As of “E Is For Ectoplasm,” Andrew and Zelda have been together a month. You know what that means: Joint Halloween party complete with an animated e-vite! The only problem is Andrew has a long-standing Halloween tradition with Stu where they dress up like ghostbusters, and Zelda has an even better ritual with Stephie where they dress up like Laverne and Shirley because they lived in the house used for the exteriors for seasons six through eight! So first of all we have to accept that these people are ridiculous, kind of boring, and liquid enough to spend more on a cancelled Halloween bash than I make in a month, although it’s for a good cause (Halloween). But underneath that, “E Is For Ectoplasm” has some juicy meat. What happens to friendships when one half gets into a relationship?
Stu and Stephie react the exact same way. It’s not surprising, but A To Z is already so neat. Can’t the human beings inside the gift box show some signs of life? Stu’s redundancy even becomes an actual joke in the scene where Stephie tells Andrew and Zelda why she’s so upset and Stu just vocally underlines her, all “Yeah!” and “What she said!” Might this story have been more interesting if Stu had a different reaction from Stephie or if one friendship maybe didn’t have a decade(s)-long Halloween tradition of wearing the same costume?
Stu’s not actually redundant as a character long-term, though, because Stephie needs someone to fall in love with apparently. Why do I get the feeling A To Z is How I Met Your Mother-ing us with the couple falling apart just as the best friends fall for each other? How could that possibly mesh with Katey Sagal’s narration? On another day, I’d say this is all just speculative flapdoodle, but “E Is For Ectoplasm” is actively stoking the fire. “As for Stu and Stephie’s fear of being replaced,” the narrator tells us, “I’ll say this: Andrew and Zelda, at least at this point in their relationship, are not best friends. They’re something…different.” What is that supposed to mean? Is the second sentence just a wind-up to the third, which is practically a running gag of the episode, or is it as portentous as it sounds?
As the episode keeps telling us, Andrew and Zelda are very special. To me that’s a red flag right there, but there’s just no getting through to someone in the grips of infatuation. All four of them agree: Andrew and Zelda are different. That’s not just the rom-com asserting its own importance, although the narration is exactly that. It’s also Andrew and Zelda acknowledging that (or lying to themselves about how) they’re not like they have been in past relationships, and it’s Stu and Stephie backing them up. Clearly no exes have ever come between Stu and his Ghostbusters day. Zelda really is different.
But one thing I appreciate about “E Is For Ectoplasm” is how it again complicates the romantic mystique of Andrew and Zelda. At first they agree to throw their monthiversary Halloween party together out of sheer excitement about each other. They’re just so into each other that they didn’t really consider the consequences until later. But then, after some reasonable objections by their friends (“I mean who knows? I might find someone tonight and then a month would go by and I could just replace everybody I love with a random guy”), they surprisingly agree: They went too fast. A month is too soon. They say it twice, first at the failed Haunted Ectoplasm Paris peace talks and later in nerd jail. That second time is when Stu and Stephie talk them out of it, i.e get everyone to agree that Andrew and Zelda really are different, but the fact that Andrew and Zelda second-guess their specialness even at all, much less twice, speaks to the show’s openness. It’s moments like this that suggest the mythology of their romance shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value. That is, Andrew and Zelda are as much a real, flawed pairing as the prophesied couple that will bring balance to the Force.
Stephie and Stu don’t bring much more comedy to the table than usual, but their feelings resonate quite a bit more than those of the average A To Z plot. It’s always weird when your friend enters a serious relationship. You want them to be happy, but aren’t you being replaced in some way, protests to the contrary, well, to the contrary? It’s not just about time together. It’s about how a significant other fulfills some of a friend’s functions. Andrew and Zelda aren’t just throwing a party. They’re replacing the rituals of their friendships, implicitly hinting that it’s time for Stu and Stephie to move on, and doing it through a tacky e-mail to boot. I’m with Stu and Stephie’s zombie effigies. Bite their heads off.
In the end, naturally, everything works out. “Thank you guys so much for bringing our costumes,” says Zelda, hanging a lantern on something that nobody would have ever criticized. Everyone makes up and agrees they’re being silly. Those friendships are for life, and there’s no reason they can’t all four have a good time together. In fact, the friendships will outlast Andrew and Zelda’s relationship, even though nobody knows it yet. For a final Halloween kick, the narrator gets weird about Andrew and Zelda’s relationship, whatever it is beyond boyfriend-girlfriend. They’re not best friends yet. That’s plain to see. But they seem like they’re headed in that direction. Should we be worried?
- Seven Months, Three Weeks, Five Days, And One Hour Left: I don’t have any new guesses about the alleged ending of the relationship, but I do have a thought about how long those eight months will take to show. We’re five episodes in and it’s only been a month. At this rate a full season order—just go with it—gets us halfway to the end. So maybe the relationship is meant to run for two seasons? Holiday episodes will tell us for sure.
- Lydia throws a Halloween party to show off Wallflower and invites press. Everything’s make or break with her. As guests of honor, she invites “Donna and Jim Henry, the most attractive, least methy couple to have met on our website.” Later Lydia gets choked up about them. Howard: “Yeah, speaking of choking, that’s exactly what he did to her last night on a cruise ship.”
- Luckily there’s an alternative Wallflower golden couple. Dinesh: “We found them.” Lora: “On the county coroner’s website. They murdered each other two years ago.”
- Stu is adamant about his theme for the party: “We are doing Asian street food because I got six skinned rabbits hanging in our shower.” Most of the funny things these people do are way over the top given the relative grounding of Andrew and Zelda, but as they say, funny forgives a lot.
- I wasn’t sure before, but Lydia is definitely my favorite. “I just assumed that everyone in this town had been through level-one improv.”