs for the behind-the-scenes commentary.

Anonymous said...

What I thought was interesting was that Anna Chlumsky was one of the only actors in the series to nail a Chicago accent... and her character's from Urbana, where the accent's nothing like.