Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Grand Delusions"

In theory, the writers strike is less than 24 hours away from being over, but since most shows won't be able to finish new episodes until sometime in late March or early April, we still have plenty of time to deal with the final four "Cupid" episodes. (After I'm done with these, though, I may table plans to move on to "Sports Night" and/or "The Wire" season one, as my schedule will start getting much busier with new product in the pipeline.)

Spoilers for "Grand Delusions" coming up just as soon as I slurp through a straw...

Oh, this one I like very much. It's funny, and sad, and touching, and sweet. It hits all the notes -- and not just the ones played by Claire's jazzman father.

When your hero is a man who believes he's a Greek god (or may be a Greek god turned into a man), it shouldn't work to pile even more crazy on top of that. And yet teaming Trevor up with a man who thinks he's Don Quixote (a fictional character whose own delusions are his defining trait) produces one of the best episodes of the series.

Much of that is to the credit of guest star Patrick Fabian (almost unrecognizable from the way he looks today, even though he's aged well). As Rob Thomas notes below, he's the rare "Cupid" guest star who upstages Jeremy Piven, and he finds a way to make "Don" (really a man named Robert Cunningham who cracked up after he killed his wife in a drunk driving accident) seem charming even as it's clear he's far more psychologically damaged than Trevor. (If, of course, you believe that Trevor is crazy and not Cupid.)

The parallels between Cunningham and Trevor are, of course, the heart of the episode. Trevor's our main character, and even if you go with the idea that he's delusional, it's clear by now that it's about as healthy as a delusion can be. He's capable of living in the world, finding and keeping a job, making friends (though not girlfriends), and even his psychologist admits (back in "First Loves") that it's a delusion we should all be so lucky to be in the orbit of.

With Robert Cunningham, we see the downside of romantic delusion, and understand more why Claire is trying so hard to "cure" Trevor. Cunningham's delusion may be charming to some, like his stripper Dulcinea, Mona Lovesong (Daphne Ashbrook), but more often than not it invites punches to the face (which Trevor intercepts in the teaser) or outright beatings (which Cunningham receives from the bouncer at Mona's club). If he didn't have Trevor hanging around him to act as translator and peacemaker, Cunningham might have wound up hospitalized far sooner.

And in the sad, beautiful final scene of this story, when Mona visits Robert in the psych ward and gets him to embrace reality by telling him her own real name, we understand just how debilitating even the most charming delusion can be. If Trevor is a man with psychological problems, who knows what kind of trauma lurks beneath all that banter and bluster? Who knows whether he's heading for a meltdown that would make the bedroom freak-out in "Pick-Up Schticks" look like a minor tantrum fueled by low blood sugar? Claire may not always be a good person (see the book material from the previous episode), but she means well for Trevor, and we see in this episode why she cares so much.

Claire suffers from her own delusions in this episode, as her musician dad Bill (Barry Newman) comes to town with the promise of settling down with the first straight job of his life so he can make it up to Claire after all his decades on the road. It's clear almost from the start that Bill isn't cut out to be a suit, and my fear (from not remembering how this plot played out) was that we would go for the cliche ending where Claire gets her hopes up about the old man, only to discover that he took the traveling musician job at the last minute and only left her a note. Instead, Claire (and the script) is smart enough to figure out that Bill's heart really is on the road, and so she gives him her blessing to blow out of town again. You know it hurts her to do that -- Paula Marshall has rarely been better than she is at the end, as Claire watches Bill play a song he wrote about her and tries to balance her love of her dad with the way she always misses him -- but she's an intelligent woman who knows the human mind well enough to realize this is what's best for her dad, and, by extension, her. Had she asked Bill to stay, I imagine within six months their relationship would have gone sour as he subconsciously blamed her for making him take the talent scout job.

And now it's time for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and maybe future) Rob Thomas offers his own take on each episode

"Grand Delusions" is one of my favorite Cupid episodes. Patrick Fabian, who played Don Quixote in the episode, is, perhaps, the only guest star who stole scenes from Jeremy, though, to be fair, Jeremy happily played straight man to the "crazier" Don Quixote. Patrick has since been a go-to actor for me. He played Veronica's flawed criminal justice professor on Veronica Mars. He's in a comedy pilot I co-wrote that we're hoping to sell post-strike called Party Down.

Our editor, Jim Page, was a real hero on the episode. It was his idea to put in the Spanish guitar stings to underline the comedy. It's one of my favorite touches in the episode.

I just Netflixed the 1971 classic car chase movie "Vanishing Point" because I realized that Barry Newman was the star. Barry played Claire's dad, and he was a pleasure to work with. I've been wanting for years to do a journalism show, but networks are dead-set against it, because there's never been a successful one. (Even Lou Grant lost it's time slot every week.) Barry played one of the last crusading journalists in Deadline. I told him that I blamed him for killing the genre.

