Friday, February 08, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "A Great Personality"

Spoilers for the "Cupid" episode "A Great Personality" coming up just as soon as I ask Mike for his thoughts on the steroid era...

Now that's much more like it. Not a happy episode, by any means -- every single story ends on a down note -- but a vast improvement over "Hung Jury."

The message of "A Great Personality" seems to be that love should be about more than appearances, but what it's really about is that love is hard, no matter the approach. Trevor's still stuck on seven love matches. Champ's ambivalence about his perfectly fine relationship with Chris causes him to sabotage it (with her help). The Couple of the Week (Christine Taylor as Yvonne, Grant Heslov as Ken) falls apart over the question of looks, but when we see Mike go after the waitress with the titular qualities instead of the blonde hottie with the corporate seats at Wrigley, it doesn't work because the waitress is already taken.

And in an episode about the value our society places on physical beauty, the ugliest character turns out to be Claire, who's making Trevor the subject of her next book. We knew this -- it was a plot point way back in the pilot -- but it's the first time it's come up in a long time, and the first time the show's been so blunt about how she's using Trevor for material. We know enough about Claire to know that she's a good person and a good shrink, and that she does care about Trevor and his mental health, but the way we see her here working without his knowledge does not reflect well on her.

Neither does the lovely Yvonne's decision to split with average-looking charmer Ken reflect well on her -- something she realizes at the same moment she recognizes that, while her hunky boyfriend may not be as big a jerk as she thought, he's not nearly as much fun to be around as Ken. Back in "A Truly Fractured Fairy Tale," I complained that the Couple of the Week broke up in the exact manner Claire had predicted, but even though Yvonne and Ken plays out almost exactly as Trevor announces that it will, I enjoyed this duo (and this episode) much more. The difference, I think, is that one story is about a couple struggling to click over a superficial reason but failing because of no deep connection, whether the other is about a couple that connects on that deep level and then falls apart over a superficial reason. I never felt invested in the "Fairy Tale" couple, where I liked Ken and Yvonne and was disappointed (if not surprised) that Yvonne dumped him to go back to her oily bohunk.

(Ken's probably better off, frankly. Yvonne was a babe, but she was an insecure manipulator. If she hadn't gone back with the bohunk, the relationship would have fallen apart after she tried one of her weird "tests" on him.)

The guys from the singles group trolling for a higher class of women wasn't as much fun as the B-team's previous spotlight in "Meat Market," but I'm still glad whenever an episode features more Paul Adelstein. And where I figured Yvonne and Ken wouldn't work out (things were going too well for them, you know?), I assumed one of the guys would wind up with Annette the waitress as a thematic counterpoint, so her having a boyfriend was a surprise. (Albeit a nice one; lots of shows would have made her lonely and starving for the attention of even a lug like Mike.)

Champ doesn't come up smelling like a rose himself, but his story illustrates why Trevor's only made seven matches so far. (More on that below.) Here are two good-looking people who live in close proximity, are attracted to each other, enjoy each other's company, and even had a bit of the ol' Trevor magic early in their relationship (the poem Champ read to her in "Pick-Up Schticks"), and still Champ doesn't really hear the music when he's with her, gets so restless that he starts fantasizing about the mysterious "fan" e-mailing him (who, of course, turns out to be Champ's own paranoid girlfriend). If Trevor can't get a good on-paper match like these two (or Claire and Alex) to click, how long is it going to take him to get to 100?

Ordinarily, this would be the place for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and, hopefully, future) Rob Thomas offers a look back at each episode. But Rob hasn't had a chance to do the write-up for this episode, so we'll skip it for now. (If he comes back later to do it, I'll mention that in the comments and again in the post for the next episode.)

UPDATE: Better late than never, here's Rob's thoughts on the episode:
Over the course of a couple episodes, we cast a couple actors who went on to brighter futures. Grant Heslov, who played Ken in "Great Personality" (Jeremy ad-libbed the "bug-eyed" gentleman comment), went on to co-write the script for GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK with George Clooney.

Todd Field, our big guest star in Pick Up Schticks, of course, went on to write and direct IN THE BEDROOM and LITTLE CHILDREN.

