Even only six episodes in, it should comes as no surprise that Big Time In Hollywood, FL is bold enough to title an episode “Separate But Equal.” In its defense, that does describe the broken down states of both Ben and Jack, who are now no longer partners in metaphorical and literal crime but are still finding themselves in hell on Earth. After last week’s episode ending, with Ben simply telling his parents “I’m clean” and coming back into their lives, this week’s episode opening (not counting the Cuba Gooding Jr. stuff) is about him “proving” to them that he is clean and what that means. They’re happy to hear him talk of becoming an adult and one day giving them grandchildren, even so much that it distracts them from thinking about how much more money they just lost in sending him to rehab (though Alan brings it up for a second).
However, as much crap as the Dolfe parents have to deal with from their sons, it’s amazing that Ben doesn’t bring up the very real fact that Alan sends him out to get a job without a resume or even a hint of how to get through a job interview. Even Jack has work experience, but Ben is literally starting from the ground up. As much as Ben and Jack’s deficiencies stem from their delusions, the lack of preparation from their parents (on the rare occasion they would listen or at least subconsciously absorb it) is also at play. This is why he “has” to end up being the janitor at a porn theater, and it’s really on his parents that they would think he would be hired at a “firm” of any type in this situation.
Meanwhile, Jack maintains a career in “the biz,” editing the toilet cam videos that were offhandedly mentioned by a rehab cohort in the original “To Catch A Paparazzi.” It’s through that disgusting career path that he discovers his brother is working as this porn theater janitor, and instead of being a mature adult about it, he has to shadily address the fact at what might be the most strangely timed Thanksgiving dinner in all of television. (However, this means I can’t wait until the possible Christmas episode.) What becomes an awkward family dinner becomes a tense one as Jack pulls a knife on Ben, and the whole Dolfe family descends into madness as Agent Malloy (Keith “The Fun” David) stakes them out, confused by the world he has just stumbled into.
The thing about “Separate But Equal” is that, of all the episodes, it’s dark, it’s depressing, it’s quite frankly, and it’s upsetting. No, that’s not new, but it’s different this time. That’s not just in the typical Big Time In Hollywood, FL way—this is almost a laugh through the characters’ tears way, and not so much in the exaggerated way of, say, Ben’s time in rehab. It’s painful to laugh at this episode, because it’s almost too real. If you’re brave enough to just pick a random episode of as heavily serialized a show as this—comedy or not—this is not the episode you choose.
But the more genuinely depressing it becomes—which is, quite frankly, the more realistic it becomes—the more it also begins to feel surreal. When Detective Zdorkin goes through his list of hypothetical situations about how everything from Holgado (Paz Vega) to Scoles to the Dolfes adds up, it’s a ridiculous scene, giving this tertiary character the chance to create the insane cinematic scenarios that are typically reserved for Jack and Ben. A shot framing the door to the room, focusing specifically on the “DETECTIVES” sign, goes hand in hand with this. It’s easy to say this is just an intentional, creative choice from Anfanger and Schimpf (and episode writer Romanski, aka actor/writer Chris Romano) as creative types who want to deconstruct the particular genre, but at the same time, it reads very much of the characters within this particular show and their brand of storytelling.
Simply put, it makes the show as a whole feel less like the story of these characters and more of a story these characters are telling.
The moment Malloy says the amazingly cliched line, “I kissed my wife goodbye a long time ago,” “warning” signs go off. What’s to say that this all doesn’t end up being another one of their poorly made movies or even a paranoid delusion from Ben or (more realistically, Jack)? This is an expectation based on Anfanger and Schimpf’s intricate work on Next Time On Lonny and its series finale, where just the sheer insanity of the situation wasn’t always enough, and a twist ending (that is actually hinted at throughout the series) is the true way to go.
Big Time In Hollywood, FL has obviously been dealing in these tropes from the beginning, and a line like Agent Malloy could easily just be another part of that. But the longer the season gets, and the weirder it gets, the more it becomes a genuine possibility.
Speaking of weirdness, Del finds himself in a bizarre love triangle, as he reconnects with Darla (Betsy Sodaro), the rape kit girl, and hangs out with her (having bike rides and ice cream drumsticks) instead of doing the usual deadly movie stunts with Jack. Even though Jack has enlisted the help of a child, Petey (Connor Rosen), it’s not the same, and Jack tails Del, figuring out the reason for his friend’s absence is that he’s “cheating” on him. Del even uses the “working late” excuse on this one. One of the funniest scenes of the episode is the increasingly creepy Jack appearing in Darla’s trailer park, smoking a cigarette, and ranting—all while Darla constantly asks who he is, to answers from no one.
Sadly, for such an interesting episode, the parts that don’t work are the parts that worked tremendously just two weeks ago. The episode is bookended with a captive Cuba Gooding Jr. as he interacts with the big bad boss lady that he owes all that money to, Holgado. She is the boss of the man Scoles had taken the surveillance picture of and a bigger piece in the puzzle that the police and feds are working on. She’s also terrifyingly similar to Salma Hayek’s character in the mess known as Savages, and while Hayek was the best part of that movie by a country mile, a similar character in such a great show sticks out like a sore, detached finger. Still, nothing about her and this storyline (at least as it stands now) can truly ruin how great (and sad) the rest of the episode is.
- I was not prepared for that Darla/Del fantasy sex sequence. I was not prepared at all.