Photo: Russ Martin/FXX

Josh and Lucy’s smooth ride to coupled happiness hits a bit of a bump this week, as Mike reliably shows up to bemoan how Josh’s girlfriend is cramping their style. Eric Andre carries the episode, and while his screen time doesn’t quite make up for the dearth of Mike in previous season three outings, “Horse” still makes great use of his offbeat charm. The story gives him greater depth without sacrificing any humor or pushing him too far along. Mike’s personality remains intact, as does his friendship with Josh—but he also makes room for Lucy in it. Season three continues on its path of filling out the other corners of Josh’s world, even as it reveals more about its lead character. The titular man is growing up, and he’s bringing everyone along with him.

It’s a development that’s wholly earned and painstakingly engineered—there are multiple conceits at work here, from the Dean Witter commercial riff to the Chilean mining disaster parody. Which isn’t to say that the ending is contrived; it’s just an impressive sprint from wary wingman to abiding friend. At episode’s open, Mike is trying to get Josh to diversify his dick a bit; by its close, he’s looking to Lucy for advice.

But first, Mike resists Lucy’s attempts to connect with him, even when they’re the only two people who appear to have survived a collapsed mine. There are shades of Seinfeld’s “The Dog” as the new acquaintances bond over their mutual complaints about Josh. He’s a wonderful boyfriend and friend, but dude is late all the time, and may not practice the best hygiene (maybe?). Josh’s fears are even funnier than his flaws—I could spend the rest of this review pondering just what it is about horses that spooked him (I’m almost positive it has to do with some failed stunt Tom pulled at one of young Josh’s birthday parties). But then I wouldn’t have any digital ink left to spill on what it is about Cool Runnings (which is definitely a sports movie, not a kids’ movie—sorry, Cecily Strong) that resonates with him so. I get super emotional watching Moneyball, so who am I to judge? But the number of poopy pants stories suggests Josh suffers from IBS or something, which he should probably get checked out.

Despite being sworn to secrecy, Mike leaks the info straightaway, leading to an inspired whistleblower bit. Sure, the boner jokes are a bit juvenile, but they also practically write themselves: playing the skin flute (er, clarinet), getting wood while playing your woodwind, etc. Kudos to writer Mike O’Brien, who’s now on his second episode. He continues to spoil MSW viewers with great sight gags (Mike’s sexual stock portfolio) and throwaway lines. Even the guest roles are well considered: Rachel Dratch’s bloodthirsty medieval crone could have just been another weird Rachel Dratch appearance (see 30 Rock). Well, it is another bizarre part for the actor-comedian, but by the time the fake Methelda Show credits roll, you kind of want to see where it goes.

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Although Mike’s front and center, Josh isn’t forgotten in the dust-up. He’s reeling from the breach of trust; as he tells Lucy, he’s “usually very guarded and secretive.” Which is why he doles out such a severe punishment for breaking his confidence. Mike shows up just in time to save Lucy (much to Methelda’s chagrin), reminding Josh of just how good he has it. Jay Baruchel gets several great lines here (“Is that guy eating that other guy?”), but he’s playing it straighter than he ever has. And yet, it doesn’t take away any of the absurdity of the execution and Wikileaks scenes going on around him. It just shows how certain Josh is of the new relationship; he’s the more grounded one now.

It’s an exciting turn for the series, which is nudging all of its players along this season. For all his romantic misadventures, Josh Greenberg isn’t a pathetic guy; he’s sweet and capable, even if he was previously rudderless. If Mike doesn’t change a bit, too, he runs the risk of becoming the ball and chain he initially considers Lucy to be. But Mike has to get there on his own terms, i.e., at the very last minute and astride a horse. But Mr. Scaggs does come through—and it’s a nice touch that he does so for Lucy, whom he solemnly declares “cool.” Still, I’m pretty sure all the pants-crapping and snake-charming stories Lucy divulged are going to remain in Mike’s repertoire.

Stray observations

  • I’m sorry, but there’s no way Lucy is a Charlotte. Charlotte is an asshole.
  • Hardee’s is a cruel mistress.
  • Methelda’s conversation starters were better. Sorry, emergency personnel.
  • With that mention of the “vault,” the Seinfeld references were everywhere.
  • Here’s an incomplete list of the “funds” Mike’s “contributed” to (or have contributed to him?): People trying to hit rock bottom; small town mayors; census takers; bus drivers; confused tourists; depressed and invigorated divorcees; and Grubhub. Not surprisingly, randos and the post-midnight Denny’s crowd make up over 20% of Mike’s hook-ups.

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