"Great Personality" certainly takes a direction that most romantic comedies wouldn't. At the end of the day, the episode suggests, love doesn't conquer all, and that we are, ultimately, slaves to our own standards of beauty. This really gets to the heart of why I like doing a romantic comedy on television. There's very little drama in most romantic comedy films. The film ends when the boy and girl get together in the final act. I'm trying to think of exceptions in my head right now, and all I'm coming up with as an exception is BROADCAST NEWS which may be the movie that most made me want to become a screenwriter. The scene I wish I would've written? Albert Brooks showing up to tell Holly Hunter that William Hurt is the devil.

But I digress...

In film, the bottom line dictates a happy ending. In television, I don't have to give a happy ending every time. We probably went with the happy ending three-quarters of the time, but allowing for the occasional miss makes things more interesting to me. Once a show makes the statement that it doesn't always give you what you want, it makes it more fun to watch. (For me, at least.)
Some other thoughts on "A Great Personality":
  • Trevor complains to Champ that he's only made seven Olympus-approved matches in five months. We know that the button moved for the couple from the pilot, so that leaves six other couples to identify. I feel confident about the couples from "The Linguist" ("You're wicked awesome"), "Heaven... He's In Heaven" (dancing), "First Loves" (Lisa Loeb) and "End of an Eros" (Sting at the planetarium). Are we supposed to count "Heart of the Matter," even though Trevor didn't want to take credit for it? Or "Hung Jury," even though Claire was ultimately responsible? Or are we supposed to assume that some of the couples he's introduced in between episodes (or in throwaways, like the two joggers from "Pick-Up Schticks") got the Zeus seal of approval? We know Claire and Alex don't count yet, given how often Trevor complains to Claire about needing her to take it further so he can get the credit.
  • Christine Taylor, though she's now married to Ben Stiller, will probably always be best known for playing Marcia Brady in the two "Brady Bunch" parody movies. Having interviewed her once or twice around the time she did this episode, I can tell you that, at least then, she wasn't exactly wild about people constantly bringing up her resemblance to Maureen McCormick, even though that's what launched her career. So I'm surprised she was okay with the line where Trevor describes Yvonne has having a "face like Marcia Brady." The script also oddly references another role of hers: Yvonne's manipulative threat to shave her head evokes a stint she did on "Friends" as a woman who looked amazing whenever she wasn't pursuing the Mrs. Clean look.
  • Grant Heslov, meanwhile, probably needed little encouragement to do his Woody Allen impression at the skating rink. Around the same time as this episode, Heslov (an actor/writer hyphenate who teamed with buddy George Clooney on the "Good Night and Good Luck" script) released a short film he wrote and directed about his love of the Woodman -- titled, of course, "Waiting For Woody."
  • It's funny how some parts of the episode feel relatively current, like Champ getting fan e-mail, while others remind you it was made a decade ago, like Trevor and Yvonne's plan involving newspaper personal ads and snail mailed responses. (Also, I would pay good money to see someone on eHarmony or lead their profile with, as Trevor suggested, "Hello, I'm a roller derby enforcer. I have a faint mustache. Please enjoy my girth.")
  • I don't really have time to get into the whole matter of Preston Milke, the man Claire suspects Trevor of being, but I have a few problems with her theory and the story. First, the story seems inconsistent: Milke gained a lot of weight after being heartbroken over his girlfriend dumping him, but she dumped him because he got fat. Huh? Second, as Claire notes (and as the linguist noted back in episode two), Trevor has the kind of metabolism that allows him to eat large amounts of junk food without gaining weight. It's one thing to imagine him once being fat and then going on a diet and exercise regimen that turned him into someone with Jeremy Piven's build, but he wouldn't be able to get away with shoveling in all the garbage that we constantly see Trevor eat.
Coming up on Tuesday: "Grand Delusions," in which Cupid comes face to face with Don Quixote, while Claire comes face to face with her dad. You can see it here, here, here, here and here.

What did everybody else think?


Nicole said...

When it came to the couple count, I just assumed that there were a few of them that happened off-screen because except for the obvious ones you mentioned, I don't think there was one for Hung Jury or Heart of the Matter, although the last one is debatable.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Rob Remembers has now been added to the post.

Theresa said...

I, too, was impressed that Christine Taylor was ok with the Marcia Brady reference. Also, I'm going to have to disagree with you on her baldness---I think she rocked the Mrs. Clean look.

