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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A To Z: “D Is For Debbie”

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Is it too soon? That’s the question driving A To Z. Is it too soon for the young couple to go to a funeral together? Is it too soon for Andrew to meet Zelda’s family? Is it too soon for Zelda to lose control in front of him? In the emotional way, not in the gas-passing way, although that might have actually been funny. Is it too soon for such a serious episode?

We’re in the first three weeks of Andrew and Zelda’s relationship, approximately eight dates in, give or take a stalking incident. Then Zelda’s surrogate mother dies. See, her parents were always off on quests to recharge their respective chis, so their friend Debbie took care of Zelda for most of her childhood. Back in the present, Debbie has died, and Zelda isn’t sure whether to bring Andrew to the funeral. Actually, she is pretty sure: No way. It’s too soon.

It’s a good question. Stephie posits the dating theory of the week: It’s never too soon with the right person. It wouldn’t take a Zelda-caliber lawyer to come up with some loopholes, but a less absolute version is worth considering. Then again, it often feels like it’s The Right Person at first, doesn’t it? Andrew and Zelda are still infatuated with each other. Still, Andrew’s been through the death of a parent before, too. He might be just what Zelda needs right now. The cons are obvious, but Andrew isn’t likely to be scared off by Zelda going too fast. If anything it would be the other way around.

Tellingly, Zelda weighs her options and decides not to invite Andrew to the funeral (“You know what, though? I bet in six months from now we could be really happy together at a funeral”). But she doesn’t tell him so, so Andrew shows up of his own volition. “D Is For Debbie” doesn’t change Zelda’s character just for the sake of the premise. Zelda gets to do the responsible thing, Andrew gets to do the romantic thing, and we get to sit back and watch. Well done.

Now, is there a single funny joke from that point on? Is it my fault for expecting a half-hour show to be especially funny? I don’t want to rehash the same concerns every week. Apparently A To Z is more a tasteful indie rom-dram than a raucous bestselling rom-com, more Celeste & Jesse Forever than Bridget Jones’ Diary (which we have in The Mindy Project anyway). Just look at the Etsy art design. On balance we’re going to walk away from these episodes with a romantic mood rather than raised spirits.

“D Is For Debbie” is going for comedy, though, and all those lame hippie lines aren’t cutting it. “The soup is gluten free and conflict free.” Pass. Meanwhile Stu and Stephie are flirting like titans, preparing for their inevitable re-hook-up by stomping around subplots preparing to charge each other. They’re not even that obnoxious. In fact, when we first hear Stephie—we see her too, but all that comes through the window is the sound of her giggling—I’m actually excited to see the faux pas of her flirting her way through a funeral. It’s just that Stu and Stephie ask so much from us. Why is Stu there? Why are they fighting over Youtube breakout Tyler Ward? Why is this happening at a funeral? As Stu says in his only good line, “Show some respect. A woman of some relation to Zelda is dead.”


I take it back about there being no jokes. Christin Milioti milks the funny-crying like a champion. “This is good. Let it out,” Andrew tells her. “I AM LETTING IT OUT,” she sobs. She wasn’t trying to keep a lid on her family. She was trying to keep a lid on her emotions. It’s too soon for Andrew to see her this way. Another guy, maybe. But Andrew? As he says, all these people talking about their feelings is kind of his jam. A shrooms mishap later—see what I mean?—it falls on Zelda to deliver the eulogy. She says delivering eulogies are not her jam. And that’s where my bored heart started to believe in these two. She doesn’t indicate that she’s using Andrew’s words or even play it up like it’s an episode-long running gag. It’s more unconscious than that, like she just happened to pick up a phrase she liked. People do it all the time, but it’s less common on-screen (with exceptions like The Big Lebowski and Happy Endings). It’s a subtle sign of play or appreciation or both. Here in “D Is For Debbie,” it’s kind of cute. Maybe I’m falling for Andrew and Zelda after all.

Stray observations:

  • To answer my own question, it’s not too soon for such a serious episode. The fourth episode of Scrubs is “My Old Lady,” a funny, sad story with three different cases premised on the idea that one in three patients who comes to the hospital will die there. We get to know those patients a bit better than we get to know Debbie, but the fact remains, it’s possible to get an audience to care passionately this soon.
  • I Do, Too, Like Serious Sitcoms: Suburgatory had a similar tendency toward gravitas. When it wasn’t going into broad suburban lampoon, it would dive right into the bittersweet, wistful melancholy of its premise. That seriousness might not have been as potent without the wacky comedy, but it was more successful than that of A To Z nonetheless, thanks to its fine-tuned dialogue and expressive visuals. On the bright side, all of that is within A To Z’s grasp.
  • The over-the-top corporate comedy is a welcome balance. “The double honey trap! I should have known.” Andrew and Zelda could stand to have some of that silliness in their lives.
  • “Today I will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was both kind and generous.” Good start, Zelda. “She’s going into lawyer mode.” We know, Andrew.