How great, or should I say superfluous, that “The Breakup” is the funniest episode of Trophy Wife yet and the one to feature Natalie Morales most prominently. Given the bloodbath behind the scenes of The Mindy Project, it’s easy to worry about extraneous-seeming sitcom regulars like half the cast of Mom or a satellite or two on Back In The Game. Axl Heck leaving for college on The Middle and Chelsea Peretti missing an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine are enough to incite fans, to say nothing of New Girl getting its pre-Winston back at some point in the near future. So Morales’ position as 10th banana on this overstuffed family sitcom is understandably concerning, and not just because she’s shown what she can do on The Middleman and needs a platform. In the Trophy Wife pilot, Meg is Kate’s one link to who she was away from her family, and she apparently helps pick up the parental slack every now and then. In short, she’s one of the reasons Trophy Wife isn’t just another family sitcom.
And “The Breakup” is all the reason you need to keep her around. She busts in on Kate and Pete’s movie night—which takes three movies with “Lincoln” in the title to get Pete to watch Magic Mike (and maybe learn a little something about America and also Ginuwine)—because Tevin broke up with her. “I could have seen myself with him for, like, almost three months.” A succession of bad houseguest antics later, and Meg and Kate are having a fight that’s really about something, not just a jar of mustard. Kate’s family requires her to be more responsible, but Meg misses the fun woman Kate used to be. Perhaps because adult female friendships are infrequently in the spotlight on TV comedies (especially with the cancelations of Best Friends Forever and Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23), the fight recalls Leslie and Ann on Parks And Recreation, especially when Pete helpfully counsels his wife that people grow apart, and that’s life. Ann’s about to move away from Pawnee permanently as of this episode, but back in “The Fight,” the two get drunk and angry with each other in a clash of letting loose vs. responsibility, or hyper-responsibility in the case of Leslie.
That’s what “The Breakup” is all about, except on Trophy Wife, no side wins. On Parks, Ann and Leslie make up, but Ann gives in to Leslie and does the responsible thing, because that show is basically a model of liberal internationalism with Leslie as the superpower helpfully intervening in her friends’ and neighbors’ lives to guide them to be their best selves/more like her (which has a cascading effect: Witness Ann taking April, who openly hates her but doesn’t actually but you wouldn’t know it unless you sat through those plots, on a road trip to a vet school she might be interested in). But Trophy Wife never goes soft on Meg. She makes it up to Kate, offering an edible solar system for Hillary’s school project to replace the one she ate while drunk and sad, but it’s awful. Kate’s proud of her (“This must have taken you, like, an hour!”), partly because she’s already primed to make up with her (although that angle is a little hungry) and partly because she has a habit of instinctively encouraging Meg. But Meg is still a rough edge, cocky about failure and still apparently hanging with Tevin (“I found the mustard, so we’re good, right?”). Meg and Kate make up because they were just venting a little steam, not because Kate is right and Meg needs to grow up already.
But what’s really great about “The Breakup” is that it brings Morales closer to the center without pushing anyone away. Hillary gets short shrift, but she’ll still be there when the writers need to inch her closer to Kate. Meanwhile, Diane and Jackie get to play off each other when Jackie lures Warren away from his PPSAT studying to help Bert and her build a Lego Millennium Falcon (“It says ages 9 to 14. I’m 8 and you’re?” “26”). It turns out Diane doesn’t condescend to Jackie the way she does to Kate. She even takes some of what she says to heart! Good thing, too, because her kids are on the scary track right now, overworked and freaking out about projects due in three weeks so they don’t end up in state school (although I love how Warren answers his phone, “Go for Warren”). But after a few weeks of evil mastermind Diane, “The Breakup” shows her encouraging Warren, doing so at Jackie’s behest, and all in regards to toys he was playing with in lieu of studying. Diane might not be a psychopath after all.
- Bradley Whitford Sorkin Levels: Off the charts this week. People on sitcoms are often mean to each other face to face, but Pete treats Meg and Tevin like they’re children (which, okay, I see your point, but still). Pete’s out-of-touch moments are what keep him from being insufferable. On the other hand: “I think I’ve been pretty clear about this. My client’s claim is that the fish were dead before he disposed of the tetracyanide in the lake. I gotta go. I hate my job.” I just can’t hate that.
- Pete to Diane: “Every time you say my name I feel like I did something wrong.” Her interruption of Pete and Kate’s movie night gets a few good reactions, like Diane telling Warren through her teeth that Kate is exactly why he needs to study and Kate taunting Pete, “You used to kiss that.”
- Kate’s making Meg-nog: “Vodka, other vodka, water, just kidding, third vodka…”
- Jackie and Bert, saying what she always says: “You can do anything you put your mind to, even fly.”
- Warren: “Are you on a long drive and need someone to talk to?” Jackie: “No, not this time.”
- When Diane calls, she dares Warren to put Pete on, because she knows he isn’t at home studying, and he pretends to be his father. “Warren, I’m in your room.” “Diane, this isn’t a good time. We just reached a verdict.”