Photo: Fox

Well, if the goal of tonight’s Ghosted was to make me feel a little better about the fact that we’re rapidly running out of time with these characters: Mission accomplished, I guess.

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That’s maybe a little bit harsh on “Unbelievable,” a not-joyless installment of this now officially canceled series, in which Max and Leroy’s sighting of an actual, for realsy UFO is quickly overshadowed by the inadvertent reveal that Leroy and Annie apparently slept together a few weeks back. Not only does this bombshell of gossipy goodness distract everyone from the glowing light in the sky (and LaFrey’s return from her off-the-books mission to investigate the source of the Wire), but it blows open the long-simmering warhead of the Dreaded Max-Annie Flirtation in a way that makes pretty much every male character on this show look like some different flavor of shit.

There’s Merv, for instance, checked-out as ever, and fumbling his way through a truly terrible mandatory lecture about office romances. (Taking advice from Facebook is probably a bad starting point, but letting Byrd modify it with a bizarre beard caveat is even worse.) There’s Leroy, indulging in some sort of Bro Code nonsense at Annie’s expense by telling Max about their time together. There’s Barry, dishing out shitty advice, and the rest of the office drones—Ken, Davey, and Byrd, plus Sasha and Linda for good measure—being snickering, harassing children about it. And there is, specifically and most especially, Max, who sets off roughly a million red flags tonight with his behavior re: the “dibs” he’d indignantly swear he never had on Annie in the first place.

“Unbelievable” is headed somewhere with all of this, at least, and the place it eventually gets to is a nice refutation of the overused “simmering romantic tension” tropes that the show itself was indulging in when it set us on this course, what with all those awkward pauses and meaningful little smiles way back when. (Who knows if tonight’s conclusion to the Max-Annie “romance” represents creator Tom Gromican and his team’s original intent, or if Paul Lieberstein decided to smack down the show’s weak-tea efforts to Jam it up when he took over earlier this year.) That doesn’t make it any easier to watch guys I’ve legitimately come to like—or at least view as benign and funny weirdos—cross a bunch of lines into behavior that feels pretty uncomfortable, at least as far as the question of how to treat the women they work with is concerned.

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Which isn’t an automatic condemnation of the episode itself, which gets somewhere in the ballpark of actual drama when Max whisks Annie away to a secluded conference room to “finally” ask her out. (Cringe.) Her response is easily the best thing Amber Stevens West has been given to do on this show since it first began, as she makes it clear that not only does she not want to date Max, but that she has never wanted to date him, ever. “You were flirting,” she informs him when he tries to wheedle an explanation for this “sudden change” out of her. “A big chunk of maybe is no,” she adds, when he keeps pushing despite her clearly stated intent. The whole scene might be a little too deliberate or on the nose in its efforts to attack the indignant “But we flirted!” entitlement Max is clinging to, but at least it does it in a way that gives Annie back some of the power that was stripped from her when our bonehead heroes outed her sexual history in front of the entire office. (And if the show’s writers are finally, god willing, going to kill this plotline once and for all, I appreciate that they did it with such a definitive double-tap to the head.)

It still makes Max come off as a petulant, demanding child, though, and makes it just a little bit harder to root for him (and Leroy too, to a lesser extent). I’m not accustomed to thinking of these two guys as just another pair of semi-shitty dudes, and it’s not a look that this generally warm show wears well. That disconnect from the characters doesn’t make the episode’s jokes any less funny, necessarily, but it does make it a little harder to laugh along when it attempts to defuse the Max-Leroy tension by having Byrd (Andy Blitz, still Drone MVP) tell a long, rambling, and sexually explicit story about his aluminum-magnetized dick. It’s a very funny piece of business, but at this point, I’m pretty much over thinking about these men and their penises, strangely attractive or not. Thank god LaFrey is here to get people back on track with some good-old-fashioned talk about UFOs. Woman knows what’s important in life.

Stray observations

  • I touched on it briefly, but it’s now official: Ghosted has been canceled, for real. Despite my reservations about tonight’s entry, I’m still legitimately bummed out about this decision; this cast remains fantastic, and I feel like the new direction deserved more of a chance to prove its merits.
  • I don’t know if Fox told the show’s PR team that they could take the rest of the series off, but they didn’t upload any new photos this week. Sorry for the ol’ stock image up there.
  • Fantastic cold open tonight, in a bit of the old “field work” mode, as the Bureau Underground’s recent publicity attracts the attention of a “spider-lady” who alternates between calling Max simple, and teaching Leroy about her spider-trapping prowess, without ever missing a beat.
  • You see, the tape in her hair is sticky, thus giving the spiders “a taste of their own medicine.” “Oh no, this woman is a giant spider I best not mess with.”
  • We only get a little bit of time with Charles Shaughnessy’s delightfully weird Kenneth Lanier, but in that time we learn both that he can only climax “in the fetal position,” and that the mysterious Triangle Group’s hexagonal logo was a result of a meeting gone very wrong. As a survivor of many an ill-fated improv group naming session, I can sympathize
  • Tonight in Fox commercials: Obviously, it’s galling to have ads for the Last Man Standing revival run over one of this now-canceled show’s most interesting scenes, but I was also kind of grossed out by those World Cup-themed 23 And Me spots.
  • Best Max detail: A toss-up between his Little Teapot “I’m going to make my move” gesture, and the reveal that he ditched out on the night Leroy and Annie hooked up because he wanted to binge-watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
  • “She used her tongue to remove her clothes, and my clothes.” I’m pretty sure that was real corpsing from Adam Scott and Craig Robinson as Blitz tells his clearly-improvised story.
  • Leroy just got why we call them tri-angles, but thinks its weird that Max doesn’t know why we call it a square. “Squa-air.” Seems pretty clear to me!
  • “Dibs are for kids!”
  • Barry might give bad advice, but asking Max “What does this little girl say in here?” was a nice reminder of his weird greatness.
  • “My spider soup is ready!” Fox, if we’re really losing this show, can you give one to Spider Lady, instead?

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