I don't if I'm one of the only people alive to notice this, but we have one of the worst performances all time by an extra in the final bar scene. Barry Newman is playing guitar and this idiot extra positioned behind Claire and Trevor is acting like a jackass -- flailing wildly as he's clapping, hamming it up. I can barely watch the scene because of this joker. Although I managed to make sure he never worked on Cupid again, I failed in my ultimate goal of ensuring he never worked again on any show or in any profession ever again. I simply don't have that kind of Joel Silver muscle.
Some other thoughts on "Grand Delusions":
  • This episode makes very good use of Claire's assistant Jaclyn, who seems to have a crush on both Trevor and Don Quixote, and whose discussion with Claire about "How can a guy who thinks he's Cupid help a guy who thinks he's Don Quixote?" features some of the series' best non-Piven-involved banter.
  • As Rob says, Piven wisely consents to play Patrick Fabian's straight man for much of the episode, but he still gets in a few funny lines as Trevor deals with taking orders, getting thrashed and even kissed by this nutbar. His delivery of "You did that again, didn't you?" after getting kissed again is a particular highlight.
  • I think Champ inadvertently hits on the perfect concept for the remake: instead of doing it as another romantic anthology, we could have Cupid team up with Don Quixote (and/or other men believing themselves to be figures out of literature or mythology) to fight crime. Tell me you wouldn't watch it.
  • I love the scene where Champ takes Trevor to meet Mr. Clef, the aptly-named oracle of the Chicago jazz scene. It very neatly straddles the fantasy vs. reality line (helped by Sephus Booker's strange performance as Clef) in a way that evokes the first appearance by Zeus the Bum. It's very rare to see Trevor that confused, after all.
Coming up on Friday: "Bachelorette Party," which Rob has already said he considers one of the season's two low points (though it's still markedly better than "Hung Jury"). You can watch it here, here, here, here and here.

What did everybody else think?


pgillan said...

I never heard of Deadline before I caught a couple episodes of it re-run on Sleuth last year. I thought it had a lot going for it (I'm a fan of both Oliver Platt and Bebe Neuwirth), and I always wondered why it never took off. Now I know- Barry Newman. Thanks Rob!

Anonymous said...

It would be awesome if you re-capped Wire Season 1 after this. I was planning on re-watching my dvds as well, so it would line up quite nicely.

Anonymous said...

I've seen Patrick Fabian for the first time on Veronica Mars, later in one episode of Pushing Daisies and for the third time in this episode of cupid. He looked very different each time (even with VM and PD so closely timed together), but I instantly reconized him every time after his stint on Veronica Mars by his very distintive voice.

Great actor, love to see him work. I'd love to see him as a regular in the remake of Cupid.

Theresa said...

I recognized him by his voice, too. I was actually watching an old episode of Friends the other day and picked him out in a guest spot by his voice. Since I saw him first in Veronica Mars, though, he'll always be Hank Landry to me.

I quite liked this episode, and I'm disappointed to hear that the next ep is another one of the bottom ones after such a star one. I, too, appreciated how they handled Claire dealing with her dad's wandering ways. Maybe she's not so bad after all.

TimmyD said...

He'll always be Professor Lasky from Saved By The Bell: The College Years to me.

Unknown said...

I liked this one a lot, it's right up there with "Heart of the Matter" for me. Hilarious to watch Trevor get beat up and abused as "Sancho," love Patrick Fabian (yeah, you always recognize him by the voice!), crazy + crazy worked really well.

I especially had to like the hopeful ending between Don/Robert and Mona/Dulcinea/Mary Jo. It was satisfying.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you should just write a book. Hot dam, alot of writing just for a blog. Like we all gonna spend this much time reading a blog.

Mapeel said...

Only the faithful understand . . .

I thought this episode was going to leave me with a stronger feeling for whether Trevor is supernatural or not, but it didn't really. DQ showed the serious side of a serious delusion, but we don't know any more details about Trevor's true nature one way or another.

Anonymous said...

I think this episode, more than most, skews in favor of the interpretation of Trevor as delusional.

Check out the look on Trevor's face when "Don Quixote" says he needs to find his true love. That's not the "ka-ching, gotcha" look that you'd expect from someone in his supposed position, not the look that you see on that Mormon girl's face in that commercial in the restaurant. It's a look of compulsion, a look of someone who's just had someone tug on his choke chain.

Also note Trevor's reaction to Claire's efforts to cure Don Quixote's delusion. He is quite convinced that delusion isn't so bad, that it's a good way to deal with a horrible reality. It reminded me of a girl I knew in high school: when we studied suicide as a mental illness and she argued quite forcefully that suicide was a good way to deal with unpleasant situations. Yes, she was suicidal, though fortunately she never succeeded.

I also love the way they play out the plot with the father. When he first tells Claire about the job offer, you can see that he's practically begging her to tell him not to take it, but she's so excited about the possibility of being close to her father that she completely misses what he really wants until the end. FYI: it seemed to me that Claire didn't really get it until she saw the album.

And yes, I'm definitely on board for the TV series where "Cupid" teams up with other delusional people to fight crime. But only if you can find a way to work in Mr. Clef, as sort of an oracular Huggy Bear figure.

LoopyChew said...

Just getting around to watching this show myself (so I'm prepared when the remake comes around), and I have to say that nobody mentioned the scene that killed me the most--the sight gag of Champ in full Shakespearean regalia, as king of the Moors. I could not stop laughing throughout the entire scene, for some reason.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming very late to this, obviously. Now I'm even more disappointed in the remake, and heartbroken this one was cancelled. I wanted to thank you for pointing it out; I'm loving it. It has the feel of Moonlighting (one of the first shows I was ever obsessed with) but better because Moonlighting's plots too often resulted in silly slapstick. In some of the early episodes, Jeremy Piven has lines that could have been spoken by David Addison.

Because of my lateness, I haven't been bothering to comment , but on this one I was surprised at your thinking Patrick Fabian's appearance has changed. I saw him (to remember) first on Veronica Mars and recognized him instantly. I guess it could have been partly his voice (as other commenters have noted, it's memorable), but I thought he looked the same.