A depressing ending, but a decidedly better episode than the previous one.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this episode, even though it ended on a down note, though I would have liked to see Ken and Yvonne stay together…not because I needed a happy ending, but because they really seemed to have a spark. Champ and Christine, on the other hand, could have been romantic in a swoony way, if they had been written differently, but never really had a spark for me, so I wasn’t disappointed to see them come apart. Christine really made her worst fears come true...suspecting Champ and then enticing him away. (Note to self: don’t do that)

Rewatching the series after so much time, it’s interesting to me how my impressions have changed. Originally, I was really on Claire’s side, though I wanted to believe Trevor was the real deal. Episodes like this, along with the one in which she was manipulating Alex with SureScore or whatever it was, really make me dislike her. (BTW, not to be shallow, but what was up with her hair during the group session at the beginning of the episode?) I didn’t look like a style we’d see Claire Allen wear. I agree that the Patient Milke reference didn’t really hold together – even though the Love Bug reference seemed to cinch it. (I can imagine Dr. Ivan’s colleagues being so clueless as to miss the “Love Bug” cultural reference and focus only on the literal car make and model) Also originally, I don’t remember Mike being so appealing. After this episode, I can’t imagine why he is still out in the world alone, without a girlfriend. The writing, including all the banter and universal themes, remain as good as I originally remember.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this episode, even if the ending was bitter-sweet. But it's becoming weirder and weirder to me that the same person who created a kick-ass heroine like Veronica Mars was responsible for the often unlikeable female characters on this show.

The whole Christine-tempting-Champ-to-cheat thing was really distasteful. She's so neurotic about where the relationship is going she has to trap him in an alternative out of thin air? That's not to excuse Champ's behaviour, but seriously, who does that?

Then there's Claire using Trevor as her book subject. I don't really know about the professional ethics here - lots of doctors write about their patients and just change names and details - but from the start it's never been clear to me why Trevor's only "therapy" has been the group sessions. I guess you could argue the amount of time he and Claire spend together outside of that counts for something, but if she's really determined to strip away the Cupid persona, why isn't he in one-on-one therapy with her? The singles group is plenty entertaining for the TV audience, but as a therapeutic tool it's less than useless, since it provides Trevor with a field of subjects upon which to act out his delusion. If you ignore the narrative reasons for Trevor to be there, it just looks like Claire trying to create colour for her book, which is incredibly unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

It seems like women testing men was the uniting theme in this episode, and we see it in all three of the storylines: Yvonne talks about testing men, and even tests Ken by claiming celibacy; Chris tests Champ by tempting him with the mystery email; even Annette the waitress tests Mike: when he says he will do whatever she wants to do, she claims that she likes subtitled foreign chick flicks... and Mike agrees to go! But Annette was not really serious; she already has a boyfriend.

Annette wonderfully expresses the ultimate message of the episode: "A cool man [or woman] is hard to find, that's why when you find one you have to hang on."

Of course, it's sad to have an ep where none of the storylines have a happy ending, but it's smart to do that occasionally on series television, because it raises the dramatic tension. Let's face it: The Love Boat always has happy endings, so there is no suspense, just a tedious wait to see how they get their happy ending.

I love that final scene with Yvonne, where she's back with her hot guy and realizes what she lost by choosing him over Ken. It makes it very clear that she made a genuine connection with Ken, that it wasn't just a case of proving something to herself or others, and she seems to question whether she made the right choice. If the series had gone on longer, it might have been interesting to see Yvonne dump the hot guy and seek out Ken again... perhaps after Ken had found himself a nice, plain woman.

And frankly, Champ is better off without Chris. There was no evidence whatsoever that Champ had wandering eyes until Chris threw the fangirl email his way. Even after getting that email, Champ was more flattered than tempted. He didn't become significantly tempted until Chris's jealousy became increasingly irritating: snapping at him over a flirtatious customer, wondering why he's tired, and finally assuming that the girl on the phone is "the other woman" rather than Champ's sister.

Re the apparent story inconsistency Alan mentions... The dialog is a bit confusing because of the order the information is presented, but it is consistent: Milke gained the weight first (for reasons that are never stated), then lost his pretty girlfriend because of the weight gain. The doctors initially assumed that Milke's delusional state was caused by the weight gain, but later concluded that the delusional state was caused by the breakup, which was caused by the weight gain. But I agree that Trevor's well-known ability to eat like a pig without gaining weight does suggest that he's not Milke. Unless, of course, Milke's weight gain was a temporary blip caused by a medical problem that was resolved, allowing him to return to his original figure and eating capacity. That would explain why he was thought to be delusional when he only answered to "fatso."