There have been few times in Marry Me’s short run where the script belabors a mediocre joke that actually pays off. (“Thank Me’s” human cheese joke immediately comes to mind.) It was a pleasant surprise when after an episode full of Dr. What’s-His-Name jokes that the punchline was worth it. Twice. Once involving a clown doctor, no less. “Test Me” drew out some of the same problems that have plagued the show since its beginning, but it also felt more assured than the average episode, changing the regular plot structure and working through the characters strengths. It’s a positive step for a show that has been lackluster since its promising debut.

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Written by Erica Rivinoja, a veteran of such diverse writers rooms as Clone High, South Park and Up All Night, “Test Me” continued to keep Marry Me’s stakes as low as humanly possible. While the specter of infertility is tension-worthy—see Monica and Chandler’s season nine arc on Friends—it’s not really an issue for Jake and Annie yet. They have just decided to start thinking about, talking about being prepared for a time in the future when they may want to consider having kids, a situation Jake further trivializes by admitting that the mess they are in is a hypothetical one. We are just getting to know Jake and Annie as a couple, let alone potential parents, and they as characters know that they’re jumping the gun on the baby talk if they want their wedding to not be of the shotgun variety. That makes caring about Jake’s potential infertility a non-starter because he doesn’t know if he‘s infertile yet, which doesn’t even matter because he’s not even trying to have a baby yet.

At least Jake and Annie have a reason to attend Libby (Crista Flanagan) and Dr. What’s-His-Name’s (John Ross Bowie) baby shower. The reason for Gil, Kay and Dennah’s attendance is shakier. It’s one of the core problems of Marry Me. Why are all these people hanging out together all the time, especially at a baby shower that only two of the five have a legitimate reason to be at? What’s odd about “Test Me,” though, is that it’s open about it’s own logical flaws. Why is Jake freaking out to the degree that he is over a potential of low sperm when the only thing to suggest such a problem is a tipsy OBGYN? It’s a valid question that even another character in the show has: “If you’re worried about your sperm count, why not just go to the appointment where they’ll let you know if you should be worried about your sperm count?” Gil asks. Yeah, Gil, why not? Jake‘s answer isn’t a real one. Nor does Jake’s meltdown accomplish anything other than give Annie a little agida, considering the only reason they don’t get to their appointment is not because of Jake’s hesitance, but because they can’t remember What’s-His-Name’s name. Annie and Jake even end the episode with the most assured way of making a baby: the promise of sex. The tension of “Test Me” was entirely artificially constructed, but so is most of Marry Me’s comedic tension

While Jake may not have a purpose for his sperm-related anxiety, at least it allowed him to become more of a fully-formed character. Since the outset, Jake has been a bland conduit for Annie’s life lessons. The structure thus far has been a simple one: She freaks, he picks her up, she comes to some bigger realization about herself and her relationship, episode ends. Jake has been this milquetoast savior, which doesn’t make for a good character or play to Ken Marino’s strengths as a controlled caricature. While the catalyst for Jake’s low sperm count obsession was a weak, at least he got to have a personality that wasn’t based on around making sure Annie didn’t have a stress-based coronary.

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The only person who had a strong reason to do anything throughout “Test Me” was Annie, who was motivated by her comments disparaging Libby’s choice of owl decoration and the general Don Rickles-esque features of her offspring. The scene where Annie and Kay decide to sabotage the nanny cam was a tightly written and perfectly delivered scene. It didn’t feel like anything the show had successfully realized before. The verbal volley between Tymberlee Hill and Casey Wilson was a joy to watch. Tonally, it’s one of those exchanges that could drive away people who don’t have an ear quick-beat rhythm away, but for someone who likes the pitter-patter back and forth of witticisms that characterized a show like, say, Happy Endings, it’s comforting to get back into a similar groove where inflection and cadence are just as much a part of the joke as the written joke itself (“Jake may have called her baby Don Rickles, and as I’m saying that aloud I realized I should have piled on with Don Wrinkles” is the perfect example). The scene was a reminder of why I wanted to watch this show so much in the first place. This is a cast of talented performers who are holding up a Marry Me’s wishy-washy structure every week the best they can. It’s nice to see them get to flex their performative muscles.

Stray observations:

  • Do you know what kind of Gil I like? Little to no Gil. “Test Me” had optimum levels of Gil. More Dennah, though, please.
  • “That is a low-crotched pant.” “I feel like a webbed toe.”
  • “I’m sorry I’ve been acting so weird lately. What can I say? It’s my testicles.” “I wish you could see them the way I see them.” “I wish I could too.”

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