I enjoyed Happy Endings’ season première quite a lot but “Baby Steps” was a better example of the show firing on all cylinders, giving everyone something funny to do and juggling three equal-time plots with aplomb. The Happy Endings formula is pretty simple—have everyone be silly and funny and make sure not to place the comic burden on Alex or Dave—and that’s what was going on here. What’s great is how there’s no star to this show, no boring storyline eating up too much time, which means everyone in the ensemble gets a chance to do their thing.
Jane and Brad were my favorites this week, with Jane given a “yearning to be a mom” story that didn’t require any corny speeches or emotional realizations. When discussing Max’s sperm donations (to help pay rent), Jane says she donated an egg in college, and Brad speculates on what the kid it produced must be like, and, well, you can pretty much guess the rest. Yeah, this isn’t the first show to hash out a plot like that, but still, Jane’s Type-A personality suited her quick descent into child-stalking as she realizes the family she donated her egg to has a wayward teenaged daughter.
Eliza Coupe’s character is probably the toughest to play in the ensemble because she’s in the Monica category—most of the jokes about her revolve around how annoying she is, which can get, well, annoying. Coupe does an excellent job keeping Jane in the realm of “actual human being” and keeping her appealing. As weird as she is, you can see why Brad thinks she’s sexy and will get “all pretty” for her in his shirt-dress (the best visual gag of the episode by far). Her buffoonery here goes where you’d expect—she freaks out the kid’s family and discovers they didn’t use her egg because of her intensity—but it’s still fun to watch. It’s also nice how her storyline bumps up against Alex and Penny’s without intruding; her “crazy van lady” routine in that one scene gets mileage out of her mom instincts without milking the joke too much. Also, Brad has some quality sidekick quips here, especially his complaint about Jane’s “white lady” airbag deploying before his.
Alex and Penny’s thing where her baby tees take off among mean, idiotic teenagers was pretty cartoonish (“mean girl” plots always are), but was saved by Penny and Alex reverting to their high school idolatry of said mean girls despite being twice their age. It would have been kinda funny if they’d been rejected off the bat, but it makes more sense that the girls would actually like them and that that would turn Alex and Penny evil. The denouement could have maybe done with a couple extra minutes to breathe, though. I wanted more drunken teenager chaos, especially from that kid Tanner—“You wanna see it?” had me gasping.
But I can’t complain much when they managed to fit a third, equally long and funny plot of Max trying to be gainfully employed by Dave’s steak-sandwich truck to make rent money. At first I was worried that the writers had decided Max needed more to do than just hang around everyone’s places of business during the day—as funny as his steak Nazi antics were, half the charm of the character is how intensely rudderless he is. But luckily, they had the perfect resolution in mind, a job that both honors his aimlessness and seeks to build on it for future plots—he’ll be an illegal limo driver! I don’t know if the writers are actually aiming to keep this up week after week, but they fucking should. The sight of Adam Pally in that limo hat alone is worth the gag, plus it just makes such perfect sense.
The one complaint I have about “Baby Steps,” I suppose, is that the stories could have bumped up against each other a little more, but it’s pretty tough to ask this show to just turn into a Seinfeldian plotting masterpiece so early into its run. Everyone got stuff to do, everyone was funny—that means I’m happy, and you should be too.
- Alex never really gets the sperm bank thing. “Why would you deposit money in a sperm bank?”
- Brad is really good at selling really bad sexy lines. “Now for my favorite dessert: Sex.”
- Re: Brad’s shirt-dress: “I had my suspicions, but the price was right and daddy likes a deep tuck.” “God, you make it work,” Jane says. She’s right!
- Max’s suggestion to keep Dave out of his room (which he turned into a hostel/sex dungeon): “We could just go to the airport and get some Tom Clancy novels and get hammered.”
- Penny pretends to be Mexican to avoid socially awkward situations. “Dios mio!”
- Max was devastated by the Beanie Baby bubble bursting. “I was worth $1.3 million on paper by the time I was in the seventh grade!”
- Max’s dream/reality pitch: being Scottie Pippin’s sassy butler.
- Jane wants Reese Witherspoon or Natalie Portman playing her in a Lifetime movie. Brad isn’t buying it. “They’re not doing TV. Maybe premium cable, after they saw how Kate Winslet cleaned up with Mildred Pierce.”
- Penny weighs which baby shirt to wear: “Put me to bed” or “I pooped.” “I just answered my own question.”
- Max quarrels with a vegan: “This chest hair is majestic, people get lost in here.” “That chest hair is feral.” “Feral is still an adjective I prefer.”
- Max and Dave fighting: “I’ll see you in Hell!” “I’ll see you in Hell, too, but I’ll see you at home first for the Bears game!” “Fine, I’ll get the hummus!” “Fine, get baby carrots too, ’cuz I like to dip!”
- Max won’t lick his new earnings: “It’s money. The only thing dirtier is airplane ice.”